Today I am so pleased to welcome Liz Jacobs to Joyfully Jay. Liz has come to talk to us about her latest release, Abroad. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
In ABROAD, Nick doesn’t know how to cook, and it quite embarrassed of that fact. Dex, his love interest, comes to his rescue and teaches him a thing or two.
For myself, I didn’t learn to cook until college, either, and I didn’t learn to cook well until well after that.
My first time learning to cook was sophomore year. I had just transferred from my expensive-as-fuck dream school to a state school I resented deeply and with a passion. Due to vague feelings of guilt of having had my parents take out loans to pay for previously mentioned expensive-as-fuck school, I opted not to get a meal plan. I had also been stuck into a dorm from a different school altogether due to how late I transferred, and this dorm was a forty-five minute commute from the school itself.
It was basically a recipe for disaster. (I hope you see what I did there.) I found a relatively well-paying work-study job fairly quickly, but I was still student-poor, and having to feed myself was, uh, a challenge. Mostly what I consumed was pasta with an occasional side salad, and ramen. When I went to a school nurse about weird fainting spells, she asked me what I ate and then just looked at me. For a while.
This was when a friend of mine from freshman year said he’d come up to visit and teach me to cook chicken. Because apparently protein was a thing that I needed.
What a sweetheart, am I right?
He was someone who, in some alternate reality, I might have even dated at one point, but in this reality, we were both too gun-shy to make anything happen. However, he did as promised—he came out by train to the wilds of Long Island and taught me how to cook chicken breast. (My dorm room had a kitchen, which was one of the few positive parts about it.) It was a sort of hilarious endeavor because I was wildly scared of cooking anything, much less chicken, and he wasn’t exactly a master chef. His way of cooking it was to drench the chicken breast in some Italian salad dressing, which actually was not a bad shortcut to a tender piece of meat, but also not an entirely helpful cooking lesson. It was basically done in five minutes, and I did feel quite the connoisseur after that. Chicken cooked in salad dressing! Who knew!
The second time I had someone teach me how to make a meal, it was someone I was desperately in love with. Why is this a recurring theme in my life? I do not know.
Anyway, this was my year abroad in the UK, and I shall call her M. M was from my school, and we befriended a third American we liked named T (NOT my current wife) in our first week at uni. The three of us stuck together for a while, learning the British ropes and attempting to figure out why T’s housemates refused to sauté a single veg and instead had boiled carrots and peas and microwaved fries for dinner every night.
So then came November, and in a fit of some slight homesickness, we decided to have a Thanksgiving meal and invite Brits over. Hooray! How fun! A Thanksgiving feast. And then they looked at me and said, “We’ll have to cook. Can you take care of the roasted veggies?”
Uh, do you not serve chicken-dredged-in-salad-dressing for Thanksgiving?
“Pffft,” I said, sweat trickling down my neck. “I got this.”
Narrator: She had not, in fact, got this.
The day of cooking arrived. I bought the ingredients I was told to get. Then I looked at them dubiously. I probably couldn’t cook those in salad dressing. My crush M paid me a visit and, having assessed the situation, said, “Dude, just cut them up, throw some olive oil, salt and pepper over them, and roast them in the oven.”
Ohhhhhhhhhh. I see.
Thus, under this incredibly detailed guidance, I made my very first batch of roasted veggies. And you know what? They weren’t half bad. (Could have used more salt.) Over the years, I continued to make this one dish for whenever occasion called for it, hiding behind it the fact that I still had no idea how to cook much else. (Besides an easy stir-fry, actually, which I made for myself quite often while living in the UK.) (That is, until I ran out of money and subsisted on toast & tea for a while, but let us not speak of this time.)
In fact, it was roasted veggies that I made for this other girl I had a crush on, after I invited her over for dinner when my parents went to Hawaii. She came over, I made us dinner, we ate, and she was very complimentary of my efforts. We watched some TV, and talked, and laughed, and it was awkward and my heart was fluttering the whole time. We had some beer. Then, so as to not be presumptuous, I put her to bed in my bedroom, and went to sleep in my parents’ room. And that was the first time that my future wife spent the night at my place.
Roasted veggies—a surefire way to win a girl’s heart. Or so I’ve been told.
Nick Melnikov doesn’t know where he belongs. He was just a kid when his Russian-Jewish family immigrated to Michigan. Now he’s in London for university, overwhelmed by unexpected memories. Socially anxious, intensely private, and closeted, Nick doesn’t expect to fall in so quickly with a tight-knit group of students from his college, and it’s both exhilarating and scary. Hanging out with them is a roller coaster of serious awkward and incredible longing, especially when the most intimidating of the group, Dex, looks his way.
Dex Cartwell knows exactly who he is: a black queer guy who doesn’t give a toss what anybody thinks of him. He is absolutely, one-hundred-percent, totally in control of his life. Apart, maybe, from the stress of his family’s abrupt move to an affluent, largely white town. And worrying about his younger brother feeling increasingly isolated as a result. And the persistent broken heart he’s been nursing for a while . . .
When Nick and Dex meet, both find themselves intrigued. Countless late-night conversations only sharpen their attraction. But the last thing Nick wants is to face his deepest secret, and the last thing Dex needs is another heartache. Dex has had to fight too hard for his right to be where he is. Nick isn’t even sure where he’s from. So how can either of them tell where this is going?
Liz Jacobs came over with her family from Russia at the age of 11, as a Jewish refugee. All in all, her life has gotten steadily better since that moment. They settled in an ultra-liberal haven in the middle of New York State, which sort of helped her with the whole “grappling with her sexuality” business.
She has spent a lot of her time flitting from passion project to passion project, but writing remains her constant. She has flown planes, drawn, made jewelry, had an improbable internet encounter before it was cool, and successfully wooed the love of her life in a military-style campaign. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her essay on her family’s experience with immigration.
She currently lives with her wife in Massachusetts, splitting her time between her day job, writing, and watching a veritable boatload of British murder mysteries.
Thanks for sharing your cooking history, Liz. I grew up in hotels so did not learn to cook as a young person (and haven’t learned a lot since). While in graduate school I often fed my future husband my standard dinner consisting of baked fish, Stovetop stuffing, and Brussels sprouts. (He only told me later that he hated Brussels sprouts!) He’s the one who cooks now. Best wishes on the release of Abroad; it sounds like a book I’d enjoy.