What do you get when you mix a pinch of memory, a dash of grief, a dollop of deliciousness and a heaping spoonful of love? A Blending of Bittersweet Memories, a cookbook dedicated to those who have lost a loved one. A compilation of story/recipes collected from food-lovers across the world, A Blending of Bittersweet Memories whisks mouthwatering dishes with heartwarming memories of those who have passed. The book recognizes the intricate infusion of food and memories while offering a collection of dishes that range from easy to difficult, each garnished with a poignant, relatable, first-person memory.
I interviewed Renee Israel Foundation Non-Profit Founder & New Book Author, Emily Israel Hoffman (www.bittersweet-memories.com), who’s uses her creativity in the kitchen to stay connected to her late mother, to her family, and to move through journey of her own personal grief.
Lisa: Emily, I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. As a woman who has lost her mother (and father), I understand it’s difficult to not have your mother in your life. This may be a broad question, but how have you changed since the passing of your mom?
Emily: Since the passing of my mother, I have had to learn to how to function as an adult in this world. When my mom passed, I was just out of college and had still lived at home. I didn’t want to be a woman, I wanted to stay a kid that could hang out with my mom all of the time. It was a rude awakening. That being said, I think my mother did a great job in preparing me for this stage of my life. I am now able to be a very well functioning adult, wife and soon to be mother.
Lisa: I understand that your mom was passionate about cooking – even writing cookbooks like “Whip Me, Beat Me, Eat Me”. How did your mother inspire you while she was here? Was she creative in other places besides the kitchen?
Emily: My mom and I spent a majority of our time together in the kitchen. Not only did we love to cook but we loved to eat. I think when you genuinely love food, you want to cook it and try new things. We would prepare food together, set the table together and eat together. Cooking was both of our passions and where we were most creative.
Lisa: When she passed, did that inspiration change or shift? If so, how?
Emily: My mom inspired me to cook and show my love for others through food. When she passed, I cooked nonstop for the first month, pretending that she was still there with me. Then, I lost my passion for it and went into a depression. I hated it! Cooking became a constant reminder that she wasn’t here with me anymore. About a year and a half after her passing, I began to cook again and redeveloped my love for it. Cooking makes me feel connected to her all over again.
Lisa: Okay, I have a 3-in-1 question, here: Why is cooking and working with food healing for you? How has the creative process of cooking helped move through your grief? And why do you think that cooking can be healing for others?
Emily: I feel that when you do something that you can show your creativity and see a final product, you feel good about yourself. When I make a meal for my family, I love seeing all of my hard work turn into a delicious dinner that they can all enjoy. Also, when I cook, I am not thinking about anything else but the food. The process takes me out of my daily life and schedule and puts all of my focus into the project. It’s very healing and calming to me. Whatever your passion, find something to take your mind off of the grief and do something that interested you. I promise, even if it’s for a brief moment, you will feel good about what you are doing and maybe even put your grief to the side for a bit.
Lisa: I understand you have a new recipe book coming out, Bittersweet Memories, can you tell me what made you decide to take the next step and write that book?
Emily: I had a very difficult time with the grieving process. Not only did I not know how to move on with my life, I did not want to move on with my life. I was stuck. I so badly wanted to go back to the good old days when my mom was alive. When I finally felt better and began the healing process, I decided to work on a book to help others and let them know that they weren’t alone. A Blending of Bittersweet Memories is a self help cookbook to help others realize that they aren’t alone. It also gives some tips on how to deal with the grieving process.
Lisa: Why is eating with other people so important to you?
Emily: So many things about food, cooking and eating are so important to me. I love how food nurtures your body. I think cooking nurtures your soul. And eating? Eating with others is the process of communicating, connecting and enjoying the fruit of life. I believe that the most important lessons happen around the dinner table, at least they have in my life.
Lisa: What’s your favorite dish to make for others? For yourself? And why?
Emily: I love trying new dishes all of the time. But, if I were to make a favorite dish, it would one from my childhood that my mom made frequently. When I hear the sound of the noodles in sauce, see the packaging of her favorite ingredients, smell the aroma in the house, touch dish she always served the food in, and finally taste it, all of my favorite memories come rushing back. I don’t think I can say that I have one favorite but a few… being lasagna, spaghetti, and taffy apple salad.
Lisa: What would your advice be to someone who has issues and struggles around food – either over eating or under-eating, in regards to dealing with their grief and involving food (or not involving food)?
Emily: People handle their emotions differently. Some people like to eat their emotions and some people can’t look at food when they are emotional. I would suggest taking pride in your food. Preparing a recipe will make you enjoy the food more than just binging on something. On the other hand, you may be more willing to taste the food if you prepared it.
Lisa: What did you do for thanksgiving with your family? What made it different this year?
Emily: We went to my in-laws for thanksgiving. It’s so nice because my mother in law hosts my whole family. Thanksgiving was my mom’s favorite holiday. While we used to always have it at home and my mother would host, our holidays are still about the same things, just at a different location. It is still about family, what we are thankful for, and of course food!
Lisa: What other ways do you use creativity with the healing process?
Emily: I decided to work on the book as another way of showing my creativity and dealing with healing. Going through the process and having to express my emotions was very healing to me. I got to package everything that loved together. I began a new project that dealt with food, grief and expressing myself in hopes to help others. Another way that I use creativity is with our family foundation. We created a foundation in memory of my mother to raise money and awareness about breast cancer. I have chaired events and have had to come up with ways to get our mission across to others as well as raising money for breast cancer research. The foundation is called The Renee Israel Foundation and all money raised goes directly to the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Over the past 6 years, the foundation has donated over $500,000 to this cause.
Lisa: If you could take 1 moment with your mom and put it in a bottle you could re-live daily if you could, which memory would it be?
Emily: This is a fabulous question, yet so hard to come up with one. I don’t think it would be a big day, like a birthday, wedding or celebration. Instead, it would be just me and her laying on her bed and talking. If we weren’t in the kitchen, we were in her bed. I wish I could do this every day! She would scratch my back and be so motherly. We would talk about anything and everything!
Lisa: What advice do you have for someone who’s just lost their mom?
Emily: Give yourself time to heal. Six years later and I am just starting to feel like myself again. Grieving a loved one is something that you can’t prepare for. You don’t know how you are going to react. Some people don’t take time to grieve and just try and put it in a dark place. I would recommend finding something that reminds you of your loved one, but also something that you can put your own twist on. Also, communicating with others about your emotions is so important. Whether it be a sibling, friend, parent, animal, or journal, it is essential to your well being to let your thoughts and feelings out.
You can pick up your copy of Emily’s book, A Blending of Bittersweet Memories, here.
All donations can be sent to:
The Renee Israel Foundation
3100 W. Dundee Road, Suite 308
Northbrook, IL 60062