Valentine by default

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There they were.

Under the sink.

A whole box of them minding their own business. But I wasn’t.

I had gone out with her and mutual friends the night before, not planning to have a slumber party. There was only one issue, that night before was February 13th. We had two beers at her place before going to the bar and having a few more. One thing led to another and before the clock struck one she was passed out on her couch as her dog scowled at me.

Not having much experience with comatose women, I wasn’t sure what to do. Was she faking it? Did she legitimately pass out from 4 beers in a night? Was her dog interested in taking things to the next level?

So, I did what anyone would. I texted a few friends asking for advice. The think tank was split between my options.

I could have left and gone about my blissfully lonely life. That would have meant leaving her in an unlocked apartment in the city.

Or, I could have stayed the night. I hadn’t packed my jammies or sleepover essentials like contact solution. This is the plight of the myopic. Plus, I’m notoriously bad at sleeping in other people’s homes.

Should I stay or should I go?

With her slumped in the middle of the couch, there wasn’t enough room for us both to pass out there. That left only one other place to sleep. Her bed. I can’t say I’ve slept in many women’s beds, but when I did, they weren’t in them.

I put a blanket over her and turned off the tv before retiring to her bedroom. The drinks started their assault on my digestive system. I may not like sleeping at people’s places, but my bowels sure fancy foreign toilets. At this point, I was sitting on her toilet questioning my life choices. I reached for toilet paper and discovered there were four squares left, one of which was coated in glue. This is when I reached over to the sink vanity in search of another roll. Had I left, I wouldn’t have seen what was under the sink.

On the outside of the large pink box was a picture and the text “First Response Pregnancy Test.” Realizing I couldn’t wipe my ass with those, I found a roll of TP.

My paranoid mind started to wander. Why would you need the economy box? The next 10 minutes were excruciating. What had I gotten myself into? How did I end up here?

Then, I looked down at the stick and saw that I was not pregnant.

With the ebullience of a man finding out he’s not the father on Maury, I got into her bed with her dog and fell asleep.

I woke up early the next morning and ran to the grocery. Selfishly, I was hungry and she didn’t have food. I grabbed a pack of bagels and two roses. One for her and one for her unborn. Returning to her apartment, she had woken up and changed into pajamas. I gave her the flowers, we had a bagel and I wished her a happy Valentine’s Day before I went on my way.

My Elusive Valentine

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valentines, heart, crafts, love, children, youth

Friday, February 13th, 1992

To say I was smitten with Kristin would be an understatement.

Kristin had straight, strawberry-blonde hair and freckles. She was about my height and was also unemployed. There was something about the way she built a wall with those red cardboard bricks in kindergarten. That’s about all I knew about her. I didn’t know her political leanings or how she felt about important issues like grape versus strawberry jelly in a PB&J sandwich. After a year of staring at her, it was time to make my move. Out of the 70 kids in our 2nd grade class, she was the one.

And there was only one way to tell her how I felt: a special Valentine’s Day card. This card wasn’t like all the others for my 25 classmates. Hers was better. Kristin deserved something superior to the generic, perforated cardstock adorned with cartoon characters and bad puns about love. Stocked with a rainbow of construction paper–a name that has yet to make sense since I have never seen anyone on a construction site using 8×10 sheets of multi-colored paper–I started crafting the perfect token of my affection. Being 7 years old, I enlisted the aid of my mom whose artistic skills and ability to cut a straight line still surpass my own.

Yes. I did choose fire truck red paper. After all, this was a love note. Or at the very least a “Hey. Maybe you noticed me staring. I like you, or the very little I know of you.” None of those words made it into my all capital letter dedication. My mom had a white doily that we glued to the card. I think I wrote something poetic on it like

“HAPPY VALENTINES DAY, KRISTIN! WILL YOU BIRTH MY FUTURE CHILDREN?”

Then I put boxes for Yes/No/Maybe. I like to empower women with the ability to choose their own adventure. I was strongly pro choice in second grade. Maybe I didn’t put that last bit. But I was pleased with the creation.

The next day I packed my backpack with my school folders and 24 personalized envelopes for my classmates and one special, bigger card. We had an arranged time to exchange our valentines, but there was one big problem: Kristin was nowhere to be found.

Instead of being at school to receive my meticulously crafted creation, like she was supposed to be, she was home with a cold. This wasn’t how I envisioned my first profession of love playing out.

Upon arriving home, possibly crying, or sobbing, my mom asked what happened. I shared that my love wasn’t in school. Since it was a Friday, I wouldn’t be able to give it to her the following day and I clearly couldn’t wait until Monday. A large part of me misses this crippling head-over-velcro-shoes love. The older I get the more I realize I have deviated from liking someone without a single reason why.

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So there I was. Crestfallen. Tears. My entire romantic future shot because of a common cold. What other choice did I have but to hand deliver the card? I looked up her address in the school directory and, since I was without a license, my mom drove me to Kristin’s house. Once parked in the driveway, I became paralyzed. I couldn’t exit the car or walk to her door. Despite my mom urging me to deliver the card, I couldn’t do it. So my mom, a supporter of love, got out of the car, walked the 10 steps, rang the doorbell and delivered the card to Kristin’s mom. Then my mom and I returned home. A note to future mothers: none of these required mom tasks are covered in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

In hindsight, I don’t know what it was I feared. It was simply delivering an envelope. As unjustifiable as my liking her was, so too was my fear of rejection. There was no worst-case scenario. This nebulous unknown has often been the reason behind inaction, whether approaching someone or pursuing a career path. While the negative “what if” internal monologue can serve as a form of self-protection from being hurt, more often it can overpower “what if I don’t” logic and impede life happening.

Curious to know how the whirlwind Andrew + Kristin romance played out? Holding hands and skipping on the playground? Getting married on the painted map of the United States? Opening Capri Suns for each other at the lunch table? She came to school Monday and thanked me for the card. That was followed by avoidance. Two years or avoidance. Then, unexpectedly, she reciprocated and gave me my own special Valentine’s card. Hers was a flat card, but was also on red construction paper and had a lacy, white doily–clearly the most passionate symbol of love–and a heart-shaped chocolate taped to the center. In an effort to preserve the sentiment behind the card, I never ate the chocolate. But eventually my sister did.

Despite Kristin checking the “Maybe” box, we are now married with 17 children. Or, according to the internets, she is married to someone else and they have a kiddo. I hope her child has as memorable a first valentine as mine.

Coq au Vin

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God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.
-Voltaire


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Stop. I know what you’re going to ask.

French food, Andrew? How are you going to use tortillas avec la cuisine française? I’ve opted to take a break from my paramour, at least for one meal.

Earlier this week, I joined a friend for dinner at Bistro Voltaire, a French restaurant in River North. After practicing my French while reading the wine list and menu in my head, I decided on getting coq au vin. I don’t think I have ever had it at a restaurant, largely because taquerias don’t offer it. Previously I attempted to wing it by cooking chicken in half a bottle of red wine. While that was tasty, it was far from the elegant and tender chicken on a bed of mashed potatoes I got at Bistro Voltaire.

Similar to when I was first exposed to arrabiatta sauce at an Italian restaurant, I decided I would master coq au vin. I read a few recipes to see if there were any extra ingredients I didn’t spot in my inspiration dish–mushrooms, pearl onions, carrot, thyme. The ingredients are straight forward. This dish necessitates some basic kitchen competencies: sauteing, knife skills, and patience. Most of my kitchen creations are great for after work when you don’t have a lot of time. This dish will take about 90 minutes to make, but it’s worth tout les temps.

les ingrédients

  • 6 chicken thighs (you could also use chicken breasts, but I’d suggest bone-in chicken)
  • 3 strips bacon, cut into lardons (large chunks)
  • 1/2 package mushrooms (I used baby bellas. The restaurant used button and oyster ‘shrooms.)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 onion, medium dice
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 2 cups red wine (Pinot noir worked well, and be sure to pour some for the chef.)
  • 1 cup beef stock/broth
  • 1 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1/8 cup of flour
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6-8 sprigs of fresh thyme

préparation

In an effort to be as French as possible, I started cooking this at 8PM and attempted to get all my mise en place out of the way like a real chef. If you’re cooking with a date, congratulations. You’ve managed to either get someone into your home or invite yourself to their home. If you have an extra set of hands to help, chopping duties can be split up. Additionally, your sous chef can help wash, peel, cut potatoes for mashed tatters or take care of making pasta.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  1. Heat a dutch oven to super hot. I let mine heat over medium-high for about minutes while I chopped up my ingredients.20131117-083529.jpg
  2. Brown the bacon until all the fat renders. Then remove the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate, leaving the artery-clogging bacon fat.20131117-083537.jpg
  3. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel, then season with salt and pepper. Drying the chicken ensures that it will sear better, forming a crisper exterior. If there is moisture on the skin or meat, it has to cook off before the meat can sear. Sear for 5 minutes on each side. I had to work in two batches. Remove the chicken to a plate with a paper towel, then cook the remaining chicken. Don’t crowd the pan. It prevents you from properly searing the meat.20131117-083519.jpg
  4. Once all the chicken is seared, remove all but a few tablespoons of fat in the pan. I poured out about half the fat. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the onions and carrots, stirring occasionally. We aren’t looking to brown the veg, merely soften them. Cook for about 5 minutes before adding the mushrooms and garlic clove. Cook those 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add the tomato paste, then flour. These only need to cook for a minute or two to remove the raw flavor. The tomato paste adds a meatiness to the sauce, while the flour will aid in thickening the sauce.
  6. Combine 1 1/2 cups wine and 3/4 cup of beef stock in a measuring cup. This is also a good time to pour yourself another verre de vin. Add the wine/stock combo to the pot, stir to mix. Then return the chicken and most of the bacon to the pot. You can’t make bacon and not have a piece. Add the thyme and bay leaf.20131117-083550.jpg
  7. Bring the liquid to a boil. Put on the lid. Then put the put in the oven for 30-40 minutes. I checked the temperature after 35, and it displayed 170. Parfait!
  8. Serve with mashed potatoes (I added bacon to mine). For round 2, I’ll be serving this with egg noodles.

So, the dish takes some work, but is definitely doable and amazingly worth it. The sauce is phenomenal. I’ll be using up the thyme for some other dishes this week. If your date doesn’t profess their love for you after eating this, either you messed up OR you need to find someone else.

I’m in Love…

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I remember something in the Bible about making food your god. Or maybe it was to not make food your god? If it was the latter, I think God must have been rushed to crank out His “Thou Shall Not’s” and didn’t think it out fully. Because if He/She had waited the hour for smoked chicken, there would’ve been some different rules enumerated in the Good Book, which probably would’ve resembled a cook book. God probably didn’t want to share all the secret family recipes like an Italian’s pasta sauce or a perfectly spiced curry or a succulent gumbo.

Continue reading I’m in Love…

A Case for Singlehood

Thom

There were no less than three weddings today, according to my Facebook feed. I liked zero of those status updates. Not that I don’t love weddings or celebrating that a friend found someone in a homeless place. I’m convinced those are the lyrics Rihanna meant to use. The issue is that I view weddings as a zero sum situation, especially if I wasn’t invited. In fact, as soon as I learned the meaning of a “zero sum game,” I realized how many things I think of as such:

  • A dollar for you, is one dollar less for me
  • Love
  • Happiness
  • Women
  • Fried mushrooms
  • Corner pieces of pizza
  • Sunscreen

I’m not positive, but I think Thomas Malthus‘ theory (that there are a finite amount of resources on Earth) was written after he read the Society page of his local paper.

Continue reading A Case for Singlehood