Thursday, February 11, 2016

Finding Love by Letting it Die

In Charleston they eat pimento cheese at breakfast, lunch and dinner and the women wear sundresses in November.
I think I've found my people, y'all.
John and I recently celebrated our 10-year anniversary with a quick trip to Charleston, South Carolina. Neither of us had ever been and we spent the better part of a long weekend savoring low-cuisine, enjoying historical tours, sampling multiple varieties of pimento cheese, wandering the old city and sneaking several plates of our hotel's complimentary dessert buffet back to our room. Do you notice a theme here?

One of the most magical things about our relationship is that neither of us believe in the concept of spoiling one's appetite, especially on vacation. And when you are in a city known for it's culinary flair, it would be a sin to miss even one meal. Or tea time. Or cocktails and hors-d'oeuvres. Or midnight snacks from the mini-bar. We are faux foodies, after all.

I was definitely looking forward to the slow pace, the quality time, and of course, the good eats. I did have one troublesome thought nagging at the back of my mind though. We have been together for so long and we know each other so well, I was a little worried that we might run out of things to say by noon on day one. I've learned how not to hate him, but had I forgotten how to date him? When you know every single detail of someone's life, what else is there to talk about?

I planned activities during the day to keep us busy - a horse-drawn carriage tour through the city, a ferry out to historical Fort Sumter - but it was actually the mealtimes that had me most concerned. There are only so many comments one can make about the bread and butter while waiting for the food to arrive.

Ever the planner, I decided the best course of action would be to Google "questions to ask your date" because the internet has the answer to all of life's problems. Sure enough, several options popped right up and one night at dinner, when the inevitable conversational lull reared it's ugly head, I decided to use one.

I pulled out my phone. John inquired as to what I was doing.

"It's a list of date night questions," I answered and he looked at me quizzically with raised eyebrows. "What? I'm just trying to keep the spark alive! Now tell me, what movie reminds you of us?"

He laughed. "Let me see that." And we both scrolled through together. We asked the questions, some silly, some serious, some slightly inappropriate (those answers whispered in hushed tones). We giggled and we laughed so hard we risked choking on our crab cakes. We reminisced and we waxed nostalgic about years already spent.

And you want to know something funny? We did not learn one new thing about each other that evening. He knew my answers before he asked the questions, and I asked him questions just because I like to hear him tell the story - "when did you know you loved me?" "what is your favorite memory of us?" "tell me how you think I'm more beautiful than Scarlet Johanssen" (I may have ad libbed a few).

C.S. Lewis once eloquently wrote that "People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ forever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change — not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one...This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go — let it die away — go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow — and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time."

I was worried that the thrills were gone, and it's true that the butterflies have long since died, but they have been replaced by a quiet familiarity, a warm fullness that comes with having a partner who knows you to your core. I had forgotten that there is actually a deep comfort in the ability to sit in easy silence with another person. Words are not always necessary. 

Our relationship has matured to the extent that all it takes is one look to know what the other is thinking. One glance may say "get this child out of my face before I go all Joan Crawford-wire-hanger crazy." Another gaze might communicate the overwhelming gratitude and love felt for this life we've created together.

That night it happened to be one calculating glance as we sauntered past the hotel dessert buffet. One look which said "obviously we need to try the comfort of our own room of course, not as the gluttonous couple who just sat down with eight plates of dessert" and just like that we were piling up plates of cheesecake, chocolate pie and cookies, and making a mad dash to the elevator for our getaway. 

Food, it seems, is our love language. And we speak it so well.
I love our quiet, mature love.

It's a world of new thrills all the time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Salad Dressing Formula that Will Change Your Life

I am a salad dressing snob.

It's true. I never even liked salads until I was practically in my 20s. At 19 years old I had a chance encounter with a Caesar salad tossed with a dressing made from scratch and a choir of angels sang from heaven with each bite. I finally understood what all the fuss was about and my life was changed forever.

After that I accepted salads into my life, but I still avoid bottled dressings like the nasty little devils they are. I will eat high-fructose gummy worms with reckless abandon, but don't you dare put preservatives in my dressing. Do not even try to feed me Hidden Valley Ranch or I will gag. I'm sorry, it's just what dressing snobs do.

Without dressing, salad is just some leaves and a sad carrot. I mean, who would actually eat a cucumber by itself? It's the dressing that separates us from the rabbits, my friends, and if you've spent years drowning your salad in Wishbone, I'm about to change your life too.

Vinaigrettes are the healthiest and easiest salad dressings to make. You can never go wrong with straight up oil and vinegar, but if you want to take your salad up a notch, here is a no-fail, one-minute, super spectacular salad dressing formula:

3 parts Oil + 2 parts Vinegar + 1 part Flavor
{with salt & pepper to taste}

Use 3 Tbsp oil, 2 Tbsp vinegar and 1 Tbsp flavor for a smaller amount of dressings - good for one salad for a crowd or for a couple days worth of individual salads. You could also make enough to have on hand for a week or two if you combine 1/2 cup of oil, 1/4 cup vinegar and 2 Tbsp flavor. Keep in mind that some vinegars are stronger than others, so if it's too tart you can add more oil, or if it's not strong enough just add more vinegar.

Personally, I like to throw it all in a mason jar and shake it til it does that emulsify thing because 1) a blender is too much work to clean 2) whisking makes my hand tired and 3) you can store leftovers in the same jar so woohoo! less dishes.

Here are some of my favorite combos:

Oil + Balsamic Vinegar + Honey = Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

Oil + Sherry Vinegar + Strawberry Jam = Strawberry Vinaigrette

Oil + Red Wine Vinegar + Mustard & Honey = Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

Oil + Lemon Juice + Parmesan Cheese = Lemon-Parmesan Vinaigrette

Oil + Apple Cider Vinegar + Maple Syrup with a generous pinch of cinnamon = Maple-Cinnamon Vinaigrette

Oil + Rice Wine Vinegar + Soy Sauce (add in some garlic, ginger and sugar for fun!) = Asian Vinaigrette

Oil + Lime Juice + Cilantro and Garlic = Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

Finally, I feel I must end with a disclaimer: Though I am a self-admitted salad dressing snob, if I come to your house I will happily eat your bottled stuff because I love you more than I love hating bottled dressing. Just to clear that up.

Secondly, even though I occasionally have dreams about ranch dressing made from scratch, there are some days when it is just too hard to mix 3 ingredients together. On those days I do have some bottled dressings (gasp!) that have fooled me into thinking they are home-made.

My favorites are:
-Braswell's Balsamic Vinaigrette
-just about anything from Tessamae

Happy Mixing, friends!