We sat under the walnut trees. The same trees that gave an abundant harvest two years ago when a then wobbling Ivy joined me in collecting the tender walnuts that had fallen from the branches. My friend, Steve, an incredibly talented wedding designer, had set up a large wooden table heavy with florals and beautiful edible things that ran down the middle of the table. The eight of us – my brothers, their wives, Gabe, myself and my parents sat down to dinner to celebrate the forty years that my parents have been married.
With help, I cooked a family style meal that felt fitting for the occasion. Smoked salmon on puff pastry with fresh peas in creme fraiche started our dinner. It was a subtle homage to salmon pie – a dish my mom made throughout our childhood. When mom made salmon pie we knew we needed to set the table and that we would be having a leisurely dinner in the dining room. It felt special.
Next I paraded large platters of sliced melon topped with a sweet and tart basil vinaigrette to the table. Crisped pieces of prosciutto lay on top of the melon and large, pillowy leaves of basil finished the dish. I grilled romaine then generously topped them with anchovy vinaigrette and dotted little that with little jewels of roasted cherry tomatoes over the green, wilted leaves. The main course boasted a dried plum (it sounds so much better than prune) and prosciutto stuffed pork tenderloin that nestled into a bed of Parmesan polenta. We ate while the two cows and horse watched from the field across the driveway.
Forty years needs to be celebrated well. 14,609 days of choosing to love another person, of saying I do again and again and holding firm to the commitment they promised to the other when they were both young.
“What is something that you guys have learned from our marriage?” My dad asked while we ate.
I thought for a moment but it didn’t take long for me to respond. “You’ve shown me what it looks like to strive for friendship. Both of you seek the other as your best friend. You work hard to maintain that friendship and have never grown complacent in that.”
Writing about dating my husband feels as if I’m writing a book on marriage with recipes. And as someone who has been reading books about relationships since I was barely dating, I feel up to the challenge, am loving analyzing marriages – mostly mine – and trying deeply to understand what makes them successful. What I come back to again and again is the very lesson that my parents taught me – it’s friendship and an untiring striving to maintain the friendship.
I don’t remember long conversations about maintaining a friendship in marriage but I saw my parents live it. I saw them nurture their shared interests and I heard their desire to spend time with the other. They not only love each other, they like each other. Seems simple. And it is. But it is just as easy to neglect the friendship and allow complacency to reside in its place.
Our date nights are one of the ways Gabe and I work on our friendship. It’s for us and our marriage but it also is for our children to see he and I putting an effort into our marriage. It’s easy for me to feel badly about the simple pasta that I’ve made for the kids while I prepare a feast for their dad and I. But they are happy with their pasta, or grilled cheese or leftovers or pb&j, and they see us working on our marriage. My hope is they will have an understanding when they marry that effort is needed for a relationship to thrive. That they won’t be blindsided by the difficulties in marriage and will have an example of the two of us continually building on our friendship, the foundation of our marriage.
Someday I hope Gabe and I can sit at a table with our children celebrating 40, 50, 60 years of friendship. That’s over 3,000 dates to build on our friendship while sitting at a table enjoying great food. I like the sound of that.
Tuscan Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crisped Prosciutto
1 small tuscan melon (or cantaloupe), peeled, seeds removed and sliced in 1/4” wedges
3 slices prosciutto
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil (plus more whole leaves for garnish)
salt & pepper (lots of pepper)
Arrange on the melon on a platter and set aside.
Set a cast iron skillet or saute pan over medium high heat. Add the prosciutto slices in a single layer and cook 1-2 minutes on each side or until crisp. Transfer the prosciutto to a rack or some paper towels until you are ready to serve. This can be done a few hours in ahead if you keep it well covered once cool.
In a bowl combine the olive oil, lime juice, honey and basil. Whisk to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Drizzle the vinaigrette over the melon then roughly crumble the prosciutto on top of that. Finish with a few large leaves of basil then serve immediately.