Monday, April 25, 2011

on mother-in-laws (and food, of course)

Mother-in-laws get such a bad rap. It's pretty much a cliche at this point. Or does everyone truly hate their mother-in-law? I guess I must have gotten lucky because I love Dan's mother. She's smart and interesting, a deeply caring person. And hysterically funny.

But it wasn't always smooth sailing at first. It's hard not to compare a brand new mother to the one you've always had. My mother believes in niceties. She asks about your friends and family, offers cold drinks, makes sure there are extra pillows in the spare bedroom. Judy might forget the pillows but she shows affection in different ways. She is a worrier, a buyer of perfect gifts, a knitter of scarves. She asks serious questions about our future, the kind of life we want. She offers her opinions. Sometimes we consider them, sometimes they make us laugh. Which is what you should do when your mother-in-law suggests that you and your husband should move into the pool house.

Judy is very outspoken. During the early days of my relationship with Dan, before my current job, she offhandedly called the magazine I wrote for a "rag." I didn't quite know what to say. It was insulting...and also completely true. She has a way of cutting through the bullshit. And over the years, I've come to appreciate that.

We often exchange looks when we're people-watching, a favorite pastime. "What do you think of that blouse?" she'll ask. Or, "She's had a lot of work done." And we'll take turns surreptitiously glancing at the person in question. I could do this all day long.

I love the sight of Judy sitting by her backyard pool in a chic little shift dress, her skin a deep shade of tan from daily runs around the neighborhood. She runs marathons in sneakers and sportswear but she is one of the most stylish people I know. Not in a designer-obsessed way--she knows what she likes and always looks cool. She's the only person over six years old who can pull off sparkly jelly shoes.

More (most?) importantly, she is a food lover. After marrying Dan, I suddenly had a family member who wanted to talk ingredients, menus, cooking techniques. We have serious conversations about the percentages of cocoa in dark chocolate or how to cook salmon so that it doesn't smell. We talk about going to Paris together and hitting up the markets, cooking dinner together in a rented apartment.

And if we're coming over for dinner she always, always has a menu planned. "Nothing fancy," she says, putting out foie gras, toasted baguette slices, and cornichon. "The foie gras expires in 10 days so we need to eat it." Which is very, very Judy.
As are the pretty place settings with colorful dishes and napkins. As is the crunchy little salad she makes with walnuts, sliced cucumbers, and radishes and blue cheese from the local greenmarket. As are the Cornish hens, roasted ingeniously on top of bundt pans, their little carcasses sitting atop the center tube so that the juices run down and collect in the pan below. (You learn things like that from Judy.) As is a side dish of buttery farfel, a nubbly little starch that tastes like a cross between pasta and rice. It was a very fine meal.

And dessert. There is always dessert. Judy is a equal-opportunity chocolate lover. You'll find a bar of Valrhona in the pantry and Oreo Cakesters in the cabinet. For special occasions she tends to go all-out. Homemade cookies. Coffee ice cream tart. The best flourless chocolate cake I've ever had. I've written before about her baking talents, something I still struggle with. She thinks it might be my expired baking powder, but I think I don't have her hand for it.

For our dinner the other weekend, she made a dense, fudge-y chocolate pudding spooned into in pretty wine glasses. After she took the desserts out of the refrigerator, she reached for a little bowl of finely grated chocolate and added a pinch over each one. It made me smile, that little touch. A sprinkling of chocolate isn't unique in any way, but there was something charming about how she wanted dessert to be just so. She cared enough to think about the presentation and planned ahead, getting the wine glasses down from the shelf, grating the chocolate and having it at hand. Little details, especially when it comes to cooking, reveal a lot about a person.

I'm thankful for the mother who raised me, a lovely, big-hearted person who always encourages me and surprises me with her thoughtfulness. And I'm thankful for my mother-in-law. She couldn't be any more different from my mom, but I love her all the more for it. I love her for expanding my views, inspiring me in the kitchen, and making me laugh. And for her incredible way with chocolate.


Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

I love my mother-in-law too... we should start a movement to eradicate the negative stereotype. (And Judy's right - we DID work for a rag.)

Judy said...

Lisa, you're so sweet. I love you too.I must read this over many times.

In defense of the rag comment, you fail to mention that it comes from someone who worked for the Weekly World News and at this very moment, instead of mooning over this post, should be editing photos for the National Enquirer.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post--You captured the essence of Judy down to her sparkly shoes... which I covet!

Daniel said...

Quite the love-fest here.

Unknown said...

A rag...classic.

Lisa said...

Casey: Ha, it's true...we did.

Judy: Yes, I guess we had that in common!

Anony: Me too :)

Daniel: Yes, fortunately.

Viagra Online said...

My mother in law is so terrific ! I love her food so bad!


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