Ah, the holidays. It’s a time like none other to come together with relatives and chosen friend families alike. We risk our cozy comfort zones for the promise of the magic we find in connecting with others. There is so much hope (and quite a lot of pressure, too). There is the gift-giving, the long travel days, the money issues, the inevitable tensions and, of course, the self-medication (food, alcohol, shopping, TV-watching, Xanax, you name it). Congratulations, you have survived!
Through all of the stress that surrounds holidays, perfect moments peek out. So many times I’ve wished I had a camera in my hand to capture these moments: my niece growing from a toddler into a Justin Beber-obsessed girl, for instance, or my mom recounting stories of my family’s history. In 2004 I spent the last Christmas with my grandmother and happened to record one such moment. We made our traditional raviolis for Christmas Eve dinner. In the video, my grandmother explains how to make the pasta and (with some prying) the filling—as well as how not to dry out the “noodle dough.”
As the oldest of two in a first-generation Italian family in New York City, my Grandma Clea thrived, survived her many bumps in life’s road, and still managed to answer the phone with a cheery, “Good afternoon!” As a career seamstress and master chef she took homemaking to a professional level. After she moved to Florida, I visited her in the summer months and we spent time mapping out road trips, exploring new places, and visiting friends and family. If I was lucky, we would stop and get Reese’s peanut butter cup sundaes at Friendly’s. We packed lunches with plums and nectarines wrapped in paper towels. We made homemade ice cream with rock salt. And the special treat for breakfast was always French toast.
Multiple sclerosis slowly claimed her active life. I was so blessed to be with her the day she passed in the 84th year of her life. I miss the times when I would call her to ask how to make a meatloaf or other times just to hear about how she was feeling. My grandma Clea is my greatest culinary inspiration and her raviolis are perfection stuffed into a pocket of pasta, memories of which will always fill me.
My grandma Clea would always bring people together with her food and it’s her spirit of culinary adventure and culinary love that continues to inspire me on my path.