First Meals of Dead Romance

I have never had trouble remembering the first meal that I ate with a lover, until now.  Usually, I would daydream about it and plan each flavour to please them.  The nerves of the day of that first date would go into a mental tickover of purchasing, timing, expertise needed and results hoped for.  

I would not cook always to dazzle, but certainly to impress.  Like the little black dress that draws attention to the woman wearing it by its well-cut unobtrusiveness, the first meal of a courtship should linger at the edges of the memory.  Dinner should be well-executed enough to speak of your competence and flair – to sing of it, even – but it should neither take all the attention away from the spark between the two of you nor be so large and heavy that you have no appetite for anything more. 

For one long-haired academic, twitching always with thinking-energy, not overly concerned with the subtleties of palate but appreciative of a solid meal, I put together home-made hamburgers.  He had called almost by accident asking for a couch to stay on in my city, post-seminar, that same evening.  In the open air of the eastbound platforms at Whitechapel, I assented down the phone and looked at myself, smart-clad from a meeting I’d been attending.  Dinner would need to be thrown together, form a decent backdrop to a promising evening.  When I got home I rolled up the sleeves of my chic little cardigan and, earrings bobbing and glass of wine at hand, conjured up the burgers.  Like my mother used to do when we were children, I squeezed ground beef through my fingers and added finely chopped onion and as many fresh herbs as the mix would bear.  The squat, fat patties went on some tinfoil under the grill and I sliced tomato, red onion and avocado.  ‘I don’t think I’ve ever had home-made hamburgers before’ said my friend, in his handsome little Cambridge accent.  The first bottle of wine accompanied the burgers – just as badly, but enjoyably, as my friend and I accompanied each other, as it turned out.  The second bottle came with no such excuse, but was only opened to loosen the words from our mouths.


For one girl, smooth-haired and round-nosed, I purloined the expensive smoked scallops my flatmates had bought for Christmas before they went off to visit family.  They were almost out of date anyway, I reasoned.  The pumpkin and chorizo soup I followed them with was less impressive: I choose to remember, instead, the way she slipped each translucent, sea-perfumed slice of muscle into her mouth, chasing it with a sip of single malt.  I remember also the way she sat on my bed as I stood, a little blustering and overwhelmed, and how she spread her skirt out enough for me to see two black stripes of stocking top, two touchable sweeps of thigh and, dead centre, knickers in so cheery and bright a pattern, I couldn’t be intimidated.  Dumbstruck, yes, but not intimidated.  Later, we propped ourselves up on my old pink eiderdown, drinking sloe gin from little brandy snifters and fancying ourselves 1920s heroines of some silent film. 


One man took me to Rules.  He requested the table which would give me the fullest view of their mural of Margaret Thatcher.  I rewarded this only with a raised eyebrow.  He had grouse, I had pigeon.  The vegetable sides came as purees, served in tiny silver salvers.  At his flat, we discovered in a fit of giggles that my maroon evening dress blended perfectly into the colour of his bedsheets, so it looked as though my torso were camouflaged with only my head and shoulders emerging.


For one man, I cooked lamb chops in a mushroom broth on my sad, solid-state cooker ring for four hours until the meat fell off the bones and he fell into my bed.  But that is a less good story than the second meal I made for him: determined to outdo myself, determined to give us a meal worth talking about, I raided the grand Victorian cemetery near my house for nettles.  It was spring, about this time three years ago, and the nettle tops were sweet and tender with a sting that was easily massaged away (rather like me, in fact!  If you plunge me into boiling water for a minute, I lose all my harshness.)  Cashews from the food co-op, pecorino brought by a friend visiting from Rome and a great long slurp of olive oil, then half a patient hour at the blender, and I had nettle pesto fit to feed a king.  I steamed some chicken thighs and arrayed them over lovely, peely-skinned Jersey new potatoes, and dolloped my pesto on top in pale green stripes.  ‘This meal is made from the phosphates of dead people’ I told him, rather ghoulishly.  Maybe I will make him nettle pesto again this year.  It’s our third not-our-anniversary as loving, injoke-getting, favour-doing, beer-sharing exes.   


Yet the one man I cannot remember cooking for is the one who liked food most, and with whom I spoke most about food.  I cannot recall what it was I made for him, at first.  I can tell you that last night we ate steamed salmon fillets,  crushed potatoes and leeks made interesting with caramelised onions, sunflower seeds, cream cheese and white wine.  I can tell you that we went upstairs with a bottle of wine and had an affectionate, sensible discussion of how much easier it would be to just be friends.  I can tell you that we parted smiling, with plans to go eat crispy duck sometime soon, and I walked him to the bus stop and watched his bus out of sight.  But from round the corner, so he wouldn’t notice me doing so.

Published in: on January 24, 2012 at 12:45 am  Leave a Comment  

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