Lasagna is a special occasion dish: Easter, Christmas, maybe a big birthday. All of the hours of preparation and assembly are done step-by-step with a sense of duty, tradition, and love. An obligation willingly accepted. It is understood that no matter what is happening – good or bad – a lasagna will always make it better, and the family gathered around the table to share in the deliciousness was the best thing of all.
This I learned from my in-laws.
Growing up, we didn’t eat lasagna, my Mom didn’t know how to make it until I’d married and my in-laws taught her. Our family’s go-to for special occasions was a ham… but most of our holidays were, well, not very special. My father’s anxiety and frustration increased as the hours ticked by, and by dinnertime everyone was wound-up so tight that nobody was really hungry.
My Mom may have made a perfectly delicious meal, but as good as it was, there was very little room for fun or conversation at the dinner table.
I met my future husband when I was just sixteen. My first invitation to dinner at his home was a revelation. They were a three-generation family under one roof, only the second I’d ever met, and everyone was working together, music was playing – probably opera – and when we sat to eat, there was lots of talking around the crowded dinner table… and a lasagna. One mouthful and I felt I had gone to Heaven!
Although my marriage didn’t last because we were too young, we always stayed friends. Or friendly, depending on the year. Lucky for me, my relationship with my in-laws DID last, for more than 40 years. When I think of Christmas dinners, it’s always theirs that comes to mind. Theirs that was the exemplar. From my father-in-law’s delicious French onion soup, to my MIL Dot’s multi-course extravaganza, and finally to her mom, Gram’s pleasure in asking, “Whatsa matter, isn’t it good?” when compliments weren’t immediately forthcoming because our mouths were full of her delicious lasagna.
I am sad that those days are only memories now, and happy that I got to be part of such a family.
This year I am going to make a lasagna for Christmas Eve. I haven’t made one in at least 7 years, since I had to quit eating wheat products. When I learned that Barilla makes good no-boil lasagna noodles that hold their shape, I knew it was time. I have had enough experience with gluten-free cooking that I believe I can make this work.
And yet, I’m a little nervous, doubting myself. For some reason, I feel the weight of all of those delicious memories bearing down on me. Will I get it right? Here’s where the rubber meets the road: all of my years of absorbing their experience and wisdom added to my years of cooking, plus the very best ingredients I can find, will, of course, add up to a wonderful lasagna. My version of lasagna.
What do I have to be nervous about?
I will serve it proudly to my Sweetie, my son, and his Dad – we are all sharing a meal this year, and even if it’s not like the old ways, they will all love it.
Here’s hoping that everything you cook turns out perfectly, and fills both bellies and hearts. And here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and love-filled New Year!