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
Romesco // Whole Roasted Fish with Lemon and Parsley // Caramel with Mascarpone
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.
Oh how I can appreciate traveling with your husband while listening to books on tape! (We go for NPR podcasts, but to each pair, their own audio selection).
Also, I live in WI and have had the pleasure of sampling both Pleasant Ridge reserve and the buttermilk blue. I am spoiled by dairy for life!
Such an interesting analogy Steinbeck makes! He definitely caught my attention with that last bit about the only surefire way to not get it right. I definitely have thought I could control things, including how awesome our marriage will be, only to be humbled. I love what you wrote here though and how rather than taking an attitude of, oh well!, can’t control it!, you’re taking one step at a time towards feeding your marriage with time together. Also PS love that you guys don’t love traveling apart. I am so with you.
maybe my favorite post of yours. i love how intentionally you think about your marriage and your sweet thoughts. I too, am so glad I don’t control the big picture. I often think I could handle it best, but I’m shown otherwise time and time again. The dessert looks incredible and so stunningly simple. You could have fed the neighborhood with that huge mascarpone on sale 😉
Never had Romesco before, can’t wait to try it!
Oh goodness… that mascarpone with caramel, what simple perfection. I love your recipes for that reason, Ashley. As well as the life lessons. My boyfriend and I started traveling separately in the past few years and it is a wonderful wonderful thing. I find a little separation really invigorates our relationship once we’re back together, and we have so much fun sharing our stories and travels with each other. Your trip to Wisconsin sounds like a dream- I’m drooling thinking about all that cheese!
Your writing is dreamy and the food looks dreamy. How cool to be sent on a trip to eat cheese and tell them what you think about marketing or whatever. Marriage works when both people are equally committed to making it work.
I love everything about this post! My fave time of day is when the hubs and I get to sit down, eat a grown-up dinner, and talk about our days. And no, I don’t just enjoy it because the Babe is asleep in her crib 🙂 I also love the food you made- Romesco is one of my favorite things EVER!
mmmm. this looks so yum! so nice to read your writing. truly inspiring and I absolutely love all of your photos and recipes! xx. gigi. food and beauty blogger @ http://www.gigikkitchen.blogspot.com
This makes me want to come join one of your dates! Just what you need…try to visualize…A tutu sandwich! Gabe on one side, you on the other! LOL. I was totally smitten with Wisconsin on my one visit. I loved the people, the farms, and the scenery. You are living quite the charmed life Ashley.
MG – hahaha. I’m imagining it and laughing hysterically. Seriously charmed. Wisconsin was so much prettier than I imagined. Miles and miles of farmland. Sort of want to move. I do the accent well too.
This post is really beautiful. The photos are stunning and the words are steeped in thought and truth. I needed this today. Thank you.
Jocelyn – Thank you.
I love this Steinbeck quote, Ashley, and your reflections on it. The chaos of the last few years has left me doubting more than I care to admit, but I like the reminder that so much is out of our control. There is much joy to be found when I can let go of my plans, stop trying to force things, and rest in God’s goodness in the crazy.
Also, this caramel-mascarpone amazingness you speak of – lovely. Will definitely be making. 🙂
Christie – Thanks so much for this lovely comment. Joy and freedom when we fully understand that our lives are controlled by One who is much greater than ourselves. Letting that sink in and really invade my life is what I’m currently working towards. I hope you do make the caramel deliciousness. So good (and rich).
Ahh yes…a big fan of control here, too. Slowly learning to let that go a little. And I can’t believe I’ve never read Travels with Charley. A little stack is piling up of “to reads” after the book’s finished. I’ll add this to it (you got it in Leavenworth, no?) Look forward to hearing more about the trip. Man I love cheese. xx, mg
Megan – You will LOVE travels with charley. I highly recommend listening to it while driving to Eastern Washington as we did (I bought A Moveable Feast while in Leavenworth). A cozy chair and a stack of books – it awaits you soon, my friend.
I have been married for a few decades now and I must admit I do very little analysis of why it has worked and others’ marriages have crumbled. We hear a lot about working at marriages but mine has never felt like work, just a natural evolution through time. We travel together and we travel apart and both have their good and bad parts. I agree that we only have control over the small things – the rest is pretty much random.
Suzanne – I love your perspective. I don’t want to give the impression that my marriage always feels like work but for me sometimes giving the extra push at the end of the day to invest in my most important earthly relationship does require more energy than I feel I have. I’m very introverted and at the end of the day I’d rather curl into a little hole but I also realize much of this is because I have three young kids to care for during the day. And with travel, I think I miscommunicated a bit – we do enjoy some separate trips but I always come home wanting to share that experience with my husband in some capacity but mostly I just love knowing that in this crazy adventure of life he is my constant traveling partner. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.
Hi there! Do you think I could use heavy cream instead of whole milk? I have the former on hand, but not the latter… 🙂
Life is so uncontrollable and it drives me crazy. I am always worried about something, seriously worried, to the point of my mom asking me if I’d even be happy if I wasn’t worried. What a wakeup call. Friday I went to see Regis Philbin’s stage show and told myself I would stop worrying and have fun. It was the best night I can remember having in years. Too bad I couldn’t keep the worry away for ling.
How lovely to stumble across your blog — I swear, I wasn’t looking for a cheese plate. But there it was! And you were in my home state! I went on that same media trip a few years ago, but it looks like you tried a few new things. Anyway, just saying hello and you have a new fan. It was fun to read about cheese — my staple, my beat — in a new context. Cheers to you!
Such a beautifully crafted post. The way you neatly packaged a journey, marriage and a meal in one descriptive package is perfect.
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences as well as your beautiful pictures!
I love this series more than I can describe pre-morning coffee. Thanks for continuing to share insightful relationship inspiration and beautiful meals. Both are always appreciated.
I so love your dating my husband series – I look forward to them. This sounds like a scrumptious dinner and the pictures are wonderfully moody. Also, Steinbeck is my favorite author – I’ll have to add this one to the list!
would heavy cream work in place of the whole milk do you think?
This is so beautiful. I have also worried my brain with things out of my control. I am not married, but would hope to find love where it is o.k to accept the things we cannot control and cherish a sweet dinner night that we can control. I love this. Thank you! I will have to pick up a Steinbeck book.
I love this series too. This looks like a beautiful recipe and sage advice for a control freak like myself. It’s so easy to lose yourself in the day to day of children and work and forget that on the other end is the person you chose to begin this journey with. I need to remember that more often – as i eat more cheese with him 🙂
I always feel inspired by all of your posts, I might be considered “too young” to be on food-blogs and this kind of internet-pages. But i feel completely at home even though I’m only soon to be seventeen. These “dating my husband series” gives me so much inspiration, to really (when the time has come and I find myself someone that I want to spend my life with) just take care of US, not care about the outer world or anything else. Thank you for everything, you’re great!
I was just re-reading a few of your posts and stumbled across this one. Thank you for sharing such an inspiring insight into your life. I was just about to buy a gilthead today, but went for trout instead – can’t wait to try your version of a roasted fish-dish.
( http://cookingbrainsblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/fancy-fish-about-the-snout-of-the-trout/ )
Wow the fish seems so simple and fresh! I’m definitely going to have to try that. I wonder if it’ll work on the grill with foil instead of parchment?