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Tressa is sure of almost everything -- her career as a successful food writer, her great friends, and her sophisticated New York lifestyle. She has never been so sure of men, however, and as she hits her late thirties, the prospect of never marrying looms large. When Dan shows up on her doorstep, she hopes that he's "the one," and ...
Tressa is sure of almost everything -- her career as a successful food writer, her great friends, and her sophisticated New York lifestyle. She has never been so sure of men, however, and as she hits her late thirties, the prospect of never marrying looms large. When Dan shows up on her doorstep, she hopes that he's "the one," and soon they are married. There's just one problem: With all the excitement of finding him, and then the wedding, Tressa is struck with an awful idea -- maybe he's not the one after all. Into this mess of uncertainty comes an unexpected life preserver -- the journals and recipes of her grandmother Bernadine. Bernadine and her husband, James, had the kind of marriage that Tressa always believed she should have -- the perfect marriage. Or so Tressa thought.
In Recipes for a Perfect Marriage the unexpected secret to marital bliss unfolds through the voices and recipes of Tressa and Bernadine. They are generations and oceans apart, yet in this charming, beautifully imagined novel, they learn that marriage, like brown bread, is both sturdy and fragile, and never to be taken for granted.
If the heat is not right to start with, the thickening process will never kick off. If it overboils, the jam becomes cloying and too thick. And sometimes you can have the best quality ingredients, apply just the right amount of heat, and, for some reason, the chemistry just never kicks in at all.
Dan is an ordinary guy. I don't mean that badly; being an ordinary guy is a good thing. What I really mean is that he is ordinary to me, and that is the problem.
Was I ever in love with him? I just don't know anymore. I made the ultimate declaration of love on our wedding day and somehow, in the hugeness of the gesture, I lost the clarity of what love was. Lost faith in the feeling that made me say "yes" to him in the first place.
Dan is great. Really. Just not for me.
I met him about a year and a half ago (if I loved him, I would be able to remember exactly when), although I guess, in a weird way, he had been knocking about on the edge of my life before then. Hewas the superintendent in my apartment building. "Don't sleep with your building super!" I hear you cry. Basic rule of being a single woman in Manhattan. If things don't work out and your water pipe bursts, who are you going to call? You stay friendly with the super, you flirt with him when you have to, and you tip him at Christmas. It is one relationship you don't mess with.
Unless you are so sad and desperate that you are afraid of turning into one of life's conspicuously lonely: the lingering huggers, the abandoned wives who book a lot of aromatherapy and have begun to actively crave a human touch.
The New York singles scene was tough.
There were the players: high maintenance, competitive husband-hunters: manicured, buffed, styled-up peak-performers. Then there were the rest of us just bumbling through the bars, forgetting to change out of our work shoes, borrowing a friend's lipstick as an afterthought, knowing that we were never going to meet a man if we didn't start making an effort. All of us were trying to look as if we didn't care, pretending that what really mattered to us was our friends. Maybe I'm cynical, but behind the glimmering cosmetics and the carefully poised insouciance, I always saw just a lot of brave faces. In the eyes of my closest girlfriends, I knew that, ultimately, I was just an emotional stand-in for the man they hadn't met yet. We were co-commentators in one another's lives, important to one another's emotional survival, but not integral. Men, marriage, children; as we buffed and polished and shone through our thirties, this life cycle was turning from a birthright to a dream.
I was bad at pretending.
Reared by a single mother, who swore it was by choice but was never entirely convincing, I held up my maternal grandparents as my role models in love. James, my grandfather, was the local schoolteacher in their small village and my grandmother Bernadine was a wonderful housekeeper and cook. I visited them for at least two summer months each year as a child and benefited from the warmth they so clearly felt toward me, and each other. Their marriage provided my childhood with a structured, traditional environment so different from the permissive, unpredictable upbringing I had with my bohemian artist mother, Niamh. The long summer days spent with my grandparents were taken up entirely with simple household chores. James tending to his vegetable garden; Bernadine baking bread and allowing me to dust her kitchen in flour. My grandparents were not physically demonstrative, but their love was obvious in all the little things they did for each other.
Bernadine and James were married for fifty years, and I remember as a teenager wondering at the miracle of love that would keep two people together for almost three of my lifetimes. My grandmother outlived my grandfather by eight years. The legacy they left in my heart was an ambition to find a man with whom to have a relationship like theirs. A romance so strong that it could last out half a century.
I always knew that I wanted to be married. I dated losers and bastards and nice-but-not-right guys, but marriage was too important a stake to compromise on. I knew that much. Once or twice I fell in love and had to pull myself back from the brink of a big mistake. Although, looking back now, I realize that in love it is always better to follow your heart than your head.
In the end I married one of the nice-but-not-right ones because my head told my heart that this could be my last chance. Biology and opportunity conspired and conned me into a feeling like love. With Dan, it was never "The Real Thing," and it needs to be. Fake love won't last the course. It's naive to believe you can make it otherwise by wishing it so.
I was having one of those indulgent afternoons that you can have when you live alone. And I don't mean the pampering "home spa" type that you see in the magazines. I mean the phone-off-the-hook, feeling-sorry-for-yourself kind. It didn't happen very often, but maybe once a year (often around my birthday), I'd take the day off work and stay in bed feeling miserable. It was nothing as serious as depression-just my twisted version of "me" time. Other girls did meditation and yoga. I took to my bed with a quart of Jack Daniel's and a six-pack of chocolate muffins. After twenty-four hours of watching off-peak TV, I would always emerge longing to see my friends and generally more content with my lot in life.
Being self-employed meant that sometimes I could indulge myself this way, without a boss to worry about. After a lucky break early on, I had worked my way up the food-magazine ladder: from kitchen assistant to recipe tester and food stylist's assistant to senior food writer and stylist. Somewhere around five years ago, I became tired with the politics of publishing: the suits and the schmoozing and the drill of having to go into an office every day. I took a chance that I would get freelance work and on my thirty-third birthday resigned my post as senior food editor at America's top food magazine. Within days I was approached by an agent and have since published three moderately successful cookbooks. I also design and test recipes for food manufacturers and enjoy a peculiar but nonetheless lucrative sideline as a kitchen design consultant for wealthy housewives. Tressa Nolan has always had a good reputation in the food industry, and there's even been some interest in me from the Food Network.
So I was the archetypal child of the baby-boomer generation. Brilliant career, brimful of confidence, loads to offer-love life an unmitigated disaster. My decision to hibernate the day I met Dan had been triggered by the tail end of a hurt perpetrated by yet another jerk. After fifteen years as a food writer, you would think I might have learned about "up-and-coming chefs and photographers syndrome." Those men whose delicate egos lead them to want to reveal any female colleague as flawed and weak. The only comfort to be had from being shit upon by male food "talent" was that there were so damn many of them they weren't as unique or individual as they believed. Oh-and very few of them had talent. Except at getting unmarried thirtysomething women into bed, which, in my own sullied experience, took little more than two vodka martinis and less charm than I could ever admit to.
However, it is sobering for a woman to realize she is old enough and powerful enough to be career-climbed. Sobering enough, in any case, to justify a day off work getting drunk.
Ronan the chef was a classic nonromance. We had sex, I thought he would call, and he didn't. He turned up two weeks later at a restaurant opening with a model on his arm. I tried to be cynical, but when you get to your late thirties, bitter looks too ugly so you have to absorb the hurt. It had been a petty puncture, but I was feeling deflated and sad when Dan walked into my life.
"Fire drill, ma'am ..."
Our building supers changed every couple of years, largely because their allocated apartment was a dingy, windowless hole in the basement. Dan had been on the job only a week, and I had yet to meet him.
"Ma'am, I am going to have to ask you to participate in our fire drill."
I hate to be called "Ma'am." It makes me feel old and cranky.
"Ma'am, it is for your own safety."
So I become old and cranky.
And in this case, also drunk.
I flung open the door, swayed for a moment, and said, "Can't you see I am busy?" Then I waved my pajama-clad arms and closed the door on him.
As I was doing so, it hit me in a vast swell that our new super was incredibly handsome. Not just those acceptable looks that combined with personality can turn an average man into a real prospect. No, he had those ludicrous, chiselled, shaving-cream ad looks. The kind of looks you sweat over as a teenage girl, then grow out of as soon as you realize that male models are way out of your league.
Of course, an intelligent woman in her mid-thirties knows that looks are not important. Especially as she brushes the crumbs of her fourth chocolate muffin from the ridges of her Target flannel nightgown. It is what's on the inside that counts, which, in my case, was apparently a lot of bourbon.
I must have seen something in Dan's eyes during our few-seconds exchange, some germ of desire because-for no apparent reason-I decided to clean myself up a little. Not a full leg shave or anything as extreme as that, but through the drunken haze a bit of tooth and hair brushing went on and the nightgown got exchanged for something sexier, which, let's face it, didn't have to be much more than a clean pair of sweats.
Dan came back an hour later when the drill was over, and while I was not surprised at him calling back, I remember being shocked that he really was as handsome as I had first thought. More shocking still was the way that these melting hazel eyes were gazing at me with some undisguised lust/admiration combo. Like I was the most beautiful woman on earth. Nobody had ever looked at me like that before-well, because I am not a conventional beauty-and it made me feel like laughing. I invited him in and he hesitated by the door, like household staff at a duchess's cocktail party.
Seducing Dan was the easiest thing I have ever done. Normally I sit back and wait to be asked. I don't take much persuading, but I had never taken the lead before. This guy looked so nervous, so smitten, that it made me feel certain of myself: Confident.
The sex was fantastic; I won't go into the details but he loved every inch of my body in a way that astonished me. He was heartbreakingly handsome, and there was something comforting and safe about being with him right from the start. I was deeply flattered, but I knew, deep down in my gut, that Dan was not my type.
I am attracted to intellects, not bodies, and we had nothing in common.
When I look back on it now I worry that I seduced Dan for no other reason than I felt dirty and drunk and lonely. Oh, and of course-because I could. A toxic combination that was eventually legitimized by our marriage.
Hardly grounds for a happy one.
Perhaps I am making things sounds worse than they were. I did have feelings for Dan-of course I did. When I married him, I thought I loved him.
Dan made me feel good. He was great in bed; I had confidence in my body around him. He thought I was gorgeous. He desired me and, I'll be honest, that was something different for me. I love to cook and I love to eat, so I am on the heavy side. Not in a bad way-at least I don't think so. But Dan was the first guy who I felt I didn't have to hide from. He was always telling me how sexy, how smart I was; what a great cook I was, what a hot body I had. Right from the start, from that first afternoon, Dan Mullins was stone-mad crazy in love with me. He was so sure about marrying me, so clear and certain that he could make me happy, that I believed him.
After just three months he said, "Marry me."
Not "Will you?" or "I think it would be a good idea if we got married."
Just "Marry me. I know I can make you happy."
No one had ever asked me before and part of me knew that no one would again. I was thirty-eight and I wanted to believe in something: in happy ever after, in him. So I said "yes."
I allowed myself to get caught up in the arrangements even though I knew that they were not the point. The dress, the cake, the venue, the canapes: Getting married was the biggest, most glamorous photographic shoot I was ever going to organize. If I was using details as distractions, at least I had that in common with every other bride-to-be. It was such a big deal. Such an event. Everyone wanted a piece of me.
Doreen, my best friend the fashion editor, had her whole fashion team on me and they went into meltdown.
"A European bride-I mean, it'll be so this season."
"She's Irish. It doesn't count."
"Why? Ireland's in Europe? Isn't it?"
"Physically, yes. Style-wise? It's Canada."
"Get on to Swarovski; I'm thinking crystal choker to distract from that size ten ass."
"And the rest!"
"We'll have to get her down to an eight if she wants to wear white ..."
I enjoyed playing the princess, all the fuss and frivolity. And it turned out to be just like in the magazines: the happiest day of my life.
Part of that was due to the bonding I experienced that day with my mother. Niamh flew into J.F.K. from London to be there. I had always wanted a conventional cookie-baking mother and she had always wanted a friend rather than a daughter. We didn't clash; we just inhabited parallel worlds. Niamh and I had little in common. I was pragmatic and conventional, an inverted rebellion against her chaotic, promiscuous nature. She had followed her lecturer boyfriend to London five years earlier, where he took up a position at Oxford University and she played the part of his eccentric partner: all hippy clothes and dyed-purple hair, hoping to shock the unshockable English. I was hurt she had left me behind so easily-that there seemed to be no place in her life for a single, soon-to-be-middle-age daughter, and there was a minor estrangement. We spoke every couple of months on the phone, but I never had the urge to go and visit her and she always had an excuse not to come home on vacation. Five years had managed to pass without us having seen each other.
I had almost considered not inviting her. It wasn't that I didn't want Niamh there; it was just that I guess, underneath the bravado of seeming not to care about her, I was afraid that if I invited her, she might not turn up. My mother stridently disapproved of marriage on principle and that she came at all was a revelation in itself. The night before the wedding, she met Dan, and after he had departed to his apartment my mother and I stayed up drinking in my suite in the Plaza.
"I like him," she said once we were both tipsy enough to be honest, but not so drunk that we wouldn't remember. "Although I know it's not important what I think."
I argued briefly before she said, "Bernadine would have approved."
I wondered if she was right or if she was just saying it because she sensed some uncertainty.
"He seems solid," she added.
Excerpted from Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty Copyright © 2006 by Morag Prunty. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted June 13, 2006
This is a lovely book about the quicksand-like perils of the assumptions, expectations and commitment phobia of contemporary male-female relations. It speaks to what is lovely about valuing 'what is' rather than selfishly longing for 'might have been' or 'could still be out there'. Appealing to all age groups.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 10, 2011
This is a beautiful story about love and life's lessons. Two stories of love are told in tandem. Although time and space present different challenges regarding finding one's true love, the end result is the same. There is nothing better to love and be loved. Bernadine, the Grandmother, and Tressa, the Granddaughter, share their stories while the author interweaves their thoughts of what they had hoped love and marriage should and would be. Both are strong women who have conviction and belief in what initially starts out for both as marriages that are destined to fail. In a world where all too often, divorce seems to be the only solution, these women search for meaning in their married lives and come to the conclusion that although they may not have always made the right choices, they are happy with the end results.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 9, 2011
Posted April 14, 2010
I was astonished to find this book one that will belong in my library. It was very easy read but not boring. I fell in love with the characters and truly had a good time. I will buy more for gifts.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 9, 2010
I was surprised to find myself agreeing with the character's struggles with real marriage issues from the "oh, my gosh what I have done" to the struggles with finding out what you really want. The author does a great job balancing the modern story with the flashbacks to the grandmother's marriage. The main character finding out that nothing is as you expect it to be but can always be better than you imagine it will. The addition of the recipes (which I will never try!) was a nice bonus.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 20, 2010
I thought this book was great. It didnt take me long to read it. Even though it goes back and forth between characters, i really enjoyed reading about her grandmothers past. Its just interesting how people lived and what they went through but also that they learned something in life too. I think its sad that it took her grandmother all those years to give up on someone who she would never be with and to finally realize when it was too late that she really loved the man she married. I think the grand-daughter crossed some lines within her marriage but im glad she realized what she had in the man she married after all.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 26, 2012
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