Snow White Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Laughter, pleasure, malice, and the pursuit of adult fun

The Adultery of Cooking

We don't cook for love. We cook for appetite and not for our own appetite.

Two sisters meet for coffee to discuss a dinner party one of them is having the next evening. This is their exchange. Listen in:

--You’re cooking for him, aren’t you?

--What are you talking about? I cook everyday. I’m not doing anything different just because he’s here.

--If you’re not already cooking for him, you want to. I can tell. I can see you making menus in your head. I see you creating long shopping lists. I see you sneaking into little specialty shops. It’s like buying lingerie. You’re buying new spices. You’re imagining wine pairings. I’m your sister. I know what goes on in that head.

--Ridiculous.

--What are you making?

--The usual.

--Like what? Stuffed shells? Greek salad? Meatloaf and mashed? What are you making him?

--I’m not cooking FOR him. What am I supposed to do when he eats at my table? Give him a bowl of Rice Krispy’s and tell him to snap, crackle and pop?

--Are you kidding? You cook for love. I cook for love. It’s what Mom taught us.

--She liked to cook.

--Actually, that’s not right. We don't cook for love. We cook for appetite, and not for our own appetite, either. So what’s on the menu?

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--Hook-and-line caught King salmon. Fingerling potatoes. And--don’t you dare laugh—to start, I bought him tongue.

-- No.

--He likes tongue, from the butcher. He worked at a deli twenty hours a week when I knew him. I had to go to the German place all the way downtown. And I had to turn away when they were slicing it. It’s a whole cow’s tongue. I had no idea. They basically slap this body part on the slicer and it’s like watching a horror movie. Or an autopsy. It’s enough to make you a vegetarian.

-- So you’re serving organ meats to your first love.

--He was not my “love.” He was my first boyfriend.

--The difference is?

-- He’s in his sixties now. We’re both married to other people who, by the way, will be at the table, along with you, our mother and four other adults. It’s not like I’m bringing a hibachi and a bottle of gin to a motel room. It’s not exactly what you’d call “clandestine.”

--You still have feelings for him. You want him to think about everything he’s missing by not having married you.

--I want him to have a nice meal with people he used to know well and to feel welcome.

--How are you making the salmon?

--I have a rub for it.

--And the potatoes?

--Butter sauce. Cracked pepper. Parsley.

--Has Pete noticed you’ve gone all teenager-in-love in your kitchen or am I the only one? 

--Pete never comes into the kitchen. He hasn’t said anything. I can’t tell if he knows and if he did, I don’t know if he’d care.

--So there is something to know? Good. At least you got that out. So big deal. Why be  embarrassed? You’re making a feast for a guy you once dreamed might be your bridegroom and that’s nice—there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re also serving it to your husband to the guy’s wife and to everybody else, so what’s the problem?

--Because in my heart I’m doing this so that when Mike walks into the room he’ll close his eyes, breathe in how good everything smells, see that I remember what he loved to eat as a kid and made sure he had it, and then secretly wish he was coming home to me every day. And that’s poison.

--Don’t be so dramatic? You know what’s poison? Bad fish. Or that tongue if they left it on the hood of a Chevy all day. Poison is something really awful. What you feel isn’t even awful or even exotic. What you feel is like Rice Krispy’s: it’s just a little noise in a small, enclosed space. And it won’t last long—just a sweet thing with a sort of artificial taste. Nothing good for you, maybe, but nothing that will kill you. 

--Would you get here early? Can you help me set stuff up and be there when Mike arrives? He’s coming before everybody else. His wife has a meeting, and Pete not getting home until the usual time.

--You want help in the kitchen?

--I want company. I don't know what I'm doing but at least when I talk to you about it, you can remind me about Mom and her recipes for disaster. I don't want to do have done all the prep work for something I'm just going to ruin. And, hey, with you there, I'm less likely to make as much of mess.

--I knew you wanted to cook for him.
--I know.

Gina Barreca, Ph.D., is Professor of English at UConn, and author of It's Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.

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