Step 1: Call your mother and ask for her pasta-sauce recipe.
Set aside five to forty-five minutes for this step, as she will most likely complain to you about the weather, your father, and someone who wronged her in Italy back in 1961 before getting to the recipe. When you say, “I have to go, can you please just give me the recipe?” she will respond, “See, you never have time for me,” and then spend another hour reminding you that she’s a good mother.
Step 2: Collect the ingredients.
One 28-ounce can of whole San Marzano tomatoes that your mom slipped
into your luggage the last time you visited
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil from a large oil tin that your mom
sneaked into your luggage the last time you visited
7 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered, that your mom slipped into your
luggage the last time you visited
1 large fresh basil sprig from the basil plant your mom slipped into
your luggage the last time you visited (unpacking all of your clothes
to wash them, again)
1 teaspoon salt
1 lifetime of guilt and shame
Step 3: Heat oil in a large skillet over low heat; add garlic and sauté until tender, like the patch of upper-lip hair that you’ve had lasered off multiple times but that keeps growing back because you can’t erase your heritage.
Step 4: Stir in tomatoes, basil, and salt. Crush tomatoes with a spoon, like your mom crushed your teen-age dreams of having friends sit on a sofa without plastic. Simmer, stirring occasionally. Allow the sauce to cook down for fifteen to twenty minutes, using this time to maniacally clean your kitchen just like your mother maniacally cleaned the kitchen while the rest of the family actually enjoyed Christmas dinner. Reconnect to the trauma of calling out, “Mommy, please sit down and eat!” and her responding, “What, do you think the dishwasher is just going to clean itself?”
When you’re done wiping the counter, be sure to repeatedly let your partner/children/roommates/dog/houseplants know that you not only cooked but also cleaned today, until they praise your martyrdom. Tuck that washrag into your housecoat pocket, as you’ll surely need it again soon.
Step 5: Pour the sauce over the pasta that your mother slipped into your luggage the last time you visited. Before serving, take a photo and text it to your mother along with the pasta emoji, Italian-flag emoji, and heart-eyes emoji. Anxiously await her approval.
Step 6: Answer your mother’s phone call asking you how to open a photo text—again. Please allow extra time for this step, as your mother will most likely stop listening to your directions and start talking shit about her cousin with the ugly husband who had the nerve to only give your niece a hundred dollars for her First Communion when your mother gave her daughter a hundred and fifty dollars.
Step 7: After your mother finally opens the photo, allow her to criticize the dish. (Examples include: “the pasta looks overcooked,” “the pasta doesn’t look cooked enough,” “that’s too much pasta, you’re going to get fat,” “that’s not enough pasta, you’re going to get too skinny,” and, “you didn’t clean the counter well enough.”) Following her extended critique, she will deliver a single compliment about your cooking that she will somehow turn into a compliment about her cooking.
Step 8: Take a bite of your pasta, which is now cold because you spent so much time on the phone with your mother and then with your sibling talking about your mother.
Step 9: Order Thai food. ♦