Cooking up nostalgia

I grew up eating some variety of pasta for Christmas and Easter.

I’m embarrassed to admit I was in my early 20s before I learned hams and turkeys are more traditional meals. But they weren’t my tradition, and they don’t make my mouth water quite like stuffed pasta shells, lasagna, ravioli or gnocchi.

I still look forward to homemade sauce and noodles each year and the tradition of helping my mom prepare them when I got home for the holidays. We also have a tradition of binging on The Cooking Channel. One of our favorite shows is “My Grandmother’s Ravioli.” The premise of the show is simple: host Mo Rocca never learned how to make his grandmother’s ravioli, so he travels the country learning how to make signature dishes from other grandmas, such as Jamaican black cake, braised oxtail stew, Millie Martin’s macaroni and cheese and Rouladen.

I was reheating some leftover eggplant parmesan in the office kitchen when I ran to Pamela. She said something that I had to chew on for a while: family recipes aren’t fancy, and you might not see those dishes in a restaurant. But they’re fine dining and often taste better than a restaurant.

I’ve had ravioli at restaurants before. It’s good, but it never compares to my grandmother’s ravioli. The missing ingredient: the memories. My grandma’s cooking was very traditional. It was fresh, local, in-season food cooked slowly on the oven all day long. It was lovingly prepared. It was the highlight and pinnacle of the day, when families gathered around the table and talked about their day. It was a connection to my Italian heritage.

Combined, it leaves a delicious flavor that you want to savor. I’ve had similar experiences at family run and hole-in-the-wall kind of restaurants. There’s just something so authentic about those joints that’s difficult to describe and nearly impossible to replicate on a large scale.

Which is why I was so excited to learn Holiday Retirement released its first cookbook, “Home Cooking, From Our Family to Yours.”

The nation’s second-largest senior housing operator collected more than 400 recipes from its senior living communities across the country. The cookbook is available for purchase at Amazon and can be downloaded for free at

“In addition to our own chefs, Holiday residents offered up some amazing family crafted recipes they enjoy making when not indulging in the chef-prepared meals at Holiday,” said Jamison Gosselin, Holiday Retirement’s senior vice president of marketing and communications. “Some of the recipes were even passed down to them from their mothers and grandmothers. There are rich stories behind each one.”

I already know what I want to try cooking up next: resident Glenda Miller’s anniversary lemon pie, a dessert she made her husband once a month for 50 years. My mouth is already watering.

Topics: Activities , Articles , Nutrition , Resident Care