Whether it’s a first date or 47th anniversary, it’s hard to separate romance from food. In With Love & Red Sauce, we’re exploring the ways these two interact—from newlyweds learning to compromise over dinner to celebrating your longest relationship (with noodles!).
"Honey, have you seen our folder?" I shout from the kitchen.
It's a cold, gray day in mid-February, and I'm rifling through the stack of paper on the counter. I finally find it under the maintenance bills.
I stick the glossy file into my work bag and get on my way.
"I'll see you tonight," I say to my husband. "Don't forget: 6 o'clock at Jacob's."
Dinner with friends, you might be thinking? Sounds fun, but no. Jacob is our accountant, and we'll be making our annual pilgrimage to the Upper West Side to get our taxes done.
Every January, after emerging from the holiday haze and into the crisp dawn of a new year, I call Jacob's office.
"Hi Betty, how are you? It's Hana... How's your mother doing? Is she still on Baxter Street?" Betty is Jacob's secretary, and I feel like I'm making an annual birthday call to a distant auntie. She's always happy to hear from me, and the familiarity puts me at ease. "Great, we'll see you next month! Thanks, Betty."
Even before we were married, my husband and I would roughly plan our tax appointments around Valentine's Day. It was an annual to-do, like well visits and dental cleanings, that we could check off together. Sounds romantic, I know. But we actually look forward to our decidedly unremarkable uptown "date" every February, on or around Feb. 14.
The road to where we are now hasn't always been so smooth. My husband, O., and I dated long-distance for years before putting down our roots together here in New York.
For more than four years, we’d travel 3,925 miles (that's 6,316 kilometers) to see each other. That's the distance between New York City and Stockholm, Sweden. (And for a period of time, that distance was lengthened to more than 4,200 miles when I was out in Chicago for graduate school.)
A transatlantic love story sure sounds romantic, but in practice, it was more heart-wrenching than anything else, as surely anyone who's been in a long-distance relationship can attest. Our time together—every few months if lucky, two to three times a year, if not—was always a whirlwind. We could feel the veritable sand in the hourglass slipping away the minute we'd reunite. We knew our time was limited so we made sure to pack every day with as much fun (and good food) as possible.
As a native New Yorker, I felt it was my duty to introduce O. to the full run of good eats in the city. Every meal, drink, and snack-on-the-go had at least a few alternate options waiting in the wings. It was as if I were a living Yelp guide, ready to offer up the perfect option to suit his every whim. We focused on cuisines that were harder to come by in his native Stockholm: comforting Italian red-sauce joints, inventive American-style sushi rolls, fine Japanese kaiseki, and of course, good ol' American barbecue.
One of my absolute favorite places to satisfy a 'cue craving, to this day, is Fette Sau, the popular BBQ destination in Williamsburg that calls itself "one part Central Texas and one part New York deli." The menu is simple, you order your meat by the pound, and everything's served on paper-lined sheet pans. It's unpretentious, it's delicious, and—unsurprisingly—it's totally us.
Somehow, dry-rubbed meat and craft beer have come to symbolize love for us. We'd try to make it over to Fette Sau at least once on every one of O.'s visits over. Once he'd made it over to the U.S. permanently, we continued to explore many of the other great smokehouses across the city. It's became an unintentional Valentine's Day tradition that's evolved over time, somehow aligning itself with our yearly filing of taxes. Sometimes we end up going on the same day, sometimes we don't. It's not a big deal, either way.
It’s Feb. 13, and we’re in our accountant Jacob's office, sitting side by side. Jacob is understandably very busy this time of year. He’s a man of few words, but always remembers us.
"How was your year?" he asks. We know he's referring to our fiscal health, but it feels like a loaded metaphor for me. O. and I look at each other, nod, and respond at the same time: "Great."
And it truly has been. We've had to come a long way to get to this ease and luxury of the everyday. We no longer feel the need to cram in everything "fun" over long weekends. We relish the slow, quiet time spent together at home the most, soaking in the "normal" that we never really had at the start of our relationship: getting to watch British murder mysteries (like Vera) mid-week; outfitting our comforter with its larger-than-life duvet cover on any given weekend; and yes, even picking up a takeaway order from Mighty Quinn's Barbeque (Valentine's Day 2017) or Hill Country Barbecue Market (Valentine's Day 2018) on the way home from work when we can't make it out to the actual restaurants.
These wildly domestic, otherwise uneventful, quotidian moments are what lay the foundation for our relationship. Don't get me wrong; we still go out to other kinds of restaurants, too, but we don't ever feel beholden to a specific holiday, like Valentine's Day, to enjoy them.
Our decidedly unorthodox tradition may not be for anyone else, and that’s totally fine. It’s ours and ours alone. Our love, much like good barbecue, is a low and slow reminder that, sometimes, the best things are worth the time.