Lessons I Learned From Watching My Mother Cook

My mother loves to cook. And she’s great at it. She spent some years living in Italy and in neighboring countries during a scholarship when I was a toddler. So she picked up more than a few “authentic” recipes while she was there, and naturally the star of her repertoire is pasta. Everyone who came into our house and tasted her pesto rigatoni raved about it (this was in the ’80s when condensed milk-laced spaghetti sauce was de rigueur where we lived).

Moreover, as a history and tourism university professor (a strict one, her students say), one part of her job was to assign “stars” to hotel restaurants. She would be invited to the establishment, served the dishes on the menu, and she’ll take down notes on the food, service, and so on and then make her judgement and file her report as an industry authority.

So yes, her knowledge of food and cooking is really impressive. But if you ask me and my siblings, we’d rather pay for catering and miss out on mom’s fantastic pasta — instead of seeing her slaving away yet again in front of the stove.

Mom’s love for cooking is actually the recurring cause of the obligatory family drama during special occasions that we choose to celebrate at home. She would insist on preparing the dishes by herself. My siblings and I try to help as much as we can. But because she’s the expert, she still ends up doing the biggest chunk of work. And she’ll be so tired even before the party begins. So tempers will start to flare. The celebration will begin a couple of hours later than planned. The table will be set in a hurry, to the dismay yet again of the sole Instagram user in the family.

Aside from pre-party jitters, the other thing that I dread the most whenever we hold home-based celebrations is the ending. All parties, whether big or small, end up with tables to clear, loads of plates, glasses and utensils to wash, trash to take away. This wouldn’t be a problem if we had hired catering professionals to do the job. Attending to all those chores after you’ve eaten so much and when you’re already sleepy from the wine is such a drag, but there is no other choice but do it anyway.

At least I do it anyway, because everyone would be too sleepy or already sleeping by then, including the househelp. Honestly though, it’s a task I detest and love at the same time. I do it to listen to the sound of sleep while I straighten things out, to be absolutely busy and in a hurry but at the same time have a moment to look back at the day that has just gone by, and finally to sneak just one taste of that heavenly pasta my mom made.