How One Woman Remembers The Past By Cooking In The Present

030717_customer-spotlight-fb-Dana-Riley (1)

Dana’s challenge to the whole Blue Apron community (that’s you!) is to take a recipe you love and add your own family twist to it. What recipe have you done this with? What was the special family tradition or twist you added to it? Dana’s story is the third installment in our series of customer spotlights! Submit yours here

Q: Tell us a bit about your family’s history with cooking.

Dana: Well, my grandmother always cooked. I remember her telling me a story – when my mom was dating my father in high school, she invited him over for dinner. My grandparents hadn’t paid the electric bill that month and just with my mom’s luck the power was turned off the day my dad was supposed to come over! Not to worry though, my grandmother had such style! She helped my mom make sure the food would still be good even in the dark, and they just lit candles and made do! Funny enough, my dad never knew the power went out until many years later.

Q: Did your mom inherit that same love of cooking? 

Dana: Absolutely, and my mom always included me and my siblings in the kitchen growing up. She was a really smart woman and would delegate tasks to us. By the time we were in middle school, we were planning our own meals, shopping for ingredients at the grocery store, cooking the meals and finally doing the dishes – all that at least three days a week!

Q: How have you passed on your mom’s love of cooking to others?

Dana: Well, I lost my mom in 2015, and I always felt closest to her when I was cooking. Now that I’m a teacher, there are so many young people that I come across in my work and they just don’t cook! When I ask them why not, they’re just so intimidated – even when I told them about Blue Apron. So I thought, I should just have my friends come over and we’ll cook a meal together, then they’ll see it’s not so hard after all. As I always say, if you can read, you can cook!

Q: Who’s your most frequent dinner guest?

Dana: The most is my dad because he’s not getting my mom’s cooking anymore. When my new kitchen was finished being renovated, I had him come over for the first meal. I was making my mom’s famous spaghetti sauce – it’s one of those great, hearty, cook-for-four-hours kind of sauces, and the hidden ingredient is a dash of cinnamon because it helps to neutralize the tomatoes a little bit (who knew!). When my dad walked into the kitchen, his eyes just welled up with tears and he said “oh my gosh! It smells like your mother in here.”

Now, he comes over at least a couple times a week, and his task is to open the bottle of wine. It’s no longer just coming over to eat a meal, but to enjoy an evening. I love that he stays, and that’s what dinners with dad still are. For me, promoting family time and traditions is so important. It might seem old-fashioned, but I just don’t think the family spends enough time together nowadays, and everybody’s always gotta eat!

Q: Is there a particular family tradition you’ve carried on in the kitchen?

Dana: I love to write notes in my cookbooks and also on my Blue Apron recipe cards that I keep in large binders. My mom used to always write notes in her cookbooks, so I’ve enjoyed continuing that tradition! For example, on the Ginger-Glazed Salmon recipe, I wrote “excellent!” For others, I’ve added notes like “use less salt” or “made enough for three!”

I remember one note in particular. It was Thanksgiving, a time when for the last 50 years the whole family from Florida to Nashville to Upper Michigan gather at my parents’ house. I found a note in my cookbook on my mom’s stuffing recipe where I had written “Thanksgiving 1992, first Thanksgiving away from home.” That was the year my son was born and I was too pregnant to travel. These notes are more than just recipe tips, they’re family memories!

Q: What’s one tip or challenge you want to share with the Blue Apron community?

Dana: I’d tell them to trust the recipe, and always make notes! But here’s the real challenge: take a recipe and try and improve it or add some of your family’s culture into it. To be able to step away from a recipe card and not feel like you have to follow it so strictly – that’s a good challenge. And if it fails, you can always call for pizza!

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