Imagine it: Geneva, Switzerland, 1979. I’m on my knees bent, with a ring I had emptied my bank account to buy it.
“will you marry me?” I ask Val.
She can’t answer, because her mouth is full. We’re at McDonald’s and she’s eating a Big Mac. I was planning to propose at Les Ambassadeurs in Paris, where we had eaten a few days before. I was enjoying Sole Meunier and getting ready to make my move when Val brought back the lobster, claiming it was salted, and there was a scene, and I stopped my fire. “Yes,” Val says as she swallows her food.
God knows best, he loves the Big Mac. I think sometimes, instead of the dishes I make for her, she’d be happier if I gave her a Big Mac. In fact, she has said so on more than one occasion.
“What makes the Big Mac special?” I asked once.
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She got a dreamy look in her eyes.
“Nothing but ketchup and mayonnaise with pepper and garlic.”
“I seriously doubt that,” Val said. “And anyway, it’s all I love.” “The meat is frozen! If you must eat a McDonald’s burger, at least get a quarter pounder with cheese. It’s made with fresh beef.”
“I love the Big Mac.”
As for my kids, I wish I could feed them a Big Mac, but no – they insist on cooked meals and then complain.
“Is this off the bone?” My daughter, Mona, says when I cook a whole chicken and serve its fillets.
“Yes, I say.” “It is the best way to preserve the juiciness of the meat.”
“It’s somewhat real.”
“Why don’t you ever bring vegetarian dishes?” My son, Jimmy, says when I serve him bouillabaisse.
In all fairness, Val praised more than a few of my dishes. She is a fan of beef bourguignon. She agrees to dourdy in wine sauce. And she gave my Wiener schnitzel a thumbs up. My fried chicken is another story. I once tried to make a batch from a trusted cooking website.
“Paint is like glue,” Val said as she spit it out. “It’s falling off the chicken.” “good morning.”
“You are forbidden from making fried chicken.”
“Give me another chance.”
“I was banned.”
“You’re just trying to get back to me because I blocked you.”
Years ago, after burning a plate too much, she asked Val to transform her plate—literally: She hung a plate above the stove that read, “Val’s Kitchen.”
In fact, I should have had Val’s ban after the first meal she prepared for me. It was on our second date, in my studio apartment on West 87th Street. Val Smells with a bag of jumbo shrimp and a bottle of olive oil. Now, shrimp holds a special meaning to me. Growing up on Long Island, my parents would sometimes take the family to splurge at the local Chinese restaurant. We didn’t have much money and didn’t know I wouldn’t order any of the expensive dishes, so my parents wouldn’t have to say no. I was sneaking longing glances at the people at other tables, eating shrimp. The only fish I had was the flatfish my father caught from Bayliner in the Great South Bay, which my poor mother – who hated fish – had to clean and fillet. When I asked what I wanted, I would say Chicken Chow Mein – he secretly vowed that if I had the money, I would buy the shrimp. And so I did. But I’ve rarely bought jumbo shrimp – that seemed expensive. So, when Val came in with the jumbo shrimp that night, I was doubly excited: firstly, by the sight of Val, and secondly, by the sight of the jumbo shrimp. I sat on my Murphy’s bed and watched with great anticipation as Val prepared the meal.
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You gave it to me and I took a bite.
“you do not like that?” Val asked.
“There is nothing wrong.”
It wasn’t good. It was the oil method. Turns out, Val didn’t heat the oil, and he never did. As for the seasoning, I claimed it was salted, but I couldn’t taste any salt, let alone any spices. To be polite, I was forced to take down four or five shrimp before the undefeated Val tossed the rest into the trash.
After Val’s ban, some sarcasm emerged about serious cooking at times. For example, some time ago, she presented Celeste’s lasagna to my boss and his wife, sent it as her own, and claimed it was justified because our guests admitted they liked it.
When all is said and done, I think Val is glad I’m doing the cooking. She knows how happy I am to prepare a dish that you enjoy. I just wish I could make her happy this past Valentine’s Day, when I made the crunchy orange beef. I’ve never done this before and lost sleep the night before, and am worried about how best to set it up. I started it first thing in the morning, using recipes from America’s Test Kitchen and Sun Li’s Cookbook. To tenderize the meat (I used sirloin, which can be a little tough), I followed this Shun Lee Cover the pieces in baking soda first, then place them in the refrigerator for four hours, and finally, dredge them in the flour. For the sauce, I used fresh orange juice, per America’s Test Kitchen; And Grand Marnier, per Shawn Lee.
The children came for the occasion, and while they were watching TV in the family room, I prepared the meal. We have an open floor plan, so I can see others while I cook. Mona had brought her Chihuahua, Harry, with her and he was stationed nearby, you’d better get a taste of it, if he could. I threw it a bite and ate it with pleasure. Now that I have Harry’s approval, I serve Val, serve the dish on a Chinese plate and call it Orange Beef Royale. From the back in the kitchen, I watched Val take the first bite. Subtlely looking at the children, she rolled her eyes and looked as if she was going to spit out the food.
“what is wrong?” I asked.
I could see her calculating how to spare my feelings.
“It’s a little bit chewy,” she said.
I went and tasted a piece of meat. It sure was Not rubbery;
I said, “It’s crunchy the way it’s supposed to be.”
Val shrugged his shoulders.
“How about the sauce?” I asked.
“There is nothing wrong.
In fact, it was delicious. I have crushed. That was unfair. But if Jean-Georges can accept Val’s criticism without complaint, so can I.
“I’m sorry you didn’t like it.” I said, take the dish to the kitchen.
“It’s not bad,” Val said.
“I’ll pass,” said Jimmy.
Mona said, “I’m a game.”
I prepared a dish from me.
“mm” she said. “The meat tasted like it was intoxicating.”
She gave Harry some chops and devoured them.
Jimmy, who was hungry at this point, also tried the dish.
He said, “It’s like Chicharoons.”
I tasted a piece of Jimmy’s beef. It was so crunchy: I finished cooking it. I was going to make him something else, but he had already cleaned his plate.
“I think I’ll take Harry for a walk,” I said.
“You’ve been working all morning,” Val said, now in full apologetic mode. “Take comfort.” “I could use some fresh air. I’m not going to linger.”
I walked in no particular direction, and spoke to Harry.
This meat was not chewing, I told him. I have tasted it. Was it rubbery?
I thought it was good, but Val found it chewyI imagined Harry answering. what do you know?
She knows what she likes.
love big mac, sneered.
She was eating one when I suggested it to her. She loves them.
This gives me pause.
This is correct.
It’s Valentine’s Day and your wife is hungry. What will you do?
I had to make things right. I walked toward Broadway. On my return home, I crept into the kitchen, and hid the bag I was returning. I quickly took the item out of the bag, unwrapped it, put it on a plate and presented it to Val.
She said, “Oh my God.” “Isn’t that–?”
“Eat it while it’s still warm.”
She proceeded to top her burgers with relish — or, to be precise, with a special sauce.
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