27: Life’s Simple, Sweet Pleasures

27: Life’s Simple, Sweet Pleasures

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

Life’s Simple, Sweet Pleasures

Chocolate is the answer. Who cares what the question is.

~Author Unknown

I know there are couples out there who toast one another with champagne and truffles on special occasions. I know there are those who dine on chateaubriand at the latest fabled restaurant. And then there are the rest of us.

When I was a bride, I experimented with what I regarded as “gourmet” fare. My older, wiser friend, Alice, taught me how to make Beef Wellington, a project that took endless hours and caused lots of frustration. I quickly reverted to baked chicken anointed with breadcrumbs, and my husband, and later our kids, loved it.

Another friend taught me how to stretch a meatloaf into eight servings, and I greedily welcomed it into my repertoire.

And then there was the simple marinated salmon that seemed to find its way onto our table on summer nights when “light” was right.

So these simplest of dishes became the standard at our house, and as my writing career grew more and more demanding, our meals stayed simple. Every now and then, I’d stun my family with slightly more elaborate dishes, but I never returned to that Beef Wellington.

Life propelled us past the usual stages: full house, emptying nest, empty nest.

Sometimes, the silence seemed to crawl up the walls as I set a table for two, and our simple dinners went from routine to — well, boring.

I never did take the cooking course I’d vowed I would. I never did invest in a full library of gourmet cookbooks. And I can say with absolute certainty that I never perfected the strawberry shortcake that I swore I’d master after tasting it at a neighbor’s house.

But I did yearn to find a dessert that would be a special treat when the world was too much with just us, and days tumbled onto other days with a kind of relentless sameness. So I experimented.

I made a lemon meringue pie that ended up in the garbage disposal. It was just plain awful. I found a recipe for a torte that I foolishly sprang on a few friends at a dinner party, only to note that there was more left on the plates than consumed.

I was not destined to be a brilliant gourmet cook. Yet I still had that longing to find my special gift, the dish that would make my husband smile after an arduous day, and that would ignite my own taste buds.

I didn’t have far to look. One day in the supermarket, I walked down the pudding aisle. I’d done it a thousand times without even pausing. Pudding was... well, boring. Pudding was an after-school snack for kids.

But I reached for the instant variety — just stir in milk — and put it in my cart. That was not a roaring success. Nothing is thrilling about placing a small bowl of vanilla pudding on the table.

My husband mentioned that chocolate might be a better choice. So the next week, into my cart went instant chocolate pudding. And it tasted... well, instant.

Then, on a winter day when the wind was howling, I reached for cook-and-serve pudding. Hardly a giant step. But standing at the stove that day, stirring and stirring the pudding and the milk brought a strange sense of contentment. It was just that little saucepan, country music on the kitchen radio, and me.

Weird as it sounds, my husband and I devoured that pudding as if we’d discovered manna from heaven. It was rich, chocolate and somehow seemed home-cooked.

Over the months, and now the years, cook-and-serve chocolate pudding has marked our tiny milestones: a story finished and accepted by a tough editor, a car repair that doesn’t break the bank, an unexpected mini-vacation.

Out comes the little red pot, the wooden spoon, and the bowl with the border of flowers. It’s such a modest, simple pleasure in a complicated world. It’s so affordable.

And every single time chocolate pudding appears on our kitchen table, with its view of the once-tiny tree just beyond the window, now grown tall and strong, there is a certain simple joy in the lives of a very married couple that’s easier felt than explained.

And invariably, one of us will scamper back to the kitchen later that night to have the ultimate pleasure: A smidgeon of icy cold chocolate pudding just before going to bed.

Who needs Beef Wellington anyway?

~Sally Schwartz Friedman

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