Marriage experts warn engaged couples that the greatest threat to their covenant relationship is unmet expectations. Others will warn them that money issues will drive a wedge between even the closest of partners. All of this is baloney. The greatest threat to a healthy marriage lies in the kitchen.
Food: the one topic missing from our premarital counseling sessions. How do you cook your vegetables? Do you like light or dark meat? Are leftovers a valid meal, or are they simply wasted refrigerator space?
I grew up in a household that believed red meat was of the devil. My father had a health scare when I was 10, so our meals never included red meat, anything fried, or spicy seasonings. I didn’t know bacon curled until I got to college; turns out my mother had been serving turkey bacon to me for my entire childhood. Vegetables were roasted or steamed, exalted in their purest form with salt, pepper, and a hint of olive oil.
My husband’s mother believed that if he loved her, he would eat. Butter was untouched by original sin, and a deep pan of hot oil was the only true home to, well, anything. Vegetables were meant to be “tendah” and swimming in bacon grease. Family recipes were spoken of as if they were beloved cousins come to dinner.
And as with many marriages, these two worlds collided over the kitchen table.
“Why are you serving me raw vegetables?” my new husband asked me one night.
“They’re not,” I snapped, my hackles rising. “They’re roasted!”
Another issue we ran into was portion size. I had spent several years on my own, living on a shoestring budget. I was used to cooking for myself, and occasionally my roommate. I had never cooked for a grown man before.
“Honey, I know money is tight, but we can cut back in other areas so we can buy more meat.”
“What are you talking about? I cut the chicken breasts in half because they were so big… and they’re easier to cook when they’re thinner.”
“You mean you’ve been intentionally giving me HALF a chicken breast?! Sarah, I’m hungry!”
“Who eats more than one chicken breast at dinner?!”
It took almost a decade for us to find our kitchen groove, but I’d like to think we have arrived. Turns out my husband finds joy in cooking vegetables, of all things. Who am I to deprive him the bliss of standing over a pot of stinky collard greens for three hours? He lets me enjoy my steamed broccoli and plain rice, but also knows I’ll turn my nose up at marbled meat.
It doesn’t mean we don’t have fights over food anymore. The current battle is over leftovers. I find great pride in cooking the exact amount of food our family eats in one sitting; my husband is usually double what I eat, and our daughters eat exactly 0.1% of anything healthy I give them. On the rare occasion we have leftovers, my husband and I begin the Leftover Dance. It begins with his putting the leftovers in the fridge, swearing he’ll take them to work the following day to eat for lunch. This has actually never happened, ever. He doesn’t even eat lunch, and if he does, it’s from the Hwy 84 Chevron. The second step is my taking the Tupperware out of the fridge and dumping the contents two weeks later. The denouement is when my husband stands at the open fridge, three weeks later, asking where the chili from four months ago is located. At this point I ask him why he can’t remember to take the trash out every week but can remember a meal we had when the last president was in office.
The kitchen is the heart of the home. And, at least in my house, it’s the messiest room, too. It needs constant cleaning because it’s being used constantly. Our marriage is a lot like our kitchen; there’s always a mess to clean up, but that’s because we’re always working on it. We fight, food gets burned, and grease splatters. But at the end of the day, we still sit down and eat whatever we’ve cooked together. The plate usually holds opposite ends of the culinary spectrum, but just like any good marriage, we’re learning to blend our differences into the best possible dish.