When I was little, I watched my grandmother cook. It was one of my favorite things to
do with her. Her kitchen was always a place of comfort, love, and wonderful tastes and smells.
She almost never sat down while we got together, except maybe to eat for a brief few minutes.
I wanted to learn every recipe she made and be as good of a cook as her when I was older. Now
that she’s gone, and her wildly funny and loving self is missing from my life, I try to keep her
memory alive by letting my children watch and learn just as she had done with me.
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I grew up in a very close Italian family. We got together all the time. Looking back at
those loud and wonderful dinners, I feel great happiness, but also sadness. As with life, people
move away, or everyone’s daily lives just get too busy. Now those dinners around the table with
my closest family and friends are a rarity. That’s why I put so much time and care into the small
dinners at home with my husband and kids. It will be these nights that I hope my children will
look back on as well.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I started to cook with wild game. My
husband is an avid hunter and brings home several deer a year for our freezer. I knew I needed
to learn how to cook venison without destroying it. I may have failed at that a couple of times,
but now I love cooking it. I never imagined that my favorite dishes would come from venison.
My personal favorite is Birria. A warm stew of pureed chiles, onion, apple, and cinnamon. It is
amazing over a of a bowl of rice, with cilantro and radishes on top, or even as a filling for taco
night, with lots and lots of crumbled cotija cheese and corn.
Last Thanksgiving, my family and I had to cancel our plans to go to my aunt’s house for
dinner because we were exposed to covid. We were sad that we couldn’t see our family, but we
made the most of it together. We cooked all day. Instead of frying a turkey like we normally do,
we got turkey tenderloins and smoked them on the grill, along with cranberry stuffing stuffed
venison backstrap. It was my favorite thanksgiving meal to date.
My Grandmother was the light in any room, and I think of her all the time. Having a
family of my own has made me realize why she put so much love and work into her cooking and
family. I still make her famous rice balls every Christmas eve. It wouldn’t be the same if they
weren’t on the table. I hope one day that my grandchildren will stand next to me like I did with
my grandma staring in wonder while I cook up a warm meal, one that came from the wild and
wonderful woods that I’ve grown to love and call home. I hope they’ll pass down these
traditions to their children as well.