He’s got spunk: Stop shivering and start cooking

By Gary Sowder, Columnist

I’m from New York, which is not a very endearing way to start any sentence, but stay with me. When I moved up to Boston for college, I thought I was completely prepared for the harsh Massachusetts winters. Holy shit was I wrong. My apartment is always freezing, I have to wear my puffer coat in the laundry room, and the sidewalks are so cold they turn the rain to ice, making my walk to Trader Joe’s unexpectedly dangerous. This weather has pushed us all back indoors, leaving us to shiver in front of our space heaters, and worst of all: I can’t go on any dates!

I know, I know, “Kim, there’s people that are dying,” but I am not a scientist. In the past––Fall of last year––a COVID-safe date could consist of a peaceful walk-and-talk on the Esplanade, a socially distanced picnic, or a stroll to get some coffee. These were chances to meet people safely, get to know someone, build up that layer of trust before inviting someone into your bubble and, more importantly, into your apartment. None of this is possible when the mere temperature of the air literally makes me cry. Now, without the luxury of the outdoors, dates take planning, dates take trust, dates take a timestamped negative COVID-19 test before the planning even begins. And, after grilling your potential suitor about their safety habits, there’s still the ever-important question: What should we do?

Dates nowadays have to take place in our apartments, we can’t grab drinks, see movies, or go to museums, we’re confined to our couches, our beds, and our tiny little kitchens with severely limited counter-space. Apartment-dates don’t really pack much variety into them. Playing video games or watching a movie is just, in essence, sitting on the couch and looking at something, no matter how engaging that something is. And those kinds of low-effort activities typically result in the first-date-hookup––which I am very not opposed to, my column is named after cum––but when you’re trying to get to know someone, you want a little more build up before you start getting naked. That is why, all you spunkers––yes you have a name now someone feel free to Yolanda me––I’m proposing that all of our first dates this winter are cooking dates.

Let me explain, the cooking date is obviously when you cook a meal together, but it’s so much more than that. In January, I went on my first official date of 2021. It was at the onset of this deep-freeze we’re currently enduring so, naturally, he came to my apartment. His name was Hunter, he is a college dropout, just my height, and a romantic so-hopeless that he only asked for a couple dick pics while we were texting. We decided to make a vegan curry, which we would prepare over my skinny little stove and a bottle of white wine. This is where the magic of the cooking date starts. You see, cooking can be like a dance. The mechanical movements which Hunter used to crush garlic cloves or the fluidity of him drizzling oil into a pan, these things have a rhythm to them, creativity, spontaneity. There’s a kind of magic that comes when two people work together to accomplish something, it’s the exact kind of magic many of us long for on a first date. In my hallway of a kitchen, which was smelling strongly of garam masala, turmeric, and freshly minced ginger, Hunter and I created a kind of emotional closeness. A comfortable closeness. That’s the beauty of the cooking date, it pushes us together, not physically but emotionally. It’s a special kind of intimacy.

This intimacy, while lovely, is just one aspect of the cooking date. The perfect first date recipe includes a lot of silence, the silence that can give way to those comfy moments. Cooking gives us something to talk over, or talk about. Waiting for supremely salted pasta water to boil gives room for conversation, an incorrect onion chopping technique can lead to playful bickering. And when there is a lull, when a joke doesn’t land or an awkward comment hits too strangely, the opportunities to change the subject are endless. Just when our conversation started to flicker out Hunter rushed to my dutch oven, worried about the curry burning. In a pinch, simply asking “is it done yet?” can jumpstart any dull moment.

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Now, not all of us are marvelous chefs––I myself have absolutely desecrated several Barefoot Contessa recipes––but what you make on this cooking date isn’t really what’s important. Okay it is kind of important. On this cooking date, boxed macaroni and cheese won’t cut it. Although the food isn’t of great consequence, it needs to be active, and a touch complicated. The best date recipes require four hands: someone to do the chopping and someone to make sure whatever’s on the stove isn’t burning. My editor––who is straight and a man, so his cooking skills are questionable––suggested a simple baked mac and cheese, which, in all honesty, I think is a perfect first date meal. 

Picture it: one of you is preparing the cheese sauce, carefully whisking the roux while the other aggressively shreds some cheddar. It’s active, but repetitive enough to give way to some light chit-chat, the surface level getting to know you. As the water starts to boil things get more intense, more frantic. Cheese is melting, pasta is doing whatever pasta does in boiling water. Ideally, the cheese and the mac are ready at the same time, but they never are, which gives one of you the opportunity to meander into the other person’s chef-duty. It’s a chance to make that emotional intimacy you’ve been cultivating a bit more physical. And then, working together, the two of you can scrape the mac and the cheese into a Pyrex and, as the breadcrumbs brown, you two can talk over two glasses of wine. Breaking that surface-level just a little. 

Jesus. I started my sex column career talking about getting choked and now I’m romanticizing mac and cheese. I digress.  

When the two of you are done, you firstly can eat—which is always a delight—and you also have the opportunity to get to know one another over a meal you cooked together. It’s an intimacy you created equally and a connection you’re starting to form. With one meal, you’ve laid a solid foundation for a second date.

This story was published in The Berkeley Beacon Magazine’s February 26, 2021 issue. 

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