Today is the first day of the new menu at the restaurant.
Normally, we call this the Chef’s time of the month. Normally calm and cuddly, he grows a little twitchy, a little restless in the mornings, these few days before the new menu makes it onto people’s plates. All I have to do is listen to him say one word (“Yep.”), said fast, the end of the word rushed out of his mouth, and I know what’s going on. He’s dancing. His feet are moving fast, his mind is set on the restaurant, and we need to leave the house a few minutes earlier than normal. Time to go to work.
When I was younger, I might have complained. I probably would have asked him why he was so anxious, why he couldn’t just be in the moment more calmly. But one of the gifts of finding the love of my life at nearly forty? I know when to be quiet, now.
Once, I used to worry that I would have to give up too much of myself to be married. That dreaded word: compromise. Who would win the moment, the day? Would my needs come first? Or would I have to put him first more often than I liked?
Really, it’s a good idea to wait until your late thirties to get married, sometimes.
What I did not understand in my earlier relationships comes naturally now. If I have to set my plans aside to drive to the spice store earlier than I had thought, or make a dent in our morning time together to stop at the farmers’ market for fresh herbs, I do it. Why? Well, it’s not as if I’m suffering by going to the farmers’ market. But it’s more than that.
It’s the relationship.
My relationship with the Chef is a living entity. It’s not about my needs or his. It’s about what’s best for our relationship, in this moment.
We’re a team.
We have an unusual situation: our schedules afford us the time to have long mornings together, to run food errands around noon (and thus avoid most of the horrid traffic), and to eat our dinner together around midnight. If I had still been teaching high school right now, I don’t think we would be nearly as close as we are. We are for each other.
This is why I was up at 8 this morning, making coffee and simmering oranges and lemons in slow-boiling water. After testing the orange-almond cakes a couple of times, I found the recipe I liked. (It turns out my first instincts were right: I cut the 5 1/2 cups of almond flour down to 4, and added sweet rice flour, potato starch, and amaranth flour instead.) Moist and citrus-swirled, these cakes cling to the fork when you cut them. Reminiscent of orange juice and pound cake, these mighty little cakes cast a shadow on gluten treats. Who needs gluten when you can eat a cake with the taste of sunlight? (Okay, I know this is going to sound strange, but the texture is a bit like Play-dough, somehow, which I find immensely satisfying.)
Why was I making them, at home, for the restaurant? Because they needed to be done. The first day of the new menu is a full-court press for the Chef, working in his tiny kitchen with his entire intensity, for hours at a time. Normally, he spends days preparing and tasting, planning and changing his mind. During this week of the month, I don’t expect to have his entire attention.
But this week, I needed him. The manuscript was due. The recipes needed more testing. The computer broke down. He was such a champion that I sort of forgot that he had a new menu to do until yesterday.
“Wait!” I said to him in the shower yesterday morning. “You’ve been incredible. You haven’t been grumpy. You haven’t been dancing. You just did the work and you’re ready to go.”
He grinned at the recognition. And then he did what he always does: he stuck out his pinky. I wrapped mine around his, and we looked at each other. “Team Ahern,” we said. And then we kissed.
I love being part of this team.
So I volunteered, yesterday, to make the first round of cakes for the restaurant. I intended to make them last night, but I goofed around with my new camera so much that I didn’t even make dinner for us. Frankly, I could have slept another two hours. But I promised him. And so I rose.
This afternoon, when I came back to the restaurant with a cup of coffee, he poked his head around the door of the kitchen. “I have a present for you,” he grinned. And then he set this saucer down in front of me. A slice of the orange-almond cake, with a soft scoop of the lemongrass ice cream he invented yesterday. It wasn’t entirely frozen yet, but he wanted me to taste it.
I took one bite, and I closed my eyes. That ice cream — layers of flavor. A wave of vanilla bean, and then the sharp tang of ginger. But that’s not ginger. A soft assertive song of lemongrass, sweeter and more demure than ginger. Bright and clean, the breeze through the door in that moment. I didn’t open my eyes for a moment.
When I did, I saw him in front of me, grinning. “See? Your cake, my ice cream. And whoever comes into the restaurant to eat tonight will have this because of both of us.”
I put down my fork and put out my pinky. He wrapped his around mine, and we looked in each other’s eyes. “Team Ahern,” I said.
And we kissed.