It’s time for a guest post, my friends.
I don’t get to read for pleasure very much. You probably don’t know this about me since all I ever talk about here is food, but I still do quite a bit of copywriting for my old book publishing colleagues. A big part of my business is writing reading group guides—which is fun, because I get to read some really good fiction (and the occasional memoir) before anyone else—but it means that when I’m reading a book, most of the time it’s not of my choosing. I’m madly underlining, taking notes in the margins, looking for themes and connections that might prompt discussion. In the last six months, I’ve read exactly two books for nothing more than pleasure: Eating for Beginners and Alisa Bowman’s Project: Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters.
I didn’t choose Alisa’s book because my marriage is in trouble—I chose it because she’s a friend, and I know from reading her blog that she’s wickedly funny and no-holds-barred honest. I also knew that she had quite the story: When it seemed like her marriage was kaput, not long after her daughter was born, instead of calling a lawyer she went to the bookstore. An armful of self-help books later, and her marriage was transformed. Not quite as sweet and easy as it sounds, but still—it’s a great story. And I read it in one night. It’s that compelling, that fun to read.
Alisa and I got to talking about her marriage and food, and she told me a funny story about her husband and how he wooed her with the promise of home-cooked meals that turned out to be not quite what she expected… Well, I’ll let her tell it. Check out the giveaway at the very end: You could win a signed copy ofProject: Happily Ever After!
I fell in love with my husband, in part, because of his baked ziti. He made it for me during one of our first dates. When he invited me over to dinner that night, I thought that I had finally found the perfect man. He had a job. He was kind. I liked talking with him. He was into fitness (and so was I). And he could cook.
I’d always wanted a man who cooked.
When I went over his place that night, I worried somewhere in the back of my mind that he might disappoint. What if he cooked me some stereotypical bachelor dish like spaghetti with store bought sauce and meatballs?
When I saw the casserole dish full of baked ziti? I was in love is what I was. I married him.
It would be years before I realized that my husband had conned me.
I later learned that baked ziti was one of the only dishes my husband knew how to cook. I might have picked up on this during the dating stage had I thought to notice the fact that my husband ate every single meal out. He even ate breakfast out—and he ate it out so often that all of the lonely old men who frequented the dinner knew my husband by name. A few of those lonely old men even came to our wedding.
That might have tipped me off, you know?
But it didn’t.
My husband’s perpetually empty refrigerator might have tipped me off, too.
Love, as they say, is blind.
It’s falling out of love that restores a woman’s vision. That’s exactly what happened about 5 years after we married. After more than a year of unemployment, my husband opened a business within months of me having a baby. This thrust me into the role of “single mother with deadbeat husband.” He had no income, but he was also never home either. He spent 12-14 hour days at his business, one that did not become profitable for three years.
I began planning his funeral at some point after the first year.
It was during this very bad stage of our marriage that I realized I’d been conned with that ziti. I not only realized just how rarely he cooked or how little he cooked, but I also realized just how un-gourmet his ziti recipe actually was. He fussed about that ziti as if he’d personally experimented on it and concocted the perfect, unique recipe.
As it turns out, I’m quite sure his “signature” ziti recipe came from the side of a ziti box.
This really bugged me back then. After all, when one’s marriage is in the pits, it’s realizations like these that can cause a woman to ponder divorce.
We eventually worked on and improved our marriage. I’m happy to report that things between us are much better. He’s home more often, and he does a lot more parenting.
He cooks every now and then, too. Usually he cooks things that go straight from package to grill. But every so often he makes a masterpiece. For instance, one morning, he spent three hours making Belgian Waffles from scratch.
Every once in a while, he makes his “signature” baked ziti, too.
And I have to say this: I have fallen in love with his ziti all over again. That dish has been with us through thick and through thin. It was with us from one of our very first dates. It survived the worst years of our marriage.
And now it has come to symbolize everything that’s good about our marriage, too.
Conned with a “signature” recipe even more basic than this one.
Mark’s “Signature” Baked Ziti
1 lb. ground turkey
2 jars pasta sauce
16 oz box ziti
16 oz. part skim ricotta cheese
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
- Brown turkey over medium heat. Drain. Add 1 jar of pasta sauce to the meat. Simmer 10 minutes, until sauce is warm. Remove from heat.
- Cook ziti according to package directions.
- Add ricotta to the meat and sauce mixture. Stir until incorporated.
- Transfer all ingredients—the meat mixture and the ziti—to a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
- Add mixture to a large casserole dish. Top with the second jar of sauce and mozzarella cheese. Bake at 400 for about 30 minutes, until bubbly.
So, that giveaway? It’s simple: Leave a comment, telling me what food a loved one used to woo you. Bonus points if you tell me why it worked I’ll use Random.org to choose a winner on Friday, January 28, at 7PM.