For Better or For Worse
Author Elizabeth Crane's culinary secrets to a happy marriage.
"I think this couple is so sweet, we tend to take each other for granted after many years of marriage (in my case almost 36 years). My husband loves to remind me that I have a man who can cook. He cooks when he wants to, but it is always a...
Here’s the thing: I don’t cook. I eat, of course, but not especially well. I tend to think of popcorn sprinkled with Parmesan cheese as a dinner that includes vegetables and dairy. Once in a while I’ll go crazy and open a can of soup or even mix up a box of macaroni and cheese, but only so I can justify the half-bag of Milanos I want for dessert, and it may be important to note that these meals are generally served in front of the bedroom TV. This all worked fine when I was single, but going into a marriage, I would discover that at least one person in our relationship not only didn’t share my eating habits, but hoped I’d begin to learn some better ones so that I’d be around for a while.
As simple as some of Ben’s pre-moving-in suppers were (pasta with vegetables, or some combination of beans, rice, cheese, tortillas, cilantro, salsa—perhaps that sounds like a burrito of some sort to you, but not being much of a chef, I can only identify the separate elements), they did contain various fresh and healthy items. I also noticed that he ate these suppers on a daily basis, and that if he wanted a snack, he’d choose an orange or maybe a mango (as opposed to my preferred bag of Goldfish). Once he sliced an apple for me into circles, which at the time seemed so exotic it almost made the apple taste like candy. Yeah, my mom made dinner (albeit very, very basic dinner) every night when I was growing up, so I’m familiar with these customs, I just feel ill-equipped to carry them out.
When Ben and I first moved in together, I tried to make a sit-down dinner for us regularly. I made his mother’s chicken recipe a few times, which was tasty and not too complicated (butter + Parmesan + one pan + oven) but not like Mom’s. Rice, which he likes in large quantities, I had some trouble with. (OK, I tend to burn it.) Ben posted a note for me on the fridge with the proper water-to-rice ratio, because I still always forget if it’s more water or more rice. I made my mother’s meatloaf recipe (one pan + a boatload of ketchup slathered on top until almost burnt) a few times. I made pasta with the family marinara recipe (very, very easy and tasty, but I can’t give it away). I threw some chicken and a few vegetables into a wok once, with a tiny drip of sesame oil, which can go a long way in making a simple dish seem like you put some effort into it. I did this cooking thing for about a year.
Ben, a very sweet person, always expressed gratitude for my efforts, but he never raved much about anything and I couldn’t blame him. I finally confessed that I wasn’t enjoying it either, not the eating and especially not the cooking. Ben’s decision to give up construction in favor of being a full-time artist basically coincided with my decision to give up cooking in favor of being a full-time eater.
These days, if Ben wants a non-popcorn-oriented dinner, Ben cooks. Unlike me, Ben can find his way around a cookbook with ease, and over the last few years has made some delicious dishes, including spinach sausage lasagna, winter vegetable soup, spinach broccoli soup, chili, pasta with homemade meat sauce and a memorably tasty carrot-mushroom loaf. He’s a really good soup maker, which is great because I’m a really good soup eater. Recently he made cabbage-and-potato soup, which may sound pedestrian but I’m happy to eat it for a week. I’d actually be quite satisfied with an all-soup diet, if chocolate were included. The best thing about Ben’s meals is that I can tell myself that I’m taking baby steps toward eating better and that a chipwich for dessert counts for my dairy (plus it has dark chocolate, which I hear tell is a superfood). Lately I’ve even taken up regular exercise (yet another activity I’m not especially excited about), which Ben has been trying to encourage me to do for years.
But we still eat most of our dinners in bed. We used to tell ourselves it was because there was too much mail on the kitchen table, but the truth is I think we both like it there. We’ve been together for six years, but just today Ben said, “I still can’t believe we’re married. That I get to just turn to my left and you’re right there.” I told him I thought I was the lucky one. I still get to eat in bed, but my dinner is brought to me.