The One Where You're Wondering Why You're Reading About Marriage Instead of Food and Whether You Want to Keep Reading to Find Out Why
Please do, I'll eventually get there!
Last Saturday we celebrated our wedding anniversary. When I told my job I was quitting to go home to get married, one of my co-workers commented that Labor Day was the least romantic day of the year for a wedding. I never thought about the day that way, it was just the only time both our families were all off from work and could gather in Philadelphia for a marriage the bride’s family wasn’t sure she’d go through with so there was some anticipation of an entertaining disaster at hand. The groom’s parents were in the initials stages of a knock-out divorce so that was another layer of titillation, especially since the combatant maternal grandmother was extremely gleeful her daughter was finally ridding herself of a no-gooder (he was anything but) and she’d have a whole new crop of people to tell. The thing about making sure everyone in the family would be able to attend was because every single man, woman, and child on each side tended to be outlandishly funny people (except for the maternal grandmother who was just outlandish and perhaps one of my dad’s sisters). Gather those people all together in a church, haul the bride down an impossibly long marble aisle, and then corral them into a hotel ballroom with an open bar, and you have yourself one hell of a Labor Day celebration.
That was very very long ago. I’m not going to tell you how long except to reveal our first child is 40 and he wasn’t born until several years after the wedding. I often insist that I was a child bride.
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A banal observation: Many of life’s important details commingle when two people join together. Most couples have gotten to know one another somewhat before all their separate household pieces settle in together and are not so surprised about specific fobiles. This was not true of us. We had always lived in different parts of the country and, if you count up all the time we spent together in the two years prior to the wedding, it would amount to about six months of mostly weekends being on our best behavior after driving and flying from one city or the other. Six months of being together is about when the heat of new desire clears somewhat enough to perceive what you’ve gotten yourself into and leads to the make it or break it decision. Technically, then, about the time my husband and I were unpacking wedding presents in our new apartment, it wouldn’t be out of line to consider the fact that the six month relationship rule dangled precariously over our (mine) heads like Damocles’ sword.
In our case, the difference in our food heritage was the deepest impasse. (I told you we’d get to food).
My husband grew up under the tutelage of a mother who could care less about cooking and food in general. I came up with a mother whose indominatable matriarchal view of life emanated from the kitchen.
About three weeks after the wedding, my husband wondered aloud why our dinners consisted of three well-cooked food groups (protein, starch, vegetables) and weekly pies and cakes. His mother’s reliance on Kraft macaroni and breakfast sausages or pancakes were all he needed for dinner especially since, at the time, four boxes of Kraft cost $1 and Bisquick not much more. An occasional box of Entenmann’s served just fine for dessert. Weekly budget calculations revealed that trips to the butcher and the market for fresh ingredients, herbs, and tons of butter seemed quite foolish considering our measly income.
He, being who he is, found this situation amusing, an observation rather than an issue. He saw the differences in our food culture merely a cornball preoccupation that if I would only see how little he cared about what we ate I’d have more time for such important pursuits as the lame novel I was trying to write. What was the big deal?
I was horrified.
Whoever says they have never in their life together loathed their partner is an out and out liar.
Big things stricken life: little things determine its course, especially in love. Differences in food taste is a killer, even my mom said so when I laid out the whole impossible situation. But she adored my husband and long considered me too over emotional and moody for my own good. While admitting the situation hugely strange (direct quote found in a journal from the period: “You marry the family, Patty.”), there was an easy solution which, in itself, is central to a happy marriage and that is to learn how to work around your partner’s limitations. Compromise. Her advice: macaroni and cheese from scratch with good Italian sausage and homemade pancake batter would settle things nicely.
And that was what I did on my part and, you know, macaroni and sausage, or pancakes for dinner aren’t so bad. For his part, he pulled out the copy of Joy of Cooking his mother gave to him when he left home and turned to the two recipes he cooked himself whenever he felt flush: sauteed pork chops and special potatoes. One Saturday, he expertly cooked them for me.
And that is how pork chops and special potatoes have served as one of the core reasons why, after all these years, we are still celebrating our anniversary.
Marriage Saving Pork Chops
From the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking
As you may guess this is a very plain and easy recipe, suitable for all tastes.
2 pork chops, boned or not, 1 inch thick
2 large smashed garlic bulbs or about 1 tablespoon powder
rosemary if you have it, dried if you don't
salt and pepper
Rub the pork chops with garlic and rosemary.
In a skillet, preferably cast iron, that's big enough to hold the pork chops, heat just enough vegetable oil or rendered pork fat to keep the chops from sticking. Sear the chops then reduce heat and cook the chops, covered or uncovered, until done. Be sure to pour off excess grease as they cook. Season with salt and pepper.
Once the chops are cooked you may either serve them immediately or deglaze the pan. If the wife is cooking, she sometimes sautee slices of granny smith apples in the drippings and layers them on top of the chops before serving.
My husband swears he learned the recipe from The Joy of Cooking but I couldn’t find it in his tattered copy. It’s essentially Pomme Anna with one difference—flour is sprinkled across the layers. His potatoes are so much better than mine because he is an imminently patient man with the constitution to wait the proper amount of time for the potatoes to form a good crust. I am anything but so they usually come out somewhat of mess. Either way, these potatoes are wonderful and we have come to call them Special Potatoes in honor of their role in preserving the marriage.
3 or 4 medium-size russet potatoes depending on their size and how many people you are serving (my calculation is 1 and a half potato for each person). You also want to have enough slices to make at least 3 layers. 2 tablespoons of oil--I use olive oil 4 tablespoons, more or less, butter flour salt and pepper minced garlic (this is an optional wife's/her mom's suggestion) Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible. In a medium-size skillet, add the oil and about 2 tablespoons of butter or enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Once the butter has melted, begin to arrange the potatoes slices in a concentric circle, starting at the center and slightly overlapping each slice with the one before it. Sprinkle the layer lightly with flour and dot with bits of butter, salt and pepper to taste and the garlic if using. Repeat this layering until all the slices are used. Top with another sprinkle of flour and dots of butter. Cook, uncovered, over a low flame until the bottom layer is nicely brown. Check fairly often to make sure the bottom doesn't burn but be careful not to disturb it much. This is going to take some time--as long as 25 minutes or so with the whole process taking as much as 45 minutes. Adjust the preparation time for your main dish accordingly. When the bottom is sufficiently brown, carefully run a stiff spatula under the layer to loosen it. Flip the layer over. It should come off in one piece but it's okay if it doesn't. You can always tuck the errant slices under the layer. No one is judging perfection here. The potatoes are finished when the bottom layer is light brown. As before, run a spatula under them. Flip onto a serving plate. Enjoy!