Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 12:01 am
Romance tips for the college chef
Wooing women with bread
In the fall of 1971 I was a skinny, pimply-faced, pathologically shy college freshman at the University of Illinois in Urbana. I desired female companionship, but was too timid to ask anyone out on a date. The weekends were long and lonely and, with nothing better to do, I ended up studying. I got straight A’s my first quarter, but alas, I hadn’t fulfilled the main reason I had come to college: to meet girls.
Back home during Christmas break, with access to a kitchen, I would bake bread. My family started saying, “You can tell when Peter’s home, because the house always smells like a bakery.” Everybody loved the aroma of my bread baking. This gave me an idea.…
Before heading back to college I raided the family kitchen and appropriated a mixing bowl, wooden spoon, two bread pans and a bread knife. I asked an over-21 friend to buy me a bottle of wine. He picked out a Mateus Rose in a short, squat ping pong paddle-shaped bottle. Upon my return to Urbana I bought some whole-wheat flour, yeast and maple syrup from Earthworks, our hippie food co-op.
I reserved the dormitory’s kitchenette for that first Friday evening back from Christmas break. After I finished the day’s classes, I went back to the dorm, procured the key to the kitchenette, rounded up my baking supplies and an armful of textbooks and began preparing for a night of warm bread and hot romance. I started my yeast mixture and measured out my flour, salt, water and honey. I mixed and kneaded my dough and put it into the oiled mixing bowl and covered it with a towel. While the bread rose, I sat at the counter and tried to study, but my concentration broke whenever I saw a cute girl passing by in the hall. Many prospects walked by, but nobody showed any interest in what was happening in the kitchenette.
The bread dough finished its second rise about 10 p.m. and I formed it into loaves and put the loaf pans into the oven. By 10:30 the kitchenette was filled with beautiful aromas and passersby started poking in their heads and asking what I was baking. “Oh just some organic whole-wheat bread,” I nonchalantly responded and turned my attention back to my studies. I was waiting for the right girl to appear before extending the invitation to join me in sharing a loaf of bread and a jug of wine.
I started getting sleepy and drifted off into a dream of seduction and romance. A gentle knock awakened me. It was Sandy, the pretty petite Asian girl who lived on the second floor! I’d been infatuated with her all semester and often timed my visits to the cafeteria so that we’d be eating at the same time. “Smells wonderful!” she said. “What are you making?”
It worked! My plan worked! “Oh just some homemade bread made with organic whole-wheat flour. It will be ready in an hour. Would you like to try some?” “Sure!” she said. “Let me take my coat and bag to my room and I’ll come back.”
The timer went off and I pulled the bread out of the oven and set it out to cool. I waited for Sandy. And waited. I drank the Mateus. I fell asleep. She never came back. I awoke with a hangover, stale bread and a sad heart.
Though unsuccessful, I felt my strategy still had merit. Having to wait for the bread to bake and subsequently cool down delayed the gratification. I needed to make something quicker that would provide more immediate gratification…something that would come together quickly, such as a stir-fry. And since Sandy was Asian, she’d be sure to like it!
I bought a wok, peanut oil, soy and Worcestershire sauce, cornstarch, some green peppers, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, scallions and flank steak. I would make the only stir-fry I knew: Tomato Pepper Beef. I tried to muster up the courage to approach Sandy in the cafeteria and invite her to dine with me the following Friday, but ultimately I settled for slipping an invitation under her dorm room door. “You are cordially invited to dine with Peter Glatz Friday night at 7. Regrets only.”
After class I picked up the kitchenette key and prepped my ingredients. I moved the coffee table from the lounge into my dorm room and covered it with my tie-dye bed spread. I put pillows on the floor. I stuck a candle in my empty Mateus bottle and placed it at the center of the table. I set the table with dishes and utensils “borrowed” from the cafeteria. I queued up my Ravi Shankar album (the only “Asian” record I owned). I set up my hot plate and wok and ingredients on the bathroom counter.
At 6:45 I began stir-frying. My goal was to have dinner minutes away when Sandy arrived. This would give her no excuse to leave and come back later (or not). Sandy arrived promptly at 7. I proudly showed her what I was cooking. “Oh – I’m so sorry, Peter. But I can’t eat that.” “Why not?” I asked. “You’re Chinese. Don’t you eat Chinese food?” “Actually I’m Japanese, not Chinese. But that’s not the reason. I’m a vegetarian Buddhist.” I went to bed alone (but, with a very full tummy).
I didn’t give up. I tried the strategy again several more times. My cooking got better with each new endeavor, but, sadly, I remained a virgin.
Tomato Pepper Beef
- 1 pound flank steak, cut against the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices
- 1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce-divided
- 1-1/2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry, divided
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 2 green bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
- 1 large, firm tomato, cut into 2-inch chunks
- 6 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- Combine 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine or sherry, and the cornstarch. Pour over meat. Cover and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.
- Heat wok. Test the surface with a sprinkle of water; it is ready for cooking when the water sizzles and evaporates right away. Add oil, swirl to coat the pan. 3. Add garlic and ginger and quickly stir fry, about 30 seconds. Add meat and stir fry until no longer pink.
- Add bell peppers and tomatoes to the meat in the wok, stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Add scallions and stir fry another minute.
- Combine the Worcestershire sauce, ½ tablespoon soy sauce and ½ tablespoon of rice wine or sherry until well combined. Add this sauce to the meat and vegetables in the wok. Stir to coat and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer a minute or two, then serve over rice.
Contact Peter Glatz at email@example.com.