How to not impress the in-laws (even for all your trying)

It all sort of came to a head for me when my sister-in-law said, as she assembled pizzas in her cabin kitchen from prepared, vacuum-packaged crust and pre-shredded mozzarella, that she doesn’t care for basil.

Whaaat? I wanted to scream, protective as I am of basil. What’s wrong with you?

I’m guessing the defense of fresh herbs doesn’t really warrant a raised voice — especially when you’re a guest in someone else’s kitchen — so thankfully propriety took over before my kitchen rage actually flared.

Besides, zero tolerance for basil does not a bad person make. I’m pretty dismissive of dill, so who am I to talk? Still, after two days of watching various family members effectively frown on fresh ingredients and cooking methodology by opening cans of green beans and condensed cream of mushroom soup and cranberry “sauce,” I’d had it.


I’d had it watching my in-laws’ Viking-ed, Bosch-ed , granite-decked kitchen wasted on merely heating things up. I’d had it of being laughed at – not to the point of ridicule, of being derided, but there were uncomprehending snickers all the same – for impetuously crafting homemade twisty breadsticks just because I’m trying to learn to make better bread; for baking my kid’s birthday cake from scratch on the same day I had to make three dishes for the holiday meal; for making my own salad dressing and – heaven forbid – carefully rinsing and ripping up heads of lettuce instead of buying pre-chopped greens (nothing against pre-chopped; the store just didn’t have the variety I wanted for my salad of oranges , avocado, walnuts, chèvre, and maple-balsamic vinaigrette).

Maybe it’s because I’m the youngest and was the last to marry into the family, or that I’m possessed of a peculiar shyness when it comes to manifesting my culinary tendencies, or maybe it’s because I’ve only been really cooking for less than a decade. Most likely I’m suffering from a combo. But despite the regular raves and recipe requests the dishes made at my hand draw, I still feel like I’m regarded as a baby in the kitchen. And I guess I am, in a lot of respects (who can compete with the grandmas of any family? Not I). Even so, it’s a difficult position to be in, having grown up as the oldest, the sage.


One year – sandwiched somewhere in the years I was refusing to learn to cook – my mother-in-law recommended I bring her signature Jell-O salad to a family function. Everyone else was bringing something, and she thought the Jell-O would be an appropriate assignment for me – a way to contribute that wasn’t overwhelming or (to most minds) actually integral to the meal.

That first time I screwed it up, believe it or not. The Jell-O didn’t set right and flowed around everybody’s honey-baked ham slices (or was it brisket?) to be soaked up by their white, squishy rolls. But for years I remained the designated Jell-O maker, and I was none too pleased. Especially when I started cooking real food, dishes with nutritional and aesthetic value. I wanted to share my newfound hobby with the family, but as my mother-in-law hadn’t noticed I could do anything but dissolve gelatin-laced sugar in boiling water and stir in some frozen berries, the Jell-O remained my familial duty.

Finally one year, my sister-in-law (the basil hater), spoke up for me. She actually suggested to our mother-in-law that I might like to make something else, that I shouldn’t be relegated to preparing the wobbly jewel-toned mass for all my married years. I guess I owe her. Which means I’d best not judge her ongoing relationship-of-convenience with prepared and processed foods.

Dish out what you want to get back, right?




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