So, this mothers day got me thinking. Well, it also got me complaining about how we all got tricked into being jerks if we don't honor Hallmark with all we do a few days a year, but thats besides the point. Marketing worked, and I was thinking about my Mom. Maybe my memory has been colored by the nostalgia of passing years, and a sadly lacking robust adult relationship with her, but I remember the mom of 20 years ago as a domestic goddess. Halloween costumes were handmade, clothing was sewn, the house was immaculate, and dinner was always homemade (and awful for you, but oh so tasty). My mom doesn't pursue these sorts of things anymore with the relish she used to (I think she was the one woman on earth genuinely happy to get a vacuum cleaner for Christmas), but the one thing she still does is make Lasagna. Its our Christmas tradition. These past few years, even though I don't go home anymore and my cousin comes out here for drinks and escape, I still make it.
My family loves its traditions. Not the solemn, reflective, values-based traditions that ground the average corn-fed Mid-Western family, but rather the uproarious, beer-flowing, love-you-for-what-you-are-but-still-gonna-mess-with-you-about-it, show-love-through-food-not-touching, help-build-a-porch-for-you-when-you-need-it kind. On one hand, it means that serious conversations are impossible to have, and relationships that are not natural simply don't deepen. This is sadly why every conversation my mom and I have is something along the lines of "What, I'm working, I'm so busy, you don't understand, how's the dog?, gotta go." On both ends.
On the upside, it means that the few things we have left to connect about, especially now that we don't travel together any more, are these little traditions. For me, and my mom, I think Lasagana is where it all began.
For all the stress and sadness that is elsewhere in her life, my mom retains tremendous pride in this dish. She still makes it right, from start to finish each time. And she is still utterly unable to communicate how to make it to others with annoying, off-topic details like measurements. Its something you have to grow up tasting, watching. Grow up complaining about with the family like the spoiled brat you are, but then bragging about to friends when ma's not listening. Grow into wanting to make yourself. And grow-up to realize that its one of the only things you have left that ties you to your mom. Its precious, beyond the perfect balance of flavor and texture. Its the past of my family, and the future of a relationship.
Here are my mom's own words about this tradition. You can try to make it all you want. But some things are their history as much as they are their substance.
"When Mother's Day rolls around each year it [directs] my thoughts [to] my family. Particularly my daughter and husband. I think how caring they are to me. It makes me think about making my famous lasagna which they love. Learning to make this was an interesting part of my life. When I was 11 years old my neighbor was an older Italian man and one day I started to ask him questions about his sauce as it smelled so good. He said he would show me. We took all the ingredients, tomatoes, garlic paste, sauce, water and gently stirred and the most important factor is to simmer for 3 patient hours to get the well blended taste. Then a few years later I lived for a couple of years with a Sicilian lady and helped her and she asked if i would like to learn to make lasagna the real Italian way. Of course I said yes. She showed me how to mix the ricotta, mozzarella cheese, parsley eggs, milk and then how to layer. The sauce I used from what I learned several years before. This recipe came our very satisfactory for the real Italian way. I served to my family and they love it. It makes me so happy as they deserve it and just these thoughts give me a happy mothers day."