Post Image
Credit: Laura Hoerner
personal essay

My Greatest Wedding Gift Was 50 Recipes for a Happy Marriage

published Feb 11, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.

When I was planning my wedding in 2015, I spent a lot of time trying to make the event enjoyable for my family and friends. The one thing I did for myself — something just for me — was to create custom RSVP cards that asked all of our guests to share a favorite recipe. The card read: “The back of the card is blank for you to share a favorite family recipe with the soon-to-be newlyweds, if you like.”

I had always been better at eating than cooking, but the first year of marriage seemed like a good time to get a little domestic. After all, my semi-homemade, often-over-salted concoctions of the past would now be affecting another person. I thought it’d be fun to get a dozen or so recipes to throw into the rotation with my humble, usually-cheese-filled favorites and take-out dinners; what I got was almost 50 recipes to try! Even people who couldn’t attend the ceremony sent a recipe on the back of their RSVP card.

After the wedding, I decided I was going to try at least one recipe a week and blog about it [Edit note: the blog, unfortunately, is now defunct.] The blog was mostly for me, honestly; it was a chance to reflect on the person who sent the recipe, what the food was like, and any iterations I needed to make it work. I had my Julie and Julia daydreams, like most first-time food bloggers, but I knew that no one cared about my relationship to my loved ones and my new in-laws like I did.

As I started cooking, I was charmed by the recipes people sent me: there was hearty lentil soup and apple-rhubarb pork chops, chicken pot pie and balsamic-glazed carrots. There were simple recipes: my friend’s baked ziti recipe used a jar of sauce, any noodles you like, and bags of cheese. There were complex, historic recipes, like the “soldier’s kiss” merengue cookies my great-grandmother described from the ’40s. Some recipes I tried once and never made again, while others, like the simple slow-cooker white chicken chili from a friend from college, were so good and so versatile that I used them for dinner meet-ups and easy weeknights for the next four years. 

Credit: Laura Leavitt

Marriage, like cooking, was not always glamorous. I’m a pretty rigid person, and I never knew how much sharing a life with someone could infringe on my tightly-held control of my world. It was an incredibly important, but far-from-easy process of letting go.  Other people seemed to take to marriage naturally, from what the pictures on social media told me, but every bit of me had to work at it. I’d wake up in the morning and ask myself to be grateful, to be accommodating, to take a chill pill. My husband, an easy-going dude, was not perfect either, but his ability to roll with the punches of life seemed to magnify just how poorly I took every twist and turn of the marital road.

Slowly, though, I worked my way through the recipes, and I found that I didn’t have to white-knuckle my way through all of them. My friend Taylor’s recipe for chicken salad didn’t have any measurements in it, but the way she wrote it helped me understand the unique rhythms of it: chopping the celery, the apples, the pecans, the chicken; mixing in just a little salt and pepper, just a little of the pan drippings. 

I had always thought I hated chicken salad,  but when I mixed each batch and voraciously devoured it on wheat crackers, I started to see that there’s a difference between my friend’s chicken salad and the store-bought kind. 

With marriage, just like with recipes, I was forced to do one thing at a time.

There were also moments in which marriage, unexpectedly, wasn’t hard that first year. We hosted a potluck that was entirely soups and breads, and another where everyone brought a variation on meatballs. During these dinners, people sat on our couch and on our mismatched dining room chairs and told stories late into the night. I loved the feeling of being aware of my husband, but also being free to mingle with other people. We were a  team with different, complementary strengths. And then some days, when we weren’t feeling social, I’d make the recipe from his parents’ friends for ham and cheese sliders, gooey-perfect sammies on Sweet Hawaiian bread, and we’d watch a movie while utterly piled in blankets during the cold Ohio winter. 

There was no reason why I had to try every single recipe, other than the fact that I’d set out to do it. Luckily, pretty much everything at least sounded wonderful — even if my versions were often so flawed we didn’t eat the leftovers. It was satisfying to start a life-long commitment with a personal challenge, something concrete that I was trying to do. With marriage, just like with recipes, I was forced to do one thing at a time. I could only control what I put into the bowl today, what I picked up from the pile of pretty RSVP cards for tomorrow.

Perhaps the biggest thing that I got from the recipes, by the end of my 50-recipe journey, was that I’d gotten so much more than a husband by getting married. I’d been connected to his world, and the friends and family we’d loved before were now part of our mixture, our moveable feast. There was something very soothing in realizing that all around the country — even a few people around the world — the people who loved us were also eating Kahlua brownies, lasagna, and sourdough bread.

I’ve seen people put romantic love on a pedestal, treating it like some tiny food in the middle of a beautiful white dinner plate, surrounded by elegant sauce drizzles. Romantic love sometimes looks like that in photographs, impeccably dressed up and with an uncomplicated smile.  My romantic love, it turns out, was a side of chipotle-seasoned sweet potatoes and pasta covered with pesto and tomatoes. It was sometimes, frustratingly, hard-as-nails biscuits. We were not made of such fancy parts, my husband and I, but every time our lives just fit together, melded for a moment, I was exquisitely grateful. It felt like something was really coming together.