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Stories of food and romance from our readers

By Times staff

We asked our readers to share a romantic food story or an especially memorable meal with their loved one. Here are some of our favorite submissions.

Camping meal with flair

A year before we married, Bob and I went on a camping trip to Key West, testing our new relationship. We were camping in a borrowed van, so our utensils were limited. We had an electric skillet and electric wok, a toaster and a coffee pot. Sitting on the dock, I was cooking chicken breasts with sherry, cream and mushrooms in the skillet, and rice in the wok. The man camped next to us walked by and took a sniff, looked longingly at the skillet and said: "Something tells me that’s not cream of mushroom soup." We loved fixing that simple dinner many times during our wonderful marriage, and that night felt so special, our relationship promising to be filled with many delicious meals (which it was!). We returned to Key West the following year, after buying an old motor home, and got married in the tropical garden of the Audubon House. Our first anniversary dinner was prepared in the old motor home in a parking lot in Key Largo and was equally memorable, but that’s another story.

Kathryn Wilson, St. Petersburg

‘Do you know how to cook?’ Well …

The year was 1972. I had been dating my boyfriend, Bob, for about a year when he asked me: "Do you know how to cook?" I replied: "Yes, of course." In fact, I was 25, living at home and had never cooked anything. I invited him for a St. Valentine’s dinner at my house. I asked my colleagues for suggestions for a menu and wines, etc. And I asked my parents to go out for the day. You may be wondering why I didn’t ask my mom (for cooking advice) — well, the only spices in our house were salt, pepper and dry mustard. I made a roast loin of pork, broccoli with cheese sauce (kept warm in a chafing dish), a baked potato and — most impressive — popovers! I made the dining room table a small round affair with fresh flowers, candles and wine. And to top off the Valentine dinner, a chocolate layer cake in the shape of a heart. Needless to say, he was very impressed. The romantic dinner turned the conversation to us getting married and a ring. In June, he formally popped the question and we were married the following June. I did continue to cook through our marriage … but this poor man had more Kraft macaroni and cheese dinners than he probably planned on. He retired in 1999 and has taken over the kitchen, and we’ve never eaten so well. But that Valentine’s dinner was truly the way to his heart.

Ann Nora Conte, Staten Island, N.Y.e_SClBSnowed in

Fifty years ago this month, I was a writer/producer for a documentary film company in New York and we had just hired a man named Philip Courter to work as a director/cameraman, but he could not start the job until February. The boss insisted we get together before then so we could go into production when he arrived. After many tries, Phil agreed to a script meeting on Sunday. To sweeten the deal, I offered to make dinner. I spent the wintry day cooking and baking. He called to say he was snowed in at his parents’ house and hoped it "wouldn’t be a problem" to reschedule. "Actually, it would," I said icily. Eventually, Phil arrived with snowflakes melting on his lapels and said he was famished. I served a crab bisque and homemade rolls, squabs in a Chablis-and-grape sauce over wild rice, hearts of artichoke salad, and apricot chiffon pie. And he never went home — never! I re-create the same meal every year and as I blow out the candles, I wish: Please, one more year with this lovely man.

Gay Courter, Crystal River

Three courses and one convinced skeptic

We were on the third intense week of dating, spending all our free time together. We had gone on two dinner dates when I suggested that I cook for her this time. She was skeptical, but agreed. We were spending time at her basement efficiency apartment that had an ancient gas stove. That was kind of daunting for me, as all my experience was with electric ovens. I cooked a three-course meal. Course one was a tuna and cheese souffle. I was crossing my fingers, and it came out perfect. Course two was garlic-rubbed braised lamb. Course three was scallops wrapped in bacon and rolled in sesame seeds. She loved the meal and was no longer skeptical about my culinary abilities. A year later, she told me the special meal I made is what sealed the deal for her. We are still together 35 years later, and I still cook great meals for her.

James Harper, Brooksvillee_SClBA quick taste of ice cream

I’d returned to Florida in 2003 after a divorce here several years before. When mutual friends convinced a really nice fellow to ask me out, he took me to the now-closed Remington’s for a lovely dinner of great conversation, laughter and ease. Would I like dessert? It would take a while to drive there. We jumped back into his old pickup and headed to Seminole Heights to Bo’s Ice Cream. Choices, choices: No sundae, thanks; just a cake cone of butter pecan. Halfway through his hot fudge, he leaned over toward my spot on the truck’s tailgate and asked quietly, "May I taste your ice cream?" "Of course!" I answered as I extended the cone his way. In a James Bond swoop, he dodged the cone and planted a fudge-flavored kiss directly on my lips. The rest, as they say, is history.

Esther Rupp, Seffner

In love … with pecan pie

My husband and I met over dinner 64 years ago at Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber on Clearwater Beach, each with a different date. Our first date was to the bank’s annual Christmas dinner dance. We dined and danced our way up and down the beaches for the next several months. Then I invited him to my home for dinner, promising him a true Southern dinner. My mother cooked up a "down home" banquet, with fried chicken and all the trimmings. But I had one skill: I baked a pecan pie. And that Illinois boy fell madly in love — with pecan pie. Not long afterward he proposed, beginning by saying: "I want to marry a girl who can bake pecan pie." We married, and I must have baked more than a thousand pecan pies since then, all cooked and eaten in love.

Anne Rost, Clearwater

Muffins that taste like home

When my wife I were dating in Washington, D.C., we had both been spending significant amounts of time in Africa for our work. I asked her at one point what food she missed while she was living in South Africa. She quickly mentioned these chocolate chip muffins she remembered from her university days. A month later, she invited me to a picnic to celebrate her birthday alongside many of her friends. I spent many an hour perfecting the chocolate chip muffin, then brought a batch to the picnic. We gave out that recipe to all the guests who attended our wedding two years later.

Michael Matthews, Tampa