They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It’s a nice theory, but in my experience, the truth is both more nuanced and less poetic. The way to a man’s pants is through his stomach. With few exceptions.
As someone who happens to be reasonably skilled with butter, flour, sugar and eggs, I’ve done a fair amount of strategic baking in my day. Carrying homemade baked goods is an effective way to make yourself 16 times more popular – one for each brownie in the pan – and if you can ensure that a party of interest wanders into your periphery, you can shamelessly exploit that happy “coincidence.” I’ve prepared entire recipes with the intention of handing a solitary sample to an attractive person I’ve barely spoken to, and it has worked. Multiple times. Sorry, Dale Carnegie, but that is how you win friends and influence people.
The number of advances I’ve received after doling out baked goods has become a running joke amongst my friends, but the reception hasn’t always been positive. In fact, one college conquest refused to touch anything I made, as if he equated eating my food with acquiescing to some loaded domestic fantasy and all related expectations. I just wanted to say, “Calm down, pal, we are playing the same game here. Eat the damn cookie.” So I’m pretty sure I said that. Fortunately, we had better things to do than talk. Sorry I’m not sorry.
But if my track record is any indication, baking is good for seduction purposes only. Sugar is a cheap trick; a recipe for burnout, romantically or otherwise. It carries no promise of compatibility or longevity. Brownies might get you a phone call, but the need to back it up with something more substantial still remains. Dessert comes after dinner for a reason.
Not too long ago, I invited a boy I had been dating for several weeks over for dinner. I cook pretty light for myself, and I had a minor freakout over what exactly I was going to feed my 6’5 rugby player. I didn’t think soup would cut it, and my standard lazy meal template of quinoa + beans + veggies seemed aggressively unromantic for a third date. I settled on chicken, assuming that I could handle an easy dijon stir-fry with sun-dried tomatoes. How different could it be from scrambling eggs, anyway?
I wouldn’t call myself a kitchen novice, but as a recovering vegetarian, I am definitely a chicken novice. The two of us made quite a pair: him, trying and failing to operate a corkscrew (fun fact: you can strain out cork crumbles by emptying the whole bottle into a French press. Thanks, Mom!); me, haphazardly slinging spices and timing everything wrong. We managed to have a pretty good time despite (or perhaps because of) the many disasters, and we had barely finished eating before we were…definitely not eating.
We lasted a more few weeks after that. I credit the chicken. Rubbery though it might have been, it was a meal that strove for something more. Ultimately, though, man (and woman) cannot live on protein alone. They need sweetness, too. A dash of maple to balance the mustard. A culinary zsa zsa zsu.
So here’s to hoping. To a life of dinners, not just desserts…with a concession that even dinner should come with a bit of sugar and flour. Because if you’re not going to come away from the table with a high, why don’t you just make quinoa?
Love Me Tenders
This isn’t the dinner I made that night. It’s the dinner I wish I’d made: moist maple-mustard marinated chicken; a crunchy exterior giving way to a sharp and playful complexity of flavor. But lest you think my culinary escapades unfold entirely for show, I’ll have you know that I cooked this meal just for me. I even opened a bottle of wine—cork very much intact. Adapted from How Sweet It Is.
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken tenders
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1. Place chicken in a baking dish. Combine buttermilk, syrup, mustard and garlic. Pour buttermilk mixture over chicken and let soak for at least four hours (I left mine overnight) (in the refrigerator, ya dummy).
2. Preheat oven to 450 and grease a baking sheet. In a shallow bowl, combine breadcrumbs, flour and spices. One by one, dredge each chicken tender in flour mixture and place on baking sheet. Move quickly to avoid clumps—I like to get in a nice “plop, bury, flip, bury, remove” rhythm. Mist with a fine layer of nonstick spray.
3. Bake for 10 minutes on each side, spraying once again after the flip. Enjoy with honey mustard, barbecue sauce, ketchup, ranch dressing, or Nutella. No judgment. Serves 4.
I don’t want to be a housewife. I just want to not have to eat the same leftovers by myself four nights in a row.