Full Circle

cheesebuttons3.jpgI have a German husband. The cheese-button-and-sausage, helped-along-by-lots-of-butter-and-cream sort of German husband. Although I have large doses of German ancestry myself, it doesn’t express itself in the same way. I never even met a cheese button until I ate one at my in-law’s house.

For the uninitiated, cheese buttons are circles of dough folded over a cottage cheese and egg filling. Then they’re fried in butter, and finished off by heating in heavy cream, before serving them with sausage. Seriously. After a few bites of this fat fest I’m longing for a salad, but the only green in sight is the flecks of chopped green onion in the cheese filling.

The blending of cultures in a marriage is a challenge. Even if you both come from pretty much the same ethnic, social, economic and religious background, you each have your own personal family culture that comes along with the “I Do’s.” And naturally, we’re each the most comfortable with the family culture we brought with us. So while my husband loves cheese buttons the way I love chocolate, my personal quality of life wouldn’t suffer if I never ate another one.

For a long time, cheese buttons weren’t in my culinary arsenal. For one thing, I didn’t know how to make them. For another thing, I didn’t want us to ingest several years’ worth of artery clogging fat in a single meal. And for yet another thing, my husband and I had a tussle going in our first year together. He would sometimes comment, when served one of my meals, “It’s not like my mother makes it.” This wasn’t the most helpful thing to say to a new bride, even though my mother-in-law is a wonderful person and a fine cook. You shouldn’t think badly of my husband, though. We were newlyweds, clueless in many ways.

But one day, after offering my best, which was actually pretty good, and hearing this assessment yet again, I looked him in the eye and said firmly, “I’m not your mother. From now on I’m going to cook it and you’re going to eat it.” Maybe a little harsh. Clueless newlyweds, remember?

I did attempt the sacred cheese button once or twice over the years. It was a family heritage issue, after all, so I figured I should at least try. But it took hours, and my cheese buttons ended up lumpy and tumorous looking, like a four-year-old’s Play Doh creations. Not a bit appetizing.

So cheese buttons were something my husband got to eat once a year or so when we went home to visit. Weeks ahead of time my in-laws lovingly prepared them up to the frying and creaming stage, and stored them in the freezer in anticipation of the arrival of the King of Cheese Button Consumption. It was a joint project. Sometimes they even made their own cottage cheese. Talk about commitment. When we got there, the freezer was opened, the frying pan heated, and my husband was in cheese button heaven. It was enough. I was off the hook.

Until the day came when age, aches and arthritis meant making cheese buttons was just too big a job for my in-laws. My husband sadly remarked that the tradition would soon die out. I knew he was going to ask me to learn the craft of cheese buttons. And then he said the magic words. “Let’s do it together. We’ll be a team, just like my mom and dad.” How could I refuse?

We’ve worked out an efficient system, my German husband and his salad-loving wife. I mix the filling, prepare and roll out the dough, and cut out circles with a large cup, as instructed by the recipe. My husband takes over, producing beautiful, plump half-moons which are then boiled, fried and creamed. They’re served with handmade sausage from a grocery store near my husband’s home town. And our cheese buttons are the real thing. Not long ago our daughter said, “Wow. These are as good as Grandma’s.” My husband agrees. High praise indeed.

My newlywed self might not have appreciated that, but a woman my age does. After all these years my husband and I can make something as good as his mom used to make, bringing his cheese button experience full circle.

This blending of personal cultures is a wonderful thing. I think it might be part of what the Apostle Paul meant when he said in Romans 12:10, “Honor one another above yourselves.” While I’m certain Paul didn’t have cheese buttons in mind, his advice is right on.

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