Keeping Up with Frank

A Tribute to my Mother. And Food.

December 05, 2018

Several years ago, my siblings and I decided to design and print a recipe book to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday. But it wasn’t just any recipe book.

It contained exclusively her recipes: everything she had made for us when we were growing up. There were also family photos, personal tributes to her, and her own Italian stories – complete with the funny jokes she would deliver in butchered English. The stories were a combination of memories of special occasions, our individual reflections on growing up in an Italian household and, of course, our personal thoughts about the various dishes – including our favourites.

Eggplant parmigiana has always been my favourite and, over the years, I have perfected my own version of it. We threw a charity event a couple of years ago where the big draw was my mom’s eggplant parmigiana recipe. It’s that good. People paid big money for the recipe and we raised $250,000 for the BC Cancer Foundation.

My mother was an incredible cook and we all took great pleasure in showing off her talents to our friends. They would often make subtle hints, hoping to receive an invitation for a lasagna dinner, which I would then trade for various favours. Her lasagna was the best on the planet. It was made with 14 layers of paper-thin homemade pasta and was light as a soufflé. Parenthetically, she once made it for President Clinton and his staff when they were in Vancouver. Needless to say, it was a hit, and we loved having “mangia-cakes” (non-Italians) as our guests.

Growing up, our dinners were lively, loud, and the dishes were not only delicious, but plentiful. Who could blame my friends for wanting to be invited to our house for a meal? We lived in a small town that was not exactly affluent. I often ate at friends’ homes and the food didn’t have a lot of imagination. My parents had a massive garden and grew every vegetable they possibly could in our part of the world. My mother would spend every August and September canning and freezing vegetables, in addition to cooking three meals a day. In fact, my mother spent her entire life in the kitchen. We tried to convince her to try other things, but she loved the kitchen.

My mother was very secretive about her recipes. It was all in her head, there was nothing written down. When we asked too many questions, she would reply, ‘That’s my way’ (which became the title of our recipe book), pronounced that’s-a-ma-way. It meant, “This is the way I’ve always done it and I’m not changing it now, so just deal with it.” If you wanted to learn how to make something, you needed to watch very closely. It was like watching a game of three-card Monte to see which spice she had added that she hadn’t told you about. When it came to writing the book, the siblings and in-laws had to share their recollections of how the individual dishes were made. It was like trying to piece together evidence in a murder mystery.

When we gave the book to my mother 10 years ago, she was thrilled. I recently caught her reading through it, so she must like it. But it was also a gift for ourselves. We all have copies and the book is used frequently. Now and then, I read the stories that we included, which always evoke great memories.

My mother had a hard life and she worked tirelessly to raise her children. She has never been into material things, so giving her this book was probably the best “thank you” she could get.

I will never be able to thank her enough for what she gave us.

So, thank you, Mom.

From your loving son, Frank.