Back to My Roots–Nicole Daisa

Posted on January 31, 2013

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Talking to my mom about her youth as an East Coast Italian and how that influenced her cooking now really brought us closer. It was not simply about the food, but also the family traditions that she grew up with and has taught me. I learned a little bit more about her, which gave me insight into my own roots. The following are excerpts from our interview.

Me: I know that I have always been an unfussy eater, but I wanted to interview you to gain a better perspective on what it was like cooking for a family of four, all with different demands and opinions. I want to see where you first picked up your cooking chops and how your cooking has had to adapt as your life has changed. So my first question would be: what did I hate to eat when I was younger and did you cater to that? If yes, how so?

Mom: You were such a good eater, Colie. I can’t remember not having to making any one thing for you. Now your sister, that’s a different story. I know you weren’t big on asparagus. I just remember that asparagus wasn’t your favorite vegetable and I would always want to grill it on the barbeque but I knew you didn’t like it, so I didn’t make it.

Me: What was my favorite food when I was growing up?

Mom: You used to like pastina. Grandma used to make it with egg, but I made it with just butter and cheese.

Me: Is there a food that you associate with me?

Mom: Brussel sprouts. That was your favorite vegetable when you were younger—you loved when I sautéed them with olive oil and garlic until they were crispy.

Me: Who taught you to cook?

Mom: Part grandma and part on my own. I always used to watch my mom in the kitchen, but she was afraid to let me do things, so I mostly watched. Once I had a family of my own and started to host holiday dinners, that’s when I really learned how to cook.

Me: How is your cooking influenced by your family’s culinary traditions? The way you grew up?

Mom: It’s hard to say because the food I grew up with is not something we eat a lot of now. It’s so fattening. On the East Coast, we grew up on a lot of Italian food. But if I have to host something or bring something to someone, I always go back to my Italian roots. I usually make a pasta dish or lasagna.

Me: How did your cooking change from when you were single to after you got married? Did any dishes change? Did you cook different meals?

Mom: Yea. After I got married, the dishes were simpler and I had healthier cooking in mind. I stopped making heavy Italian meals on a regular basis.

Me: Was it hard to cook with/for children? What demands and pressures did we add for you in the kitchen?

Mom: Not necessarily, except your sister was very picky. At first we thought she was a vegetarian because she wouldn’t eat meat, but she also didn’t like anything green. She hated cooked vegetables. I mean, she used to chew one piece of meat for 20 minutes and then take it out of her mouth. So that was a little challenging.

Me: What is your absolute favorite food or meal?

Mom: I think my ultimate favorite is a dish of ravioli with a light sauce and a glass of red wine.

Me: What is your least favorite, full on “can’t stand it” food or meal?

Mom: I don’t like bell peppers. I don’t like anything deep fried and greasy, like Kentucky Fried Chicken type of stuff. No fast food.

Me: Have you ever had any embarrassing kitchen disasters?

Mom: I had a lot of flops, especially baking. I can remember once I was baking something and I realized that instead of sugar I had used salt by accident.

Me: What happened?

Mom: It tasted really bad.

And that, folks, is my mom. She is a loving Italian woman who grounds me and teaches me all the important things in life. She keeps me in touch with my roots but also gives me freedom to fly wherever I so choose. Oh, and she makes a mean lasagna.

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