Sometimes, all it takes is one bite.
For weeks on end, the Chef and I had been moony in love, head over heels, dazzled and dancing, happy as clams. And not just any weeks, but weeks of swooning every night, eating in the best restaurants in Seattle, making roasted chicken in my kitchen, sampling potato-leek soup with truffle honey and parsley in his. Days felt like dog years — stretched out into happiness and secret inside jokes and mouthfuls of food so satisfying that we simply looked at each other and smiled. Weeks felt like months, because we packed so much living and loving and laughing into every day. We were in love and we knew it by heart.
And we had only known each other for a month.
In one of those rare twists of fate that yields only happiness, after the most spectacular year of my life, I was given more. The most spectacular gift of all: real love.
We both fell in love at first sight. Call us ridiculous romantics if you want. We don’t care. We know. Since we met online, we had been writing for weeks before we met. Before we met, he had read most of this website — certainly a fairly strong indication of who I am. When we finally met in a coffeeshop in Seattle, early spring sunlight seeping through the windows, and saw each other across the room, we knew. It may have taken us weeks to admit it out loud, but we both knew within a minute. How? He just felt familiar. He felt like a friend. He felt like someone I already knew. Like the sweetness of sunlight breaking through the clouds. Like my favorite pair of jeans, worn down comfortably in all the right places. Like my favorite recipe, the one I instinctually start to make when I need everything to feel easy and taste like layers of joy.
I knew, immediately. Honestly. Throughout my life, I have listened to other people’s love stories, avidly. And whenever couples in love — sometimes for twenty years or more — told me they knew at that first meeting, I always interrogated them, “How did you know? What did it feel like?” They always spluttered and wandered, trying to wrap their words around the ineffable. No one could ever explain it to me properly. So forgive me if I cannot explain it to you now. All I can say is that it felt like a sigh of relief, like breath, like a taste of something deeply familiar and yet new at the same time. It felt as though everything in my life shifted, and I was finally standing on solid ground.
He has told me repeatedly that he felt the same. He felt that he loved me already, before we met. But he hesitated, because how much can anyone trust words on a page? However, I know now that he hung my photograph above the hood of his restaurant stove before he even saw my face in person. When he saw me in person, he knew. We met in a coffee shop, and I sat at a table, working on a piece for this website, content to let him come to me. (You see, I already knew we would be spending years talking. What was the rush?) After standing in line, waiting for his grande latte, he moved to the station with the sugar and milk. At this point, I moved toward him, to finally say hello. But I looked at the glass container of sugar in his hand, pouring a white stream of sweetness into his milky coffee, for at least thirty seconds. Without hesitating (or even saying hello, really), I slapped him on the arm, and said, “Hey, do you want some coffee with your sugar?”
(And immediately afterward, I thought two things: “God, that was rude. And oh damn — I just hit him on the arm, so now he knows I like him.” And immediately afterward, he thought, “Oh god, she’s a smartass. I’m in love.”)
So you see, our love affair began with tastes: dark and rich, full of creamy goodness, and wonderfully sweet.
After two weeks of this — and other stories I do not want to share here, or at least now — we uttered I love you into the darkness above us at the same time. We danced to songs that instantly became ours. And we did dishes in each other’s kitchens after three-course meals we had made together.
So, six weeks after meeting each other, we had already done so much living that we felt as though we had been tasting each other’s voices for months on end. We smelled each other’s stories and ran our fingers along each other’s laughter and heard each other’s jawlines and saw through the layers of years and right into who we had been as children. This was far more than love. This was it.
After the first night at my home, when we were taking the bus together downtown in the morning, we were nuzzling into each other sleepily. I was happy just to feel his shoulder under my cheek, smiling. Suddenly, he nudged me. I raised my head, then saw his finger pointing toward the couple in front of us. Leaning in as they obviously had been for sixty years, this older couple was still listening to each other talk. The Chef pointed toward them, then whispered into my ear, “That’s us when we are 85.” I started, then wiped the tears from my eyes. I knew he was right.
A few weeks later, after giggling and watching passengers together and whispering in each other’s ears, we stepped off another bus, headed toward something unknown in the sunlight. Before I left, I heard the man with the white cane and a sweet smile on his face say loudly, “There goes that couple in love!” Even a blind man can tell how much we love other.
(And yes, I swear that story is true.)
And so, when we spent our first long weekend together — the both of us free from work for a few days — we already knew we had years ahead of us. What was the rush to say what we would do next when we knew? Why not sway with the taste of what we were experiencing instead?
But the weekend was glorious, in the most mundane way. We went on long walks. We read the Sunday paper in bed. We went grocery shopping, which always excites us. We watched the South Park movie and episodes of MASH. We talked and danced and laughed. For days, I cooked for him, since he cooks for ten hours a day at work. He was patient. I’m not as good as him. However, no one ever cooks for him, since he’s a professional chef. He was truly grateful for my Moroccan lentil soup and fresh crab and scrambled eggs. I watched his eyes close in pleasure, and I felt more gratified than after any piece I had ever written.
However, by Monday night, he could no longer stand it. “I’m going to cook for you,” he said. When I protested that I wanted him to not have to work, he said, “This is not work. I want to cook for you. Sit down and watch.” And so I did. I watched him chop up slices of bacon into tiny pieces, all of them even. I watched him sautée and whisk and mix and wilt. I watched him lean back and dance with a skillet, as he tossed the food without a spatula. (Ooh boy, that impresses me.) I watched him wind his way through our meal, smiling.
There was a piece of pork tenderloin, wrapped in bacon and sprigs of rosemary, seared fast then thrown under the broiler. But honestly, neither of us paid too much attention to that. Instead, the Chef kept saying, “Wait until you try this salad.” He was making some French concoction, with frisee and bacon and a poached egg. (I’m a poached-egg girl, which he didn’t even know then.) He asked me to sit down on the couch, and wait. So I did.
When the plate arrived before me, the spidery frisee sitting crouched on the plate, the poached egg glistening and jiggly, and the indescribable smell of warm bacon vinaigrette wafting up toward me (warm and rich and touched with vinegar), I nearly fainted. He grinned as I moaned out at the sound of it. We put on the dvd of one of my favorite comedians in the world, and we started to sit back and relax.
And then I took my first bite.
It tasted like France, my first taste of freedom, walking down the Champs des Elysees by myself. It tasted like childhood, with the sharp taste of smoked bacon. It tasted like comforting Sunday mornings, with the poached eggs. It tasted like a bite of vinegar, a crunch of pale lettuce, a richness of mustard, a depth of something I couldn’t quite name. It tasted like love. It tasted like the life between us, and everything yet to come.
“Oh F——,” I spluttered, then looked over to see the Chef beaming at the sight of me enjoying his food.
And then, without planning it or thinking about the consquences of the question I was about to ask, I said to him, with urgency, and a hint of irritation that it had taken me this long, “Would you just move in with me?”
And tears formed in his eyes, then he said, “Okay. Of course I will.”
And so, he did.
To tell the truth, this happened months ago. We rise together every morning, then make a fresh pot of coffee. I pour milk into his cup and watch it swirl in creamy wisps in the blackness. And then, I reach into the blue sugar bowl for some white sweetness. Before I left for Sitka, I left him little notes on pink Post-It arrows, all throughout the house. In the sugar bowl, I left him a note, “Would you like some coffee with your sugar?” It still sits there, and every morning I see it and laugh before I bring him his overly sweet coffee. The Chef has been living with me long enough that it feels almost like a distant dream — the days when we didn’t know each other. We have made a life together, and it daily tastes of joy.
Why have I been holding this story? After all, there were days when I first started this site that I made something for dinner then posted about it that night. But, now that I have so many readers, and my segment is running on the Food Network three times a day, and thus I am being wonderfully bombarded with fan mail (I’m going to answer all of you; I promise), I’m suddenly aware of how public site this website is. And, now that I’m daily, deeply in love with a man who makes my heart leap with joy, I feel the need to protect him, and our lives, a little more closely. He is happy to show up on these pages. In fact, it thrills him to bits and moves him to tears every time he reads one of my posts. Still, most of what happens between us needs to be private. So, you may not hear about everything right away. But you will, eventually.
In the meantime, I will leave you with this image. When the Chef comes home — to our home — from a day and evening of creating in his restaurant kitchen, he immediately enters our spacious kitchen and stands in front of the stove. I have stopped protesting that he shouldn’t cook again after all those hours of work. He wants to cook for us. And every night, as he steps back and dances with the skillet, he makes up something new for us. A different recipe every night, made up on the spot. And with his permission, I’m going to start giving them to you, on the pages of this website.
That’s the thing about real love — it only spreads outward. Like the way he wanted me to taste this marvelous salad, and it compelled me to ask him to move into my home. Our home, now.
Frisee salad with warm bacon vinaigrette and a poached egg
One head frisee
Two slices of high-quality, smoked bacon
One tablespoon canola oil
One shallot, peeled and finely chopped
Four teaspoons red wine vinegar
One-half teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt and pepper (to taste)
Remove the core of the frisee lettuce. Wash the frisee thoroughly, then dry it entirely (with either a salad spinner or an absorbent towel). Let it stand on the counter while you complete the rest of the process.
Cut the bacon slices into 1/2-inch pieces. Sautee them in the tablespoon of canola oil until the bacon pieces are crispy. Take the bacon pieces out of the bacon fat and set them aside. Save the reserved bacon fat for later use.
In the same skillet, with a skim of bacon fat at the bottom, add the finely chopped shallot. Sautée the shallot pieces until they have absorbed the bacon fat and have turned translucent.
Add the four teaspoons of red wine vinegar into the pan with the shallots. Whisk the mixture to loosen the goodness of the shallots at the bottom of the pan. Whisk in the Dijon mustard. Take the mixture off the heat, to ensure the mixture does not begin to reduce.
At this point, begin to poach both eggs. (For a sure-fire technique for poaching eggs, check this link.) This should take about four minutes.
Pour four tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat into the skillet. (If you do not have four tablespoons, because the bacon you chose was lean, then make up the difference with canola oil.) After a few moments, whisk the mixture of shallots-vinegar-and-mustard into the heated bacon fat. Whisk vigorously until it as become a coherent mixture. Season with a pinch of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Lightly dip your finger into the vinaigrette to taste for seasoning. Adjust the salt and pepper according to your taste. (However, leave it a little less than perfectly salty. The bacon pieces will add more salt to the melange of tastes in your mouth.)
Heat the vinaigrette to a lovely warmth (one to two minutes). Add the washed frisee to the pan with the warm vinaigrette and toss it around until it begins to wilt. Add the reserved bacon pieces to the mix and toss it all with tongs. When the frisee is coated, and there is no more vinaigrette in the bottom of the pan, remove it from the heat.
Arrange the frisee on two plates, then drizzle any leftover drops of vinaigrette over the top of both. Place a poached egg on top of both piles of frisee, with a pinch of salt and pepper on top. (If you want a special treat, set aside a few pieces of bacon earlier, then place them on top of the poached eggs.)
Be prepared. This salad could change your life.