White Man In An Apron

I like to cook and my fiancée, De’Anna, loves to watch NHL games. It’s funny, she doesn’t really know how to cook and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve tuned in to watch dudes skate, slap a puck, and punch each other bloody. It’s quite fun to be the man who wears the apron and cooks meals marrying an NHL woman. There are a number of factors in our relationship that fall into the category of firsts and reversals, but this is what makes our relationship as unique and special as it is.

I generally look forward to splattering pancake batter on a griddle, popping buttermilk biscuits in the oven, pan-frying tilapia, or skewing ka-bobs. I bake a damn good cheesy potato casserole – it’s a family recipe. Recipes passed down from one generation to the next help put meat on the bones of a family. They provide nutrition and a feeling of stability. I can’t wait to provide my future family with nourishing recipes, both those produced in the kitchen and others learned through life. I am so lucky to have found my perfect ingredient, someone who brings energy and nourishment to my life every day.

Traditionally, the kitchen was the woman’s place in the house – whether she wanted it that way or not. Years before Mrs. Cleaver cooked for Beaver and the boys, a woman’s gender often sentenced her to a life in the kitchen. In the pre-Civil War south and elsewhere, the room with the stove might have been a place reserved primarily for black women, a number of whom were slaves. Since my fiancée is three-quarters African American, her ancestors are a part of the group of Americans brought to this country against their will and forced into a life laboring long hours on plantations as the property of a white man. If my fiancée travelled back in time, she might well be in the kitchen cooking up a master’s favorite dish. Just the thought of that makes me cringe, but it’s the truth: De’Anna has ancestors who were bought and sold.

My immediate ancestors never owned slaves. Many from the Spoerl clan labored in the illustrious northern industrial beer-drinking city of Milwaukee. And in the 1800s, Milwaukee was a city overflowing with hops. If a family had the means to tap from a barrel, odds were they were doing business in the Brew City. But I’m getting off-track here.

I’m assuming those from the Civil War south would have scratched their heads if they were presented with the story of an interracial couple dating, falling in love, and ultimately deciding to marry. Truth be told, if De’Anna and I lived 150 years ago, our paths may have never crossed.

However, in 2011 we are one couple among many who have looked beyond race and found love. This is not 1861 or even 1961. De’Anna and I are not really pushing social boundaries. However, we are going to be super-minorities in our respective families-in-law. In fact, I may be the first white guy to ever marry into her family and she is one of the first women of color to marry into the Spoerls. But we kind of like it that way. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.  

Now let’s pay a visit to our future kitchen.  

It’s a December evening, 2012, and the new Spoerl family is hungry. Dinner needs to be on the table in a few minutes. I’ve got spaghetti on the stove and I’m whipping up some sauce. No, it’s not homemade – it’s from a jar. I’ve got my apron on and, yes, it says ‘Kiss the Chef.’ De’Anna has had a long day at her television production job. She needs something warm, fresh and, above all, delicious.

To prepare the salad, I sprinkle Gorgonzola crumbles and cranberries on top of the greens. Then I grind fresh pepper on top of that. Finally, I drizzle light raspberry vinaigrette over the salad – and let’s just pretend it’s homemade.

There’s a bottle of Pinot Noir waiting to get corked, and, after a few minutes of seemingly fruitless tugging, it finally pops. We laugh. This is not the first time I’ve done battle with a cork. I pour De’Anna a glass and then one for me. I kiss her forehead and rest my hand in hers. We clunk our glasses in a toast and then sip. Another workday complete.

The spaghetti is ready and the oven alarm sounds. That means the garlic bread is ready. I serve everything on cheap but trendy plates in a pseudo fancy way, but I’m no chef. I sprinkle fresh Parmesan over our spaghetti and sauce and place the bowl on our table. Thankfully, this time I remembered to strain the spaghetti. Maybe dinner isn’t perfect, and our table is meager, but it, all of this, belongs to us. It’s ours. That’s what matters most.

Food on the table, we pray. This is tradition in our new family. I thank God for De’Anna. If she leads the prayer, she does the same for me. In our home, we both lead prayer.

I’m a man, a white man in love with a black woman. And I love cooking dinner for my future wife. De’Anna is, without a doubt, the love of my life and my best friend. I love every minute of life with her.

And even – especially – when I’m wearing an apron I feel like the luckiest man alive. I’ve been blessed with a soul mate to share meals with, someone to enjoy life alongside. It’s more than I ever dreamed of receiving in this life.

Bob Spoerl is a journalist and musician, a Milwaukee native who calls Chicago home. However, he’s currently in Washington, D.C. working on the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative alongside fellow Northwestern graduate journalism students. In December he plans to graduate and return to Chicago to either start work or live in a state of for hire. Tweet him at @bobspoerl.

Photo credit Andreas Winterer/Flickr

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