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Jan 19, 2010 11:07 AM

Help with the in-laws

I wouldn't have guessed it based on how my husband eats, but I have married into a boring food family (their "caterer" of choice is Sam's club). I try bringing foods that I enjoy but that I don't think are too crazy (to their lasagna and and meatball Christmas dinner I brought petite toasts with hunks of good parmesan drizzled with honey), but typically my husband and one other couple are the only people who eat them. When people do eat it they then go on and on about how "gourment" it is (in a way that makes me uncomfortable). Should I give up and stop bringing anything?

I guess the bigger question is "how do you blend the appetites of two very different families?"

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  1. I am just going out on a limb, but what about simple things? Like simple casseroles, or your own meatballs (I would not suggest this at their meatball dinner, just in general). Something that looks recognizable and palatable. You can still make it good without being 'gourmet'. My family has very simple tastes owing from generations of poverty, and if I were to show up with cheese and honey, they would go "Bzuh??" Even though you and I know it tastes great together, it just comes across as foreign.

    1 Reply
    1. re: GirlyQ

      I think the recognizability is the key. You can make stuff they're familiar with, but with higher quality ingredients, a better presentation, and maybe one or two slight flavor variations. The main thing is to not get their food defenses up. That way, they'll try it and maybe realize they like it.

    2. My ex's family sounds a lot like your in-laws. Christmas and Easter dinner was comprised of manicotti, stuffed mushrooms, antipasto platter, meatballs, brasciole, etc. My ex once brought over a box of Indian sweets to his family's Thanksgiving dinner. He said that everybody glared at the neon-colored desserts and everybody (with the exception of one cousin) refused to try them.

      I love good Parmesan and honey but I also love lasagna and meatballs. Just because something isn't "gourmet" doesn't mean it's not good. I haven't found too many folks who don't like roast chicken. Maybe something like burrata cheese will also go over well with an Italian-American meal. When I went to these dinners, I usually ended up bringing in things like breads and pizzas from a good bakery (like Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC) or baking things like pumpkin cheesecake with praline sauce to a Thanksgiving dinner.

      1. Personally, I think that what you brought was "simple" and recognizable (according to other posters) It wasn't as if you brought something that they couldn't figure out what it was...keep in mind that some people just won't venture outside of their comfort zone, and think it's "gourmet" if it's something they are not used to. If it were me, I would keep on bringing something different, but only in small amounts and try to educate the diners on what it is I've brought.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Cherylptw

          Recognizable in this context doesn't mean you can tell what's in it - it means it looks something you would normally eat, what you're calling comfort zone. (A carrot with a hole drilled in it and a candy cane shoved through it is recognizable as what it is, but I doubt anyone would recognize it as food.)

          If FiF keeps bringing her gourmet items, she may find herself alienated from her in-laws, as suggested by the wording "they then go on and on about how "gourment" it is (in a way that makes me uncomfortable)". Is that really worth it ?

          1. re: dump123456789

            That very well may be but it would be pretty petty for them to alienate her based on her food preferences...And maybe they should consider that maybe she may feel slighted by their lack of respect for HER food choices. I'm not saying that they have to eat her food but unless they specifically ask her not to bring her contributions, they should at least respect that everyone has different tastes and what is gourmet to one does not mean gourmet to those who partake in it regularly.... It's obvious that the in laws are not open minded about food but how else are they to be exposed to other foods than what they are used to if someone does not present it?

            Like I said, perhaps she should enlighten them about the dish, how it was prepared & the ingredients and explain to them that "gourmet" food is really about food presented in a different way... Yes, I think it's worth it.

            1. re: Cherylptw

              They've already demonstrated their "pettiness" and their "lack of respect" with their comments, and made FiF uncomfortable in the process. And as PattiCakes mentions below, it could be an issue of heritage as much as simply food. At this point, trying to push it may be just picking a fight.

              And I don't think this line - "how else are they to be exposed to other foods than what they are used to if someone does not present it" - would fly too well with FiF's in-laws. There's an elitism in there that sounds like young whippersnappers talking down to their elders.

              And FYI, I'm all about trying new food, and not repeating dishes. And I'm a bit of a food elitist myself. But I don't presume to push it on anyone but my husband.

              1. re: dump123456789

                I respect what you've said, but I just don't agree with some of the other posters who feel that she should roll over & suck it up because she's the new comer to a family set in their ways. I'd settle the in law get together dinner issues by alternating meals..If I come to your house for one meal, you can come to my house for the next meal. ..therein, the OP could make what she wants and if the in laws feel they don't want to eat her "gourmet" food, they'd be leaving hungry. And when the OP goes to their house, she shouldn't take anything, just eat what they are serving.

                There is a thing called compromise & respect and it should go both ways...I'm all for showing respect to my elders and those who are kind enough to invite me to a function. But just because you do, don't mean you can disregard my feelings and it don't mean I should bow my head down and take anything you dish out. And there is something to be said about a husband who does not support his wife and back her up.

                1. re: Cherylptw

                  ...and humor! As much as we enjoy our CH-ish ways, it's not worth damaging family ties or putting a spouse in the middle. I can't change the way my MIL eats, prepares food or intreprets food culture but each and every time this issue has come up, when I approach my CH-ish ways with love & humor she tries something new. She rarely likes it, but she tries. If I force, demand, stand on ceremony and make a big DRAMA out of the very same set of circumstances the fun, joy and opportunity is lost. And who can enjoy great food over an upset stomache? Find the good. Convey love and humor. Trust me, it gets you alot farther.

                  1. re: Cherylptw

                    I think FiF says below that your plan to settle the issue with alternating meals is out of the question because she and her husband are the only ones who don't live in the area that everyone else in attendance does. (Although, FiF could invite the in-laws in smaller groups - a couple or a family - to her house, and introduce them to her wondrous culinary creations there.)

                    Agreed, compromise and respect should go both ways, in the ideal. This situation is not ideal, and FiF's in-laws aren't holding up their end. So, now what are you going to do ? No one is advocating FiF bow her head down, and take anything her in-laws dish out. (There were several suggestions to bring dressed-up versions of dishes the in-laws were familiar with.)We're saying, be the bigger person in this. Don't counter a lack of manners with a retaliatory lack of manners. Let it go, step back, and realize that some people are just immovable objects.

                    Here's an analogy that I think parallels the situation. When X has house parties, X likes to play dance and pop music. X has a friend, Y, who loves classical music and opera, and finds dance and pop music boring. Everytime X invites Y to a party, Y brings classical and opera music along. X never plays Y's music, although X plays dance and pop music that other people bring. Should Y be insulted ? Should Y insist that X play Y's music ? Is Y bowing down and taking it when X doesn't play Y's "inherently superior" music ?

                    1. re: Cherylptw

                      I agree with this idea of mutual respect, but then again there are some families that would think the daughter-in-law "rude" if she constantly showed up empty-handed. I think I would tend to err with the majority who say bring something familiar to the family but do it well. I think for me (and from the sounds of it I have similar in-laws), having to hear negative comments that made me uncomfortable would be enough to make me not want to go to the darn events anymore. If it were me, I would bring a loaf of bread or a plate of shortbread or whatever, and if they then find something else to be snide about, then I would know that commenting on the previous "gourmet" food was just a way to be unaccepting. Then I suppose I'd have to figure out how to proceed.

                2. re: dump123456789

                  "A carrot with a hole drilled in it and a candy cane shoved through it is recognizable as what it is, but I doubt anyone would recognize it as food."

                  I know what I'm bringing to my next potluck! Thanks for the chuckle--the image I have in my head is priceless.

              2. What about finding a way to bring them along your "food adventure?" Something completely new and out of left field might stymie them a bit. Would it help if you intro'd it along the lines of . . . gee I read of this food custom/combination/dish in (whatever region of) Italy where they drizzle pieces of parmesan with honey. (Talk up the good combo that salt and sweet is.) So I thought it would be fun to give it a go. Then you could put out the bread, parm and honey separately and let people try them, putting on as much honey as they wish. They can be tentative at first, take their time getting used to it and be a part of the discovery. I think the parm and honey was a great example of how you could do this. Not too complicated or "gourmet" if you describe as an age-old, even peasant, thing. Now - to find the next "parmesan and honey" combo and story. Who knows, your "gourmet" offerings might start making them feel special once they feel a part of it all.

                Maybe the next offering could be some kind of familiar fruit, cut up and offered w pieces of good ham, prosciutto . . . whatever . . . next time the apples could become melon, then figs . . .

                1. Hey, your husband might have developed his chow in defense or in rebellion! :-)

                  I know that the first time I encountered the cheese/honey was a "Is this person crazy?" moment.

                  I moved on.

                  I am lucky. I have developed my Chow. I feel good when I get a small movement in a non-chow who is taking baby steps. They did not have the chance to do it when they were young, My ex-MIL (nothing to do with the food) could not cook a fresh, non-processed food, She pretty much thought cooking equaled reheating.
                  That dude now eats sushi/thai/mexican,..etc.
                  I am sorry that you married intro a family that choose not to develop tastes past a VERY safe comfort zone. Be gentle.