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SINGLE IN THE CITY

Bartering with her baster? It's a trade-off

August 07, 2003|T.L. Stanley | Special to The Times

I use food as a weapon.

No, this is not a metaphor, but an actual tool in my personal battle of the sexes.

As a girl who can cook, a rare talent for thirtysomethings these days, particularly in L.A., I have a potent arsenal of mad skills. And I'm not afraid to use them to my short- or long-term advantage.

Case in point: At my 1940s house, stuff breaks, creaks, leaks and fails. All I have to do is mention to the cadre of single men who live around me that I'll make dinner in exchange for some help.

Then, I just stand back and hold the Allen wrench.

I resisted learning to cook for years, perhaps because my mother told me as an impressionable youngster that the way to a man's heart was through his stomach.

I dismissed that, along with the rest of her relationship advice, as outdated, parochial Southern myth.

The fact that pleasing and appeasing men with food was a feature of six generations of Kentucky women in my family only proved the practice was male-ordered busy work.

Come to find out, of course, my mother was right.

As I write this, the fresh peach pie I just threw together is baking in the oven and my next-door neighbor, John, has poked his head over the fence to ask about the source of "that amazing smell."

That's from the next house, mind you. Visions of the garbage disposal being fixed are already dancing in my head.

The power I wield through skillfully prepared food reveals itself all the time and across the board. No one who loves a good meal is immune.

At my annual holiday party, there's always a crush of people at the food tables. Complete strangers toss civility to the wind and eat like pigs in front of each other. My totally heterosexual friend, Mary, has looked at me over a dinner I've cooked for us and said, "I love you -- please marry me," more times than I can count. My neighborhood boys have been known to pick my food up off the ground and eat it, so as not to miss a bite. (There are witnesses.)

But this weapon has two edges.

When I start dating someone new, a debate begins in my head that goes something like this:

I'll probably want to cook for him at some point because, hey, who doesn't like to show off? But if I do, he might think that all I really want to do is take care of him. What might be a simple -- OK, elaborate -- meal to me would actually be a major statement to him. Will he read too much into the gesture? Will he flee as the imaginary smell of commitment mingles with the aroma of perfectly marinated beef? Or will he settle quickly into the kind of complacency where I never get asked out to a restaurant again?

Neither is the desired effect.

The goal is to be treated like I've just juggled chainsaws, or at least very sharp knives. More realistically, all I really want in return for a fabulous meal is for him to appreciate me and my ability.

OK, appreciate me and do the dishes.

T.L. Stanley can be contacted at weekend@latimes.com.

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