When logic and reason fail, eat
Soon after I married, my Auntie Martha took me aside for a heart-to-heart about the inevitable bumps in the road that lay ahead. Whenever she and my Uncle Matthew had one of their major blowups, she knew just what to do: make lamb chops and baked potatoes drenched in butter with a side of green peas for dinner. This simple offering said everything by way of apology that needed to be expressed, no matter who caused the argument, and always managed to restore their domestic equilibrium. Or so she said.
Because no marriage is perfect, least of all mine, you can bet I’ve cooked a lot of “peace meals” over the years. For minor altercations, my offering’s likely to be a casserole of creamy macaroni and cheese or a savory pot roast, two classic comfort foods that transport me and my husband back to our gastronomically and emotionally blissful childhoods. During the absolutely worst snits, he opens a can of soup for dinner, I fix a bowl of oatmeal. We may eat in silence, but at least we’re together at the table. And yes, I’ve broiled many a lamb chop. But after a recent shout-out at my house, I wondered if there’s an updated version of Martha’s “peace meal” I should know about, be it home cooked, take-out, or delivered.
Searching for answers, I polled a group of married friends to discover the special dish that works like waving a white flag in battle for them and their significant others. To my surprise, instead of a deluge of fabulous recipes, I got responses that sorely challenged Auntie Martha’s advice.
When she and her mate are at odds, my best friend admitted, the thought of preparing even a morsel of food for her disgruntled spouse doesn’t even cross her mind. “While I have seriously considered serving strychnine at times like that, I can’t think of anything special,” she said dryly. Similarly, another friend confessed “I am sorry, but I can think of nothing. I have no white flag meal. I am sure Ernie would say I have no such meal because I never admit that I am wrong.” I suspected that, although Martha was equally strong willed and self-confident, she would have blanched at both of these comments.
As messages arrived, I began to sense a seismic shift in the way modern women were coping with the squabbles that punctuate their lives. Instead, as one 30-something mom commented, “Now that we have a kid, I have never cooked so little, so distractedly, or so un-aesthetically in my life. There is a deli that sells colossal chocolate chip cookies, bigger than a salad plate. They can smooth over many things.” Why slave over a hot stove when you can buy what someone else has prepared, possibly better than you could, with a fraction of your time and effort?
More and more, I got the feeling that something was definitely cooking in these homes, but not necessarily in the kitchen. “Love to help you,” another e-mailed, “but we don’t associate food with white flags. However, there are other things, but they are beyond the stated scope of your article.”
Another answered in a similar, salty fashion., “How do I put this? We, unfortunately, do not have make up food situations in this house. We have make up ‘other things’. Sorry to be a bucket of cold water.”
“Smoked pork chops,” Gwen immediately answered when I asked for her special recipe, “and….” she rolled her eyes suggestively and laughed. It became obvious from my very non-scientific straw poll that when it comes to restoring harmony in the home, Victoria’s Secret is now giving every celebrity chef a run for the money. Is Auntie Martha’s sage advice truly obsolete?
I’m wagering that her words still carry some truth, and the next time things get super tense around here, I will definitely toss a few thick-cut lamb chops on the grill. But along with the buttery baked potato and fresh green peas, you can bet I’ll serve them up with something downright piquanté for dessert, after the meal has worked its magic.
I wonder what Martha would say to that?