"You're always too heavy-handed!" my own mother says, piling on.
"Let me show you," my daughter Sofia says, sighing and shoving me aside.
PHOTOS: Cooking lessons in Italy
I am in the middle of a cooking lesson in our rented Umbrian villa, and "Mamma," or Caterina Felici, is trying to save my forsaken kitchen soul. We are making pasta. Apparently, one must not pound on pasta dough because that makes it chewy.
Mamma, tiny, with a creased face and shining eyes, looks every part the Italian mother. She smiles at me encouragingly, the way you smile at a child who writes her letters backward.
Some months ago, my daughters Indigo, 13, and Sofia, 11, who are passionate cooks, suggested we spend a vacation in a place where we could take cooking classes. "I might even grow if you learn to cook better," said Sofia, the short one.
"The classes sound perfectly horrible, but I might consider Italy," I replied. And then I put it out of my mind.
Two weeks later, Sofia sat down in my office with a stack of printouts. "I've researched, and Parker Villas has great rentals, and they also have cooking classes. And guess what? Mopsie (my mother) and Grandma (my mother-in-law) want to come!"
So it was that last summer, I spent three weeks in Italy, at three villas, in three cooking classes, with three generations of women. It was arranged by Parker Villas, the rental company my prepubescent had found.
When I first called Mario Scalzi, the Italian American owner of Boston-based Parker, he laughed at my plight. I explained that my daughters and their grandmothers were excellent cooks. I was the skipped generation, the lost generation.
"We don't want hordes of tourists," I told him. "We want countryside and little towns."
"How about Tuscany, Umbria and coastal Liguria?"
Mario did us proud. Our first villa was near Montefalco in central Umbria. Miles of sunflowers were in full-faced bloom, and despite the fact that it was July, the nearby towns were calm..
Villa Spago was a six-bedroom stone house surrounded by olive groves and buttery sunlight, and it had a pool. The walls were thick, the light inside filtered to create the effect of a Renaissance painting.
Mamma arrived for our first lesson laden with fresh vegetables, flour, meat, olive oil, garlic and wine. She had bought the vegetables at the morning market, grown the garlic, a friend had made the wine and Carlo had pressed the olive oil. Mamma spoke not a lick of English, so Carlo translated.
"Today, we teach you how to make pasta pomodoro, stuffed peppers, breadcrumb zucchini, mushroom caps, faro salad, turkey and pork over the fire, and for dessert, Pavesini cookies with mascarpone."
"Is that a normal Umbrian lunch?"
"Of course," Carlo said, surprised that I was surprised. "This is how Mamma feeds our family every day." My children stared at me. I avoided eye contact.