Kitchen is a no-friends zone
As Porter wrote and Garland sang:
It’s friendship, friendship,
Just a perfect blendship,
When other friendships have been forgot
Ours will still be hot!
Now, as I understand it, the Garland was a 36” gas range and the friendship was hot because this is really a song about the kitchen. Blendship must refer to a blender. Later in the song, Porter writes about cooking (If they ever cook your goose, turn me loose) and dining (If you ever lose your teeth, when you’re out to dine, borrow mine). There is even a comment on stew (If they ever make a cannibal stew of you, Invite me too!). Obviously, this is a friendship based on food.
Many a friendship improves over a good meal. However, few friendships are made in the kitchen. This is because 1) the kitchen is a dangerous place and 2) there is no room for democracy.
Let’s look at what friendship requires: equanimity, patience, good humour.
Commercials like to show that food and friendship come together in the kitchen. They show all of us trendy folk as bon vivants, eagerly sipping amusing little wines, hauling a roast from the oven, making pasta and engaging in lively conversation all at the same time. They never show that danger is just a misstep away: The wine making me tipsy and less amusing, the rack falling from the oven, the briefly untended oil smoking in the pan, the water for the pasta boiling over, the utensils hanging overhead, the dog underfoot … Where are the cameras for this reality show? Arghh!
No, in my kitchen, those whom I want to keep as friends stay just beyond the periphery of knife, sink and stove.
Then there is the question of democracy. The love of my life, the mother of my child, the woman with whom I have made so many of life’s key decisions (yes, these are all the same person) knows that we can do many things together: choose a car, raise a daughter, go on vacation, plan for the future. But we can’t make a meal. When one is cooking, the other acts as sous-chef—“what can I do for you dear” (said supplicatingly to whomever holds the knife) —or, more wisely, leaves.
Democracy implies that one party knows what the other is doing and that there is room for compromise. Those of us who cook regularly understand that we may not know what we are doing (“let’s see what we have in the fridge today”) and, if we do know what we are doing, there is no room for compromise (“of course, I put an egg in it, I always put an egg in it”).
If I have any sage advice for young swains, it is to invite your friend over for dinner but don’t let her near the kitchen. Oh yes, and forget the sage. My mate hates it.
Here is a dish to make when a friend comes over and perhaps even better as comfort food, if the friend cancels. (Ahh you fool, see what you missed …)
I like penne for this and have found that the de Cecco brand holds up nicely. There are three stages of cooking: baking, boiling and frying. You can do all this at the same time, but don’t answer the phone!
Plan for 100 grams of dried pasta per person for a main course. Cooked in several quarts of boiling water, it should take about 12 minutes. Drain, toss lightly with oil and set aside covered with a towel.
Have ready: a cup per person of shrimp (shelled, uncooked) or boned chicken (no skin, cut into strips) or both, plus a dozen spears of asparagus, washed and trimmed, a sweet red pepper, an onion and garlic.
Drizzle a little olive oil over a dozen spears of asparagus and bake them in a toaster oven until cooked but still firm. Chop them into the same size as the penne. Slice the pepper and onion to the same size.
Finely chop at least one clove of garlic. I use three, but I have known my friends for a long time.
Heat a little olive oil in a pan until the oil is very hot and shimmers. Add the garlic and stir. As it turns golden, add the onion and pepper. Cook until these are soft. Add the chicken and shrimp and cook these through. They should be firm and opaque, but not browned. If you like, stir in fresh or dried oregano and a tablespoon of tomato paste diluted in a little of the pasta water. Add the asparagus and the pasta and reheat. Sprinkle coarse or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Grate a hard Italian cheese (such as Asiago, Parmesan, or Romano) at the table.