When my husband and I were first married, we had an apartment warming party. I cooked lasagna for the entire family. I was so proud to have everyone over to our new domestic haven. I had prepared all day long for the meal and was looking forward to showing off my domestic prowess. I laid out a buffet of food to share with my lasagna as the centerpiece. The table was worthy of a photo to place in an “Our First Home" photot album.
I had prepared the lasagna the way my mom had always cooked it, and similar to the way it was prepared in the prepackaged Italian dinners - the way I had ALWAYS eaten it. As we gathered around the small apartment we blessed the food and began breaking bread together as one big happy family. I lovingly watched my handsome young husband as he enjoyed the meal. I was honored as he took a bite of the lasagna and his eyes got wide. I about burst with pride as I figured my husband was enamored with my cooking. I could see he was about to offer up words of praise….I waited anxiously.
As any blushing bride would, I listened adoringly for his praise. Then, in front of all of his family, my family and all of our friends, my husband exclaimed
…..and not in the tone that indicated he was pleasantly surprised. It was a tone of disbelief. I, his new bride, had committed an awful sin. I had used cottage cheese, not ricotta, in my lasagna. To my Italian husband and his family, this was practically unforgivable.
For the next 17 years, I endured ridicule as the story was re-told countless times. “Remember the cottage cheese…” , “Can’t be as bad as the cottage cheese incident….,” “Angie, what kind of cheese did you use in this?”
Then, on Christmas day, 2008, I got one of the greatest gifts I could possibly have received. My father-in-law pulled a recipe box out of his cupboard and slowly opened it. As he opened it, he slowly issued me an heartfelt apology. In this box was a recipe from his mother - an amazing woman and the quintessential Italian grandma. The very first ingredient on this recipe for some sort of Italian pie was….you guessed it…..COTTAGE CHEESE!
Finally, after all of those years, the “cottage cheese incident” could no longer be held over my head.
Now did this incident occupy all of my thoughts for all these years? No. Did it stop me from meeting goals and living a happy life? No. But, I have to admit, it felt pretty good to be vindicated!
Why did this vindication feel so good? Why, when I knew the lasagna actually tasted pretty good, did I let this even occupy any space within me? I guess it is because at some level as humans, we all want to fit it. We want to be accepted. We want community with others and acknowledgment. I am no different. I want that too. This little incident at some level, although not a conscious level, made me feel like I didn’t belong, like I was different, like I didn’t fit in with my community. Hearing that I wasn’t the only one who had used the cottage cheese, and then hearing the acknowledgment finally gave me a place within the group.
Is this a MAJOR over analysis of this situation? Yes and no.
To all my family that reads this…it hasn’t bothered me all that much. I have even found a lot of humor in it and I have even broadened my culinary skills because of it. But, I think the general idea is not a really a stretch. We should continually be aware of how we are acknowledging others. As members of this big human family, we have a duty to foster community with others and create an environment of inclusion - even if others do use cottage cheese in their lasagna…..
By the way....my husband has NEVER had that kind of reaction to my cooking again. I guess we both learned some valuable lessons from that lasagna.