WHEN I LIVED IN THE APARTMENT on Christopher Street with B., the first thing I would do, after pouring coffee, was smell the air and, whether it traveled on relentless rain or heart-catching spring gusts or bone chill, let it prompt me toward making that night’s dinner.
If it wasn’t precisely that night’s meal around which my whole consciousness organized itself — even typing it I can right now feel the completeness of its focus, moving in an oiled, easy way — it was one of three things:
The first was a menu. The morning’s atmosphere would have moved me so intently that I would transcribe the meal-to-be in fine detail — aperitif to dessert — and write a guest list on squares of card stock with painstaking, deep excitement so that by eight a.m. on a Tuesday, halfway through my coffee, I would feel quite certain about preparations of brandade de morue with chilled red wine, followed by roast chicken, then salad with Roquefort cheese, then poached pears — for people who had no idea I’d be serving them supper on Thursday three weeks hence.
The second would be a decision to embark on a larger cooking project. This might be making a pot of jelly, or figuring out bouillabaisse; once it was re-creating an Italian fruit mustard I half remembered and distributing it, accompanied by cheese, to everyone I knew. In any case, it meant opening up cookbooks and reference books and becoming immersed and thrilled. On those days, I would be found at seven-thirty, halfway through a second cup of coffee, anxiously flipping pages to find a source for pectin or fish bones and trying to decide if I’d be able to collect materials at my lunch break or have to wait in small pain for the weekend.
The third was the simplest: needing to drink a certain wine that evening. This was resolved easily: by finding where it was sold, and by figuring out whether I could get there in what was always a shorter and more manageable lunchtime pilgrimage from my office in the Village than the other treks to spice stores and fishmongers.
All had a similar effect on B., who would emerge from our bedroom between seven-thirty and eight through a dark hallway. It must have been a shock — the sight of me, electric and in gear. But, I always sensed, not entirely unpleasant — like hot bright sunlight on newly awake eyes, or a lash of rain through a car window.
Whichever of those three demands pressed on me organized him, and B. depended on them, even if, left to a normal way of deciding dinner or weekend activities, he would have chosen differently. Within moments of waking, he would know what he was eating, what his social calendar would hold, to what oddity I would be completely dedicated over the next few nights.
Plus, I think it calmed him to be caught in my ardor. That when he woke and entered the day, raw, as we all are to life’s uncertainties until the tacit questions of existence are muzzled by logistics, it ordered his internal universe to be exposed to mine — so committed and charged with concrete immediacies, at least momentarily immune to the big questions.
In that way I think that my passion for cooking saved us both a little, then.