In which you suffer closing arguments and frail conclusion.
Did cleopatra cook? Perhaps not. She was just the sort of person who, by report, wouldn’t depend upon cooking skills to attract and keep lovers and other admirers and friends. On the other hand, one might easily imagine she was particularly good at calling for the right bowl of fruit at the right time,1 and had a cache of chefs waiting to entertain her guests’ smallest or most extravagant request at a moment’s notice. A version of delivery food. And while we’re at it, an excellent opportunity to illustrate for those who thought they didn’t need to study this subject that it is not the quality of the delivery food or restaurants at your disposal, but your discretion in using them. Cleopatra, I’d wager, never frightened off a modest new friend with an overly extravagant curried delicacy that took too long to prepare, nor would she have summoned a gold platter of barbecued eggplant without checking first to see if her guest liked eggplant.2
But one might also be willing to place a bet that she had one or two sweets or savories she could make for friends or an intimate without thought, effort or a recipe book. How sweet would that be, seeing the queen of All Egypt, former lover of Julius Caesar himself, patiently and earnestly stirring up some divine snack in the palace kitchen just because your stomach had growled slightly as the two of you languished among silk pillows on the south terrace. How far would watching her whole exquisite self involved in preparing something delectable go toward melting the heart of a reluctant lover?3 One must believe she had this among her many wiles, even if it only involved knowing where the apricot tree grew in the garden and how to select a ripe one. Someday we might even uncover the hieroglyphic memoirs of a royal insider who will reveal in a titillating, unauthorized fashion that Cleopatra snagged Mark Antony, a most reluctant as well as married and highly principled suitor, one moonless night in just such a manner.
And if you can imagine that cooking might have been in Cleopatra’s bag of courtship tricks, why shouldn’t it also be among your fewer and less legendary attributes? If even the Queen of the Nile might have found use for a culinary skill or two, if it turns out that even with her collection of charms she did not thoughtlessly feed her guests stale crackers and order inappropriate pizzas, how arrogant would one have to be to refuse knowledge of the kitchen and of food?
Tell me, when did you realize this is not a book to stretch a repertoire of recipes grown dull? That it is not a book concerned with a more healthy approach to cooking, unless of course you think more friends and less clothing in your life might improve the condition of your heart or somehow encourage your blood to flow more freely. No evidence to the contrary, I should expect it would. Cook as a facet of courtship, even if you court only your own good humor, and see how it goes.
So it is not a real cookbook. So what? There are wonderful recipes all over the place. You could be standing in a bookstore at this very moment or in a kitchen and have a dozen cookbooks within reach. If you had any desire to cook, you have only to find a recipe and keep making it until it works. If there is enough wine flowing and necks for nibbling no one will go hungry, and when you do figure out how to cook, your friends will figure out that they should wait for the main course.
Instead, a book of words to cajole you into considering that cooking may not be a sport reserved for cooks. Neither a chore for the oppressed, nor a pleasure and privilege reserved for the initiated. Only a mystery and forbidden or inaccessible to the degree that you subscribe to fear or other prejudice. Thoughts offered to use as defense against arrogance and its sneers and jeers when someone surprising tucks in dangling necklaces, pulls back unruly hair and says “I’ll cook tonight.” Encouragement for you to cook well and for no reason beyond that I would like to eat in more often.
1 With or without asp, for example, although in hindsight she might have simply waited a moment longer before ordering that last fruit basket.
2 Unless she had some motive in serving them something they didn’t like, which is not unthinkable.
3 The effect of seeing another fully engrossed in whatever they are doing is, in my polling, the most cited reason for falling and staying in love. It need not be cooking. It might be any labor or endeavor at all. Especially if it involves making something. A creative and focused moment. More seductive than any provocative dress or glance. Imagine. Such efficiency. It does make sense though, evolutionarily speaking.