This is a story about a rare breed of husband: the husband who can cook. It’s also a love story without the googly-eye, romantic drivel.
The evening begins as it always does. The doorbell gives off a series of staccato dingding-dongdongs! The dog barks, the little bell on her collar ringing shrilly in accompaniment – the house’s one-member welcoming committee; if only she could open the door. The man of the house, my Bin, arrives from work, walks in purposefully, heads straight for the kitchen. Already, the ingredients he’s asked for – tomatoes, basil leaves, crusty bread, and Parmesan – are reposing on the counter, sentinels waiting for their chief. A quick kiss on my cheek, a tight hug, hand wash, and he gets to work.
Tonight, my Bin is making a simple favorite of his, tomatoes and basil on toast. It’s simple because it requires just a few ingredients and only minimal heat is involved. I cut open the package of basil leaves, its licorice-clove scent fills nostrils and mind. My Bin grabs a handful of the leaves, takes a knife to them. “Just rip them, hon. A knife will bruise them,” I blurt out. “No, I want to use a knife,” he replies automatically, not looking up, not missing a beat. Earlier in our marriage I would’ve pressed on, insistent on my way but 12 years has taught me to let go. We each have our kitchen rituals. I look at the cut basil, it contrasts vibrantly with the glass bowl it’s been tossed in.
Short work is made of peeling two whole heads of garlic using – “your God-given tools, your hands” – I recall from some long-ago TV food show. My Bin throws the naked cloves – creamy ivory on black – into a skillet doused heavily with olive oil, a casual shower of coarse salt, and left to heat slowly. There’s no time to roast garlic so this is a quick recourse. In no time, the romance of garlic and oil permeates the air, a fragrance full of promise.
My Bin is slicing tomatoes, the sharp knife glides through the red flesh. I’m taking pictures of him, each snapshot seen through the digital screen is a mirror to the images in my mind, a mosaic of meals and memories past. I wasn’t versed in the ways of the kitchen until I got married, I was just a good eater. But my Bin grew up in the kitchen. He wooed me with food he’d cooked himself: paella; a creamy tuna pasta dish, the recipe of which was published in a national food magazine; and a multi-layer taco salad with a secret ingredient – a piquant sauce the color of carrots, its flavor rocketing through the vegetables it coated. While I’m the more organized of our couple, my cooking is limited to recipes, which effectively hinder flights of imagination. But my husband on the other hand, can cook on the fly, making do with whatever’s left in the refrigerator and pantry and setting them a-flight, his reliably precise palate the compass. He’s got a mind for flavors past and is inspired by what he sees while channel-surfing – “Lor! I gotta tell you what I saw on TV last night…” He makes a truly memorable carbonara (eggs only, no cream) and his salpicao is something Boo can eat for days.
Shreds of basil and tomato slices now huddle at the bottom of the bowl. More coarse salt and then pepper shower down to them from up top: crackcrack! go their mills. A wedge of aged Parmesan is grated and follows into the bowl. “Sugar, maybe?” I suggest. My Bin’s head leans to the side, considering. He’s the one cooking tonight. A mere spoonful is added to offset the tomatoes’acidity, coaxing out their inherent sweetness. Glug-glug goes the olive oil in agreement. A large rubber spatula is dispensed – it’s the magic wand that intersperses, intertwines the ingredients that run, tumble, chase after one another.
I imagine it might be a more scintillating story to say that my Bin swills wine while he cooks, a cutting figure in the kitchen evincing someone worldly, the business executive who handles corporate life and a cleaver with equal finesse. In truth, my Bin is a simple, straightforward man who prefers to drink water as he tends to the stove. And he likes to cook. I’d have it no other way.
Thick slices of crusty bread muffle the hiss of the butter-greased pan, and emerge from that heated kiss glistened-yellow with the occasional burn spot. The cooked garlic spread on top is its salve. My Bin piles the bread slices hill-high with the tomato-basil mixture, a motley of reds and greens speckled with yellow. Its lushness makes it collapse unto itself, littering the white plate. Another smattering of cheese and then the lot is laced with swirls of caramelized balsamic vinegar.
Table set, we sit. A separate dish has been cooked for Boo as she’s yet to become fond of tomatoes. “Thanks for cooking, hon,” I say simply as I set my camera down and look into his eyes. He flashes me a bright smile in return and reaches out a hand. I reach back and squeeze. Every wife should be lucky enough to have a husband who can cook.