Judy Annis remembers traveling to her grandparent's house for Sunday dinner and watching her mom and grandma cook an Italian feast.
It was a little difficult at first to find out from her mom how to replicate the Italian dishes.
"She was the type of cook who would say you eyeball it. No recipes were ever written down in an Italian family. You put this and that together and voila! There it is," the Elgin mom said. "I picked her brain and wrote things down, so I would have it and pass it down to my girls."
One of those recipes she captured is cheese ravioli. Judy said her grandparents came from southern Italy, a poor area where there was not much meat available, so cheese ravioli was what they made. Because making ravioli was a time-consuming process, her family started a tradition of making it only on Christmas Day. Now, she and her sister, Sari Ferraro, get together and make more than 200 ravioli for the holiday meal.
"It's a back breaking job. You're on your feet and everything is done by hand," said Judy, who has passed the recipe to her daughters, Elizabeth Ward and Victoria Strickland, and stepdaughter, Rachel Kabance.
"Now they know the steps and when I'm no longer here they can carry it out and do the same," she said.
Judy may not remember tips her mother gave her when it came to cooking, but she learned the importance of spending time with family.
"Dinnertime is always with the family. There were no phone calls during dinner time and no watching TV," she said. "The food does not have to be perfect. It does not have to be gourmet. The important thing is sharing it."
Judy said she is proud to see that her girls, who feed their own families, are following her example.
"They are starting to show their own kids how to make things and sitting down with them to have dinner together and share their day," she said. "They are turning out to be pretty darn good cooks."
While Italian cuisine is close to her heart, Judy also has become inspired in the kitchen when traveling the world and sampling other cuisines.
Judy's passport has gotten much use visiting Thailand, India, China, Africa, Egypt, Ecuador, Bali, Singapore, Galápagos Islands, Ireland, England, Switzerland and Germany are among her list of stops.
"When you travel the world and able to taste so many cuisines and appreciate people from different backgrounds, it is quite a learning experience. The only problem is the more you travel, the more you want to travel," she adds with a laugh.
Whether preparing Italian dishes inspired by her mom or cuisines inspired by her travels, Judy said her rule that she shares with others is live to eat, not eat to live.
"If you love to eat and really enjoy those flavors and different cuisines, then you'll have an adventurous spirit," she said. "And you'll enjoy other parts of your life as well to the full."
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