Picky-Eaters Club Favorites

My husband is a member of the Picky-Eater’s club. We’ve been together for eight years, so I’ve managed to overcome this to some extent and live a normal foodie life. Basically, I cook for me, unless he expressly asks for something he wants. He fends for himself (usually in the form of takeout). However, we have a few recipes – standbys, if you will- which do please Mr. Stump.

1. Spaghetti with Meatballs and Red Sauce

Unlike normal people, my husband prefers things out of a jar, can or package. We use Francisco Rinaldi pasta sauce (frequently on sale for $1/can at the local Giant). I have been able to sway his taste buds into liking Dreamfields pasta, but it’s pricey. We often use Whole Wheat thin spaghetti instead because it’s available in bulk at BJs. He likes Mama Lucia’s frozen meatballs. We just nuke ’em.

2. Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes, with a green vegetable (usually broccoli)

My fried chicken is pretty great. Recently, I tried variations on the recipe for breading, with much success. I can now make Parmesan fried chicken, add extra spices such as black cumin, or add flaxseed for texture. Charles is pleased as long as it’s fried. I use peanut oil exclusively for fried chicken. It just tastes better than way. I make my mashed potatoes by boiling them, then adding milk/butter/salt/pepper and using a hand mixer to mash them. Charles douses them in ketchup, but sometimes I’ll add garlic to my own after he’s taken his serving. I use the standard flour + egg + breading steps, and aim for golden brown. I like mine fried a little crispier, but, as Minnie Jackson pointed out in The Help, I don’t burn no chicken.

3. Broccolini with Edamame and Lemons

This time we tried broccolini.

I found a great recipe in this month’s Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. Basically, I blanched the broccolini to get it crisply green, in salted water for two minutes. Then I tossed in a handful of edamame and let this simmer for another two minutes or so. Meanwhile, I thinly sliced a lemon and sauteed the pieces in butter for about five minutes, then added the drained broccolini/edamame to it and sauteed for a few minutes further. I added a pinch of ground red pepper and stirred it in, then served it hot. Charles went nuts! We’ll definitely be going back to this recipe again.

Book Review and Subsequent Marriage-Improvement Reflections – Lessons Two and Three

Gathering all the loose bookmarks into a single blog post became problematic – hence multiple posts. As a reminder, this is about Elizabeth Weil’s book No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make it Better and its impact on my own newlywed mind.

A secondary struggle that caught me off guard was the dichotomy of being the Emily I was all along with the wife Emily. I never imagined that it would be so different being married, from being engaged or in the serious relationship we were in for years! Something in Charles’ mind was undergoing subtle changes too – and this seriously affected my self esteem. I was used to being in charge – not dictator-like, but certainly well-informed and able to decide things on my own. Suddenly, all my decisions required  a second pass – and vice versa.

2. Being married means there are no decisions that YOU can make alone, if the outcome will affect your spouse in any way. Especially financial decisions.

I inevitably found, as most do, that this second pass was a great thing. It forced me to be less selfish – first of all, this was now really “our” money. And unlike most traditional couples, I make more of it. So it was always a challenge, even when dating, not to point out this fact and use it to my advantage. In my marriage, my spouse’s feelings HAD TO come before mine when it came to money – that’s how men are wired. In my best guy-friend’s marriage, his way is the highway – to the extreme. I am thankful my husband Charles is open minded about my opinions regarding money or any other topic I wish to discuss (unless it involves lots of girl drama or quoting people’s words instead of summarizing into a “Just The Facts, Ma’am” synopsis).

Bottom line: being able to table big decisions for “discussion” has been a great benefit to our financial situation overall. Being able to count on one another to make decisions together, and not blaze ahead on our own, leaving the other to deal with fallout, as one of my best female friend’s husband did to her just before filing for divorce… priceless.

4. You can observe and report… but don’t blame it on the parents.

Elizabeth Weil went to many therapists during the course of writing the book, and one emphasized the need for examining relationships with our parents and how the baggage of these relationships now affects our marriage. The exercises were intense on visualization and speaking to the visualized versions of our parents, as well as listing out love and hate type feelings we’ve had and applying the results to your spouse’s features.

Now believe me, I’ve had 26 years to imagine the “kind of guy I would marry,” and Charles is not it. However, whenever I meet one of those guys, I usually feel a pretty intense feeling of disgust in the pit of my stomach. The fact is, I don’t think we are “supposed” to marry a type. I think we are inclined to look for features that we’re comfortable with in terms of survival. If we grew up in a moody household, we look for brooding types. If we grew up in a gregarious, spill your guts on the table and then hug-it-out-bitch, you’re probably not going to be attracted to the standoffish, quiet guy. (At least not at first glance.)

The best revelation out of this chapter is this:

“Dan [Weil’s husband] gave me what I needed most: He knew who I was. I used to joke that this was the reason people marry: to have someone who can observe your family at close enough range to help you figure out who you and they are.” P.91

Wow! That is so true. We’ve all heard the relentless “in-law” complaints, and we all have our own. But that statement there really resonated with me. There are things about Charles that I could never understand without having observed his parents at close range. Ditto with his siblings. But he is his own person, and nothing that he is today can be the responsibility of either of his parents. He’s a self-made man. His tendencies toward the family issues are his own tendencies – the second you lump your husband in with his “crazy mother,” you are done, sister. Just don’t do it. It’s not fair and it’s not true.

Book Review and Subsequent Marriage-Improvement Reflections – Lesson One

I recently read a GREAT marriage book by Elizabeth Weil called

No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make it Better.

Even less recently (and to clarify my interest in this subject somewhat), I also got married.

Like most young people, we thought we knew what we were doing – after all, we’d lived together for five years, accomplished many milestones that “people say” you should accomplish before settling down (college – check! Buying a home – check!). Boy, were we in for the year of a lifetime. There were moments I did not recognize my husband as the man I married. There were moments I did not recognize myself!

Marriage is WORK. Marriage is WORTH the work. Maybe that’s ultimately the point of this book – the moment we stop caring whether we are living parallel lives in the same house, stuck in patterns and routines that are comfortable, that’s when we are probably in trouble. On the other hand, some of us live in a passionate household full of caring – smothering, get-out-of-my-face-I’m-my-own-person kind of caring. And most of us live somewhere in between.

Weil takes on the concept of a “good marriage,” and uses examples from her own life to demonstrate that ideals are not reality. She outlines her own pathway to this understanding, beginning with the initial project conception –using her own already “good” marriage to take some of the normal steps people undertake to improve “bad” marriages. Weil is an entertaining writer – she includes real dialogue from her lives, which are comforting in the normalcy they reveal. The mishaps and moments of tension present in her marriage mimic those in all of our lives, whether married or not. The prototypical “in-law” tensions are there, along with the balance struggle when dealing with the needs of children before your own.

You know a book is good when you have the urge to mark a page every few pages or so to come back to later. I have culled the following wisdom for the readers of this blog, true, but mostly for myself as a reminder when we have our next big fight and things seem hopeless. Because whether we enjoy it or not, psychology is a real thing.

  1. Breaking the cycle of “parent – child” to “spouse – spouse” is harder than you think.

On one hand, a new relationship blossoms under the gentle taking-on of certain activities for one another – as usual, this begins with an innocent gesture – throwing in of a batch of laundry, say – and culminates in the female being “expected” to continue “taking care” of these little things “because she wants to,” and “because it’s naturally expected.”

This is not 1950. So naturally, this becomes an issue if not addressed at some early point upon moving in together.

Being married takes this problem (which usually surfaces early after moving in, if not before) and shuffles it around again. This is especially problematic if both spouses work full time or are otherwise occupied with school, and the traditional gender roles were in place during childhood, accidentally reinforcing up front this expectation. When you are married, societal expectations of you shift. Your home becomes ground zero for battles you thought were already over.

For example, my husband Charles and I had already made some “rules” about whose chores were whose. The problem was, it was easy for Charles to ignore the grass getting too long and the trash piling up outside, whereas the indoors stuff – “I’m out of socks again!”- was pretty noticeable. This quickly set me into a pattern of feeling like I was the only one ever doing anything regularly enough. “My” chores were really too big for a single person to take on and continue to work full time and (gasp!) add graduate school to the mix.

Charles works in a dirty environment and is extremely picky about his clothes. These two factors combined into an obvious need for Charles to take on one of the laundry batches – his work laundry –per week, and a bigger effort on both of our parts to take care of the rest “as needed” rather than wait for the other person to take care of it. Once we both got past this initial shift, it was fine. I actually like folding laundry. The biggest bone of contention chore-wise is by far the dishes. Thankfully, we have a dishwasher.

Essentially, you move from this idea of your spouse being required to take care of you, and you learn that, actually, you are supposed to take care of each other. This might mean doing small things like before, but in marriage, you are beyond the stage where you expect it to be returned. It’s because you WANT to make your spouse’s life easier that you do something nice – no expectation of something in return. We were children and our parents job was to take care of us. Now we are married, and it’s OUR job to take care of US.

This seems like a small thing – but this lesson is really hard to learn. Once you have it, it’s elusive – so hold onto the sentimental meanings behind small gestures as long as you can. Cherishing such moments allows us to savor the feelings that accompany them and get used to those feelings. This often results (at least in my case) in me wanting to continue that feeling by paying it forward, usually to my spouse. Win-win.