When Carolyn Aloisi Magro was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2005, her daughter, Barbara Magro, noticed that one of the first things she was forgetting was how to cook. Her mother had always been in charge of family meals, and now her recipes were in danger of being lost. So Magro decided to capture her mother's recipes while she could still remember them, working with other family members to record them. And now she's turned the collection into a book, Recipes to Remember: My Epicurean Journey to Preserve my Mother's Italian Cooking from Memory Loss.
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Magro, a native of New York who graduated from University of Colorado at Boulder, didn't want to be a typical Italian wife, she says, cooking all day for her family. So she traveled the world for 25 years, writing for food and travel magazines. "When you read the first part of the book, my epicurean journey," she explains, "I didn't mean to write it that way -- but there's certainly this undertone of how I am a rebel."
When Magro learned of her mother's diagnosis, she reflected on how thankful she was for her family's traditions. "Even though I did travel and lived away, every year I came home for Christmas and I had the same dinner," she says. "It makes it feel like you're really connected to something, not just a total gypsy. I always had the roots to come back to."
So Magro decided to write down the recipes that were the basis of those family traditions. "[My mother] always basically was at the helm of kitchen duties for us for many, many, many years," she recalls. "And to really see her start to decline in that area, it kind of hit me, like 'Wow, you know what? I don't know how to make a lot of what she's cooking.' If the recipes really don't get written down, they could be lost forever. It occurred to me to just start writing them down and make a book about it."
That book consists of three parts. In the first section, Magro tells her personal story of growing up in a traditional Italian family, traveling the world and then deciding to preserve her mother's recipes. The second section contains 100 recipes, for everything from appetizers to pastas to a seven-course holiday meal. "They're basic Italian recipes. Even though they're delicious, there's nothing fancy about this cookbook. It's just good old homemade Italian cooking," Magro says. The third section contains information on Alzheimer's and how it affects millions of families.
For Magro, food triggers memories of good times. "Typically, food is synonymous with holidays, celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries, spontaneous get-togethers with friends and good times and love," she says. "It connects you. In every culture it's a celebration that comes from a place of happiness and joy; that's what the whole food thing is about." That's why she felt it was important to write this book: not just to preserve the recipes, but the memories that came with them.
Magro, who participates in the Walk to End Alzheimer's each year, says she could write another book with all the stories she hears from people who are taking care of a family member with Alzheimer's, who tell her that they can relate to the experiences in her book. But she also wants those who haven't been affected by Alzheimer's to learn about the illness. "The whole section on the facts of Alzheimer's in our country just creates awareness for people who are going through their daily life and don't really know that this whole epidemic is going on around them," Magro says. "We all need to really find a way to heal this disease."
Aside from raising awareness, Magro is also helping the cause by donating a portion of the proceeds from sales of her book to the South Florida Alzheimer's Association. "If we don't stop the disease progressing as it is, by 2025 one in seven people will have it," she explains. "That's pretty freaking scary, I think."
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Recipes to Remember can be purchased through Magro's website, where it's also available as an e-book for $3.99. It's available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble and the Tattered Cover stores as well.