Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pass the Cheese Please......

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 husband has NEVER had that kind of reaction to my cooking again. I guess we both learned some valuable lessons from that lasagna.


  1. Yeah, expectations are dreadful when you don't know they even exist! You did what you always did, but it wasn't what was expected. Total bummer. AND THERE'S NO WAY YOU WOULD/COULD HAVE KNOWN! But you still beat yourself up all those years. Mind you, it was a bit insensitive to keep bringing it up! You've just got to love them. And I'm so happy you were vindicated.

  2. Hey, what's wrong with a little over-analysis anyway? I don't know hth I would fill all that empty space in my brain if it wasn't for my constant hashing, re-hashing and overanalyzing of every tinylittleshouldbeforgettable item, so it's comforting to know I'm not alone! I loved your story, identified with it and know this: I make my lasagna with cottage cheese also because I think it has tons more flavor than ricotta. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!!

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  4. Oops - starting comment over again..
    I remember that day, and since you basically used my recipe, don't think I've made cottage cheese lasagna since. I have to say the lasagna you make now is wonderful. BUT I just might have the nerve to make it with cottage cheese again like your ITALIAN godmother taught me. I don't think you'll have too many more "cottage cheese" incidents. Quite a Christmas gift wasn't it!

  5. To my bride: Well written! You have a real talent for relating your experience and perspectives. I'm proud of you.

    To everyone else who reads this: I did err when I exclaimed, out loud, my shock at the strange ingredient in the lasagne. It was not fair to my bride. New husbands take note - appreciate the effort even if the results may not be what you expected. While I have since said many stupid things over the last 17 years, I have not repeated that mistake. I must say, though, that I watched my grandmother and my father make lasagne many times and ne'er a cottage cheese container even entered the kitchen! As a matter of fact, if my grandmother had made it that way and I saw cottage cheese go in there, I would not have eaten hers either. I just don't like the stuff. And no, I haven't been spelling lasagne wrong. Check the dictionary, it can end in an 'e' or an 'a'. Just like I suppose it can be made with more than one kind of cheese. I only eat lasagne spelled with an 'e' at the end. I don't like the kind with the 'a' at the end either....

    Ti amo!!

  6. great story, and look at all the memories you've had because of Cottage Cheese!

  7. My Italian grandma used cottage cheese in her lasagne, so did my mom and so do I. It's creamier, not gritty like ricotta can be. Wanna really see them fall off their chairs? Use Ragu and the no boil noodles!

  8. I have to say that I have never heard of making lasagna with cottage cheese! The idea is somewhat intriguing!

    It's a lovely story, and I am glad you posted it 'cause I have married into a family of Italian descent so it's a warning for me!

    It is also interesting how 'little' family stories tend to be the ones that stick in your memory!


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