So this funny thing happened.
I got a direct Twitter message last August from @meleanashim: “Will you teach me how to cook?! :)”
I’m not kidding! Look! It really happened!
You know who Meleana Shim is…. (Hint: She’s a midfielder for the Portland Thorns who scored five goals last year, and she mostly goes by Mana.) Here she is, being force-fed gazpacho.
(If you don’t know who the Portland Thorns are, then go educate yourself here and here, because I’m not going to tell you everything a person like yourself, who is smart and delightful and progressive, should already know.)
I love the Thorns, and I’m gullible, and I have a lot of enthusiasm for cooking. So after receiving this Twitter message, I jumped out of my seat and thought:
Maybe someone hacked Mana Shim’s account and is playing a cruel joke on me. Who could it be? Family? Angry birds? Baby Woww? (He’s strangely brilliant–like all two year olds–with technology.)
And then I thought:
She used an exclamation point AND a smiley face: We are TOTALLY going to get along!!
(I abuse the exclamation point and smiley face to the point that they practically hang around my head in a perpetual cloud of amped-up emotion.)
Sometimes my life is a surrealist painting, and this happy interaction was adding some new melting clocks to the scene.
There are a lot of Portland chefs and home cooks whose ninja skills in the kitchen far exceed my culinary belt color, not to mention their being überhip. So I remained skeptical, and tried to be open about my kitchen landscape.
It was probably because I’d replied to a tweet of hers. Mana was profiled at the last home game and I looked her up afterwards and started following her.
Here I am at the game. (Thanks for the photo, Dad.)
I came to love the Thorns not because I’m obsessed with the beautiful game, but because of being a confident, nerdy kid who always felt like women could do anything men could do. Then I went to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, and the equality sword got sharpened to a fine point. And then I married my husband who rekindled my love of sports, and we now have our two preschool-age boys, who also love sports, and we watch a lot of ESPN, which seems to constantly hedge its bets on whether women’s sports are really a thing.
When I saw the Thorns’ motto, “She Flies With Her Own Wings,” and felt how the crowd went crazy for the team, I was in love. THIS was how women’s sports should be supported. [Editor's note: Mike, down in the comments, woke me up to the fact that this is also Oregon's state motto. Way to go, home state! You are more awesome than I thought, if that's possible.]
So Mana and I arranged to talk on the phone, and I cyber-stalked her so that I would have a few questions I could lob to see if she was the real Meleana Shim. Like, what’s the mascot of Kamehameha High School?
In the end I went with, “So you got a yellow card in yesterday’s game?”
“Ha! Yeah! It was such a stupid one.” And then she said something else about the yellow card that I don’t remember, but made her seem like a legitimate soccer player and not one of my family members.
[Family member, not Mana.]
Mana and I set up a time to meet at my house.
And I started sharpening my knives–what any chef or serial killer would do.
Mana said she didn’t really cook, but she did own a Vitamix, which made me jealous: Our 1995 Hamilton Beach blender had about 300,000 miles on it and smoked a little every time we used it.
Being summer, I thought we would make panzanella, the Italian bread salad that I had learned thanks to Barefoot Contessa. I had grand plans for a three-course meal in my mind, but if Mana really didn’t cook that much, learning some knife skills on willing vegetables and making homemade vinaigrette and croutons would be impressive enough… I hoped.
Plus I’m very chatty when excited, so getting just one dish done could be a challenge.
I was nervous. Would she like me? Would she really show up?
My husband was nervous. I was giving out our home address to people we’d never met, who may or may not be real soccer players.
And Mana, well she probably should have been the most nervous. She was showing up to a house in a labyrinthine neighborhood where none of her teammates would be able to find her, meeting a woman who was sharpening butcher knives. Hopefully she wasn’t going to be chopped up into bits and buried in our backyard.
But she came! And she was a real girl not a tweetbot or a psychopath!
And we had wine and made panzanella and chopped up bread for croutons. And we sort of spun around the kitchen with clouds of amped-up emotion hanging over our heads.
And then I made her try everything in my fridge. Right after Mana said she hated Bloody Mary’s, I made her eat my gazpacho–the cold-tomato-soup cousin of the Bloody Mary.
I think I won her over. I mean, my gazpacho is silky and delicious, and we topped it with prosciutto, chopped tomato and cucumber, and hard-boiled egg.
So that’s the story morning glory.
Mana came back for more cooking.
And she invited me to visit her in Hawaii. Although I think I really invited myself.
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