When it comes to food, people typically fall into two camps.
In the first camp, you have people who just gravitate toward food. They love it. They appreciate it. At the end of a long day, they want nothing more than to roll up their sleeves, pull out various ingredients, and build a masterpiece out of a meal. Their dishes are colorful and delectable. They speak poetry over what they’ve created with savory adjectives. Flaky, crunchy bread. Melted squares of creamy butter. Rich red wine. Food is not merely about consumption; it is about the experience. It can be a perfect way to show love and bring people together.
But in the second camp, you have people who are a bit hopeless when it comes to the whole food thing. You give them an “easy” recipe and they manage to botch it. Their handwritten recipes include detailed instructions on making hard-boiled eggs or cutting onions. There can be a lot of anxiety in this camp because all the opinions surrounding food these days make the whole process even more complicated.
And I, my friends, fall smack dab in the middle of the SECOND camp. If I had it my way, I’d eat the same things (bagels, tea, peanut butter and jelly, pickles, spaghetti) every. single. day. I can cook fine, but I need detailed instructions, and I’d much rather do any other thing with my time. So when I read that Day 5’s activity was to cook your husband’s favorite meal, my heart sank just a little. No favorite meals came to mind. Mike eats just about anything and I’m picky, so I mostly know meals that simply work for both of us. Like hot dogs. To make matters more complicated, I had plans to complete Day 5 on our anniversary. (Eight years! *Inserts all heart emojis in the world*) I didn’t really want to make one of our basic meals (like hot dogs), but trying something new sounded like a recipe for disaster (pun slightly intended) when I wanted the night to be special.
What I did:
I mulled over what to do for awhile. Tried to imagine what could make a meal simple and special. The answer came to me through the one thing I’ve come to love about food, which was something that became most instilled in me through Mike and friends he made in college.
Mike had an incredible group of friends whom he hung out with all the time, and these friends (1) loved cooking and (2) were good at it. They would bring a bunch of people together and make both meals and memories. Around the time Mike and I started dating, he moved in with two guys from this group, Josh and Josh. He was great friends with these guys, and also great friends with their girlfriends, Lauren and Bekah. And let me tell you… meals were their thing.
When I entered this group, I was totally intimidated. Not only because I was the new girl and these friends were the ones whose opinions mattered – friends who cared deeply for Mike and wanted the best for him – but also because they could cook! It was amazing to watch. My best contribution to group meals was usually my string of questions about how to cut a pepper or what the green stuff was they were sprinkling on top of the tacos.* Beyond that, I was mostly quiet, trying not to make a fool of myself (ever the concern of an introvert hanging out with new people) and also soaking in the stories. Because over meals, the stories came, and stories are something I love. “Remember the time when we dunked Mike in the waterway to clear his sinuses?” Nope, please tell me more! “Remember how Bekah would leave the apartment because Josh said he was tired, but then he and Mike would end up watching West Wing?” Makes sense, West Wing is awesome! “Remember when…?”
I couldn’t remember what they remembered at first, but the meals continued. We’d grill out. Group breakfasts became a tradition; first at the guys’ apartment, then later at any one of our homes. When Josh and Bekah got married, we’d have bonfires at their place. When Josh and Lauren moved away, we’d schedule for all of us to meet up at their home for drinks, dinners, and ridiculous dancing. Over time, I not only started to recognize the stories being told; I was also in them. “Remember that time we were playing Cranium and Mike hummed ‘Sweet Caroline’ to Kirsten confident that she’d know the answer right away, but it turned out Kirsten thought he was humming ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’ much to the amusement of everyone in the room?” (True story.)
These friends of Mike’s became my friends too – the amazing, not-to-be-taken-for-granted kind. The ones who checked on how things were going as we dated. The ones (well, Josh and Josh) who were with Mike as he bought my ring, then were all for it when Mike did one of his Mike-things and decided to drive to my house from the jeweler’s and propose rather than wait for the trip to NYC he’d planned with the intention of proposing six days later. The ones who were either in or attended our wedding. The ones who we lived life with through themed cuisine Saturdays, rebel small groups, out-of town visits or FaceTime, and weekends at vacation homes for birthday celebrations. (Over the years, we’ve accumulated countless Group-On-The-Couch photos.) The ones who supported us when we felt overwhelmed at the news that we were pregnant. (The ones who were also nice enough to get pregnant either right before or right after us so we didn’t feel alone. Okay, so that probably wasn’t specifically for us… but it was a wonderful coincidence!) The ones who – to this day – check in on how things are going, hold us accountable in our marriage, look us straight in the eye and ask the hard questions, and who support and encourage us in the face of the unknown. They’ve made meals as the backdrop for our memories, and then stories are what we savor over meals.
And so I decided to make a group staple for our Day 5/anniversary dinner. A meal that honored the friends who (1) helped make food appealing because it was always about more than food, and (2) have had such a profound impact on our relationship, both before and after our wedding day. A meal that is both classic (automatically bringing back a rush of memories), and easy to make (even if I did have to learn, long ago, that this easy recipe can be ruined if you think baking soda is the same thing as baking powder):
What I learned:
(1) It’s okay to take these activities and mold them a bit to play to your strengths.
(2) I’m reminded all over again of how lucky we are for the incredible friends in our lives.
(3) Mike is still the best thing that has ever happened to me.
(4) At the rate we’re going, we should finish this 31-day challenge by mid-April of 2017.
TV Challenge Update:
We began our challenge on July 24th. We made it 3 days*. After that, we saw 3 movies, many Olympic events, and the entire season of Stranger Things, which I highly recommend.
*Mike says we probably only made it that long because we were busy.