More than twenty years ago during my freshmen year, my high school had a nationally ranked football team and our games were atop the social calendar for our insulated private school set. I watched the last game of the year from the sidelines with about .001% chance of playing but just being there was a big deal to my freshman pride. I may have even bragged about it to Karen from my church youth group. Not because I liked Karen in a check box yes___ no____ kind of way, but because I hoped she would bring her best friend Sloan.
Karen came; Sloan was in tow and they had seats next to my buddy Jamal who rapidly began crushing on Karen. The game ended with a victory for our team and a predictably clean uniform for me. It took me twenty minutes or so to find them afterwards and Sloan’s father had already arrived to collect the two girls from the dangerous grounds of a football game at an all boys high school. No matter, the groundwork was set.
In the smooth and nuanced manner of 9th grade courtship, it only took another seven weeks for us to arrange a date. Friday night dinner party at my place – fine, my folk’s place if you want to be snippy – was the plan Jamal and I hatched over lunch one day. It was the perfect invitation for 14 year old girls who couldn’t “date” but were allowed to go to parties. Invitations were sent, menu was planned and my mother had agreed to be mostly scarce that evening.
When the snow started falling Thursday night, I was overjoyed at the prospect of having a snow day to do my shopping, set the table, and make bbq shrimp spring rolls, chicken teriyaki, and mini chocolate cupcakes. School was cancelled as expected and I gleefully trudged through the snow to the grocery store – still oblivious to the obviously pending cancellation. Jamal – equally oblivious/optimistic – trekked to my place on public transportation in time enough to help me make dinner.
First course was to hit the table at 7:30. Karen who was spending the night at Sloan’s called at 7:15 to indicate that they were on their way. As there were almost nine inches of snow on the ground, apparently optimism wasn’t limited to the bi-chromosomal. At 7:25, I dropped the spring rolls in the fryer knowing that our dates were going to walk through the door at any second. Adhering to my plan I started the stir-fry going in the wok at 7:35 at the same time Karen called again saying that they were leaving right now. I made some minor cooking adjustments because Sloan lives less than two miles away surely they would be walking through the door any second.
While Sloan and her father negotiated about the wisdom of driving on partly cleared streets for the next hour, I kept trying to slow cook, and re-hydrate dishes that were rapidly drying out. Eventually the charms of the daughter defeated the resolve of the father and Karen and Sloan finally made it to dinner over an hour late and with a strict 11:00 pick-up time.
Without the benefit of a microwave (I’m not that old, but my mother was that old-fashioned,) I dropped the spring rolls in oil enough times that when we finally ate them so much grease ran down our hands that we ruined an extra set of Mom’s good cloth napkins. Not yet understanding the sodium content of teriyaki sauce and trying to prevent the chicken from drying, I kept re-saucing. The second course tasted like a spoonful of salt with every bite. The four of us – determined to have our adult moment – made our way through the first two courses while making conversation about anything other than the grease fountain or salt mountain I had just served.
That night I learned my first lessons in culinary timing, a lesson about sauces, and the lesson of the magical powers of chocolate over women. Thank god we made it to the cupcakes because after the sweets Jamal and I both made it to second base.