MARRIAGE is hard work. Those of us who are living it understand that. Those who aren't? Well, they're sort of like my 11-year-old daughter, Eve, whose idea of married bliss is played out on reality shows where the wedding is not the beginning, but the end.
Unfortunately, no matter how many times David Tutera hosts "My Fair Wedding," and no matter how many women "Say Yes to the Dress," marriage isn't a fashion show. It's bigger than that.
Marriage is what happens after you've maxed out your credit cards to get other people drunk at your reception, and you realize that the wedding gifts from your friends and relatives won't cover the bill. It's the first overdue payment. It's the second major argument. It's the last straw.
Marriage, my friends, is real life, and it takes more than a fancy ceremony to make it last.
It takes love.
But sometimes even love isn't enough, because when your spouse has put on work boots and used your last nerve as a trampoline, even love can start to wear thin. That's when you need a secret weapon; a go-to move that's as tricky as an Allen Iverson crossover, as dependable as a Nolan Ryan fastball and as deadly as a LeBron James slam. My wife has such a move. I call it her "bread and butter."
No, really. It's bread and butter.
You see, LaVeta is a foodie, and since food is her passion, she decided early in our marriage that she would learn to cook. I mean really cook. Not the kind of cooking she did when we were dating. Back then she made buffalo wings so hot they seared my intestines, but I ate the wings anyway because LaVeta was so fine and I was so smitten. She raised her game when we got married, though.
Unfortunately, she also got involved with another man.
Their relationship was harmless at first, but what began as an innocent flirtation morphed into an obsession. LaVeta would watch him on PBS, with his bookish spectacles and choirboy haircut and, like a fool, I allowed her to do it.
I should've known that there was something wrong about him. I should've seen the way the women on his TV show followed his every order in the kitchen. But I was blind to his true intentions, and by the time he stole my wife, it was too late. She was his.
Who is this scoundrel, you ask? His name is Christopher Kimball and, along with publishing the magazine Cook's Illustrated, he hosts "America's Test Kitchen."
He had my wife under his spell. She ordered his cookbooks and forced me to build a shelf for them in our kitchen. Under Kimball's influence, she demanded Le Creuset pots, KitchenAid stand mixers and all kinds of other kitchen contraptions.
When Kimball did a Philadelphia appearance, she went to the book signing, clutching her "America's Test Kitchen" books and memorabilia. She waited patiently for him to autograph them.
I was jealous, but just as I was about to demand that she end it, something strange happened.
"Taste this," she said. It was maple-butter pecan ice cream. She'd made it from scratch using real maple syrup, fresh pecans and heavy cream.
I don't know if she got the recipe from a website, from a cookbook or from Kimball himself. At that point it didn't matter. My jealousy disappeared. Not only was I OK with LaVeta's love for Kimball, I loved him, too, because if he could get my wife to make me ice cream from scratch, I could deal with his presence on my TV.
In the years following that first forbidden taste, LaVeta left Kimball behind. She simply outgrew him. Now she watches Jacques Pepin, or Julia Child reruns, or "Lidia's Italy."
And you know what? I love all of them. I love them because the other day, LaVeta made homemade butter and baked homemade bread. Then she sliced the bread, slathered it with the butter and fed it to me. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
But even though my wife has become an extraordinary cook, marriage is still work. How do we manage? It's simple.
On the days when arguments leave us too angry to talk, I close my eyes and remember the chicken pot pie with homemade crust, or the apple pie so pretty Norman Rockwell could've painted it. I think of the rack of lamb, the glazed ham, the clay-pot chicken and the homemade sorbet. I think of all those dishes and I know it's worth the work.
Then I think of the best dish of all - my wife. She's my favorite recipe, hands down.