I remember the first time I tried to cook. In high school, I was really into this girl- a super smart, super funny girl that was only a little bit condescending (just the perfect amount! Huh? You have no idea what I mean? Hm, maybe that’s more of a personal thing). Anyway, I was really into this girl, and she was talking about not having any dinner plans one weekend, so I was like, “Hey, my parents aren’t home on Saturday! Maybe you can come over and I can whip something up for you!” Big mistake.
Now, you might be thinking, “Well, did you at least try an easy recipe? Something to help the transition from beginner to master chef?” Ahhh, well…nope, not even a little bit. See, the girl I was into at the time, uh, had a thing for some fancy kind of salmon and I figured I could try my hand at it. Something that was far beyond the skills of a beginner, I assure you.
You may also think, “Well, that was stupid. But surely you practiced the dish before trying to make some for her! Something to give you an idea of what you did right or wrong, and how you could improve!” Absolutely not- I cooked it in front of her the very first time I tried to cook it, giving her a chance to see all of my mistakes live!
“Okay,” you may be thinking, frustrated at this idiot in front of you, “But you at least tempered her expectations by letting her know this was your first time cooking? And she found your efforts endearing, and you ended up in a short but sweet high school relationship?” Ahahaha…no. I totally bragged, saying I was basically the next Gordan Ramsey, and that my meal would totally blow her mind (I may have said something a little more sexually suggestive than that, but we’ll avoid talking about my embarrassing high school flirting for the time being). And no, she was not endeared by my failed efforts- especially given, as I mentioned before, the salmon ended up as unappetizing as the idea of a relationship with me (her words exactly!).
Anyway, after that, I gave up cooking for a while. I know, the cool thing to do would have been to actually keep at it, try to overcome my weakness and all of that. But, really, the idea of failing again was incredibly disheartening- something that I was not really interested in dealing with. So I just kind of…gave up. In any relationships I had after that, we ended up just going out to eat (or, in one case, I dated this girl that was super good at cooking, and always wanted a chance to show off her skills. Man, I wish she didn’t end up hitting every other red flag imaginable…but that’s not the story I’m telling right now, is it?).
Flash forward to about ten years after the Cooking Incident- I was in my mid-twenties, and dating this wonderful woman named Sarah. Super smart, super funny, and only a little bit condescending (wait, this sounds familiar)- really, the perfect human being that I was perfectly ready to spend the rest of my life with. That said, there was one problem…
“Why don’t you ever cook?”
One morning, we were sitting in our shared apartment, drinking coffee before heading off to our respective jobs. As neither of us had fully awoken, we were sitting in silence until that point. Actually, come to think of it, perhaps her silence was more to do with considering that question than being tired.
“Cook?” I replied, as if I had never heard of the activity (definitely worth noting that my own silence was due to the fact that my brain had yet to awaken). Cold sweat trickled down my neck. Surely I could figure a way out of this one…I was not eager to repeat my past mistakes. But, before I could develop an excuse, Sarah continued.
“Yeah. I’ve cooked for you plenty, but I’ve never seen you do more than help me chop vegetables…to various degrees of success, I should add. Whenever you’re in charge of dinner, you always pick something up…” She smiled, grabbing my hand from across our small dining table. “I’d really like to try your cooking, my love.”
“Um…” Darn, she was really convincing. And that ‘my love’ at the end- how could I possibly tell her ‘I don’t cook’ at that point?! Seriously, she was so cute when she flirted like this…wait, did I forget to reply?
Fortunately, it looked like Sarah was willing to pick up the conversation from her end. Unfortunately, she decided to play dirty- as I struggled to remember how the English language worked, she stood up and walked over to me. She wrapped her arms around my neck, brushing her lips against my ear. “I’ve been working really hard on this project at work, so I could use something you’ve cooked with love. I’m sure that would make my productivity double.”
“Only double? Wow, guess my love isn’t worth that much.” I quip back, grinning despite the obvious issues with this request. (And, yes, I will be the first to admit that I was thinking with the wrong brain by this point. Like I said, she was playing dirty! It wasn’t my fault, okay?! Okay, maybe it was a little bit.) “Alright, I’m game. Tonight, I’ll cook you the most delicious dinner you’ve ever tasted. What should I make for you?”
“There’s this salmon dinner I’ve always wanted to try…”
Oh yes, you guessed it- the salmon dinner she wanted to try was the same exact one I tried to make all those years ago. And yes, I once more promised something along the lines of blowing her mind with the food (no comment on whether or not I made a sexually suggestive remark, incidentally). But I was older and wiser by then, so surely I wouldn’t make the same mistakes! And, heck- internet tutorials had gotten a lot more intricate in the last ten years…even if I was still the same cooking novice I was back in high school, technology would have my back!
As it turned out, technology did indeed have my back- to a point. Obtaining the ingredients was easy enough, as I now had a disposable income (I didn’t mention this earlier, but I definitely had to improvise a bit when I was in high school…my fridge at home did not exactly contain every necessary ingredient. But, on the bright side, I’m pretty sure the fish I cooked back then was actually salmon!). Prep also wasn’t awful, given I had some experience helping Sarah with that (with her little jab earlier, I decided to be extra careful when cutting them this time). Unfortunately, the actual cooking part gave me some troubles.
My first issue was the oil. The recipe called for a “drizzle”, but I genuinely had no idea what that meant. My thinking was, ‘even when rain is described as a “drizzle”, it still seems like there’s a lot of rain’…so I figured I could just dump a bunch of oil into the pan! But we were actually running pretty low on oil, so I just put in as much as I could- about as much to thinly coat the bottom of the pan. (Later, I found out that, even though this was definitely too much, the amount I had wanted to use would have caused some, um, slight burning issues. Like, with the apartment. So we’ll chalk this one down to luck and thank the Fates for it.)
Next was the heat. Once more, vague directions were the bane of my existence. “Low”, “medium”, and “high” heat I understood, but what in the heck was “medium-high” heat?! Why couldn’t stove dials and recipes just use exact numbers, like ovens?! Anyway, I went with about halfway between the “medium” and “high” setting- that was my best guess.
The sauce was my major obstacle. I mean, who decided that you should have to cook the sauce with the salmon? I always figured sauce was just something you could pour on the already-finished food! I mean, wouldn’t the food just warm the cold sauce? But no, I had to first cook the salmon most of the way (what did “most” mean? So vague!), and then pour the mixed sauce into the pan. The sauce then had to be reduced in the pan, as I scooped it over the salmon to help the fish soak some in. But…reduced? Simmered? I wasn’t too sure about what the recipe meant, there- but my sauce definitely depleted much faster than the recipe asked for. It also smelled a bit smokier than I felt it was supposed to…
Confused, I finally switched the stove dial from “medium-high” to “off”, as the scent of the blackened sauce permeated through the kitchen. A quick glance at the clock told me that Sarah would be walking in any minute, and the salmon was not something I would refer to as “even a little bit edible”.
“This might be a problem,” I muttered to myself. The two pieces of salmon were unevenly cooked- one side of each looked like they could be somewhat salvageable, but that side had barely absorbed any sauce, so I could only imagine that it would be relatively dry. Each piece’s other side seemed to be a blackened mess, even without considering the tragedy of the sauce. Speaking of the sauce, now that it had cooled, it solidified into more of a crust- hence why I could only guess at what the other side of the salmon looked like.
My musings were interrupted by the sound of a key in the lock. It looked as if “any minute” had come, and Sarah was home. Sure enough, the love of my life walked through that door with a smile on her face- only to immediately scrunch that same face up the second she used her nose.
“Oh my god, I’m going to gag. What is that smell?” She hacked and coughed (which was a little rude, considering I had done a pretty good job removing most of the smoke), holding her hand to her mouth to avoid further inhalation. “Was there a fire? Did the stove break or something?”
Ashamed, I rubbed the back of my neck. With my other hand, I indicated what I will generously refer to as ‘the salmon I made’. “Um, not quite. I, uh, might have messed up a little while cooking.”
Originally, I had been hoping to make Sarah’s eyes bulge out in excitement by impressing her with the food I had made. Well, her eyes did bulge out, but it was more out of terror than anything else (although she may have still been a little impressed at how much I had managed to mess up). “A little? How much oil did you use to cook it that quickly? Or did you have the stove set to ‘inferno’?”
I hung my head down in shame. “A bit of Column A; Column B. I…okay, look, I feel like I need to answer your question from earlier. I, uh, can’t actually cook. I’ve tried before, and it always seems to end up like this.”
At this point, all I could do was wait. I figured she’d be upset with me for not telling her this ahead of time. Hopefully she wouldn’t dump me over something like this, but at the very least I’d probably lost some of her trust…
“Yeah, this is terrible. Could be a lot worse, though- I feel like you could probably get it the next time you try it- I mean, I think you got the timing right, you just need to make sure you adjust the heating properly. You should lower the heat to a simmer while trying to reduce the sauce. Wait, there’s still olive oil in here…how much did you use? Ugh, no wonder this looks like the coal Santa gives to bad kids. Part of it is kind of edible, though…”
I raised my head, only to see that Sarah had moved behind me, making her way over to the stovetop. Unbelievably, she was actually eating my failed creation, using a fork to scoop tiny bits of dry, burnt salmon into her mouth. “Hey, you don’t need to force yourself to eat that!”
Sarah looked at me as if I were an idiot, and took another bite (while maintaining eye contact, no less!). “I mean, even if you failed, you worked really hard on it, right? Even if it’s an overcooked mess, you made me something with love, like I asked- why would I waste it?”
As far as responses went, I could not think of anything to say to that. Truthfully, I was so overwhelmed that the only thing that came to mind was to lean over and kiss her lips. As she had just finished chewing a bite of the salmon, I backed away with the taste of the overcooked fish on my tongue. And yet, somehow- instead of the bitter flavor I expected, it tasted…
Sarah blushed, her eyes glancing toward the floor. “Geez, warn me next time! My breath smells like fish.”
“Ahaha, sorry- I just wanted a chance to taste the salmon.” I embraced the love of my life, smiling as her body wrapped around mine, “Thanks to you, it tasted sweet.”
Culled from blog.reedsy.com by Hayden Morrison