Part 1 of 3
It all started back in 2008. Jonathan was at a celebratory drinks in Berkeley for a bunch of people who volunteered for the No on Prop 8 campaign. It was before the vote so they were optimistic the proposition would fail–spoiler alert–it failed. My friend Aviva (that’s a palindrome), who was a lesbian at the time (that’s another story) was hanging out with Jonathan in the back of the room and chatting away as two strangers do at those events when they don’t know anyone else. At the end of the night, when the crowd was shuffling out, the two of them exchanged the typical “it was nice to meet you” and “we should get together some time” pleasantries we all know are only sincere a half—or a third—of the time.
Separated by a few fellow volunteers, Aviva turned and yelled “Hey Jonathan, I know a guy you might like. You want me to set you up?”
“Sure,” Jonathan said with little confidence it would amount to much. “Why not?”
There was no exchange of numbers or emails, and the two only had connections through some peripheral friends at best. Besides, Aviva was a lesbian in a relationship—what kindred friendship did either of them think was going to develop? Sure she’s smart, funny, and interesting, but Jonathan lived in the city, and she lived in the Oakland hills. Neither of them were really interested in carving out time in their busy lives for one another.
Three weeks later—yes, that bitch waited three weeks—near the end of some random conversation we’d had about another friend of ours, she told me about the nice Jewish guy she wanted to set me up with.
“You interested?” she asked.
“Does a gay exfoliate?” I asked rhetorically and without patience, “tell me everything!”
Like a fat girl in high school who thinks someone might be into her, I wanted every single detail. His height, build, skin tone, hair color, hair cut, what he was wearing, if he had any affectations, if his voice was deep, if he was close to his mother, had been in a serious relationship—the important stuff. But after a brief description—cause I really needed to know was that he was a man, gay, living, and within a 25 miles (+/- 15 miles) radius of San Francisco—I was hooked.
“So what’s his number?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“What’s his email address?”
“I don’t have that either.”
“How the hell am I supposed to get in touch with him?” I asked, freaking out a little that the potential man of my dreams, who I hadn’t met was going to slip through my fingers, because my girlfriend didn’t bother to think about the logistics of what goes into setting up two strangers.
“Oh don’t worry about it.” She said, chewing some carrots or celery into the phone. “We’ll use Facebook.”
“Facebook?” I was concerned my chance at true love was in the hands of some social media site I, and the rest of the world back then, never thought would go public and only used to look up people we knew from high school we didn’t like enough to actually stay in touch with. “Do you even know his last name?”
“He told me where he works,” she said, “so I’m pretty sure I can find him. Come over for dinner tomorrow night, and we can search together.”
The following night, I brought two bottles of wine (a white and a red) to Aviva’s and we cooked dinner together. She made a pappardelle pasta with sweet creamed corn, English peas and leeks— delicious. And for dessert, we cyber stalked Jonathan.
I had no idea how this was going to work on Facebook. Was I supposed to ask him to be my friend? Or invite him to like my profile? We found the non-profit he worked for, UpStart Bay Area, which was an incubator for Jewish social entrepreneurships. Was I supposed to like the organization or make a donation and see if he noticed? Online dating wasn’t new to me, but I viewed dating sites as platforms conveniently setup to connect people looking to be setup, which made the process of flirting with a complete stranger somehow easier. When both parties have previously agreed to look and are receptive to meet strangers, it takes some of the pressure of….not a lot, but some.
“Why don’t I send him a Facebook message,” she suggested, ”and tell him about you.”
“Great idea,” I said with enthusiasm thanks to that second bottle of pinot we’d opened, “I’ll write it!”
I started to write this long email about how funny, smart, and handsome I am. If I said I liked the outdoors, I made sure to mention enjoying a night on the couch too. I said I liked to travel and enjoy good food. If I said I liked sports that was only when I wasn’t finding museum exhibits to visit. I mentioned making an amazing brisket, and that moms—in general—typically love me. I went on and on about what a catch I was, trying to weave what I thought an intelligent, Jewish guy who worked at a non-profit in San Francisco would want to hear and made sure to cover my bases wherever possible.
Finishing the dishes, Aviva walked over from the kitchen and took one look at what I’d drafted, and not ten seconds later she deleted the entire thing.
“What the hell are you doing?” I shouted, thinking she’d just erased some of my best vanity work.
“I would never write that,” she said. “It’s too much.”
While I poured another glass to calm my nerves, she grabbed the MacBook and wrote the following.
Remember me from the Prop 8 party a few weeks ago. The friend I was telling you about is interested in meeting you. Here’s his Facebook page.
She pressed send, and like ripping off a Band-Aid it was painful for an instant, but ultimately up to the gods to decide my fate.
A few days later I got a message from Jonathan via Facebook. It was riddled with spelling errors and bad grammar. We’re talking the wrong use of your and you’re. Past and present tense seemed interchangeable. More than a few words were just spelled completely wrong and there were random letters inserted in places where they shouldn’t be as if he hadn’t taken the time to think about what he was writing. The punctuation was off, and the beginnings of his sentences were not capitalized. It was a mess.
I was immediately turned off. Not because I have some superior sense of grammar or diction. And thanks to genetics, I have my father’s spelling skills which rely heavily on Google searches that start with define:_______. But to think this guy didn’t even use spellcheck was telling to say the least. From what Aviva had told me about the guy, and from what I could glean from his online profile, I knew he went to Wash U St. Louis. But this response was underwhelming to say the least. I figured he was either dumb, or so uninterested in meeting me that he didn’t care enough to put some effort into making a good first impression.
I almost didn’t write back. I had standards to uphold. Unfortunately for me, I’d just gotten off a string of some bad first dates (major wackos) and there were no other dogs barking up my tree. So I figured I had nothing to lose and at least this would keep my dating muscle active. Needless to say, I wrote him back and I triple checked my spelling and even wrote the second paragraph of my response in iambic pentameter.
My goal was to get him out from in front of the computer as fast as possible before I’d developed an irrevocable opinion about how lame of a speller he was, and pushed for us to talk on the phone.
A few days later I was in San Diego for a solar conference. I had some co-workers over and we were stuffing cellophane bags with Costco cookies and sealing them with raffia ribbons and business cards to give away at our tradeshow booth. My cell rang and I knew it was him because we’d agreed to chat that evening.
I snuck into the other room for some privacy before answering, but it was only a matter of time before everyone trickled in after to listen. My goal was to keep the conversation short and sweet, because one of my old boss’s wives in Los Angeles once told me that you always want to keep phone conversations when you’re first getting to know someone to ten minutes or less. “Use and egg timer if you have to!” she used to say, “and always pretend like you’re just running out the door to some fabulous event.” This came from a woman who at one point was dating Dodi al Fayed and David Duchovny at the same time….so I figured she knew a thing or two.
I liked the sound of Jonathan’s voice. It was strong and yet warm and welcoming. He was breathing heavily though, which at first I thought meant he was overweight, but within a few minutes of chatting he told me he was walking home from Best Buy with a new microwave he was carrying. Part of me was flattered he went through all the trouble to call me before it was too late, even if that meant he had to do it while schlepping kitchen accoutrement. But then another part of me wondered what kind of a person walks eight blocks with a microwave and talks on the phone at the same time? Mashugana, right?
My parents and colleagues were getting restless, teasing me in hope of tripping me up on the phone. The ten minutes cut off was approaching so I pushed for us to get together in the flesh the coming weekend, before letting him know I had to get back to a group of people who were waiting for me in the other room.
“There’s this play I’ve been wanting to see,” he said. “But it’s only running through this weekend so do you want to see it on Saturday?”
“Yeah, that sounds great!” I said, excited to hear he was cultured and liked the theater. “Let’s talk the day before to confirm everything. Have a good night.”
I hung up the phone and immediately rehashed the entire conversation word for word with the group.
“Well it sounds promising,” my stepmother said.
I thought about it for a second and took a bite from the nearest chewy chocolate chip cookie. A swarm of monarchs swelled within my gut, which could have been gas from the cookie, but it was most likely from how well I thought the conversation went. Then I looked up at my stepmother and said, “This one feels different.”
To read the second part of this three part series, move on to part two: Bears on Stairs
Pappardelle with leeks, English peas, and sweet corn
This is my take on the corn and leeks dish Aviva made for me the night we first emailed Jonathan on Facebook about getting together for our first date.
- 10 oz of shelled English peas (can use frozen peas if you’d like)
- 1 large leek (2 smaller leeks) chopped (the white and lighter green parts)
- fresh corn cut from the cob of 4 ears of sweet corn (if corn isn’t in season, use frozen)
- 3 tblsp unsalted butter
- 16 oz of pappardelle pasta
- ⅓ cup of heavy cream
- ¼ cup reserved pasta water
- 1 tsp of crushed garlic
- ⅛ tsp cayenne pepper
- ⅛ tsp paprika
- a few dashes of ground nutmeg
- a few dashes of red pepper flakes
- 4 tblsp olive oil
- salt and white pepper to taste (you can use black pepper if you want, but the white pepper is less visible in the final dish, which can make for a nice playing)
- chopped flat leaf Italian parsley for garnish (optional)
- chopped fresh chives for garnish (optional)
My favorite part of Spring is the sweet white corn! You can grill it, roast it, sauté it, and eat it fresh off the cob. This is a recipe I got from my vegetarian friend Aviva who taught me that sautéing the cob in the olive oil infuses the entire dish with that earthy natural sweetness that when overly processed becomes the unhealthy goodness we call corn starch.
Boil a pot of water flavored with salt.
Using a sharp knife (or a mandolin) cut the kernels off the cobs of fresh sweet corn and set aside.
Do not throw the stripped cobs away.
In another pot (or a large sauce pan) over medium heat, sauté the corncobs for 2-3 mins in 1 tblsp olive oil.
Add another tblsp of oil, 2 tblsps butter and the chopped leeks. Sweat the leeks for 1-2 mins and then add the fresh corn, 10 oz of shelled peas.
Add the 1 tsp garlic, pinches of salt and white pepper to taste and stir making sure nothing burns.
Add the pasta to the boiling salted water, stirring to make sure it doesn’t stick together in clumps.
Once the veggies have softened and you the garlic is fragrant, stir in the ⅓ cup cream, ⅛ tsp paprika, dash or two of nutmeg, ⅛ tsp cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes and the remaining 1 tblsp butter. Stir everything together and then cover the pot so the mixture continues to cook, but doesn’t dry out.
Five minutes before the pasta is done (using the cooking instructions from the pasta packaging to tell) add ¼ cup of the pasta water to the vegetable mixture, and leave the top off allowing the mixtures to reduce and thicken.
Strain the pappardelle and then add it to the vegetable mixture allowing it to finish cooking in the creamy sauce, which should thicken and coat the pasta thanks to the starch.
Taste the dish before serving and add additional salt and white pepper as needed. Once plated, finish the entrée with a drizzle of olive oil and if you’d like a garnish or flat leaf Italian parsley and/or fresh chives, and enjoy.
- Shelling peas can be a pain, so feel free to use frozen peas or a package of pre-shelled fresh peas you can find in most grocery stores.
- You can use whatever pasta you like, I happen to like how the pappardelle soaks up the sauce, but a bucatini or thick spaghetti works really well with this too. A rigatoni would be nice come to think of it.
- If the sauce is getting thick too fast you can always add more butter, oil, or pasta water.
- If you don’t like peas, or if you want to add more veggies, you can certainly add some asparagus spears, carrots, or any other vegetable you want.
- This recipe is fresh tasting and rich at the same time….but you want to make it even more decadent, consider using less salt and adding some grated parmesan.
- Make sure you time the pasta right because you don’t want it to get mushy.
- This dish pairs nicely with a crisp white wine like a pinot blanc or sauvignon blanc. Buttery white wines are just a little too much.
- A little bit of nutmeg goes a long way, add a dash and taste it before adding more.
- If you want to add a little more/less kick just adjust the more/less red pepper flakes.
To read the second part of this three part series, move on to part two: Bears on Stairs