It wasn't long after we met that I discovered a different side of him, that took me a bit aback. Although he'd never done it, he was interested in learning how to cook. I must say I was pleasantly surprised and since then, we've had some great times sharing the kitchen island together.
We have had lengthy debates on what is an appropriate heat level for Texas chili, and after I talked him into buying his first slow cooker, I've broke in him on how to make easy, but tasty soups in the crock pot. Eventually, I even taught him to make cornbread. I have some work to do yet, because despite his great advances in learning some cooking techniques, he still considers boxed mashed potatoes his specialty vegetable.
There is one particular recipe, however, that he has taken to with greater gusto than most, even to the point of offering to make it for his Mom on Mother's Day.
Now, let me back up.
This is the man, who, when asked to bring salad to a family dinner during his bachelor days, stopped at a corner store on the way over to their house, to grab something from the produce department. As he proudly handed his mother the plastic bag of "lettuce", she instead found a head of cabbage. Needless to say, they didn't have a salad with that holiday meal.
His lack of skill identifying vegetables continued to demonstrate themselves, when one day, as I assisted him over the phone in whipping up a batch of crock pot stew, he became very upset to find his potatoes had turned orange after they'd been cooked. Turns out the yam display was beside the potato display. He painstakingly took each offending piece of vegetable out the next day, replacing it with cooked piece of lily white potato, but word quickly got around to his mother about his latest produce faux pas, and cemented his reputation as an ill-fated wannabe culinary expert.
Eventually I turned my attention to helping him create desserts, in particular a sugar-free cheesecake pie that I liked to make for my father up in the Great White North.
While I was way up there, and he was back in Texas, I gave him a mini lesson over the phone on how to make the pie, and much to both of our surprise, it turned out quite well for the first time.
Needless to say, he was cocky with pride, and a few weeks later he insisted he was going to make one for his mother for Mother's Day. I am sure the family was worried, and I could tell he was nervous too. The morning of Mother's Day, he asked if I would help walk him through the steps once again, over the phone. Sure, I told him. When he'd finished and had let it set, he began to complain that it didn't look as good as the first one he'd made. I asked him what was wrong with it. "It's kind of lumpy" he lamented. I asked him to take a picture and send it by email so I could help him, thinking perhaps he hasn't whipped the cream cheese as thoroughly as he said he had.
The photograph that showed up in my inbox a couple of minutes later was sad looking. It definitely had lumps. A lot of them. I went over each step of the recipe with him, trying to figure out what went wrong. The cream cheese had been smooth when he had finished beating it, he insisted, but when he'd taken the Jello mixture out of the fridge it wasn't a clear yellow like the last time.
A light bulb went off in my head. I asked him to read me the label on the package of Jello.
I wasn't surprised to hear him say "Jello lemon flavored instant pudding". He was mortified, he'd just made yet another culinary mistake in advance of another family dinner. He raced to the local store, repurchased everything he needed and we repeated the steps, this time with the right ingredients.
His mother dropped me an email later that night, telling me how surprised everyone was with how great the pie tasted. I am sure they were just as relieved as they were impressed.
Now it's his new specialty and he offers to bring it to every family dinner, and his mother has even submitted the recipe to her church cookbook.
He's now brave enough to change up the Jello flavors, as he's mastered the art of making the smoothest sugar-free cheesecake pie this side of the Mississippi. And, like any true artist, he takes a photograph of each of his masterpieces, before they disappear from the pie plate, just to keep the memory.