The Gastronomy of Marriage

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-09-08
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
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"On our first date, Rich ordered a chocolate souffle 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 souffle when one is offered to him." When Michelle Maisto meets Richlike her, a closet writer with a fierce love of books and good foodtheir 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 nightwhile working at careers, trying to write, and falling into the routines that come to define a homesoon 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 choreswhich, 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.

Author Biography

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.


Chapter One


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

Excerpted from The Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and Love by Michelle Maisto
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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