“I don’t remember, were we wild and young
All that’s faded into memory
I feel like somebody I don’t know
Are we really who we used to be
Am I really who I was”
― Ryan Adams, “Lucky Now”
It’s funny the things our brains choose to remember. When I think of that day 20 years ago, I remember the shade of lipstick I wore (Clinique Tenderheart). I remember the perfect late-summer weather: the cloudless blue sky, the just-warm-enough sun shining down on us, the gentlest of breezes. I remember the smell of freshly cut grass as I posed for photos on the front lawn of my parents’ house. I remember the way he smiled at me when he took my (always cold) hand in his (always warm) hand when we met at the altar of the church to say our vows. I remember the train of my dress getting caught in the air vent near the altar (because it wouldn’t be my wedding if there wasn’t a “klutzy Amanda” moment). I remember my cheeks hurting from smiling so much. I remember our first dance, twirling and box-stepping just as we had rehearsed on the creaky wide-plank wood floors in the tiny living room of our house in Salem. Shockingly, I don’t remember what I ate or drank that day (other than a slice of our chocolate wedding cake), but I can picture every single face at our wedding as if they were here in front of me right now. But mostly, I remember the feeling of that day. I remember feeling young and carefree… and yet suddenly all grown up. I remember NOT feeling nervous, at all. I remember feeling like my whole life, our whole life, was ahead of us, filled with optimism and love and hope.
Twenty years. We’ve experienced a lot together in 20 years; it’s a long time. We’ve celebrated new jobs, new opportunities, and new homes. We’ve attended countless parties and weddings and funerals together. We’ve traveled to tropical islands and big cities and little towns. One summer, we spent a month driving across the U.S. together in our trusty Toyota Corolla, staying in a Motel 6 at each stop along the way, navigating with only a tattered road atlas and a few city maps (remember, kids, this was before GPS navigation and smart phones), and we lived to tell the tale. We felt the highs and lows as we struggled (and ultimately succeeded) to conceive a child, twice. We welcomed two beautiful baby boys into our home and our hearts, and we fumbled as we adjusted to our new roles as parents: him, struggling in his preferred role of caretaker as he learned to let go of being able to fix everything; and me, struggling with anxiety and depression as I learned to let go of trying to do everything, perfectly. We’ve spent time apart too—solo vacations and business trips—and I can’t say for sure if absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I can tell you this: Absence can make the heart grow grateful. We’ve yelled and cried and slammed doors and sulked and forgave and made up. We’ve fought about little things and big things. Those same qualities that have balanced us, that have made us seemingly perfect for each other (he’s steady and calm; I’m frenetic and anxious) have also been at the root of many of our disagreements and “rough patches.” (Why is this bothering you so much? Don’t worry about it; it’s not a big deal!… Why don’t you care more about this? This is such a big deal!)
We usually bring out the best in each other, but, because we know each other so well, we can also bring out the worst in each other. I suppose this happens when you’ve shared most of your life with someone: There’s a certain level of comfort there, where you can be your truest, messiest self, and know that you will still be loved and accepted. It’s like when your child starts school, and you hear from his teachers how he is so well-behaved and kind and attentive, but the kid you get at home at the end of the day is a whirlwind of emotional outbursts and meltdowns, and you don’t understand what is even happening… until you remember just how hard it is to be on your best behavior all day, but he did it: he held it together for school and for the rest of the world, but now he’s home and he’s unleashing his messiest, most emotional self because he knows he can, because he feels safe with you.
Sometimes, we can’t help it. A harsh word. A not-so-subtle eye roll. A raised voice. We act spiteful and angry toward each other, when usually we’re really just mad at the piles of laundry or the stack of bills or the demands of a new job or the furnace that stopped working or the kids who just won’t go to bed already or the loudness of the world or the swiftness of time. On these days, everything feels out of sync, overwhelming, unfamiliar. We question everything: who we are, who we were, how we got here. I get easily frustrated and lash out; he gets defensive and quiet; we can both be stubborn. But then, he will say something to make me laugh, or look at me a certain way, and the ice will be broken. But it takes both of us to move forward. So we talk and we listen, and we try to understand. Most times we do reach a new understanding, we move forward, but if you’ve been married any length of time, you know that there are some issues that never really get resolved, that rear their ugly heads again and again, perhaps in different forms, but they’re still the same beast. Still, we keep trying. Eventually, we arrive on the same page again, or at least in the same chapter, coming together, intersecting and connecting at our common points. Maybe it’s at the end of a long, stressful day when the kids are finally asleep and we curl up on the couch together, legs and hands intertwined. Or maybe it’s on an early-morning walk or on a rare, well-deserved date night. Things fall into place again. Everything feels familiar again, more manageable. It all makes sense again.
I wonder if these “disconnections,” these moments when things feel unfamiliar between us, or we feel unfamiliar to ourselves, happen more often as we grow older, perhaps because we lose sight of who we were 10, 15, 20 years ago, as our earlier memories fade and are replaced with more recent ones. Maybe the key to a long and happy marriage is connecting to our early days together: chasing down memories, fragments of our youth, pieces of our younger selves.
We first met 26 years ago when we were both college students in Boston. So for us, visiting Boston has a way of reconnecting us, grounding us; it has become a touchstone of sorts. Sometimes when we walk down the tree-lined streets of the city, there will be a certain feel, a certain scent to the air, especially this time of year, that will wrap around me like a reassuring hug, and I will feel those familiar butterflies in my stomach, that feeling of excitement, like anything is possible. Or we will pass a group of students on their way out for the evening, and I can almost catch a glimpse of my 18-year-old self in the crowd before she disappears around a corner. There’s a lovely little shop tucked away in the lower level of an old brownstone on Newbury Street that still sells a perfume I used to wear when I was in college, and a few years ago I caught a faint whiff of it as I walked by, and it stopped me in my tracks. Sometimes, these sights and smells and even the sounds of the city can just make me feel old, but more often than not, they transport me back in time and make me feel like I’m a college student again, young and carefree, even a little invincible, at least in my mind. Suddenly there is a lightness in my step, a lightness in my soul that I’ve yet to be able to replicate for more than a brief moment here and there since those days. Of course, things were simpler then, before careers and mortgages and kids and all, but life is fuller now, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But sometimes we both need to reconnect to our younger selves, not necessarily to remind us why we fell in love in the first place, but to remind us of our beginnings, of how far we’ve come, of all that we’ve been through and experienced together.
We have been taking our boys to Boston for day trips, and the occasional longer weekend visit, since they were born, but it was only this past spring that we gave them the behind-the-scenes tour, the story of us. We walked around the campus of our alma mater and our favorite blocks nearby, pointing out the dorms where we first met, the steps where he would wait for me after class, our favorite coffee shop (even though he doesn’t like coffee), the apartment where he proposed the day we graduated. We talked about how we both almost went to other schools, but in the end the scholarships we both received made our first-choice school possible, a choice that was the result of years of hard work and a moment of good luck. It was a surreal experience, walking the campus and sharing our story with our two boys. Never could I have imagined our life now, when I was just a 17-year-old college freshman in the big city, living far from my home in rural Pennsylvania, meeting the fellow student who would later become my husband. But here we are.
Back home in New Hampshire, the reality of the present soon enough reminds us that we aren’t quite the same people we were when we lived in Boston all those years ago. We are a little more gray-haired, a little more forgetful, a little more weary, a little more cynical. We carry a few more wrinkles, a few more pounds, a few more wounds, a few more scars. Our marriage, like the house we have lived in for almost 15 years, is showing signs of wear. It is still structurally sound, but the exterior is showing its age, there are a few cracks on the outside and the inside, and some things need fixing. “Add it to the list” is a common refrain these days: the porch needs repainting; the fence needs repairing; the dishwasher needs replacing…. I am learning that when you have lived in one place for so long, almost everything needs some sort of repairs—some major, some minor—but because the house has good bones, a solid foundation, everything, it seems, is fixable.
At our cores, the foundation on which we built our marriage, we are essentially the same people we were 20 years ago, for better or worse. Sure, our experiences—both shared and personal—have changed us and made us grow in many ways, but our fundamental selves, our core values have remained unchanged. We were just 23 years old when we got married—such a big commitment for two people with very little life experience. It was impossible to imagine what our lives would be like now, and yet, we made that promise to find out together. We were young enough and just naïve enough to not fully comprehend the magnitude of the commitment we were making, but we were just wise enough to know we had a good thing, and we should try to hold on to it. At 23, I didn’t know that he would be such a wonderful dad, or that he would be a good provider, or that he would always do his best to take care of me and our future kids, but I had a good feeling about it, about all of it. There has always been something about him that makes me feel that, even to this day, as long as my (worry-filled) wagon is hitched to his, I will be okay. We will be okay. Everything will be okay.
And that, I suppose, is why we are celebrating 20 years of marriage. Because he is still the same strong, patient, soft-spoken, easy-going, non-confrontational yet super-competitive boy of few words who loves sports and horror movies and pork products and craft beer and showing his love by helping and taking care of people. And I am still the same sensitive, anxiety-prone, introverted, cerebral, organized yet clumsy girl of (too) many words who loves books and art and chocolate and coffee and showing my love by feeding people.
“Peach Chicken” was the first meal I made for my then-boyfriend/now-husband 24 years ago, but it wasn’t the same dish pictured here. Allow me to explain: When we had been dating for less than a year, I got an internship in New York that would separate us by roughly 300 miles for 6 months. Undeterred, we took turns visiting each other, talked for hours on the phone, and wrote each other letters (remember, kids, this was before the Internet). Living alone in an apartment, without the dorm cafeteria to rely on, I started cooking for myself. Much of my “cooking,” however, consisted of warming up canned tomato soup, making grilled-cheese sandwiches, or boiling pasta and pouring my mom’s homemade tomato sauce over it (she would make me several weeks’ worth of sauce that I would keep in my freezer and defrost and heat as needed). But as our one-year dating anniversary approached and he planned to visit me in New York, I decided that I wanted to cook a “real” meal for him. I’m not sure what came over me, other than I just thought that was what grown-ups did for their families, for the people they loved. That’s what my grandmother did for her family, and that’s what my mom did for us. Cooking for loved ones, for neighbors, for friends, for anyone really, was how my family showed they cared, and therefore I thought cooking for my boyfriend would be the best display of my affection. I called my mom for advice, and she recommended a dish she had recently made that was easy and foolproof for me—an accident-prone novice cook. She mailed me the recipe (remember, kids, this was before the Internet), and even in my tiny kitchen with my limited cooking experience, the dish was a success, but more importantly, it sparked in me a passion for cooking, and a love of feeding people.
The original recipe involved cooking chicken breasts in a skillet with butter and oil and canned peaches in syrup, and serving it all over a bed of white rice (Uncle Ben’s Boil-in-Bag rice, of course, because it was the ‘90s). It was a dish I made often in our early dating days, and our newlywed days, until I started eating more of a vegetarian diet and lost interest in eating (and cooking) chicken for a while. After the birth of my second son, however, I gradually started eating more chicken (and fish), per my body’s request, and cooking more chicken (and fish), per my growing boys’ requests, but it wasn’t until this summer that I thought about that peach chicken dish again, when I randomly stumbled upon the original recipe card my mom had sent me. I thought it might be fun to modernize this recipe and make it a little more healthful, and I had a feeling my boys would enjoy it too.
The month of August is prime season for peaches here in New England; it’s also prime season for grilling outdoors. So I took advantage of August’s gifts and gave that peach chicken dish a makeover of sorts, making a sweet-and-slightly-spicy glaze for the chicken with peach preserves, soy sauce, mustard, garlic, ginger, and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and cooking it on the grill. Instead of canned peaches, I grilled fresh, local peaches, pitted and halved and brushed with more of the spicy-sweet glaze. The only mistake I made was not making enough, as the boys devoured every last bite of the smoky, succulent chicken and the juicy caramelized peaches in record time, begging for seconds!
I should also note that my husband and I made this dish together, mostly because it involved the outdoor grill, which is his summer “territory,” but also because every once in a while, on a rare Sunday afternoon when we have no place else to be but home, we actually enjoy preparing a meal together. We used to cook together a lot more when we were first married: We were both learning then, and we also had more free time (read: pre-kids). Now when we cook together, we are a synchronized team in the kitchen, expertly anticipating the other’s movements, stepping around each other (and around the boys who inevitably gravitate to the kitchen when dinner is being made), as if in a carefully choreographed dance that has been rehearsed for years. I measure out the ingredients and whisk together the glaze (because he hates to measure things when cooking); he slices and pits the peaches (because I am a hazard with knives and stone fruits) and grills the chicken (because I can’t handle the sight of raw meat, and I shouldn’t be trusted around an open flame). We hardly need to say a word, as we intuitively take on our roles in the kitchen based upon our (culinary) strengths and weaknesses.
It’s easy to look at someone’s life, or someone’s marriage, and think they have it all figured out, all wrapped up neatly into a Hollywood-made happy ending. But I’m here to tell you, as someone who has been married for 20 years, that it’s all an illusion; it’s really just a big ol’ mess—love and marriage and family and life. It’s all complicated and messy and far from perfect. There are some days, weeks, months even, that are just plain hard, where the words are sharp and harsh, the work is tough, and everything feels like a chore, or a sacrifice. But there are some days that are easier than others, where the words are effortless, the work doesn’t feel like work, and it’s not hard to remember why you said “I do” all those years ago. If you’re lucky, the “easy” days don’t necessarily outnumber the “hard” days, but rather getting through the hard days makes you appreciate the easy days even more. And if you’re wise, you try to tuck away the “easy” moments in your brain, to be called upon during the dark, stormy times, to remember why weathering those storms is worth the effort. It’s those moments that make the others worth working on. It’s not about perfection, or happily-ever-after, but it’s about the messy work of everyday life. There is beauty in the mess, in the in-between moments, in finding love again and again in between the storms, and finding those points where you intersect, and, in those points where you diverge, finding where you complement each other and where you can—and will—meet up again.
“The lights will draw you in
And the dark will take you down
And the night will break your heart
Only if you’re lucky now”
When people ask me, What is the secret to your long and happy marriage— just kidding! No one has ever asked me this question, but if someone did, this is what I would say: I got lucky. I met the right person for me, at the right time, and then… I held on, and I said YES! Yes to the moment. Yes to the unknowns of the future. Yes to the beautiful mess. I don’t always have the best luck, and I am awful at (read: agonize over) making decisions, but for once, when it counted the most, I got lucky, and then I made the right choice. And 20 years later, I’d make the same choice all over again. I do. I still do.
“If the lights draw you in
And the dark can take you down
Then love can mend your heart
But only if you’re lucky now”
I usually serve the chicken and peaches with brown rice and grilled (or sautéed) broccoli. The sweet-and-spicy peach glaze gives the chicken a flavor similar to the orange-glazed chicken and broccoli dish that you find at most Chinese restaurants these days, so if you’re a fan of that dish, then I’m confident you will love this more wholesome spin on it.
My hungry, growing boys eat a lot, so this recipe is *just* enough for the 4 of us for dinner, served with brown rice (or another whole grain) and a green vegetable. However, depending on what—and how many—sides you serve it with, and how big the appetites are in your family, you might be able to serve 5, maybe 6 people with this recipe (although if you are serving more than 4 people, I’d recommend adding another peach to the grill so that each person has at least one peach half to enjoy). Leftover chicken and peaches are also delicious the next day, especially tossed into a salad (with goat cheese and arugula and toasted walnuts), so keep that in mind! (You can also double the recipe to serve more people, or to ensure some leftovers.)
One final note: The peaches can be grilled with the same sweet-and-spicy glaze that is brushed onto the chicken—just reserve some glaze solely for the peaches to avoid cross-contamination—or you can simply brush the peaches with some olive oil instead. Serve the grilled peaches with the chicken, or save them for dessert; it’s totally your call. If you can find fresh, locally grown peaches in your area, even better. Just brush the peaches with a little olive oil, grill them until they’re caramelized and juicy, and you have a simple, wholesome dessert. If you want to gild the lily a bit, serve the grilled peaches with lightly sweetened whipped cream, whipped mascarpone cheese, or Greek yogurt, or even with vanilla ice cream. Add some toasted nuts on top, if you’d like, and you have an easy, delicious end to a perfect late-summer meal.
- -- Nonstick cooking spray or oil for oiling the grill grate
- -- ½ cup peach preserves or jam
- -- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more if needed)
- -- 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
- -- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- -- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- -- 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
- -- ½ teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger (from about a ½-inch piece of ginger root, peeled)
- -- a pinch (about ⅛ teaspoon) red pepper flakes *
- -- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- -- 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
- -- 2 ripe peaches, cut in half and pitted
- In a small bowl, whisk together the peach preserves, olive oil, soy sauce, mustard, balsamic vinegar, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes, and season to taste with salt and pepper, keeping in mind that the glaze will mellow a bit once it’s brushed and cooked on the chicken. (I usually don’t need to add salt here, as the soy sauce adds enough saltiness to the glaze, but feel free to add salt to taste, if desired.) Reserve about 3 to 4 tablespoons of the glaze for the peaches.
- Heat an outdoor grill to medium heat and lightly oil the grill grate. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and place them on the hot grill grate. Cook the chicken about 3 to 4 minutes on one side, then turn the chicken over and continue cooking it on the other side for another 3 to 4 minutes. Brush both sides of the chicken with the peach glaze and continue cooking the chicken until it is cooked through, an additional 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the chicken thighs. ** (If you are using chicken breasts, they will probably take a little longer to cook.) If the exterior of the chicken starts to get too dark or charred before it is cooked through, move it to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking.
- Place the peach halves cut side down on the hot grill grate and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the peaches over, brush with the reserved peach glaze (or olive oil), and grill until the peaches are soft and the cavities start to fill with juices, about 3 to 4 minutes more, depending on the size and ripeness of the peaches.
** It can sometimes be tricky to tell when chicken thighs are fully cooked, because unlike the light meat of chicken breasts, which change color from pink to white when done, the dark meat of chicken thighs looks pinkish brown even when thoroughly cooked. For extra assurance, you can use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the cooked thighs: Food safety experts recommend that boneless thighs be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. When in doubt, I err on the side of cooking them a bit longer; with chicken thighs, even if you overcook them slightly, they won’t really dry out.
Recipe adapted from Bobby Flay.
Did you make this recipe?
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