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Cooking Through Grief: Honoring Memories in the Kitchen

Updated: Jun 30

Grief is a journey we all have to walk at some point in our lives. It's a journey that can be overwhelming, consuming, and at times, feel insurmountable. For me, the recent passing of my beloved Yiayia (grandmother) has plunged me into this whirlwind of emotions. Yiayia was not just a grandmother; she was my person, my confidante, my best friend, and also my culinary inspiration. Her kitchen was a sanctuary, a place where she poured her love and soul into every dish she made. Now, as I navigate through the depths of grief, I find solace and healing in following her footsteps, channeling her spirit through the art of cooking.

My grandmother in her late 30s cooking in her Brooklyn kitchen in 1969

My Journey with Yiayia

Yiayia's kitchen was a priceless endless treasure trove of flavors and aromas, a haven where she effortlessly cooked up delicious home cooked Greek dishes. From pastitsio to spanakopita, each dish was a testament to her gift of cooking and unwavering love for her family. As a child, I would stand by her side, mesmerized by her grace and skill in the kitchen. Cooking wasn't just some mundane task for Yiayia to do; it was her love language, her way of nurturing and caring for her loved ones.

As I grew older, Yiayia served not just as my grandmother but also my mentor in the kitchen. She taught me the secrets of Greek cuisine (like the importance of grating onions!), instilling in me a passion for cooking that would shape my identity in profound ways and defining my life's work. Together, we would prepare meals, share stories, and create memories that I'll have with me for the rest of my life. Cooking became more than just a means to an end; it became a sacred bond that connected us on a deeper level. For that, I'll be forever grateful.

My Greek grandmother and I cooking the kitchen together, laughing, as she leans her head on my shoulder

Tapping into the Practice of Cooking

Since Yiayia left this earth, the kitchen has become my refuge, a place where I feel closest to her soul. Cooking is becoming my therapy, a form of meditation that allows me to channel my grief into something beautiful and tangible. Each time I step into the kitchen, I can feel Yiayia's presence, guiding my hands and whispering her wisdom into my ear.

One of the most profound lessons Yiayia taught me was the importance of cooking with love. For those who have joined my cooking experiences, you know we have talked about this a bunch. Yiayia believed that the secret ingredient in any dish was the love and care you put into it. And so, as I chop, sauté, and simmer, I do so with a heavy heart but also with a profound sense of love and gratitude for the time I had with Yiayia.

Cooking through grief isn't just about nourishing the body; it's about nourishing the soul. It's about honoring the memories of the people we've loved through the act of creation, turning deep sadness into something beautiful, reminding us how valuable life really is. In the kitchen, I find moments of peace and clarity while I journey through this grief. Now, with each dish I create, it is a tribute to Yiayia's incredible life, a celebration of her time here on earth and the unconditional love she blessed me with.

Finding Comfort in Familiar Flavors

One of the most comforting aspects of cooking through grief is how familiar the flavors are. I'm transported back to the pleasantly simple times in her cozy kitchen, surrounded by the comforting aroma of Yiayia's cooking. Whether it's the scent of garlic and oregano or the warmth of a fresh bowl of soup, each flavor brings me back to memories of moments shared with Yiayia, filling me with a sense of nostalgia and comfort. It goes to show me that she is still here and alive, just in a different form.

In times of grief, it's easy to feel disconnected from the world around us. But in the kitchen, I find connection with my Yiayia and with generations that came before her, ancestors I have never met but am able to through her. I have found that cooking her recipes is not just a way to honor her memory but also a way to keep her spirit alive, passing down her wisdom and traditions to future generations.

Embracing Imperfection

In the kitchen, as in life, not everything goes according to plan. There is burnt phyllo dough, lumpy bechamel sauce, and failed attempts at recreating Yiayia's signature dishes. But in those moments of imperfection, I find solace in the knowledge that Yiayia would have laughed, shrugged it off, and embraced the "mistakes" with open arms. Every moment was a learning opportunity for her. She once told me that we must always be students in this life because at no point do we know everything.

Cooking through grief has taught me to embrace imperfection, to find beauty in the messiness of life. It reminds me that perfection isn't the goal; it's the love and intention behind what we are doing that truly matters. When I fumble in the kitchen, I'm reminded of Yiayia's resilience and grace, and her ability to find peace even when life is incredibly difficult. To this day, I don't know how she survived WWII, having experienced famine and losing her family. Yet, she made it to the other side not having hardened, but remained softened and strong simultaneously.

My Greek grandmother making spinach pie, also known as spanakopita

Moving Forward with Purpose

As I continue on this journey of cooking through grief, I am filled with a sense of purpose and determination. Yiayia may no longer be physically with me, but her spirit lives on in every dish I create. Cooking has become my way of keeping her memory alive, of preserving the traditions and values that meant the world to her.

In the kitchen, I find healing and hope with the depths of pain and loss. Each meal I prepare is a dedication to the love and legacy of my Yiayia, a reminder that her spirit will always be with me, guiding me through life's ups and downs. And so, I cook on, honoring her memory with every chop, stir, and sprinkle of seasoning.

Cooking for a Cause

As a tribute to Yiayia and her love for cooking, I am hosting a special cooking class titled "Cooking for a Cause: Wild Dandelion Soup & Ravani." Inspired by Yiayia's favorite foraged dandelion greens and the delicious Ravani that filled my childhood with joy, this class will celebrate her culinary legacy while supporting two meaningful causes. All proceeds from the class will be donated to Chilis on Wheels and Saint Basil's Academy.

Join me on Saturday, April 20th 2024, at 3PM EST, as we gather virtually to cook and honor Yiayia's memory. Together, we'll learn how to create these beloved dishes, sharing stories and memories along the way. Let's cook with love, just like Yiayia taught us, and make a difference in the lives of others. Register now and let's cook for a cause in honor of Yiayia.


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