Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Valentine's day will always have a special place in my heart, because it's the day my husband and I first came into contact with each other. Seven years ago today, to be exact.
Let me explain.
Back in 2000 (before Match.com came on the scene) - on a lark, I placed two silly ads in the San Diego Reader for myself and a friend. They were completely tongue in cheek - nothing serious.
The ads ran over the weekend of Valentine's day, which happened to be on a Monday. I had left the phone number and pin code to check the messages in my desk at work, and it just so happened I was also out on Monday. When I returned on Tuesday and dialed the number, there were over thirty (!!) messages. I grabbed a yellow pad and started going through them, jotting down the names and phone numbers.
I took special note of one who said he was an attorney, that he was thirty, that he lived and worked in Middletown, and he lived above a pub. My ears really perked up when he mentioned that he had "skippered a yacht around the Greek Isles" the previous summer. He sounded nice, normal. I later discovered that he had placed the call (at that time you had to pay to respond) on a dare from Alan, the owner of the pub. He had been sitting around moping that he didn't have a girlfriend - so Alan threw the Reader at him and told him to find himself one. He might as well have thrown a dart.
At that point, I was also thirty, an attorney, and I also worked in Middletown (better known as Bankers Hill,) around the corner from a pub called Speakers Corner. (Alas, it no longer exists.) When I called, he thought it was a business call until I explained who I was. We laughed about the coincidences and our shared neighborhood, and made plans to meet for a beer at the pub at the end of the week.
On Friday, I wound up getting in fight of sorts with a good friend who was also my co-worker. It was unpleasant, and I was upset. I called to cancel but he had already left - so I packed up my things and went to the bar to apologize and excuse myself.
As I walked in, I locked eyes with a guy standing just inside in the doorway - grinning from ear to ear. My date had told me that he was about six feet tall, with dark hair and a medium build. Though he was handsome, this guy didn't look quite six feet tall. He had salt and pepper hair, and was a little heavier than what I would call medium build.
I walked right past him, went to the bar, and told Alan that I was supposed to meet someone. He turned back toward the doorway and bellowed "James!" Of course it was him. (We've had many good laughs about this since.)
I immediately began apologizing, saying that I wasn't myself and didn't feel up for drinks, but I had come to excuse myself in person since I couldn't reach him by phone. But he was charming and funny in that particular way of his. He laughed and at my story, and made me laugh - which was what I remembered most about our meeting. I stayed a little longer than I had intended, and before parting company we made plans to meet again - this time at Laurel on the following Wednesday evening.
As part of the single-person self-improvement mission I was on at the time, I had planned to start Lindy Hop lessons that same night at a dance studio on 5th Avenue - just up the street from Laurel. He was late, and when it was time for me to leave we'd only been there for forty-five minutes. Not wanting to be rude, I asked him if he'd like to come with me to the swing dancing lesson. Much to my surprise, he said yes.
To this day I can barely remember what the Lindy Hop looks like, let alone how to do it - but I do remember that I started to look forward to dancing with James as we rotated partners around the room. Though he couldn't dance a lick, he always kept me laughing.
After a few weeks, he invited me on a weekend date to a play at the Old Globe. Stones in My Pocket was sold out, so he bought tickets to The Seagull. The plan was to go to dinner beforehand at the then very-new Parallel 33. Somehow before I got to his house, I managed to get a run in my black tights. When I showed it to him, embarrassed, he said "Maybe we'll get a discount because my date looks like a French whore."
It went downhill from there.
We headed off to Parallel 33. It turned out that he had been to the restaurant for lunch but not for dinner, and didn't realize we would need reservations. We couldn't get a table, so we ate perched on the ridiculously slippery stools at the bar. To make matters worse, I hated the dish I ordered, and I was just getting over a cold. After drinking red wine with dinner, I could hardly breathe.
When the bill arrived, he astonished me by turning to me and saying "Since I got the play tickets, why don't you get dinner?" I remember excusing myself to go to the bathroom and cursing him in the mirror. Who the heck did he think he was?? I hadn't wanted to see that damned play in the first place!
On the way back, he suggested that we park the car at his house and walk to the theater. I told him I couldn't walk that far in the shoes I was wearing, so he dropped me off in front of the theater. As I stood in front of the theater, it started to drizzle. When the lights flashed and the bell rang, I wondered if he had just decided to ditch me there. (To be fair, I was being a bit of a brat.) He finally came jogging up - having walked all the way from his apartment. The play itself was excruciating.
On the long walk back, he started to ask me about the ad. Whether I was dating anybody else, whether I wanted to date anybody else, how many people I had met, how many people I planned to meet. I remember telling him not to worry about it. When we finally reached my car, he went to give me a kiss and I gave him my cheek.
On Monday, he called and said three simple words. "Well that sucked." I'm not sure exactly how or why, but the spell of the terrible date was broken. Doubtless, it had something to do with the fact that he had the chutzpah to acknowledge it. He asked me if he I wanted him to continue to come to the dance lessons with me, and I said yes.
We continued to have fun goofing off at the dance lessons, and a couple of weeks later, we had a much more successful second date. This time I chose the venue - dinner at the bar at Roppongi and the Festival of Animation in La Jolla. We had a great time, and capped the night off with a real, actual kiss.
What really sealed the deal though, was the dinner he cooked for me later that week. He made his special Chicken Cordon Bleu, stuffed with bleu cheese, pancetta and asparagus - served with salad and wine. Before dinner, there were wasabi peas and cold beer. But what I remember most is what he made for dessert. He baked chocolate chip cookies from scratch. While I watched, right there in the kitchen.
The recipe came straight off of the bag - but it was so much fun to watch him get out the little bags of flour and sugar he had bought just for the occasion and go through the various steps - knowing he was doing it all for me. The time it took to bake them was just the right interlude between dinner and dessert, and we ate them warm and gooey, with melting vanilla Haagen Dazs.
After dinner, as I lounged on his sofa - eating cookies and sipping Bailey's Irish Cream on the rocks - I asked him, "Is this what life with you is like?"
Lucky for me, it is.
Here's a little Valentine's twist on the traditional recipe. Make them for someone you love - preferably while they watch!
Heart-Shaped Chocolate Chip Cookies
3 1/8 cups organic all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 sticks of organic butter, softened
1 1/8 cup granulated sugar
1 1/8 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 organic eggs
16 oz 60% Ghirardelli Chocolate Chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Whisk flour and baking soda together in a small bowl.
Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Gradually beat in flour mixture, then stir in chips and nuts.
Spread into greased half sheet pan, and bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack.
When cool, cut out heart shapes with a 2 inch cookie cutter. Trim with a paring knife, if necessary.
Happy Valentine's Day!