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Toasting 15 Years of Marriage

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LONG MARRIAGE
Robin O'Bryant
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I cook a lot and for the last few years I've been wanting to upgrade my old recipe box to a binder. The binder has page protectors with two slots for cards and flipping through it is much easier than digging through a recipe box. Last week I finally got around to ordering one and the day it came in the mail I spent about an hour filling its pages.

As I flipped through recipes, I remembered distinctly where I was when I wrote them down. I remember being 19-years-old, newly engaged, in my mother's house and pulling her recipe box out of the cabinet. I sat at the kitchen table for days, the cool gray tile on my bare feet, scribbling down my favorite recipes.

Each card that I picked up reminded me of something different: the pattern of a recipe card that I recognized as my mother's next door neighbor's. The recipes were printed with a careful hand with thoughts of marital bliss on my mind.

I was looking forward to living in the one-bedroom garage apartment Zeb and I had arranged for after we married. I was used to cooking simple meals, my own mother is an excellent cook and she didn't mind at all for my sister and I to be directly under her feet in the kitchen. Measuring, mixing and stirring -- even though I'm sure it would have been easier for her to kick us out and do it herself. But my Momma's kitchen was open to everyone and there were usually four or five extra mouths to feed. My mother, sister, two brothers and assorted and sundry friends -- whoever was at our house at mealtime -- that's who was eating. I had unknowingly been training to cook for an army. The first year of marriage, it would take Zeb and I almost two weeks to eat one batch of spaghetti, until I learned how to cook for just two.

A stained and rippled card holding my grandmother's vegetable soup recipe transported me to my first year of marriage. I remember distinctly standing in the kitchen of our one bedroom apartment in Fort Worth, Texas. It was so small I could stand in one spot and wash dishes, cook on the stove, grab something out of the pantry and open the fridge by simply pivoting my hips. I was sick and away from my family for the first time when I called my grandmother for her soup recipe. I've used it so many times, I don't need to look at it anymore, but why wouldn't I? Looking at the card and remembering the conversation I had with her makes me feel as good as eating the soup when I'm sick.

Each card was a memory: a pecan pie recipe by a friend of my mother's who passed away several years ago, a batch of beef stroganoff that had to be thrown away because I mistakenly thought that cooking sherry was an acceptable substitute for burgundy. A peanut butter pie recipe with an Oreo crust from my mom's crazy friend, Brenda. Brenda told me to double bag the Oreos in gallon-size Ziplock bags and put them under the wheel of my car and back over them twice -- obviously not three times, that would be ridiculous.

I grinned ear to ear as I flipped through cards and organized. Then I reached for a recipe labeled, "Toasted Croutons," and lost all composure. Standing in my kitchen all by myself, I laughed until I was wheezing and had tears streaming down my cheeks. I remembered writing down the recipe. My older brother had made a hot crab dip recipe of Emeril Lagasse's which was served with toasted crostinis. It was delicious -- delicious enough that I felt the need to write down every single step of how to toast the bread.

Bless my sweet baby heart.

Toasted Croutons:
Thinly sliced French bread
Brush with olive oil.
Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper.
Flip and repeat.
Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Turning cookie sheet for even baking.

I wiped the tears of laughter out of my eyes and thought about how far my husband and I have come since we were married 15 years ago. I was barely 20-years-old when we married. We had zero dollars, so I didn't have an engagement ring -- but I had a box full of recipes, and an eagerness to learn: about married life, about my new husband and, of course, how to make the best toast ever in the history of the whole world.

After 15 years not only can I whip up a delicious meal just by glancing in my fridge and pantry, but my marriage has gotten better too. I wondered where we would be in 10 or 15 years when we got married. Where would we live? How many kids would we have? Would we finally have jobs with health insurance? Would we ever be able to afford an engagement ring? Would we still like each other?

(SPOILER ALERT: We do.)

It makes my heart feel full as I answer all of those questions today. I want to pat my sweet 19-year-old baby-self on the head and say, "Don't worry Baby Girl, you are about to marry the best man you'll ever know. He'll never raise his voice to you. He'll do laundry when it needs to be done, take out the trash, fix anything you break (and you know you break a lot of stuff.) He's going to be an amazing father. He'll take your kids fishing and camping. He'll paint their toenails and read them books. He'll choose staying at home with you over any number of other activities and he will give 150 percent of his energy to provide for you and to protect you. Fifteen years from now, after your body has been pillaged by three pregnancies -- he'll make you feel as beautiful as he does now. He'll never so much as glance at another woman. He will be your champion. And not to brag -- but in 15 years? You are gonna be able to make toast blindfolded with your eyes closed, and with one arm tied behind your back."

If you are looking for some real recipes, I wasn't kidding when I said my cooking had improved.