By Christine Dixon
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
~Harriet Van Horne
As a child, I'd always heard the way to a man's heart was through his stomach. I believed it. What I didn't realize at the time was that the food had to taste good to get there.
When I started dating my boyfriend Tony, I made the mistake of bragging about how great a cook I was. I failed to mention that most of my gourmet meals consisted of peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and toast. I could go through half a loaf of bread before making edible toast.
I should have known it wasn't in my genetic makeup to be a great cook. My mother's favorite meal was boiled ground beef, pasta and cheese slices melted into the concoction. I don't know what I was thinking, offering to make lasagna for my Tony. Anyone else would have known better but I was determined to get into Tony's heart and stay there. Did I mention he was Italian and he loved his mother's cooking?
I shopped at the grocery store for everything I was going to need. I bought everything the recipe called for. I even bought garlic bread — the kind you just throw in the oven and heat up. I got home with several hours to spare before Tony was supposed to arrive.
I prepared everything perfectly and popped my tray of lasagna into the oven. I figured I'd wait and heat up the garlic bread just before we ate so it would be hot and fresh.
I ran upstairs to get ready. It took me almost an hour to do my hair and make-up and choose the perfect outfit. Just as I sprayed the final touches on my hair, the oven bell rang and I knew the lasagna was finished. The box had said to bake for an hour. How could I go wrong?
I pulled the lasagna from the oven. It smelled delicious. I popped the garlic bread into the oven and set the table.
The sound of the doorbell set my heart racing. Would Tony love my cooking? Would he compare it to his mother's and declare mine the winner?
I opened the front door and for a second I couldn't breathe. He stood there, gorgeous as ever, holding a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of sparkling grape juice. It was so romantic.
"I'm really looking forward to this," he said as he stepped toward me and kissed me on the lips.
"Me too," I said, or squealed. I'm not sure.
He followed me into the kitchen and helped me put the flowers in some water. I watched him carry the vase into the dining room. I felt so proud of myself. My very first romantic dinner. It couldn't be any more perfect.
Tony walked back into the kitchen and gave me a soft lingering kiss. The sound of the oven bell rang. "It's ready!" I said.
I pulled the garlic bread from the oven, cut it into pieces and carried it into the dining room. Then I brought the lasagna in. Just as I was about to start cutting the lasagna into pieces, Tony walked over and took the knife gently from me.
"You worked so hard, let me serve it at least," he said sweetly.
It was too good to be true. No, seriously, it was too good to be true. He tried to cut through the beautiful tray of lasagna, and all we heard was the sound of knife hitting hard pasta. I was horrified. Okay, maybe it was just that noodle. He moved the knife to another spot, and again tried to cut through.
After several unsuccessful attempts, he set the knife down and turned to me. "I think maybe you forgot to cook the noodles."
My eyes must have grown so wide at that moment I probably scared him half to death. Then the tears. Those terrible tears that erupt whenever I don't know what to say or do.
He grinned. "It's okay."
"No it's not! I wanted this to be perfect," I said as I tried not to break into a full-out cry.
He sat me down in my chair and poured a glass of sparkling grape juice for us both. He sat down beside me and told me a joke that finally got me to stop being sad. We ate garlic bread and laughed and ended up having a super date despite the ruined lasagna.
A week later he invited me to his parents' house for dinner. His mother cooked up a delicious Italian meal. I felt silly for thinking that I could have made a better lasagna than her.
As we sat down to eat, she motioned for me to sit next to her. "Tony told me what happened with the lasagna," she said.
I was embarrassed all over again. Why did he tell her?
She smiled at me. "That's nothing. The first time I cooked a meal for my Anthony, I burned everything. I was so nervous, I set the temperature too high and nearly burned down the kitchen."
We laughed about our cooking fiascos and then his mother and father told us a whole bunch of stories about all the crazy things that happened to them over the years. The way they smiled at each other with each memory made me realize something — the way to a man's heart may be through his stomach, but you'll only stay there if you can laugh together.