My husband and I have a Valentine’s Day tradition of sharing cheese fondue.
It started on a whim, then took a meaning of its own.
For one, its very name (from fondre, to melt): fondue means melted. We place together limited ingredients–two cheeses, white wine, and a splash of kirsch–in a heavy pot. We heat and stir them, let them melt and meld–and magically produce a substance with depth and tang beyond the inputs’ simple sum.
Melting, melding, and creation: like the better parts of marriage.
While one of us prepares the fondue on the stove, the other prepares the foodstuffs to dip in it: bits of crusty sourdough bread, chunks of apple, chunks of pear. We set the fondue pot between our place settings and light the Sterno under it. Then we pour the fondue into the pot, and fit the dippables into places we can both reach.
A project jointly carried out, set up for joint enjoyment: a form of love.
We light a few candles, sit, take a first sip a glass of wine, and then begin. We push our long-handled forks into the pale cubes. We swish the pale cubes around the pale fondue. And then we take a bite. It is so delicious I could eat it all–and so could he.
Time is like that, isn’t it? There’s only so much of it–twenty-four hours in each married day. I could use it all up by myself, and so could he.
But we mete out our consumption. The resources are limited, but how much either of use will take is an individual choice. I think we make it with the other in mind. I think we dance our forks in thoughtfulness.
Just as our individual choices result in how much time we have together: daily dances of consideration.
By the year, our tradition gains in worth. The first year, the meal ensured we wouldn’t forget about our fondue pot. The second year, fondue became a tradition, and we vowed to find proper-sized cans of Sterno to fit our pot. The third year, we realized the pot needed an official storage place so we could find it again. Each of those years, we tried different recipes and different ways of preparing everything. But we settled pretty quickly on what we liked for this meal, for this Valentine’s Day tradition
In more ways than one. As family members aged, moved on, or died, my husband and I found ourselves surrounded by relics. Old gifts, a family clock, a great-aunt’s silver. It brought memories to force a hand into our childhood baseball mitt., to touch a children’s rocking horse or soccer cleats, to read their college entrance essays. But surrounded by relics, we are also surrounded by clutter, and decided we don’t need more. We decided that our Valentine’s Days do not need costly, unexpected gifts: our hearts will fill enough with cheese fondue.
A loving practice of our mingled lives: limited ingredients, jointly offered, considerately shared, and considered sufficient.
Ah, but this little tribute is too sweet. Surely I exaggerated. My husband and I are just people. Sometimes we buy the wrong ingredients by mistake. Sometimes we aren’t absolutely considerate or we forget there’s any symbolism to this cheese fondue at all–it’s just a simple meal that gets the fondue pot some use and keeps us from having to figure out what gift to buy.
But even so, we won’t serve cheese fondue to others. Because this we know: it’s our private feast.