Which way to the heart?

Andreae Prozesky gets all romantic-like.

There was a time when the mothers of marriageable young women instilled in their daughters a particular mantra: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. You don’t hear it much these days, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The “man’s heart” bit isn’t altogether accurate—the love-propagating nature of food transcends the boundaries of gender.

People love food. And people love being served food by someone to whom they’re attracted. It’s a primal thing. I imagine the mating rituals of early humans involved the depositing of large chunks of meat, or of mounds of fruit, at the feet of the object of affection. Much nicer than dragging someone off to your cave by her, or his, hair.

So what better way is there to show someone you’re into them than by inviting them over to your place for a quiet, romantic dinner? Okay, there may be more direct ways—like dragging them off to your cave by their hair—but the romantic dinner is such an important part of the courtship process it seems a shame to skip it. Besides, a well-thought-out dinner can be great fuel for an evening of romantic sport.

Didn’t Virginia Woolf say that? No, she said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

Which is what I meant.

I’m not going to give you any recipes in particular here; what makes a romantic dinner romantic is, in large part, the offering up of something of yourself, in food form, to another person. It’s saying to your beloved, “here’s something I love, I was hoping that you’d love it, too.” It’s like an edible mixed tape. You’re putting your heart on the line. The most romantic a dinner can get is when a person cooks his or her favourite meal for another person. If it’s honeyed lamb shanks with almond-perfumed couscous, lovely. If it’s meatloaf, that’s lovely too.

If you’re in love with someone, two bowls of cornflakes and a bottle of wine—is that so wrong?—can be as romantic a dinner as Cornish rock hen braised and infused with spices from the farthest reaches of the Orient. It’s about intent, not ingredients.

Which is at once comforting and a little terrifying. Cooking a romantic dinner for someone is, like much of love, about making yourself vulnerable. You must approach it with confidence and with honesty. This is probably not the best time to be trying a recipe for the first time. In fact, there seems to be some sort of law that says that if you’re trying a new recipe for a Momentous Occasion, the recipe will fail. The stakes are too high.

Stick with something you know, something that means something to you. If you want to fancy up an old stand-by, try making it in individual servings and adding some kind of new fancy garnish. Baked macaroni and cheese in a big old sloppy casserole dish? Comfy. Baked macaroni and cheese in individual ramekins, with a crown of freshly-shaved Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction? Wildly alluring!

And if you can’t cook, then construct a dinner that doesn’t involve cooking. Some good bread with a bunch of cheeses and chutneys and olives, and maybe some nice tinned things, like stuffed grape leaves or artichoke hearts, can go together to make a perfectly good and filling dinner. And you won’t risk burning your house down. And you can eat if with your fingers.

What if your very favourite food comes, battered and deep fried, in a cardboard boat with a side of dressing and gravy? What if you want to say, “this is what I’m like, this is what I eat, and I want to eat it with you?” Then you phone up and place an order for delivery, set the table, light some candles, uncork a nice bottle of white, and put the malt vinegar in a pretty cut-glass jar.

Love means letting someone see who you are, not who you want them to think you are. Let your beloved share in your fish-and-chips-eating glory. If that doesn’t make him or her yours forever, then what will?

Send your questions, comments, and wildly alluring suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca