Lockdown Day 31: A History of Cooking, Part 1 / Encierro Día 31: Una Historia de Cocina, Parte 1

La versión español está después de la versión inglés.

ANOTHER STORY THAT NEEDS TO be retold, and in Spanish. San Geraldo and I had been dating for perhaps a month when he had what he insisted was a great idea. “We should take turns cooking. One weekend, you cook for us at your apartment and the next weekend, I’ll cook at mine.”

I told him, again, I didn’t cook. I told him my idea of a gourmet meal was Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with freshly crumbled bacon (none of those bacon bits from a jar in MY kitchen). But, he wouldn’t listen. I think he just couldn’t believe that anyone could be that indifferent, or unskilled, when it came to the culinary arts.

It was Friday. And it was my turn. SG was picking me up after work to go grocery shopping. I had no idea what to cook. I figured Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was not an option since SG had cooked some highbrow chicken (in a homemade sauce and everything) the week before. (He actually proudly told me he called it his “Seduction Chicken.” I didn’t ask how many times he had served it.)

My best friend, Brian, was bar manager at a trendy Boston restaurant called Ken’s By George (known as “By George” to differentiate it from Ken’s deli upstairs). It was right across the street from Copley Square. I drank most of my lunches there and quite often stopped off for a drink — or five — after work. I figured I’d get suggestions from Brian. But, he wasn’t any better in the kitchen than I was. He baked cupcakes — once. He bought a cupcake pan and the paper cupcake cups, but he didn’t use the cups because he was afraid they would catch fire in the oven.

Another regular at By George, Barbara, was at the bar drinking lunch and she told me she loved to cook. “Shrimp scampi,” she declared.

“Barbara, I need something easy,” I groaned.

“It couldn’t be easier! All you need are some really nice jumbo shrimp, garlic, and butter. Melt the butter in the pan, add a clove of garlic, and drop in the shrimp. They don’t even take two minutes to cook. If you cook them too long, they get rubbery. And, if you want to really impress him, butterfly the shrimp. Serve it with broccoli. A couple of wedges of lemon. I’m telling you. It’s so easy and he’ll be blown away.”

SG picked me up and we drove over to Safeway on Boylston Street. I bought a pound of jumbo shrimp for $10.95. Big money in 1981. SG was already blown away. I picked out some fresh broccoli and a package of frozen, baked stuffed clams. I had cooked broccoli before. And the baked stuffed clams were one of my staples. Just pop them in the oven for 10 minutes.

We headed to my apartment in the South End. SG took his briefcase into the living room to do some work and I headed to the kitchen to work some magic.

I lined up all the ingredients on my kitchen counter. I preheated the oven to 300F (150C) and put the baked stuffed clams on a cookie sheet and slid the clams into the oven. I put water up to boil and tossed in the broccoli. I then went to work on the garlic.

Now, I wasn’t a complete idiot. I already knew the difference between a head and a clove of garlic. I pulled away a clove and began to peel. I peeled one layer after another until there was no garlic remaining in my hand. Clearly, I had gone too far. I went to work on another clove of garlic, this time stopping after the first paper-like layer came away. I chopped up what remained and threw it in the pan with some butter. Maybe too much butter. Barbara hadn’t been clear on that.

I washed the shrimp. They were truly gorgeous. I decided to butterfly them. I dropped the first jumbo shrimp on the counter, hefted my knife, and realized I had no clue how to butterfly a shrimp. But, I’m an artist. A visual person. I flipped the shrimp back and forth a couple of times and determined the obvious way to slice a shrimp to make it look like a butterfly. I placed the blade of the knife into the shrimp and pressed. Nothing. My knife wasn’t sharp enough to cut shrimp. I would have tried another knife — I had three others — but they were a matched set I purchased one Saturday a couple of years earlier at the Aqueduct Park flea market near Kennedy Airport. The set of four wood-handled steak knives cost me $1. I now knew why.

Meanwhile, the broccoli was at a full boil. I turned down the heat. The clams took only 10 minutes in the oven. I shouldn’t have put them in so soon. The butter was simmering (a bit too simmery), the brocoli was wilting. I grabbed the tray of clams, ran into the living room, and dropped them on the coffee table in front of SG. “Eat these!” I ordered as I ran back to the kitchen. “Wait,” he cried. “Sit down and have some with me.” “No time!” I yelled. He followed me into the kitchen with the cookie sheet and told me to just put the clams in the oven on low until I was ready to join him.

So, back to my first butterfly. I found if I hacked away with the knife, the shrimp did begin to separate. I could then tear it apart with my fingers to produce a rough-winged butterfly. I did the same with the remaining shrimp and threw them in the pan. I cooked them the two minutes Barbara had instructed and was about to remove them when I became concerned. What if I undercooked them? Couldn’t you die from undercooked seafood? I left them in the pan a couple minutes longer. Just in case.

The broccoli was gray-green and too mushy to spear with a fork, so I had to scoop it out of the pan and onto our plates. I added the shrimp, which seemed somehow just a bit… bouncy. I then remembered the clams still on low heat in the oven. I pulled out the cookie sheet and carried the clams to the dining room table as a side dish for our shrimp scampi. Finally, I brought out the two plates of shrimp and broccoli and we sat down — SG excitedly — to dine.

We each took a baked stuffed clam and used our forks to scoop out the filling. It was like eating sand. “This is good,” said SG as he reached for his water glass.

The broccoli was slimy. And now more gray than green. “I cooked it too long,” I commented.

“No, it’s good. This is how my mother always made it.” (Years later, he admitted to me his mother always cooked vegetables to death.)

And then the shrimp. I pressed the 25-cent steak knife into the shrimp. It bounced. I had produced a batch of Superballs. At $10.95 a pound.

“This is good,” mumbled SG as he gnawed on a shrimp.

“No, this is not good!” I snapped. “I told you I don’t cook. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. That’s what I make!” I was grateful to be off the hook.

“So, next time, that’s what we’ll have,” he smiled. “I love Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.” [Crickets.] For a smart guy, he sure was a slow learner.

.

SAN GERALDO Y YO HABÍAMOS estado saliendo durante quizás un mes cuando tuvo lo que él insistió que era una gran idea. “Deberíamos turnarnos para cocinar. Un fin de semana, cocinas para nosotros en tu apartamento y el próximo fin de semana, yo cocinaré en el mío.”

Le dije, nuevamente, que no cocinaba. Le dije que mi idea de una comida gourmet era Kraft Macarrones con Queso con tocino recién desmenuzado (ninguno de esos trozos de tocino de un frasco en MI cocina). Pero no quiso escuchar. Creo que simplemente no podía creer que alguien pudiera ser tan indiferente o inexperto en lo que respecta a las artes culinarias.

Era viernes y fue mi turno. SG estaba recogiendo después del trabajo y nos íbamos de compras. No tenía idea de qué cocinar. Me imaginé que Kraft Macarrones con Queso no era una opción ya que SG había cocinado pollo (en una salsa casera y todo) la semana anterior. (En realidad, con orgullo, me dijo que lo llamó su “pollo de seducción”. No pregunté cuántas veces lo había servido).

Mi mejor amigo, Brian, era gerente de bar en un moderno restaurante de Boston llamado Ken’s By George (conocido como “By George” para diferenciarlo de la tienda de delicatessen de Ken arriba). Estaba justo al otro lado de la calle de Copley Square. Bebí la mayoría de mis almuerzos allí y con frecuencia me detenía a tomar una copa, o cinco, después del trabajo. Pensé que recibiría sugerencias de Brian. Pero, él no era mejor en la cocina que yo. Horneó “cupcakes”, una vez. Compró un molde para magdalenas y las tazas de papel, pero no las usó las tazas porque temía que se incendiaran en el horno.

Otra habitual en By George, Barbara, estaba en el bar tomando el almuerzo y ella me dijo que le encantaba cocinar. “Camarones con gambas”, declaró.

“Barbara, necesito algo fácil”, gruñí.

“¡No podría ser más fácil! Todo lo que necesitas son unos camarones jumbo (y realmente buenos), ajo y mantequilla. Derrita la mantequilla en la sartén, agregue un diente de ajo, y agregue los camarones. Ni siquiera tardan dos minutos en cocinarse. Si los cocina demasiado tiempo, se vuelven gomosos. Y, si realmente quiere impresionarlo, mariposas los camarones. Servir con brócoli. Unas rodajas de limón. Te lo estoy diciendo. Es muy fácil y él no sabrá qué lo golpeó”.

San Geraldo me recogió y nos dirigimos a Safeway (el supermercado) en la calle Boylston. Compré una libra (1/2 kilo) de camarones gigantes por $10.95. Grandes cantidades de dinero en 1981. SG ya estaba impresionado. Escogí un poco de brócoli fresco y un paquete de almejas rellenas congeladas y horneadas. Sabía cocinar brócoli. Y las almejas rellenas al horno eran uno de mis alimentos básicos. Solo mételos en el horno por 10 minutos.

Nos dirigimos a mi apartamento en Worcester Square. SG llevó su maletín a la mesa de centro para hacer un poco de trabajo y me dirigí a la cocina para hacer algo de magia.

Puse todos los ingredientes en la encimera. Precalié el horno a 300F (150C) y puse las almejas rellenas horneadas en una bandeja y las metí en el horno. Puse agua a hervir y eché el brócoli. Luego fui a trabajar en el ajo.

Bueno, no era un idiota completo. Ya sabía la diferencia entre una cabeza y un diente de ajo. Aparté un diente y comencé a pelar. Pelé una capa tras otra hasta que no quedó ajo en mi mano. Claramente, había ido demasiado lejos. Fui a trabajar en otro diente de ajo, esta vez deteniéndome después de que la primera capa parecida al papel desapareció. Corté lo que quedaba y lo arrojé a la sartén con un poco de mantequilla. Quizás un poco demasiada mantequilla. Barbara no había sido clara en eso.

Lavé los camarones. Eran realmente preciosos. Decidí hacer todo lo posible y hacerles mariposas. Dejé caer el primer camarón gigante en la encimera, levanté mi cuchillo, y me di cuenta de que no tenía idea de cómo hacer que un camarón se parezca a una mariposa. Pero soy artista. Una persona visual. Volteé el camaron de ida y vuelta y determiné la forma obvia de cortarlos para que parezca una mariposa. Coloqué la hoja del cuchillo en los camarones y presioné. Nada. Mi cuchillo no era lo suficientemente afilado como para cortar camarones. Hubiera intentado con otro cuchillo, tenía otros tres, pero eran un juego combinado que compré un sábado unos años antes en el mercado de pulgas Aqueduct Park, cerca del aeropuerto Kennedy. El juego de cuatro cuchillos para carne con mango de madera me costó $1. Ahora sabía por qué.

Mientras tanto, el brócoli estaba a punto de hervir. Bajé el fuego. Las almejas tardaron solo 10 minutos en el horno. No debería haberlos puesto tan pronto. La mantequilla estaba hirviendo (un poco demasiado lento), el brocoli se estaba marchitando. Agarré la bandeja de almejas, corrí hacia la sala de estar y las dejé caer sobre la mesa de centro frente a SG. “¡Come estos!” ordené mientras volvía corriendo a la cocina. “Espera”, dijo SG. “Siéntate y toma un poco conmigo”. “¡No hay tiempo!” grité. Me siguió a la cocina con la bandeja para hornear galletas y me dijo que solo pusiera las almejas en el horno a temperatura baja hasta que estuviera listo para unirme a él.

Volví a crear una mariposa. Descubrí que si cortaba con el cuchillo, los camarones comenzaban a separarse. Luego podría romperlo con mis dedos para producir una mariposa de alas ásperas. Hice lo mismo con los camarones restantes y los tiré a la sartén. Los cociné los dos minutos que Barbara me había indicado y estaba a punto de sacarlos de la sartén cuando me preocupé. ¿Qué pasa si los cocino poco? ¿No podrías morir por mariscos poco cocidos? Los dejé en la sartén unos minutos más. Por si acaso.

El brócoli era de color verde grisáceo y demasiado blando para lanzarlo con un tenedor, así que tuve que sacarlo de la sartén con una cucharra y ponerlo en nuestros platos. Agregué los camarones, que de alguna manera parecían un poco … hinchables. Entonces recordé almejas todavía a baja temperatura en el horno. Saqué la bandeja de galletas, agarré la almohadilla caliente y llevé las almejas a la mesa del comedor como guarnición para nuestros langostinos con camarones. Finalmente, saqué los dos platos de camarones y brócoli y nos sentamos — SG emocionado — a cenar.

Tomamos una almeja rellena al horno y usamos nuestros tenedores para sacar el relleno eCada uno de nosotros tomamos una almeja rellena al horno y usamos nuestros tenedores para sacar el relleno. Fue como comer arena. “Es bueno”, dijo SG mientras alcanzaba su vaso de agua.

El brócoli estaba viscoso. Y ahora más gris que verde. “Lo cociné demasiado”, comenté. “No, está bien. Así es como mi madre siempre lo hizo”. (Años después, me confesó que su madre siempre cocinaba verduras hasta la muerte).

Y luego los camarones. Presioné el cuchillo de carne de 25 centavos en los camarones. Rebotó. Había producido un lote de pelotas de goma. A $ 10.95 la libra.

“Esto es bueno”, murmuró SG mientras roía su pelota de goma.

“No, esto no es bueno!” le dije. “Te dije que no cocino. Kraft Macarrones con Queso. ¡Eso es lo que hago!” Me sentí aliviado de haber terminado con la cocina.

“Entonces, la próxima vez, eso es lo que tendremos”, sonrió. “Me encantan los Macarrones con Queso de Kraft”. Para un hombre inteligente, seguro que aprendía lentamente.

It had a very nice kitchen. / Tenía una cocina muy bonita.

Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

37 thoughts on “Lockdown Day 31: A History of Cooking, Part 1 / Encierro Día 31: Una Historia de Cocina, Parte 1”

  1. look at that cheesecake photo at the top…THAT is how you won SG. it certainly wasn’t your cooking skillz. funny story though.

  2. Awe! Cooking is a set of skills, that can be learned, teaching takes patience, something few teachers have. I understand all of Julia Child’s original French Chef is available on Amazon Prime video. She taught skills and technique. I still make J nervous in the kitchen, he recently asked me to please leave the kitchen while he cooks. I am to judgemental in the kitchen.

    1. David:
      I have actually cooked since then… and well (OK, edibly). But I really don’t enjoy it. One dish is fun. A meal for me is not.

  3. We both are cooks and so our cooking extravaganzas were so exciting and entertaining. Jim and SG should open a restaurant together me thinks. We could sit and tinkle our martinis and smile with a flip of our pinkies, heads and enjoy life, right!?

    1. Ron:
      While SG was in grad school, he decided he wanted to open his own Russian restaurant. He enrolled in culinary school and had to wash dishes as part of his restaurant training. He lasted one day.

  4. Legs for days!!
    You can’t be good at everything, Mitchell! Leave the cookin to the pros. I think SG understands.
    I LOVE to cook and during this covid pandemic I am mixing all sorts of things together….so far so good. No complaints yet.

    1. “legs for days” – my spouse’s late BFF’s fave saying. rob’s been gone almost 3 years now and we still miss him.

      1. anne marie:
        It’s powerful how phrases immediately connect us with special people in our lives.

    2. Jim:
      I didn’t realize the reaction that photo was going to get. It was the only one I could find of myself in that apartment. I’m going to “cook” again today. I’m trying my hand at Anne Marie’s Energy Bites recipe! I’ll share the results… no matter what happens.

  5. I agree with Anne Marie—that first photo makes it clear how you attracted SG!

    As to the cooking….well. As soon as you started telling the story of that ill-fated meal, I thought, “Oh no. He’s starting the broccoli before he’s even prepared the shrimp! This won’t end well!” Hahaha. Cooking takes time and practice to master. Honestly, you should have served him the mac and cheese to begin with and saved yourself the stress and money. Or else gotten fancy take-out ahead of time and transferred it to your own serving dishes. I remember the first time I tried to cook a meal for a someone and it was horrible. Undercooked, bloody chicken, undercooked baked potatoes (hard in the center) and mushy overcooked green beans. I was cooking for my cousin who had just come home on leave from the middle east (air force guy) and he gave me hell for years about my awful cooking! 🙂 I’ve improved a lot since then, though.

    1. Jennifer:
      If I ever did cook, I would cook items and not entire meals. Timing broccoli with other things was never my strong suit. That comes with practice and I refused to practice. Had I served the Mac n Cheese first, SG probably STILL would have wanted to try again. Anyway, given the disasters he leaves in his wake in the kitchen after preparing one of his amazing meals, it’s a good thing I bat clean up!

  6. The bouncing almost butterflied shrimp! Ah, well. You obviously won SG with your charm–looks–personality. Good enough.

    And a good thing he can cook.

    1. Mary:
      Yes, it’s a good thing he can cook… and I can clean. As much of a disaster I am when it comes to producing something edible, that’s the kind of disaster he leaves behind in the kitchen. And he hates clean-up. It’s a match made in heaven.

  7. Let’s be honest…San Geraldo fell for you because your a handsome devil and you have more leg then a bucket of chicken!!!!!!!!!

      1. anne marie:
        That line is going to be making the rounds among our friends, I’m sure.

    1. Mistress Maddie:
      Oh, we both cracked up at “more leg than a bucket of chicken”! And finger-lickin’ good, too!

  8. Okay, everybody else have already waxed poetic about your long, gorgeous legs, so I won’t go there. I will say, however, that I am so very pleasantly surprised that you still have your fingers! Butterflying shrimp with a dull knife? Scoot! I do love the way you tell a story. You two complement each other so nicely, you accident prone, SG blood squeamish. What a match! Hugs to you both. I’m feeling a little sappy today. Don’t worry, surly bitch is just a mood swing away.

    1. Deedles:
      I really wasn’t expecting that kind of reaction to the photo! That knife was so useless, I don’t think I could have cut my finger if I tried. As for surly bitch, I’ve never met her. Sending you hugs and hoping you’re feeling much better!

  9. Another great story although it must have been agonizing at the time – glad that time lended humor to it! At least SG knew what he was getting into early on; perhaps that is the key to your successful relationship. Dennis wooed (and won) me with apricot soufflé. My legs are short – to match the rest of me – but shapely – also to match the rest of me. My shape is a little more shapely now, but my cooking has improved! Hmmmm, perhaps those two things are related. Life goes on.

    1. Wilma:
      Oddly, it was never really agonizing. I remember the biggest stress being when I delivered the clams to SG and he brought them back. But I immediately found it all kind of funny and figured it was my way out of the deal. Ooh, apricot soufflé. SG has NEVER made me a soufflé. And, whatever he thought, if I hadn’t already been seduced, his seduction chicken would not have done a thing.

  10. Ha! I love that story. I have some similar ones from when I first started dating Dave. Cooking is always fraught with potential disaster, particularly for some of us! I think Anne Marie is right — you may not have been a chef, but you had the legs to get away with it.

    1. Steve:
      Oh, that photo. Now that I’ve looked at it again, it is kind of seductive. But I really hadn’t expected the reaction it got. Maybe that IS why I didn’t have to cook… or maybe SG just knew he had found someone to clean up after his kitchen explosions. It’s worked perfectly for us both.

  11. I was taught to cook simple dishes and given a lot of instructions from my mother who made a point of showing us how to do things in the kitchen from a very early age, I think I was 6 when Mom showed me her cookbooks and recipes and explained how important it was to known how to do simple task in the kitchen. At 7 my Dad showed me how to mix drinks correctly. I then graduated to making canapés and other party foods. Being a family in the Hotel business I suppose it came naturally. Love that retro photo of those Betty Grable legs of yours.

    1. larrymuffin:
      My mother taught me to bake when I was young and I enjoyed it. But I never picked it up on my own. I don’t think Betty Grable ever took to the kitchen either.

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