The Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and Love

Overview

“On our first date, Rich ordered a chocolate soufflé at the beginning of the meal, noting an asterisk on the menu warning diners of the wait involved. At the time, I imagined he did it partly to impress me, which it did, though today I know well that he’s simply the type of man who knows better than to turn down a hot-from-the-oven soufflé when one is offered to him.”

When Michelle Maisto meets Rich–like her, a closet writer with a fierce love of books and good food–their ...

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The Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and Love

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Overview

“On our first date, Rich ordered a chocolate soufflé at the beginning of the meal, noting an asterisk on the menu warning diners of the wait involved. At the time, I imagined he did it partly to impress me, which it did, though today I know well that he’s simply the type of man who knows better than to turn down a hot-from-the-oven soufflé when one is offered to him.”

When Michelle Maisto meets Rich–like her, a closet writer with a fierce love of books and good food–their single-mindedness at the table draws them together, and meals become a stage for their long courtship. Finally engaged, they move in together, but sitting down to shared meals each night–while working at careers, trying to write, and falling into the routines that come to define a home–soon feels like something far different from their first dinner together.

Who cooks, who shops, who does the dishes? Rich craves the light fare his mother learned to prepare as a girl in China, but Michelle leans toward the hearty dishes her father knew as a boy in Italy. Rich eats meat, but Michelle doesn’t. His metabolism races through carbohydrates, hers holds to them tightly. And while her idea of a quick meal is a fried egg, his is to head to a restaurant. After Rich takes additional work to pay for their wedding, Michelle offers to do his half of the cooking chores–which, along with the newness of their living together, challenges her feelings about the kitchen and what it means to be a modern wife.

As they save and plan for a wedding, the nightly compromises, small generosities, and stubborn stakings of ground that take place around the dinner table offer a context in which Maisto considers what she’s learned from the marriages around her, and what she and Rich might create for themselves.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
The Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and Love For Maisto, who was raised to cook and consume hearty southern Italian food, one of the first requirements in a future husband was that he be a "good eater." So when she meets Rich and discovers that he loves food as much as she does, the table is set for a love story that, despite its ups and downs, usually finds some resolution in a yummy meal (with delicious, easy recipes that just beg to be tried).

Michelle and Rich move in together, and while Rich works to save money for the wedding, Michelle does the cooking. On the cusp of her wedding, she wrestles with questions of gender stereotyping and the reality of negotiation and compromise. Her own parents divorced, so marriage looks a bit risky. Meanwhile, Rich eats meat, but Michelle doesn't. Rich favors the light, clean flavors of his Chinese heritage but can't stomach tomato sauce (of all things!). But learning how to cook and eat together merely strengthens their connection, despite their differences.

In this flavorful, humorous, and uplifting examination of one woman's search to understand the ingredients for a good marriage, Maisto's voice is unfailingly honest. By the end, as the couple whips up a spontaneous dinner of antipasto, broccoli rabe, and sautéed eggplant, they find that over the recent (and difficult) months, they've learned to work together. "Not a bad team," Michelle muses. Not a bad book, either. (Holiday 2009 Selection)
From the Publisher
“Michelle Maisto’s tender book traces the journey toward a momentous occasion—her wedding—with honesty, love and vulnerability, all played out before, during and after one mouth-watering meal after another.”—Matt McAllester, author of Bittersweet: Lessons from My Mother’s Kitchen

The Gastronomy of Marriage is spirited, intimate and great fun. Maisto writes with a vital contemporary frankness that belies a truly romantic spirit. The result is a wonderful marriage.”—Aleksandra Crapanzano, James Beard Award-winning writer

"Perfectly delicious, The Gastronomy of Marriage feeds the mind and soul in every way.  Lyrical, fresh, honest and true, Maisto examines the year leading up to her marriage with sincerity and intelligence, shedding new light on the every-day dilemmas modern women face as they seek to nourish themselves and the ones they adore.   The recipes, taken from Maisto's Italian-American family and her husband-to-be's Chinese-American heritage, are unique, practical and inviting, and the love story—as American as they come—utterly captivates.  A must-read for anyone who has navigated the complicated waters of coupling, from beginning to end."—Kamy Wicoff, author of I Do But I Don't: Why The Way We Marry Matters

“Come for the writing, the insights into family, the understanding of the place food and the act of making it hold in life and memory, and stay for the pastina, the tofu, the cream puffs and the deep affection Michelle and Rich have for one another. A sweet and wise memoir.”—Dorie Greenspan, author of Baking from My Home to Yours

“‘What should we have for dinner?’ can sometimes prove a most provocative question. This book tells the story of combining two lives and two inherited cooking styles (Italian and Chinese) into something new, improvisational, and quintessentially American."—Alix Kates Shulman, author of To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed

Publishers Weekly
First-time memoirist Maisto turns out a subtle valentine to cooking and New York City life in this chronicle of two foodies in love. Maisto is a charming writer with a keen wit and sense of setting, whether describing tennis in her beloved Brooklyn neighborhood, or reluctantly making Jell-O for her fiancé. Despite her skill, however, the book struggles to get off the ground. What momentum there is springs from Maisto's imminent nuptials, but the actual wedding ends up a side note next to the recurring question of what to make for dinner. Low-stress recipes for favorite comfort foods are scattered throughout, including her grandmother's Walnut Tarts and a dressed-up boxed chocolate cake mix recipe, each worth reading: instructions for simmering lentils include lying on the couch and "watching a television program that the person you live with, but who is not home now, thinks is stupid." Readers homesick for New York will get the most out of the book, but it's unlikely to stick out in an increasingly cluttered field of food memoirs.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812979190
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/8/2009
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,402,742
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Michelle Maisto has an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of publications, including The New York Times and Gourmet magazine. She writes and eats in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, Rich, who occasionally does the cooking.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

January

The first saturday of 2005 (the year of the wooden Rooster on the Chinese calendar, which is predicting a holdover of grudges) is clear and cold, with a bright, misleading sun that makes each of us anxious to get outside. Union Square is a quick three stops on the L train, so we head to the farmers’ market, where, when we manage to stay in full sun, the winter air seems not so bad.

In the northwest corner, where Christmas trees were propped two weeks ago, plain pine wreaths are still being peddled. “Good luck to them,” Rich says quietly, echoing my thoughts. An ardent celebrator, even I have reached my tolerance for sweeping up pine needles. Rich dragged our little tree to the park a week ago, where the city was mulching them for free, and I stayed behind to sweep and vacuum, happy to reclaim those few feet of space and enjoying the pine scent coming from the warm machine.

Today there are two farms selling apples, a woman with honey, an upstate winery pouring Riesling and ice wine, plus stands with organic beef, goat cheeses and milks, free-range eggs, and green sodlike squares of wheatgrass. A stand with glass breadboxes filled with baked goods is swarmed, but a woman selling pickles sits alone behind her table with a brave face. I feel a pang of embarrassment for her, a silly response. I can’t even bear to throw yard sales, so squeamish is my aversion to selling things—an elitist-sounding affliction, perhaps, but one likely traceable to feeling pressured to hand out religious tracts at my hometown county fair when I was twelve or thirteen, an age at which being called on in class was enough to turn me scarlet.

The crowd is slow-moving, filled with bicycles, dogs in more fashionable coats than I own, and heavy-duty baby strollers—perfect for transporting pounds of root vegetables and tall funnels of blue-green eucalyptus, if the baby doesn’t mind. What could we do with tight, pretty Brussels sprouts, still on their stalks? It’s a vegetable I always want to like, though I still see the single sprout that my fourth-grade teacher hung in a sandwich bag from the strip of cork above the blackboard—a gift from a student, after he’d made his disdain for them known. It hung there until we left for the summer, turning every color and finally growing a soft fur. Rich likes the look of these long piled stalks as well, but it’s a relief when he suggests they might just stink up the kitchen.

A farm from upstate is selling apples, carrots, celeriac, winter squashes, apple-cider doughnuts, and steaming cups of apple cider from immense, sticky pots. (I don’t envy whoever gets to scrub these tonight.) A long ladle goes in and we each get a cup. For a dollar more we buy a clear sandwich bag of three golden doughnuts—cake style and rolled in cinnamon and sugar—and take them into the park beside the market to share on a bench. This takes us out of the sun, but we sit close and warm our hands around our cups. A perfect Saturday.

And still the thought comes to me: Can we stay this happy? It’s a question that I press down as quickly as it pops up. As a young girl, I would wake from naps and find my mother sitting on the carpeted steps where the sun hit during the late afternoon and nuzzle into her, still shaking off sleep. “Close your eyes,” she’d say, her face lifted to the sun, “and you can be anywhere. Where do you want to be?” Always she chose somewhere warm and far away. But Catholics didn’t divorce, and so she stayed and stayed.

These days I find I’ve become our relationship’s barometer, its dedicated lighthouse keeper, my finger licked and lifted to every shift of mood, change of tone. The lessons my mother drilled into her daughters aren’t easy to shake. Is it possible that I’m blind and don’t know it? Could I really say “I do” and only then have the blinders fall away, revealing some terrible fate I’ve sealed myself to? A part of me continually circles back to these questions, as no-nonsense an inspection as the one I perform each morning—keys? wallet? phone?—before heading out the door, assured that the day is on track.

Rich finishes his doughnut, switches his cider to his right hand, and puts his left arm around me, to warm and hug me closer. We’re happy, I tell myself. Things are good.

We take a final turn around the market and pick up apples, an acorn squash, and a damp bundle of carrots with their feathery greens still attached. “How about pasta e fagioli for dinner?” I suggest, and amazingly Rich agrees. Sun or not, an hour in the cold has made us both hungry for the same type of meal. At my mother’s table, pasta e fagioli, like beef stew and minestrone, would call for buttered popovers, their hollow innards perfect for scooping up stew or wiping the dregs from a bowl. They’re easy to make, but we agree to keep things simpler still—the dirty dishes to a minimum—so while I pay for the carrots Rich maneuvers back through the crowd for a baguette from the bread stand.

our meals are rarely transitioned into as easily as soup on a winter day. I’ve begun wondering if this is because when a person eats alone two eggs go a long way toward a respectable dinner. They’re filling, they don’t cost much, they come individually portioned, they’re actually protein (versus the cheap carbohydrates that fill most cupboards), and they aren’t much trouble to make or clean up afterward. Before we moved in together, I would happily scramble a few eggs, or make an omelet with a bit of cheese in the fold, and eat them alongside a handful of dressed salad greens, a toasted slice of good bread, and a glass of wine if there was an open bottle in the house. Or, if the greens involved frisée, I might toss them with only vinegar, salt, and pepper, poach the eggs or fry them gently, and then put them over the greens, letting their pierced yolks dribble down, acting as the dressing’s silky fat. The cheese could then go over the bread, be shown the inside of the broiler, and be eaten as a bubbly, open-faced cheese sandwich. Bliss! That all this changes once there’s a second person at the table somehow caught me by surprise.

I used to walk from the subway back to 9J, my shared graduate-student apartment, thinking, What can I eat...
What can I eat... Then I’d remember the eggs, the ciabatta roll left over from breakfast, that there were loose greens in the crisper, and that would be that. Forty seconds of preoccupied thought, and ten of those were imagining the rapturous moment of dipping the spongy ciabatta innards into a dripping yolk. But in the context of our new grown-up home, a dinner of eggs suddenly seems less fitting. Though even if I were up for it, the walk, the thought, the plan—all can be moot if he had eggs for breakfast; or if he’s particularly hungry and thinks this doesn’t sound filling; or even if he’s simply not in the mood. Which, honestly, is a thing I can’t argue much with. Even Elizabeth David, the author of An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, and a proponent of such a meal if ever there was one, believed that much of the pleasure of food and wine comes from “having what you want when you want it, and in the particular combination you fancy.”

People had warned me, during those years of separate apartments: You learn new things about a person when you live together. Friends, acquaintances at parties, strangers in line at the pharmacy—with little to no provocation they had flashed this hard-won nugget at me like a badge. But at the table, Rich and I have long understood each other. We’re both game to drive all morning for a lunch of cracked crabs on newspaper, look forward to persimmon season as eagerly as to any holiday, and think trolling the aisles of foreign grocery stores is a normal part of any vacation. For my birthday our first year together, he planned the evening so that we had fresh seafood appetizers at a motorcycle bar in Malibu, and then completed the meal at a more formal restaurant down the coast. (The other part of the gift was a first-edition Márquez novel; surely cartoon hearts beat in my eyes that night.)

And still, by August I did begin to discover things. Small things. That he likes his ketchup in the pantry, instead of in the refrigerator where I like it. That he likes cereal but not for breakfast. He likes soy milk but not in his cereal. And he likes to hurry even apples to the crisper, instead of arranging them in a pretty bowl on the counter, because he’s sure they’ll spoil instantly and attract fruit flies. The peanut butter shuttled between the baking cabinet and the refrigerator door for two weeks before the conversation was had that I prefer it chunky and cold but he likes it warm and creamy. What is the marriage protocol for such things? Were we supposed to buy both kinds, or was one of us supposed to shrug off our preference...for as long as we both shall live? The question trickled down to even the little trash can in the bathroom, which I like to eventually empty into a larger trash bag but he likes to line with a bag, most often a plastic grocery bag, that covers over the little can entirely and looks terrible. If I gave in now, could there be any reversing this later? Was I giving in forever?

People had also insisted to me that when couples got married things changed from the way they were when they were dating. My mother frequently remarked that I should make sure I really liked Rich as a person, because all the “tingly romantic feelings” I felt now would surely someday disappear. And still others urged me forward. At the wedding of my childhood best friend (who went from single to committed, engaged, and then married through the third and fourth years of my relationship), her mother squeezed my arm and whispered, “Marriage is a good thing, just go for it!” But not one of them pointed out that there is actually no reason to expect that two people who grew up in different households, with naturally different traditions and approaches to eating and meals, and who have ethnically different versions of comfort foods, varying ideologies about what is acceptable to consume, and bodies with vastly different metabolisms and digestive traits, should easily be able to sit to the same meal each night. And yet this is what we now negotiate.

Rich eats meat, but I don’t. My iron gut could digest a muffler, but his rebukes him for tomato sauce, carbonation, eating quickly. He prefers the light, clean flavors that his mother learned as a girl, watching the family chef in China, while I tend toward the hearty dishes of my father’s childhood in Southern Italy. And although Rich hasn’t seen the inside of a locker room since junior high, the carbohydrates in a meal of straight-up pasta bounce off him, while the moment I stop jogging they take up long-term accommodations on my hips and thighs. These details had always existed, eating in restaurants and hosting each other in our separate apartments, but six months into living together they’ve taken on new gravity. Since the moving van touched the curb, I’d been waiting for the long-promised surprise to emerge, and finally each of us could see what it was: We love to eat, and to eat together, but dinner every night, in a home of our creation, was turning out to be something else.

To be fair, my mother did warn me, repeatedly, that marriage is all about compromise. I just never fathomed that these compromises—mature acts of finding a middle ground that as a girl I imagined myself and my perfect husband acting out with selfless patience—would happen with such frequency. And never did I imagine that the bulk of them would be over dinner.

the carrots could do with just a good scrubbing, but I like the texture of them peeled, which takes less time anyway. The trick is to peel toward oneself, though I can’t help but like that it’s so many people’s instinct to peel away from themselves instead; it seems very survivalist, or Darwinian, that we should more naturally draw the knife away. I quarter two of the carrots lengthwise, chop them into triangles, and sauté them in olive oil with a chopped onion and two diced celery ribs. After a few minutes, I add four bulbs of minced garlic, and before it can brown I pour in vegetable stock, canned cannellini beans, the empty can’s worth of water, a squeeze of tomato paste from a tube, and a bay leaf. “Watch out for the bay leaves!” rings in my ears each time I pull one from the jar, trying to keep its brittle tip intact. My mother, endlessly terrified that one of us would choke on these dusty-looking leaves, attached an ominousness to them that it seems I may never shake.

Once the stock is simmering and the vegetables are soft, I pull out the bay leaf, purée half the soup in the blender to make the whole thing heartier, and add a cup of cooked shell macaroni, more ground pepper, and a handful of roughly grated Pecorino. Old Italian ladies fastidiously save the heels of their hard cheeses for just such occasions, but they don’t have Rich scrubbing the bottoms of their pots after dinner and insisting, “Why can’t we just sprinkle the Parmesan over our bowls at the end? It tastes exactly the same!”

I dress a salad of baby spinach with dried prunes and almonds, and Rich toasts slices of the baguette in the broiler—which we’ve learned to make do with, since neither of us owns a toaster—and then drizzles them with olive oil and thick kosher salt. Normally, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m still sixteen and faking my way through the adult world, but ladling up this very-not-chic favorite of grandmothers, I can’t help but feel grown-up. Rich opens a Chianti and finally we sit, say grace (or rather I do, always this falls to me) and touch glasses.

“Buon appetito,” I say.

“To the chef,” he answers. And we dig in.

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First Chapter

chapter 1
January

The first saturday of 2005 (the year of the wooden Rooster on the Chinese calendar, which is predicting a holdover of grudges) is clear and cold, with a bright, misleading sun that makes each of us anxious to get outside. Union Square is a quick three stops on the L train, so we head to the farmers’ market, where, when we manage to stay in full sun, the winter air seems not so bad. In the northwest corner, where Christmas trees were propped two weeks ago, plain pine wreaths are still being peddled. “Good luck to them,” Rich says quietly, echoing my thoughts. An ardent celebrator, even I have reached my tolerance for sweeping up pine needles. Rich dragged our little tree to the park a week ago, where the city was mulching them for free, and I stayed behind to sweep and vacuum, happy to reclaim those few feet of space and enjoying the pine scent coming from the warm machine. Today there are two farms selling apples, a woman with honey, an upstate winery pouring Riesling and ice wine, plus stands with organic beef, goat cheeses and milks, free-range eggs, and green sodlike squares of wheatgrass. A stand with glass breadboxes filled with baked goods is swarmed, but a woman selling pickles sits alone behind her table with a brave face. I feel a pang of embarrassment for her, a silly response. I can’t even bear to throw yard sales, so squeamish is my aversion to selling things—an elitist-sounding affliction, perhaps, but one likely traceable to feeling pressured to hand out religious tracts at my hometown county fair when I was twelve or thirteen, an age at which being called on in class was enough to turn me scarlet. The crowd is slow-moving, filled with bicycles, dogs in more fashionable coats than I own, and heavy-duty baby strollers—perfect for transporting pounds of root vegetables and tall funnels of blue-green eucalyptus, if the baby doesn’t mind. What could we do with tight, pretty Brussels sprouts, still on their stalks? It’s a vegetable I always want to like, though I still see the single sprout that my fourth-grade teacher hung in a sandwich bag from the strip of cork above the blackboard—a gift from a student, after he’d made his disdain for them known. It hung there until we left for the summer, turning every color and finally growing a soft fur. Rich likes the look of these long piled stalks as well, but it’s a relief when he suggests they might just stink up the kitchen. A farm from upstate is selling apples, carrots, celeriac, winter squashes, apple-cider doughnuts, and steaming cups of apple cider from immense, sticky pots. (I don’t envy whoever gets to scrub these tonight.) A long ladle goes in and we each get a cup. For a dollar more we buy a clear sandwich bag of three golden doughnuts—cake style and rolled in cinnamon and sugar—and take them into the park beside the market to share on a bench. This takes us out of the sun, but we sit close and warm our hands around our cups. A perfect Saturday. And still the thought comes to me: Can we stay this happy? It’s a question that I press down as quickly as it pops up. As a young girl, I would wake from naps and find my mother sitting on the carpeted steps where the sun hit during the late afternoon and nuzzle into her, still shaking off sleep. “Close your eyes,” she’d say, her face lifted to the sun, “and you can be anywhere. Where do you want to be?” Always she chose somewhere warm and far away. But Catholics didn’t divorce, and so she stayed and stayed. These days I find I’ve become our relationship’s barometer, its dedicated lighthouse keeper, my finger licked and lifted to every shift of mood, change of tone. The lessons my mother drilled into her daughters aren’t easy to shake. Is it possible that I’m blind and don’t know it? Could I really say “I do” and only then have the blinders fall away, revealing some terrible fate I’ve sealed myself to? A part of me continually circles back to these questions, as no-nonsense an inspection as the one I perform each morning—keys? wallet? phone?—before heading out the door, assured that the day is on track. Rich finishes his doughnut, switches his cider to his right hand, and puts his left arm around me, to warm and hug me closer. We’re happy, I tell myself. Things are good. We take a final turn around the market and pick up apples, an acorn squash, and a damp bundle of carrots with their feathery greens still attached. “How about pasta e fagioli for dinner?” I suggest, and amazingly Rich agrees. Sun or not, an hour in the cold has made us both hungry for the same type of meal. At my mother’s table, pasta e fagioli, like beef stew and minestrone, would call for buttered popovers, their hollow innards perfect for scooping up stew or wiping the dregs from a bowl. They’re easy to make, but we agree to keep things simpler still—the dirty dishes to a minimum—so while I pay for the carrots Rich maneuvers back through the crowd for a baguette from the bread stand.

Our meals are rarely transitioned into as easily as soup on a winter day. I’ve begun wondering if this is because when a person eats alone, two eggs go a long way toward a respectable dinner. They’re filling, they don’t cost much, they come individually portioned, they’re actually protein (versus the cheap carbohydrates that fill most cupboards), and they aren’t much trouble to make or clean up afterward. Before we moved in together, I would happily scramble a few eggs, or make an omelet with a bit of cheese in the fold, and eat it alongside a handful of dressed salad greens, a toasted slice of good bread, and a glass of wine if there was an open bottle in the house. Or, if the greens involved frisée, I might toss them with only vinegar, salt, and pepper, poach the eggs or fry them gently, and then put them over the greens, letting their pierced yolks dribble down, acting as the dressing’s silky fat. The cheese could then go over the bread, be shown the inside of the broiler, and be eaten as a bubbly, open-faced cheese sandwich. Bliss! That all this changes once there’s a second person at the table somehow caught me by surprise. I used to walk from the subway back to 9J, my shared graduate-student apartment, thinking, What can I eat...? What can I eat...? Then I’d remember the eggs, the ciabatta roll left over from breakfast, that there were loose greens in the crisper, and that would be that. Forty seconds of preoccupied thought, and ten of those were imagining the rapturous moment of dipping the spongy ciabatta innards into a dripping yolk. But in the context of our new grown-up home, a dinner of eggs suddenly seems less fitting. Though even if I were up for it—the walk, the thought, the plan—all can be moot if he had eggs for breakfast; or if he’s particularly hungry and thinks this doesn’t sound filling; or even if he’s simply not in the mood. Which, honestly, is a thing I can’t argue much with. Even Elizabeth David, the author of An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, and a proponent of such a meal if ever there was one, believed that much of the pleasure of food and wine comes from “having what you want when you want it, and in the particular combination you fancy.” People had warned me, during those years of separate apartments: You learn new things about a person when you live together. Friends, acquaintances at parties, strangers in line at the pharmacy—with little to no provocation they had flashed this hard-won nugget at me like a badge. But at the table, Rich and I have long understood each other. We’re both game to drive all morning for a lunch of cracked crabs on newspaper, look forward to persimmon season as eagerly as to any holiday, and think trolling the aisles of foreign grocery stores is a normal part of any vacation. For my birthday our first year together, he planned the evening so that we had fresh seafood appetizers at a motorcycle bar in Malibu, and then completed the meal at a more formal restaurant down the coast. (The other part of the gift was a first-edition Márquez novel; surely cartoon hearts beat in my eyes that night.) And still, by August I did begin to discover things. Small things. That he likes his ketchup in the pantry, instead of in the refrigerator, where I like it. That he likes cereal but not for breakfast. He likes soy milk but not in his cereal. And he likes to hurry even apples to the crisper, instead of arranging them in a pretty bowl on the counter, because he’s sure they’ll spoil instantly and attract fruit flies. The peanut butter shuttled between the baking cabinet and the refrigerator door for two weeks before the conversation was had that I prefer it chunky and cold but he likes it warm and creamy. What is the marriage protocol for such things? Were we supposed to buy both kinds, or was one of us supposed to shrug off our preference... for as long as we both shall live? The question trickled down to even the little trash can in the bathroom, which I like to eventually empty into a larger trash bag but he likes to line with a bag, most often a plastic grocery bag, that covers over the little can entirely and looks terrible. If I gave in now, could there be any reversing this later? Was I giving in forever? People had also insisted to me that when couples got married things changed from the way they were when they were dating. My mother frequently remarked that I should make sure I really liked Rich as a person, because all the “tingly romantic feelings” I felt now would surely someday disappear. And still others urged me forward. At the wedding of my childhood best friend (who went from single to committed, engaged, and then married through the third and fourth years of my relationship), her mother squeezed my arm and whispered, “Marriage is a good thing, just go for it!” But not one of them pointed out that there is actually no reason to expect that two people who grew up in different households, with naturally different traditions and approaches to eating and meals, and who have ethnically different versions of comfort foods, varying ideologies about what is acceptable to consume, and bodies with vastly different metabolisms and digestive traits, should easily be able to sit to the same meal each night. And yet this is what we now negotiate. Rich eats meat, but I don’t. My iron gut could digest a muffler, but his rebukes him for tomato sauce, carbonation, eating quickly. He prefers the light, clean flavors that his mother learned as a girl, watching the family chef in China, while I tend toward the hearty dishes of my father’s childhood in Southern Italy. And although Rich hasn’t seen the inside of a locker room since junior high, the carbohydrates in a meal of straight-up pasta bounce off him, while the moment I stop jogging they take up long-term accommodations on my hips and thighs. These details had always existed, eating in restaurants and hosting each other in our separate apartments, but six months into living together they’ve taken on new gravity. Since the moving van touched the curb, I’d been waiting for the long-promised surprise to emerge, and finally each of us could see what it was: We love to eat, and to eat together, but dinner every night, in a home of our creation, was turning out to be something else. To be fair, my mother did warn me, repeatedly, that marriage is all about compromise. I just never fathomed that these compromises—mature acts of finding a middle ground that as a girl I imagined myself and my perfect husband acting out with selfless patience—would happen with such frequency. And never did I imagine that the bulk of them would be over dinner. The carrots could do with just a good scrubbing, but I like the texture of them peeled, which takes less time anyway. The trick is to peel toward oneself, though I can’t help but like that it’s so many people’s instinct to peel away from themselves instead; it seems very survivalist, or Darwinian, that we should more naturally draw the knife away. I quarter two of the carrots lengthwise, chop them into triangles, and sauté them in olive oil with a chopped onion and two diced celery ribs. After a few minutes, I add four bulbs of minced garlic, and before it can brown I pour in vegetable stock, canned cannellini beans, the empty can’s worth of water, a squeeze of tomato paste from a tube, and a bay leaf. “Watch out for the bay leaves!” rings in my ears each time I pull one from the jar, trying to keep its brittle tip intact. My mother, endlessly terrified that one of us would choke on these dusty- looking leaves, attached an ominousness to them that they’ve yet to be relieved of. Once the stock is simmering and the vegetables are soft, I pull out the bay leaf, purée half the soup in the blender to make the whole thing heartier, and add a cup of cooked shell macaroni, more ground pepper, and a handful of roughly grated Pecorino. Old Italian ladies fastidiously save the heels of their hard cheeses for just such occasions, but they don’t have Rich scrubbing the bottoms of their pots after dinner and insisting, “Why can’t we just sprinkle the Parmesan over our bowls at the end? It tastes exactly the same!” I dress a salad of baby spinach with dried prunes and almonds, and Rich toasts slices of the baguette in the broiler— which we’ve learned to make do with, since neither of us owns a toaster—and then drizzles them with olive oil and thick kosher salt. Normally, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m still sixteen and faking my way through the adult world, but ladling up this very-not-chic favorite of grandmothers, I can’t help but feel grown-up. Rich opens a Chianti and finally we sit, say grace (or rather I do, always this falls to me) and touch glasses. “Buon appetito,” I say. “To the chef,” he answers. And we dig in. POPOVERS 2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Sift the flour if you have the time. Otherwise, simply put everything in the blender, the flour last, and pulse until just combined. Then put the blender container in the refrigerator for 10 minutes and a muffin tin in the hot oven for 5. Take out the muffin tin and spray it with nonstick spray or brush it with butter (if you leave the tin in longer than 5 minutes, the butter or spray will burn, which is a lousy way to start out), and then fill each cup halfway with batter. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the oven to 375 and bake for 15 minutes more. Don’t take the popovers out of the oven until they’re lightly browned and forming the slightest crust—or, even more subtly, a structural integrity— or they’ll deflate. Once you do take them out, the gentle insertion of a sharp toothpick into each top is said to further prevent them from falling. Serve warm with butter. Makes five or six, which serves two. If you’re already going to the trouble, though, you may as well double the recipe and look forward to breakfast.

Copyright © 2009 by Michelle Maisto. All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
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Introduction

Introduction
I was told to marry a man for his heart (or more exactly, his soul), but in the end it was a stomach I fell for. On our first date, Rich ordered a chocolate soufflé at the beginning of the meal, noting an asterisk on the menu warning diners of the wait involved. At the time, I imagined he did it partly to impress me, which it did, though today I know well that he’s simply the type of man who knows better than to turn down a hot-from-the-oven soufflé when one is offered to him.

That the latter was a necessary quality in any person I might consider marrying was something I likely knew somewhere inside me but couldn’t have put into words that day. I was twenty-two and having an early dinner in a breezy Los Angeles restaurant on Sunset and Vine, with a co-worker I’d kissed two nights before, tipsy on tequila after a postwork Memorial Day party. Even so, I felt the importance of this new information—that he was a good eater, and an eater I could respect—and, despite having spent the previous five months working together and hanging out very platonically, hiking trails in Malibu and the Valley, it struck me as the most significant definer of his character that I’d so far been privy to, and I felt more connected to him for it.

Today I have a clearer sense of what attracts me, and sitting with a poor eater, the articulated words impotent and emasculated come to me, cruel as they are. Even as a young girl, I sometimes felt a jolt of meanness toward fussy eaters. Being a good eater was a point of pride in my family, and there were summer nights when I sat alongside my father eating more steamer clams than I cared for—using the ugly black siphons that poked from their shells to dip them first in hot water, to rinse them, and then in a ramekin of melted butter—simply to bask longer in his approval. My sisters, both decent eaters, drew the line at the steamers’ texture and scrunched their faces in disgust; but I was my father’s daughter, and we ate on.

We have always been a warm, boisterous, physical family— hugging and kissing and linking arms and sitting close— but we can also be a quietly judgmental lot, who frown at weakness and prize strength above all else. And there are no more egregious revealers of a weak nature than being fussy at the table, straying from one’s faith, and staying with a man you know isn’t right for you. By which I mean dating; in marriage, it was understood, one was sealed to one’s mistakes.

I’ve heard it said that “love chooses you,” but I was raised to believe it’s a choice each of us makes—the most important choice each of us makes—and that the consequence of not doing so properly can be a life more akin to a long, unhappy death. George Washington, of all people, once put it nicely when he wrote to a friend: “I have always considered marriage as the most interesting event of one’s life, the foundation of happiness or misery.” As a girl I watched my aunts and neighbors with their husbands, and my older cousins marry, and I saw how the person you chose, like a dye dropped into water, came to affect everything.

My eye was trained to this by my mother, who by her own admission had chosen poorly. She and my father dated for a year, and after enough people asked when they were going to get married, in the car after a date one night my father said, “So I guess we should get married.” And my mother agreed. She mostly blamed her decision on not having anyone to talk it over with. She still tells me, incredulous, “It wasn’t until we were at the church and Grandma was pulling the veil down over my face that she said to me, ‘Are you sure about this?’ ” By the time they reached their honeymoon, my mother was certain of her mistake.

Determined to protect her three daughters from similar fates, she filled the talk in our household of women (which certainly it was even before my father left, during our teenage years) with tales and dissections of relationships and marriage. It was an agenda further fueled by my older sister, Bridget, who was particularly pretty and so attracted the attention of men quite early (far earlier than my younger sister, Maria, or I would, which I think actually suited us both). At the center of all the talk was usually a woman who just didn’t understand what she was getting into; or who was so in love she simply couldn’t see a situation for what it was. I understood early that men possessed the ability to separate a woman from her senses, and that in order to choose correctly I would have to keep my mind and eyes clear so as not to become a victim of the very thing I sought to commit to.

I stepped carefully through a modest dating career, and then one January afternoon Rich walked into the office of my first magazine job, to interview for the position just above mine. I was the editorial assistant, with a big desk up front for secretarial chores, and I handed him the paperwork, validated his parking ticket, and told him to sit and wait. Back then, the type of man who turned my head was thick and athletic, a bulk of a man in whose enormous hands I felt feminine and light. This person who chose the chair closest to my desk, however, extending and crossing his legs at the ankles, so that twice I had to step over them, was just a head taller than me, broad-shouldered but thin, confident but eager; I imagined myself out of his league. And still, with a severity I couldn’t explain even to myself, catching the strangeness of my actions, I made a point of ignoring him: disliking how casually he’d dressed; aware he wasn’t fidgeting like the others; disregarding the neat curve of his black hair around his small, perfect ears.

The first time I went to his apartment, I noticed a DVD of A Room with a View on his television, which is a book I love and a movie that few people have ever agreed to watch with me. I’ve been a fervent reader since I was in single-digit birthdays, disappearing deep inside a book only to look up hours later in a nearly dark room, queasy and discombobulated with the feeling of being so abruptly returned to my life. I can still see my mother turning at the sink with a white dish towel in her hands, a look of surprise on her face as I walked, squinting, into the bright kitchen, my cheeks hot with indignant tears over the unfair treatment of poor Ramona Quimby, age eight. Years later, it was Lucy Honeychurch I particularly related to, and with her I fell in love with George Emerson. A decade after first seeing the movie, I still pined for a man who could kiss me with the urgency that George kissed Lucy in the field of violets; a man who could love me with such urgency.

“Is that yours?” I asked him.

“Yeah, I love that movie,” he said. “Have you seen it?”

Rich has a theory that the universe (or as I think of it, God) sets out little signposts for us along the way, to confirm that we’re on the right path. Had I known this theory then, the moment definitely would have qualified.

We dated for two years before, frustrated with my career, I decided to apply to graduate schools. We were happy and I loved him and I was in love with him, but I was still too young, I imagined, to be thinking about marriage, so I applied to the schools I wanted to go to, regardless of where they were, because while I didn’t want to leave him, I was even more adamant about not being the type of woman who made important decisions based on a man. “The intellect is always fooled by the heart,” La Rochefoucauld knew as early as the seventeenth century. But I told myself I was keeping my head clear.

During the months that we waited for the universities’ replies, I thought about how, had the situation been reversed— had he applied for something that meant leaving me—I would have been incredibly hurt. And I knew, too, that had he applied to something far away and asked me to go with him I likely would have refused, entirely out of pride. I would have left someone I loved before I gave anyone the ammunition to say, And then she just gave up everything and followed him. I wouldn’t have done it, and I didn’t ask him to.

Still, when Columbia accepted me I whispered to Rich during a late-night call, “Did they just put an expiration date on us?” But he surprised me. “I’ll move too,” he said. “I’ll get an apartment near yours and work freelance. I want to be with you.” By then he was the editor in chief of the magazine where we’d met and had turned it into one of the company’s most profitable. His contract kept him there another ten months after I moved, but the week it was up he packed his things and left Los Angeles for New York. Or rather, he left Los Angeles for me.

Four years later I turned in a thesis, and the week of my May graduation Rich pulled a ring from the front pocket of his jeans and made a nervous but earnest speech I hope I always remember. It was six years to the day from our first kiss. We found an apartment, signed a lease for July 1, and finally moved in together.

Moving in together is a thing I suppose we might have done sooner, but I was raised in fire-and-brimstone churches and still possess enough God fear to want to keep certain carts behind certain horses. As a sixth or seventh grader back in evangelical churches, I used to hope the apocalypse wouldn’t really happen in the year 2000, as my mother said it likely would, so that I’d still have a chance at some God-sanctioned married sex. My understanding of sex at the time was, at best, absolutely vague, but it still struck me as incredibly unfair that I might rise up into heaven before adulthood and be made to miss out on this thing that everyone else seemed to enjoy so enormously. In the end, my carts and horses weren’t always arranged exactly as my mother and God might have liked (I can barely remember a time when they weren’t a team), and even now, our living together before the wedding, engaged or not, raises more eyebrows than I care to consider.

The apartment we moved into is on the western edge of Brooklyn, in an ugly, industrial neighborhood that’s not without its charms. As manufacturing headed overseas, artists moved into the emptied factories lining these streets, and the young and entrepreneurial eventually followed, opening cocktail bars with silver absinthe drippers and mustachioed bartenders, pork-only barbecue restaurants, and the types of intricately detailed boutiques that girls dream up in their bedrooms. Our building was once a knitting factory run by our landlord’s father, and our ground-floor apartment—a vaguely S-shaped open loft with high ceilings and windows only in the bedroom area—is where I suspect the loading dock once stood. Across the street is a still-functioning factory for wooden water towers (the odd, silo-like structures that sit so incongruously atop apartment buildings), and from our bed we can see its tall chute and hear and smell the mulched wood it sends sliding down. To the left, though— compensation—the street widens and the view is a welcome swath of sky, a churning stretch of the East River, and the startling profile of Manhattan’s East Side: the Union Square clock tower, the changing colored lights of the Empire State Building that click off at midnight sharp, and the racing lines of the FDR Drive, with its marching ants by day and double strands of pearls each night.

The soufflé is all I remember about the dinner portion of that first date, both his ordering it and how ethereal its warm top later was in my mouth. Though I can still feel the shy nervousness with which I entered the restaurant, and see the late-evening sun that glinted off my windshield when Rich walked me to my car (we had driven separately, straight from work). And I can too well still conjure the horrible, wonderful whir that took over my chest, a mixture of anxiousness and longing and a great need to secure something elemental and wholly necessary that ran inside me like a small motor on high, undoing me for weeks until I felt sure that he was mine and I was his and whatever it was we had started with that kiss would last for some good amount of time.

Just how much time, I was fuzzy on, but I pictured something solid and reflective of the growing love that I felt— maybe an entire year, or even two. But never did I imagine that the skinny, confident twenty-six-year-old ordering that soufflé for us—the only one of the handful of young guys at our office who had visited my desk and noticed my tattered copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude and had already read it himself—was the man I was going to marry. Or that, smiling at me across the starched white tablecloth, with the kitchen door and a sloping potted palm over his left shoulder, was the person I’d hope to be sharing my meals with always.

Copyright © 2009 by Michelle Maisto. All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 9 of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 25, 2010

    A Delicious Read

    I read this book with my fiance and absolutely loved it. I didn't want it to end. A great story about love and food, this memoir is perfect for anyone who has ever asked their significant other "what's for dinner?" The author will win you over with her sense of humor, attention to detail, and amazing storytelling.

    Just the right amount of recipes are sprinkled throughout the book and all are written creatively -- I can't wait to try out a few.

    My fiance and I both enjoyed it so much, we've passed along multiple copies to our engaged friends, all of whom loved the story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2010

    Quite Boring

    This books is rather boring. The author wastes too much time on details, that are completely unnecessary. The title is also misused, because there's absolutely no chemistry in this book.

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    Posted January 4, 2010

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