My parents have been married 48 years this week. They've been together longer than I've been on the planet--if you hear a crackling sound, that's my mind blowing.
When I got married (a mere 9 years ago), my mom said, "there will be good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, and, if I'm honest, good years and bad years." The idea of a bad YEAR is almost too much to bear, but she remembers vividly the year that she was diagnosed with lung cancer, we were audited by the I.R.S., and damn near every appliance we owned went kaput.
But they weathered through. They weathered snowy North Dakota winters, threadbare paychecks, a catastrophic home fire, numerous grim diagnoses, several audits, 2 constantly unmanageable daughters and, of course, a lot of meals around the table.
My father and my mother have completely different tastes in food. He likes the plain, meat-and-potatoes-style food he grew up with. My mother says that when she first visited her in-laws, she discovered (to her horror) only these spices in her mother-in-law's cabinet: cinnamon, vanilla, salt and pepper.
My mother grew up in an experimental kitchen. Gramma Henrietta DID fry chicken several days a week, but she also dabbled in Italian, Mexican, French cuisine. When my mother met my dad, he'd never eaten spaghetti. Or chili. Or chocolate mousse. It was a rough transition, and not just because my mother got married knowing how to make one thing: salad.
It was the culinary equivalent of trial by fire, and my mother spent many nights in tears, throwing dinners that were either botched or deemed unpalatable by my father into the garbage can.
But like the feisty French/Irish/English hybrid that she is, my momma didn't give up. In the beginning, she did what any new bride in the early sixties did--she ignored her own palate and cooked to please my father. Those were the pot roast years, the meat loaf years, the fried pork chop with cream gravy years. She had those meals down to a science.
Once my sister and I were old enough to voice an opinion, things got more complicated. Well, not on my sister's end, because she was Daddy's girl, right down to the gravy on her plate. I, however, liked rice. And chicken. And fish. And, God forbid, pasta in all its forms. I clamored for chop suey, taco salad, pasta primavera. It was a delicate and dicey balance, but my mother pulled it off with aplomb. If my father had to suffer through pasta, it was assured that he'd be tucking into a chop the next evening. Smart cookie, my mama.
Now that those 2 pesky girls are out of the house, and have been for some time, my mother has discovered Costco. Mom and Dad go every week, load up on staples and those tasty heat-and-eat meals, and do quite fine, thank you very much. Funny thing is, on one given night, they rarely eat the same thing. Mama's gotten assertive late in life and won't eat those dad-pleasing dishes any more.
Every evening I call her, 4 o'clock sharp. We talk about the day, I deliver any and all delicious/hideous anecdotes about the 2 pesky girls in MY house, we patch any fresh wounds with clucking and sympathy, and then inevitably end up at that one place--"So, what are you making for dinner?"
Because my husband and I are foodies, my answer is always more involved than hers. And she always gives a little sigh and says that she wants to come to my house tonight. Which, of course, I'd love. But an hour away, in a much nicer kitchen, she's tinkering around with the Costco spoils, "jazzing it up" as she calls it. Dad will get his meat loaf, she will get her halibut. But she fusses and fiddles with it, gives it love and attention, some fresh herbs and a drizzle of vinegar, and calls it done. And for the first time in a long time, they both sit down to a dinner they are pleased with. And that's a beautiful thing, no matter how you slice it.
I had a pretty rough time deciding on a recipe to post in honor of my parents' 48th anniversary. What recipe could I post that could satisfy such disparate palates? A drink? Mom loves wine, Dad a good gin and tonic. An appetizer? Dad is celery stuffed with crocked cheddar, Mom is shrimp cocktail. Salad? Mom chooses Caesar, Dad favors Iceberg Wedge. Entree? Forget it. Dessert? Dad is lemon, Mom is chocolate all the way.
But finally, after riffling through dozens of recipes, I remembered a summer staple that is equally beloved by both. In fact, this dish probably makes it to the table 3-4 times a week when tomatoes are ripe and worth eating.
So mom and dad, this one's for you. To my two favorite polar opposites: Congrats on 48 years together.
Tomato Salad with Roquefort Drizzle
Slice ripe tomatoes onto a big platter. Sprinkle sparsely with salt and generously with pepper. Drizzle tomatoes with:
makes about 3 cups
1/4 cup vinegar (I believe my mom used white or cider)
3/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup half and half (or sour cream)
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 lb. strong Roquefort or Blue Cheese, crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced
Beat ingredients together thoroughly and chill.
*I have made a less-rich, but still satisfying version using plain Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream and using low-fat mayonnaise for half of the mayo called for.