Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Relationships that cook

Many couples who plan and prepare food they like are well on their way to long-term happiness

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Ann Dover and Craig Cuchra have learned to compromise on kitchen duties.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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Based on their love of food alone, Ann Dover and Craig Cuchra sound like the perfect match.

They enjoy searching out the best restaurants. They've taken cooking classes together and love to prepare meals for each other. After they get married July 5, they're honeymooning in Italy, mostly because they adore Italian food.

But all this delicious bliss didn't come about without a little work and compromise, which is essential to a happy and healthy marriage, says Mount Auburn marriage and family counselor Barbara Hummel.

"Cooking clearly fits in as part of the responsibilities of running a home," she says.

And it's also much more than the practical chore of putting food on the table.

Bride & Groom First and Forever Cookbook (Mary Corpening Barber, Sara Corpening Whiteford; Chronicle; $35)
Quickies for Couples (Katy Scott, Arushi Sinha; Cumberland House; $16.95)
HoneyMooner's Cookbook (Libby Morris; $19.75)
These cooking schools offer knife skills and other basics cooking classes. Call or go online for class schedules.
• Cooks' Wares, Shops at Harper's Point, 11344 Montgomery Road, Symmes Township; 489-6400; and the Marketplace at Settlers Walk, 756 N. Main St., Springboro; (937) 748-4540. Web site.
• Dorothy Lane Market School of Cooking, 6177 Far Hills Ave., Dayton; (937) 434-1294. Web site.
• Jungle Jim's Market School of Cooking, 5440 Dixie Highway, Fairfield; 674-6059. Web site.
To help decide who will handle the cooking chores at home, look to your experiences as a child, suggests marriage and family counselor Barbara Hummel of Mount Auburn. Did your mother or your father cook? Did this arrangement work?
• If one partner likes to cook and wants to take on most of the cooking responsibilities, the other partner should volunteer for other chores - setting the table, washing dishes, cleaning up.
• Even if one partner loves to cook, the other should always remember to thank him or her for their efforts. Don't take your cook for granted.
• If neither partner cooks well, the couple should consider learning together - buy cookbooks and take cooking classes.
• Cooking together provides opportunity to relax and communicate. The more skilled cook should remember to praise - not criticize- his or her partner's efforts.
• Early in the marriage or relationship, the couple should discuss cooking responsibilities and come up with a plan - who's going to cook which meals, who's going to buy groceries, etc. After a reasonable period, the couple should revisit the plan to determine how it's working.
Too tired to cook? Here are restaurants and stores that offer meals-to-go.
• Manna Vegetarian Deli, 39 E. Seventh St., downtown; 241-8343.
• Production Line Cafe, 3210 Madison Road, Oakley; 321-1205.
• Ron's Roost, 3853 Race Road, Bridgetown; 574-0222.
• Salt of the Earth Gourmet Food Co., 4760 Red Bank Road, Madisonville; 272-3650.
• Scalea's Italian Bistro & Deli, 320 Greenup St., Covington; (859) 491-3334.
• A Taste of Julia's Cafe and Sweets, 8095 Beckett Center Drive (off Ohio 747), West Chester Township; 942-1800.
• What's for Dinner?, 3009 O'Bryon St., O'Bryonville; 321-4404.
Basic tips from cookbook author and Enquirer columnist, Marilyn Harris, and Carol Tabone of the Cooking School at Jungle Jim's Market in Fairfield.
• Take cooking classes, especially classes on knife skills and other basics. Take classes individually or as a couple.
• Buy (or request as a gift) basic cookbooks. Suggestions: Joy of Cooking (Scribner; $30); The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (Knopf; $30); and The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook (Hearst; $30).
• Master simple recipes at first. Select a few recipes, study and practice making them. When you've mastered them, move on to new, perhaps more difficult, recipes.
• Buy (or request as gifts) good knives. Start with three: a chopping or chef's knife; a slicing knife; and a paring knife.
• If you can't take a class on knife skills, ask someone to show you how to use a chopping knife. Then practice.
• Use the best, freshest ingredients you can find and afford.
• When hosting a dinner party, make and serve the dishes you do best. Expand from there.
• Reserve Sunday afternoons to spend more time cooking more complicated dishes. (It's also a good time to cook as a couple.) Cook one or two things ahead, that can be served during the coming week.
• Always taste and season food before serving it.
• Remember: You're the boss. Don't let the food control you. You're smarter than the dish you're making.
• Never apologize for your cooking - serve it with pride. Unless you've burned it, no one will notice anyway. If you do make mistakes, make mental notes on how you'll improve the dish the next time.
"Cooking is a way to give love," says Hummel.

Perhaps that's the best reason couples need to work out their food and cooking differences before - or soon after - they tie the knot.

Even our seemingly perfect pair realized a few problems after they moved to East Walnut Hills in August from Chicago. Cuchra cooks only outdoors, for instance. (The couple bought a gas grill before they found a couch.) Dover cooks only indoors.

He could survive on "grilled meat, frozen pizza and burritos." She prefers more balanced meals, including vegetables and salad.

Their biggest conflict, though, has been not what to eat, but when to eat dinner. Dover begins her day at 7 a.m., teaching special education classes at Nagel Middle School in Forest Hills, and comes home by 3 p.m. Cuchra, who works as a financial analyst for Sara Lee in Blue Ash, usually doesn't get home until 7:30 p.m.

Its sounds minor, but this slightly unsynchronized schedule means Dover, who eats lunch at 11 a.m., often is famished before her husband-to-be arrives home. It also means she does most of the cooking during the week.

"I guess I just don't want to feel like the stereotypical wife, doing all the cooking," Dover says.

To help resolve the conflict, Cuchra tries to get home as soon as possible to meet his hungry wife for dinner (even though he would prefer to eat later). To balance out the cooking chores, he has pitched in on the food shopping, and cooks (always on the grill) on weekends.

The couple even has parlayed their culinary skills into a well-timed menu for entertaining dinner guests: He starts steaks on the grill while his fiancee cooks potatoes and vegetables in the kitchen.

Because of her influence, Cuchra is eating more vegetables, salads, even gorgonzola and other cheeses he wouldn't touch before. He has introduced her to sushi.

"We really do try to accommodate each other," he says.

Accommodation is necessary, says Hummel, even if only one partner wants to take on the cooking chores. The non-cooking partner should assume other duties, she says - setting the table and cleaning up after the meal, for instance.

Amanda Muennich's fiance, Chris Treon, does all the cooking at home in Monroe because "he likes it," she says.

"But I pick up after him in the kitchen and pretty much everywhere else in the house," says Muennich, who will wed her home chef June 14.

On their first date, Phillip Cook told Wendy Jordan of Silverton she'd "never have to cook again." Less than two years later, Cook has kept his promise, making her favorite Creole and Cajun food from scratch on a nearly nightly basis.

He even cleans the kitchen after he cooks.

But Jordan, who will marry the man she calls "Cookie" June 6, makes it clear she does her share by cleaning the rest of the house.

There's more to this kitchen balancing act, Hummel says. It's important for non-cooks to thank their partners often for their efforts in the kitchen.

(This is also true for other household chores.) Cooking shouldn't become a duty at home, she says, even for those who love it.

"If the person doing the cooking loves to cook," she says, "it's going to be better. But if the person who loves to cook doesn't feel appreciated, then the love can go out of it."

No matter what their skills or interests, if couples find a way to cook together - without viewing it as a dreaded chore - it can be a bonding experience, Hummel says.

"Cooking together can actually build the relationship," she says.

Which is proof that food, in marriage and other relationships, can sustain and nurture much more than our bodies.


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