Ever since I married her first-born son, I could do no right in my Italian mother-in- law's eyes.
I freaked out for a week before her first visit to America. I stayed up 'til midnight making ravioli from scratch, roasting peppers for peperonata, bottoling home-made olio piccante (for cooking and gifts) and planning menus to satisfy my father-in-law's sensitive palate.
I was to cook two meals a day for 6 people (my father and mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her husband) for two weeks.
I was unstoppable.
Only the occasional puff of flour reminded my husband that I existed.
As soon as it began, I couldn't wait for the visit to be over. Every time my husband left the room his mother would make some snide remark.
"How novel, who ever thought of using arugola this way!?!"
"He now drinks beer?!? He never used to drink beer, what have you done with my son?"When I served her my soon-to-be-famous home made portobello mushroom ravioli in sage butter sauce, everyone around the table was hmmming and ohhhing and with a straight face she said, "they're edible."
The last meal before the in-law contingent left I went all out. Somehow, in 25 minutes I managed to crank out pan-seared pork chops in a white wine reduction sauce served on a bed of arugola, with sauteed mushrooms, caremlized onion rings and a fresh salad.
Tableware clinking, salt and pepper passing and grinding when mother-in-law pipes up with, "you know, even the best cooks make mistakes. This sauce is bitter." The clinking and grinding continued.
"I said, even the best cooks make.."
"It's not a mistake." I interrupted her.
Quiet crashed table. Ten ears strained for my next words.
"It's a wine sauce it's supposed to be tart."
Tableware dared to break the silence and clinck again and few minutes later my hard-of-hearing-father-in-law, who missed the previous exchange, tugs on his wife's elbow and says, "honey, this is good. Get the recipe, I want you to make this for me when we get home!"
Revenge is not as sweet as when it's executed right in front of you.
They all left for Tennessee where the in-laws could hang out with thier daughter. A week passes and mother-in-law calls. She casually mentions that they'd tried to reproduce my ravioli recipe and it didn't come out right... uhm, could she talk to me and get the recipe for her daughter?!? I gladly obliged, reciting every ingredient and technique.
The ravioli didn't come out right.
My mother and father in- laws eventually went back to Italy and within a week of their return, said mother-in-law tried to make the ravioli again.
They didn't come out right.
We get another phone call.
This time, mother-in-law is seductively cooing compliments from the other end of the phone. "What a great cook" I was, and how she meant all her compliments while she was here (uhm.. what compliments?) and I'm a true talent in the kitchen and... by the way.... could I give her the ravioli recipe with the exact quantity of each ingredient, each and every step and technique and not leave out a single thing*?
I was really surprised by mother-in-laws' tenaciousness - trying to reproduce the recipe over, and over again. My husband is discusted with the whole thing: that, after three years of marriage, I would only gain his mother's respect and approval because she found out I can cook and I have out-raviolied** her.
This makes me, in her eye, an acceptable wife.
*Italians don't like to give away their secrets. I've seen it most in a cookie recipe that has evolved and passed down from my mother-in-law's sister to her, and from my mother-in-law to her daughter -- they purposely leave out an ingredient when passing it on so that the recipe won't come out exactly the same. Last summer, when I mentioned to hubby's aunt how different her cookies tasted from his mother's or sister's version, she got a wry smile and said, "it's my little secret!"
**Italians are very competitive in the kitchen. After a visit to my husband's aunt we arrived to his mother's home where, as soon as we crossed the threshold, she interrogated us about what her sister prepared for us. That evening, she cranked out a lasagna to rival her sister's and after the first bite she asked, "so who's lasagna tastes better?"
Mother-in-law still hasn't reproduced my ravioli.
I promise: I didn't leave anything out.