This week brought a number of things… A first mother’s day for many close friends, a 10-year college reunion invitation, and a bittersweet anniversary – I lost my grandmother 10 years ago this week. My grandmother struggled towards the end of her life. She was weakened by several heart attacks and congestive heart failure. Mama fought to stay alive – she saw me get my first professional television production job in early 2002, and clung on just long enough to learn I graduated college. Once she learned that I received my degree, she started to slip away. Two days following graduation, she left this world.
I’m not one to think about anniversaries too often, especially sad ones like this. I choose to celebrate her life whenever I can and remember so many wonderful things we were able to share together. The smell of meatballs and gravy in her kitchen, exploring the pantry, and trying to figure out where those delicious smells originated from… Listening to my dad and uncle rave about her stuffed mushrooms, but being a stubborn and picky child and refusing to try one. But the smell… The scent of garlic, basil, and olive oil permeated throughout the house and took at least two days to disappear!
I never asked her how she made them. I never watched her make them. All I knew was that Mama’s stuffed mushrooms were a staple on my family’s holiday table – my dad and uncle would bicker for first dibs, my great-aunt wondered why hers never came out as good, and the rest of us hungry Italians patiently waited for the dish to be passed around the table. Except for me, of course, the former Ms. Picky Eater. But I could not let that tradition go after Mama died. It was too precious, and I wanted to carry it on in her memory. Before our first Thanksgiving without Mama, I called my great-aunt for the recipe.
Naturally, it was an ingredient list without measurements! How else would my Italian grandmother make something? I remember my great-aunt Lola saying, “Good luck with that! No one ever made them as good as Mama’s!”. Little by little, I tossed the stuffing ingredients into a bowl. A little bit of bread, a little olive oil, a bit of garlic, and a few other seasonings… Mix, taste, add more, repeat. This went on until the mixture smelled and tasted familiar. I spooned the mixture into the mushrooms, and baked them until my crappy basement apartment suddenly smelled like my grandmother’s kitchen. And my family loved them.
It’s 10 years later, and a lot has changed since then. Thankfully I’m no longer in that crappy basement apartment. But every holiday, my kitchen transforms into Mama’s – her stuffed mushroom recipe and family tradition lives on. I received the biggest complement last holiday season from my family – my uncle and mom said that my stuffed mushrooms were better than my grandmother’s. And then something she always said to me rang though my head, as it does in so many different situations: “My beauty-ful Alicia… You can do anything you want to do!”.
A post about Mama’s Stuffed Mushrooms will come either around Father’s Day, or during the holiday season!