On that first date, after dinner at the Franklinville Inn, Danielle and Joe sat on the front porch of her Dutch colonial in Haddon Heights till 2 a.m. talking - and memorably choking on the springtime pollen that clogged their noses and throats.
No goodnight kiss, though, and after a couple of weeks of missed phone calls, even friendship seemed a fading possibility - until the friend who'd introduced them nudged things along with a well-timed "Call her, Joe. She's a nice girl."
Second date was a barbecue with Joe's family. Three weeks later, they were driving to the Shore and The Question tumbled out of Joe's mouth. "Will you marry me now - or someday?" he asked.
Danielle gulped and quickly answered yes, and before long, she was sporting a 1.58-carat diamond engagement ring, antique-y cushion cut, and Joe had moved in.
The wedding took place on July 4, 2009, in honor of his Polish immigrant grandparents who had chosen Independence Day for their marriage. Joe was already working on the house, which dates to the 1940s and was in serious need of updating.
Here's where the action moves to the back of the house, to the cramped kitchen with the canary yellow countertops.
Danielle had always wanted a large, elegant kitchen done all in white, with a large granite-topped island. So Joe built it for her. "I want to make her happy," he says.
The project took two years altogether, Joe doing the work around his other jobs. It ended in September and included not just a kitchen, but also a breakfast nook, a window seat, a sitting area/"man cave" with fireplace and flat-screen TV, and a pantry fashioned from part of the tiny old kitchen.
"I found the man of my dreams and I have the kitchen of my dreams," says Danielle, an exuberant foodie who owns hundreds of alphabetically and thematically arranged cookbooks and has first-name familiarity with TV chefs Martha and Giada, Nigella, Tyler, and Lidia.
Joe's a breakfast guy, partial to making bacon and eggs, home fries, and waffles with fresh fruit. Danielle does everything else, lately experimenting with her Abruzzi-born mother's manicotti (pronounced man-i-GOT), meatballs, ravioli, "gravy," and gnocchi.
"I hit the lottery when I married Danielle," says Joe, who has also redone the garage and built a shed and deck out back.
Danielle's from Stratford and went to Gordon Phillips Beauty School. Dad was a hair colorist and platform artist for Clairol, and she wanted to "do hair," too, for as long as she can remember.
"All the girls went home from my house with their hair and makeup done, like, at age 8," she says with a giggle. "I'm sure their mothers didn't like that."
Danielle has been working at Mane Stop Salon in Haddonfield for 26 years.
Joe's from Gibbsboro, went to Eastern High School and from an early age learned the building trade from his father and grandfather. "Sure, I wanted to be a big-game hunter or a ranger but that meant more school. I went right to work after high school," says Joe, a self-employed contractor since the mid-1980s.
Joe likes Danielle's family and she likes his. They speak the shorthand language of the newly married, punctuated by easy banter and frequent laughter. Most of this takes place in the newest part of the house.
"The best thing about it," Danielle says of the addition, "is that we can do different things and still be in the same room." Joe's take: "I have a man cave with a built-in chef. I watch football and she makes me something to eat."
Last Easter, the couple hosted a pierogi-making marathon, an annual tradition in his family. Nine adults worked comfortably around the island, which measures 4 feet 10 inches by 8 feet 2 inches. (Being a builder, Joe insists on precise measurements.)
"She kept on making [the island] bigger and bigger. We argued over that," he says. "Now it's fine. I'm glad for every inch we have."
Turns out, there's more territory that needs redoing.
Joe now wants to paint the interior of the house, drywall the upstairs ceilings, make crown moldings for the living room and dining room, landscape the backyard, and install an outdoor shower.
But from the sound of things, there will be plenty of time for all of it.
More immediately, they need to discuss the cooking they'll do together over the weekend. Danielle's thinking beef Bourguignonne; John's wanting steaks from John's Friendly Market in town.
That's for Saturday or Sunday. Today is Friday, the day Danielle and her "dream guy" temporarily forsake their "dream kitchen" for the Old Rail Tavern, "The Rail," in nearby Barrington.
They're up for pizza. Let someone else cook tonight!
Contact Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.