It looked like a bomb had gone off in my kitchen.
Half-empty bags of flour, a standing mixer and a mismatched set of bowls were scattered across the table. I rummaged through my drawers, desperately searching for a jar of bicarbonate of soda, frantically repeating to myself: ‘Too little and the cake won’t rise, too much and it will collapse.’
About 20 minutes after I finally bunged it in the oven, I got the text: ‘Sorry, I can’t do this anymore’.
The sponge had risen beautifully, but my relationship had just imploded.
For the next half hour, I lay on the kitchen floor, staring at the orange glow coming out of the oven. The past three months with the person I’d been seeing had felt like proper cinematic love, straight out of a Nora Ephron movie – except they had re-written the schmaltzy ending and dumped me by text.
It was the first time I had experienced the mind-numbing pain of a breakup, and unsurprisingly, I wasn’t in the mood for cake, so I chucked it in the bin before it even cooled down.
My sadness meant I shunned food for a couple the next couple of weeks. But the cooking didn’t stop.
I went through the motions: sifting the flour, mixing the batter, preheating the oven. I baked bread and cakes. I whipped roux paste and béchamel sauce. I sliced vegetables and rolled meatballs.
I carefully wrapped up little brown packages and gave them out to my neighbours, the corner shop lady, and everyone else I knew who lived within walking distance.
I kept my hands and my head busy so I had no time left to mourn my loss. I sought refuge in my kitchen, the only place where I still felt in control. I was determined to cook my way out of the mess my love life had become.
When I look back at my childhood in the south of Italy, I can see how food became my main way of expressing affection. It was in the messy and noisy kitchens of all the brilliant women of my life – my mum, grandma, and aunts – that I learned everything I know about both food and love.
I remember specifically my Aunt Chicca: she never said I love you but always asked if I was hungry – that’s how I knew.
I watched my nonna as she sliced dozens of aubergines and left them out to dry in the scorching Neapolitan sun. Every five minutes, I went out on the terrace to check on them, self-appointed guardian of the vegetables.
She urged me to ‘forget about them’ for a while. Good things (and good aubergine parmigiana) take time. Nonna Lilina knew all too well that in the kitchen, as in the heart, patience is the key ingredient.
At the table, I sat with my dad and my siblings and looked at the way my mother arranged food on our plates, wondering why she would work so hard for a Wednesday night dinner.
Now I know she was showing us that we were deserving of the effort – and love – she put into her cooking, that you don’t need a special occasion to show someone that. I learned from her that it’s the food that makes a home and, of course, the people you eat it with.
When I was 19, I left my family and moved to London to try and fulfil my dream of becoming a journalist (I let Nigella fill in the gaps where my female relatives had been).
Since then, I have shared brief but happy moments with an array of people who have walked in and out of my life – and my kitchen. A while ago I downloaded Hinge and wrote in my description: ‘Food is the true language of love’.
And so it goes: when I start seeing someone new, I cook to impress (with a considerable degree of success).
I’ve had plenty of lasagne dates where me and my romantic interest du jour would take turns to roll endless sheets of pasta.
I romanticise the small scars on my forearms. ‘Touch it,’ I mutter seductively, ‘this is from the time I made Coq Au Vin for a party of 12.’ My Italian accent gets me halfway, and the food does the rest.
I’ll show off handmade tortellini, skilfully folded and shaped into little pasta gems – then hint at what else I can do with my hands. I may not be a gym guy but the strength it takes to lift a stone frying pan and flip a frittata must count for something (right?!).
I share most of my projects (culinary and otherwise) on my Instagram page and it’s not entirely unusual for me to receive flirty DMs from women and men who ask me out upon realising that I can make Martha Stewart’s vintage hors-d’œuvres and still build a wooden shed in my garden from scratch.
You know what they say: get you a man (or woman) that can do both.
When I stop seeing someone, I cook to forget.
I have made errors of judgement. Sometimes I did too much for people who didn’t give enough in return, like the time I spent four hours doing focaccia art (it’s a thing) for a geography teacher who took four seconds to cancel our date and disappear into blue tick oblivion, the place where dreams and fancy focaccias go to die.
I have left Tupperware boxes left all over London in the grubby rental flat kitchens of the people I‘ve dated, like pins in a map of my romantic failures. Each plastic container is a reminder of some fourth date that never was, a meal made with love that was never even defrosted.
Such disappointments are always hard to swallow but, each time, I pull up my sleeves and do it again. Cliché as it sounds, it’s true what they say: you really can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg.
Apart from platonic dinners with my wonderful friends, I’ve got no one special to cook for at the moment. But if I go home on a regular Wednesday night, and I have nobody to have a candlelit dinner with, I’ll pull out the pots and the pans.
I’ll slice the vegetables and fry them until they’re crisp, I’ll rub a chicken with butter and herbs, and carefully chop the potatoes and roast them until golden.
I’ll grab my favourite plate and arrange each part carefully and sprinkle it with parsley and chilli flakes. I’ll sit down at my table to eat the meal; a reminder to myself that I am as worthy of the love I would give to another person.
Last week in Love, Or Something Like It: No one wants to date a short man like me
SHARE YOUR LOVE STORY
Love, Or Something Like It is a regular series for Metro.co.uk, covering everything from mating and dating to lust and loss, to find out what love is and how to find it in the present day. If you have a love story to share, email [email protected]
Source: Read Full Article