I know. Weird title. Trust me, though.
This is a story about consideration, effort, appreciation, and playing to your strengths.
It’s a little anecdote about imperfection. Mistakes even. And how depending on a person’s perspective, mistakes…imperfections…aren’t tragedies. They can even become the fondest of memories and the funniest of stories to retell. They can be testaments to consideration and effort and appreciation. Both ways. OK, enough exposition; here we go…
So J and I were newlyweds. Like…SUPER newlyweds. Less than 2 months married. And the company I worked for at the time had a regional corporate meeting that was (uselessly…ridiculously…) mandatory for all employees to attend, and because it was ‘regional’ and included several offices, not just the one I worked at, it was about an hour drive from where we lived. And it took all day. On corporate meeting days for the eight years I worked for that company, I worked the morning in the office, went out to lunch with maybe 2-4 friends (definitely the highlight of that stupid long day every year), then drove an hour to this four hour meeting (ugh). After the meeting, there were cocktails (which I never partook in…drinking plus forced socialization has never been a good time for me) and driving an hour out of my way back home. I always arrived home over an hour later than I normally did, grumpy and tired.
This particular year when we were newlyweds, it was J’s second Corporate Meeting Day with me. We were still floating on that cloud of ‘just married’ love. The year before, when we’d just moved in together, I told him I’d be too late to make dinner, and he suggested we get some take out, which worked out fine. I normally beat J home every day (so…I was always the first one home…except on Corporate Meeting Day), and made dinner (I like to cook…and eat…but cook. I watch Food Network avidly. I baked cookies for my group of jock guy friends in high school for Christmas. This was a natural thing for me to do because 1. home first 2. liked doing it 3. not to brag but I’m pretty good at it…not a dictated gender role thing). But for this second Corporate Meeting Day, J wanted to take care of me. “I’ll make dinner. What do you want?”
It should be said that when J and I met, he was a bachelor living alone for a decent clip of time, and his diet consisted of frozen French bread pizza, cereal, granola bars, snacks out of a bag or a box, and restaurant/fast food, *almost* entirely. And in the 2 years and change we’d been together, he’d never cooked solo. Not once. He wasn’t (and isn’t) an inconsiderate man, or a man who thinks cooking is ‘women’s work,’ but like…I don’t work on the cars either. Sometimes if he wants/needs an assistant in the garage, I will get wrenches and grease and screws or whatever for him, or hold a flashlight or something, just like sometimes he’ll stir a pot or stick a butterknife into the center of a cake for me, but…we both know who the expert is at what. Cars are his thing. Cooking is mine. But the sincerity and sweetness in, “I’ll make dinner…” was irresistible. Particularly to a lovestruck newlywed like I was at the time. I didn’t know for certain, but I suspected his (novice) solo skill level, so I said, “Something fast and easy is fine, honey. Thank you for offering. How about franks and beans?” Easy. Relatively hard to mess up. I was setting him up for success. Right?
I drove home from Corporate Meeting Day that year with a smile on my face. I wasn’t super looking forward to a gourmet meal of franks and beans, but I was looking forward to seeing my husband (that word was still new and I still like saying it and thinking it, so at the time it was an incredibly dreamy word…and concept…and reality), who had taken such good care of me by making dinner for us when I had to work late. I liked his consideration. I liked his effort. Before I even got home…to see what he did.
I ascended the stairs to his handsome, smiling face greeting me. I mean, happier than he usually looked, and he’s a pretty positive, content man the vast majority of the time. ‘Hey, Smiley!’ I said.
‘Dinner’s ready!’ he said, quite obviously proud of himself. Not smug, just…accomplished. His enthusiasm and cheer was contagious. My face hurt from smiling so aggressively. That was a totally new phenomenon for a Corporate Meeting Day.
J laid two plates of franks and beans at the table before us and they looked…different. Not like that photo up there. ^^^ I admit to having an expressive face. I wasn’t giving J ‘disgust,’ but I’m sure I was giving him a fairly large dose of ‘confused.’ I pushed my food around on my plate…wondering. ‘Taste it!’ he said, an honest, cheerful chirp in his voice. So I did. Because…irresistible. And it was edible. Not bad, really. But definitely…different. The smell was different. The texture was different. The visual was different. But I couldn’t exactly pinpoint what exactly was making it so…different…from the franks and beans I was used to.
‘Can you tell what I did?’ he said, eager and excited with that big smile still plastered to his face.
‘You did…something different. I can tell that. What…what did you do?’ I said. I smiled. The smile was real, because happy, sincere, considerate J putting in effort for me, was then, and still is…irresistible. His positivity was still infectious. And my smile was still appreciative and dreamy and loving, but…I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there was a little hint of fear in it too at that point.
‘Well, I know that when you make beans, you don’t just dump them out of a can. You do special things. Add things to them. And they taste…sweet. So I thought, ‘What is sweet that she puts in there?’ and I couldn’t find the sugar, so I thought about other things I could use that are sweet. So I used peanut butter!’
Yep. Peanut butter. In franks and beans. I (as kindly as I could) told him he’d have probably been better off going with jam.
Gosh, J was just so proud of himself and his chef-like improvisational skills. I ate the dinner he made. With joy. Really. Cleaned my plate. But we don’t make beans with peanut butter anymore. And I do the vast majority of the cooking. The overwhelming majority. Like…every single day, every single meal, except for the things J likes to make and is good at. He is an amazing grillmaster in the warmer months (delicious brisket! delicious wings!), and he follows a recipe…to the letter…for sesame chicken that is pretty damn good. He makes it about once a month to give me a break. Because he’s still a very considerate man that puts out a lot of sincere effort to show he cares for me.
J has since searched online and found recipes from culinary professionals for peanut butter baked beans to needlessly defend himself. That it wasn’t an outlandish food idea…that it wasn’t the worst food combo ever created. I mean…it wasn’t. But it’s never going to win any Michelin stars either. It’s a funny story about our early days that highlights something J did…kinda wrong. I love this memory of us, though. And I love it because of the imperfection. He tried. He gave 100% effort. And normally, with J, if he puts 100% into something, it is an unmitigated success. But that time, he was…off the mark. And he gets a bit discontented about it, although we will occasionally make light of that escapade with jokes and laughter. But that’s what I love about that memory. That he messed up, but that we laugh about it. (Believe me…I mess up a LOT more…just not with cooking…and we mostly laugh about those foul ups too).
It never mattered that he didn’t make dinner perfectly. His effort and consideration…the desire to take care of me…to lighten my load by taking on more responsibility that wasn’t normally his…THAT is what mattered. Peanut butter in franks and beans wasn’t the best tasting meal I ever ate, by a long shot. But it’s definitely a contender for the meal I’ve eaten, prepared for me with the most love.