published Friday, September 14th, 2012

Leber: On love and shared meals: Eat your heart out

I love food.

I love cooking. I love eating. I love going to farmers markets and even wandering the aisles of grocery stores. I lust after beautiful, colorful fresh produce with the same enthusiasm that heterosexual young men lust after lingerie models, except the objects of my affection are all-natural.

I also love the food-sharing experience. I love eating with people (though I hate having people watch me eat), cooking with them and cooking for them. Food is cultural, tactile, even sensual. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that many people have some sort of memory that marries food and romance.

Oh, they don't all have to involve elaborate, gourmet meals. I have warm and fuzzy memories of eating mashed potatoes that my significant other cooked for me in Paris. I was jet-lagged, sleep-deprived and delirious, but the potatoes were delicious.

A friend said she and her husband make a point of finding "that one stellar meal" with every holiday they take. One restaurant, she said, made a lasting impression.

"It was so low-key," she said, "but we still talk about it. It was seven years ago."

Another recalls the first meal his wife cooked for him: handmade manicotti, an all-day process.

"It was unbelievably good," he recalled. He knew the effort was a sign of how much she cared. Twenty-five years later, she's still keeping him happily well-fed. Whoever said the way to a man's heart is through his stomach was correct.

My mother actually made reference to this sentiment when she regaled me with tales of cooking deep-fried chicken kiev and cream-laced Coquilles St. Jacques for my father during their mid-1970s courtship. He, in turn, made the fettuccine alfredo.

(For the record, no, they have not required bypass surgery, nor do they still eat like that).

While cooking for someone, or having someone cook for you, can be lovely, sharing duties in the kitchen can be equally romantic.

A close friend fondly remembers making mango salsa with a young lady as part of an intimate evening. He thinks about that night, he said, whenever he sees mango salsa in a store.

Culinary disasters can also make for memorable dates, as long as no one ends up in the emergency room or on the bathroom floor. As Joey (Matt LeBlanc) said on an episode of Friends, "vomiting stories aren't funny."

"I still have nightmares about those clove cookies you made," Joe informed me, referring to an incident that occurred a decade ago. So the cookies were a little overspiced, OK. They were an inedible disaster, but there was no lasting damage. Fortunately, I've had a lot more hits than misses in the kitchen.

Some romances, however, just can't survive an epicurian error. A lovely gentleman recounted preparing a picnic for a date, including a dill dip. He went a little heavy on the dill.

"It was more like grass dip," he confessed.

The romance failed. No word on the role the dip played in the breakup. Still, he traded up when he met his wife, so it all turned out well in the end.

He uses dill more sparingly now.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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