Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Happy 48 Years, Mom and Dad

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:

Roquefort Dressing*
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.


  1. What a beautiful post! Congratulations KW Mom & Dad! You have figured out how to be both independent and jointly happy- we all stand to learn much from you. Very warm wishes.

  2. I agree with Phoo-D beautiful post! I love the photos and I love the way you tell the story! Plus the salad is a wicked idea at the end too - though canola oil? What is that? Can I use an alternative?!

    I know I say it often but I love your blog - you are up there with my top 5 and not because of the content (though I am a foodie and I love the content too) but because of the way you write and the way you tell your stories! You've got a great voice and style xxx

  3. 48 years is amazing. Wonderful post.

  4. Congratulations to your mom and dad! JRK's parent's just had their 50th last month.

    His family is the same way about food, JRK likes meat and potatoes, I never make the same thing twice. He's good about trying new things though.

    His mom too only has salt and pepper, vanilla and cinnamon. My first Easter dinner with them was spaghetti and sauce. Plain tomato sauce from a jar. No meat, no bread, no salad, no parmesan, no flavour! I'm used to turkey with all the trimmings! We still laugh about it.

  5. What a beautiful post! And congrats to your parents! I'm now thinking you should make some amazing chocolate dessert with either lemon or key lime filling...

  6. I agree, this post rocks! And it makes me feel good, because the only thing Hubs likes to eat is meat, cheese, and bread. That's it. Before I married him, he rarely even ate chicken. CHICKEN, for god's sake!!! You are right, the disparaging tastes makes for an interesting mealtime.

    Happy Anniversary to your parents...48 years is AMAZING!!!

  7. CC-you could use any mild salad oil in place of the canola. I just wouldn't use olive oil.

    Gibby, I'm glad you brought your husband over to the dark side...chicken eaters are good people! :)

  8. TKW, you are such an amazing writer. First of all, happy anniversary to your folks. Second, I love that you talk to your mom every day! Third, your picture/essay combo is so lovely that I'm all weepy and it's not even my family. Fourth, PLUS you can cook. You have it all, girl.

    And you know what? I miss the days when we used to write snarky notes during Joel's lectures...I mean, when we used to pay very good attention to Joel's lectures.

  9. Ink, I miss those days too. :) Maybe I just miss you, though, because Joel's lectures sucked ass.

    Thank you for such a sweet comment--I do not have it all, my dear, because I cannot even add/subtract, but it's nice of you to say, even so. YOU are the amazing one!

  10. Yea! for your parents. I am sitting at 36 years married and forty eight still looks astounding to me. You write about your Mother so well it makes me miss mine all that much more.

  11. That felt like a beautiful montage at the end of a happy movie. The kind that makes you cry because it was so good. You are amazing with words.

  12. What ck said! :) Happy Anniversary mom and dad! <3

  13. That was a wonderful post. It reminded my of my grandparents; my grandpa raised on a ranch on meat and potatoes; while, my grandma was raised on a more sophisticated fare and couldn't cook for years. It reminded me of my parents who go to Costco every week and talk about those good and bad months and years. Still having them from what I can tell.

    Seriously, great post!

  14. Wonderful blog. Wonderful post. Wonderful love your parents got despite polarities.

  15. No, YOU are amazing. People are always writing that in your comments for a reason. You must listen to their wisdom. You rock, dearie.

    And now for a trip down memory lane:

    1. Hi: I like to use lecture notes held together with tape that I wrote 95 years ago. Oh crap, the corner just crumbled off. Well, I just won't teach you that part, then.

    2. Hey kids, you know how we were going to have a final exam tonight and you're all chock full of adrenaline and buzzing to get it over with? Well, I've decided that instead I want you to write two essays. And they're due in two days...bring them to my office and pay for parking again, ok?

  16. OMG, Ink! I had COMPLETELY forgotten about the final exam fiasco! God, we were sooooooo pissed!

    Joel=piece of work!

  17. LOL! He was a very nice man, but those classes were a rollercoaster ride!