Along a winding road sharing its edge with a muttering river to one side and towering trees at the peak of their lush summer coat on the other, Gabe and I listened to a booming voice read John Steinbeck’s, “Travels with Charley”. Steinbeck’s words fit our scenery as he, along with his dog, Charley, tightly packed a trailer named Rocinante and drove similar roads all across America. His desire was to connect with the land and the people that he so often wrote about. The book is filled with Steinbeck’s illustrative prose and bits of wisdom that he slips in without pause.
“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
- John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America
With the mention of marriage this quote caught my attention but at first I stubbornly disagreed. You can control marriage, I thought with clinched shoulders and great conviction. You and your partner can determine to fight through the struggles, turn to one another to celebrate the joys and persevere in the day to day connecting in it all. In marriage you do have control over how you utilize your time and how much you are willing to work to make the relationship a healthy and thriving one. But as I later re-read his words I realized that my natural instinct is to think I can control a lot more than I really do.
Life is simply uncontrollable. I have little power over tragedies, disappointments and bumps that inevitably mark the course of our timeline. I fret and lie in a pool of anxiety that I foolishly and unnecessarily build for myself. For what? What control do I have except to control my response to the path laid out for me? I can’t control the big picture and oh my word, thank goodness for that. Realizing this feels as freeing as removing a heavy pack after a long and arduous journey. Relief.
In marriage, Gabe and I signed up to be fellow travelers in this journey that we can not control. We work together to plan what we can, dream of possibilities and determine what we feel is best for our little family. But even if those things never become a reality, even if our “plan” is completely derailed and life puts us on a different route we are committed to traveling through it all together. Knowing his commitment to me and mine to him we are free to enjoy our journey and work together to deal with what life brings us.
We’ve come to the point in our journey where traveling without one another doesn’t feel right – figuratively and literally. A couple weeks ago I spent a few days in Wisconsin visiting dairies and cheese makers and seeing first-hand the pride Wisconsin has for their cheese. I returned vowing to stay off cheese for a few days as I had had more than my share. The plan was to stick to greens but within hours I was at the store buying cheese. In an attempt to share my trip with Gabe I came home with an aged, nutty, Gruyere-like cheese, a pungent blue and a creamy, mild semi-soft cheese.
Over a plate of charred vegetables slathered in smoky Romesco we settled back into our routine. He heard about my week and I his while ripping into a still steaming parchment pouch revealing a mild and flaky fish. With radiating wisps of lemon and herbs we dipped our forkfuls of fish into that same smoky sauce as conversation weaved between approving nods and appreciation for our dinner and the time together.
By the time dessert was served our exhaustion led us to the couch where we turned on a movie, enjoying the simplicity of being together while dipping our spoons into cool mascarpone whose edges submitted to the puddle of warm caramel. We shared the same bowl taking in a spoonful of the rich and sweet sauce in between bites of tart apple.
These dinners we can control. We can mark this time for us and fight against apathy and exhaustion carving out time in our day for one another. Making these decisions in the times we do have control makes us stronger to battle what we can’t control. For as long as this life allows we will travel together.
*I was sent to Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. The idea to put together this cheese plate not even a day after returning home from four days of eating cheese was purely my own. My opinons are also my own.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve
Emmi Roth Buttermilk Blue
Crave Brother’s Petit Freres
Quince and Apple’s Fig and Black Tea Preserve
adapted from The NY Times
1 dried ancho chile
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons hazelnuts or additional almonds
1 cup small cubes of stale sourdough bread
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 jarred piquillo peppers, drained and chopped
1 medium ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 2/3 cup)
½ cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/2 – 1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika, sweet or hot, or to taste
Place the dried chile in a bowl and cover with boiling water, weighing it down with a plate to keep it submerged. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds, hazelnuts and bread cubes and stir until they start to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, and stir until lightly browned. Add the piquillo peppers. Remove from heat.
Drain the chile, and remove stem and seeds. Chop the chile, add it to the pan, heat and stir briefly. Add the tomato, stir and cook a minute or so until softened. Remove from heat.
Transfer to a food processor or a blender and pulse until a rough paste is formed. With the machine running, slowly pour in the water. Turn off the machine, add vinegar, lemon juice, paprika and salt, to taste, then pulse briefly to blend. You want the finished sauce to hold onto a bit of texture. If needed, you can pulse in a bit more water or olive oil.
Whole Roasted Fish with Lemon and Parsley
Beyond that recipe title there is little else I need to tell you about the preparation of this fish. I had the fish cleaned at the store then added lemon slices, salt, parsley and pepper to both the inside and outside of the fish. A couple good swaths of olive oil were poured over the top then the fish was wrapped in two layers of parchment, placed on a baking sheet and went into a 400*F oven until the internal temperature reached 135*F, which took about 25 minutes.
Caramel with Mascarpone
½ cup sugar
½ cup whole milk, warmed
¼ cup mascarpone (plus more for serving)
In a medium saucepan add the sugar and turn the heat to medium high. The sugar will slowly begin to melt and caramelize. Use a clean spoon or spatula to move the sugar around to evenly caramelize. Once all the sugar has melted and the caramel is the color of deep copper turn off the heat and carefully pour in the warm milk. Please be so careful at this point as the caramel will bubble up vigorously. Stir to combine then add the mascarpone. If the caramel has seized simply turn the heat back on until the caramel melts into the milk. Add a pinch of salt.
Pour about ¼ cup of warm caramel into a small bowl or dish that has a scoop of mascarpone on the bottom. Serve immediately. Encourage your diners to dip their spoon into the mascarpone then into the caramel getting a balance of both tastes on the spoon. Serve with fresh apple slices.