"You also want to be able to bring those you have lost into present day. And through tradition is one of the only ways you can."
Exploring the role that tradition plays in one’s life feels pretty core to the Root & Seed community. But what role does it play when you have lost a loved one? We explore this and more with Francesca Saraco, someone who is navigating the world after losing both her parents in her 20s.
Fran touches on how the honour of carrying forward family traditions can be met in a way that is bittersweet, and how traditions go beyond cultural or ethnic background... and are simply life traditions. Then there is FOOD! We talk about how food can be a great connector to those who have come before us, transporting us back to simpler, perhaps happier times. Don’t worry, Francesca is gracious enough to share her family’s tomato sauce recipe with us, and we will are all better for it.
About our guest: Francesca Saraco is a daughter of Italian immigrants, an educator, philanthropist, kick ass fitness instruction, and proud Aries. Fran and I met many moons ago professionally but now connect more intimately over our shared and profound grief. At Root & Seed we have stood witness to her efforts to inform others about her relationship with grief over social media and feel a deep sense of gratitude to dive deeper into the nuances of her story in this interview. Find her on social: Instagram, LinkedIn
Reminder to rate and review our podcast on Apple - it helps other like-minded people find our pod and grows this beautiful community! If you’d like to tell us your story or chat about your thoughts on culture, family, and heritage, we always love to chat. Find us on social @rootandseedco and subscribe to our newsletter to never miss a Root & Seed moment.
Saraco Family Pasta Sauce Recipe
◦ 2 cans of crushed tomatoes (i like Bianco di Napoli best)
◦ 1 can of tomato paste
◦ 1 medium sized carrot
◦ 1 medium spanish onion
◦ 3-4 stalks of celery
◦ 4-5 cloves of peeled garlic
◦ 2 Italian sausages
◦ beef short ribs
◦ [OPTIONAL] 400g of ground pork or beef
◦ [OPTIONAL] splash of red wine
◦ olive oil
◦ salt and pepper to taste
◦ in a food processor or blender chop your carrot, onion, celery and garlic cloves until it looks like the smallest pieces possible. a purée is ok too.
◦ take the meat of one sausage out of its casing, keep the other sausage in tact
◦ season the rest of your cuts of meat with salt and pepper
◦ in a big pot, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil, when heated add in your short rib, whole sausage, ground sausage and optional ground meat. sear on both sides but don’t cook through
◦ add in your chopped/puréed vegetables to the meat and begin to cook them through - about 5-8 min
◦ add in tomato paste and cook until browned
◦ option to add in a splash of wine to deglaze the pot
◦ add your cans of crushed tomatoes and incorporate everything together, bring to a slow boil
◦ once boil bubbles form immediately turn the heat to simmer
◦ set on low stirring every 25 min for 2-3 hours until 1/4 or 1/2 of liquid has reduced and meat is falling off the bone
◦ cook your favorite pasta, drain pasta and mix a few ladles of sauce into the drained pasta. serve with grated parmigiano and enjoy
I'm back in the CNE where I've been my whole life every summer, but it doesn't feel the same. I'm compelled and called to take action to remember things that ground me in the past, but yet I'm here trying to enjoy the experience with my partner who never grew up going to the CNE, but is trying to appreciate it through my eyes and my life traditions in a way? Because we all have, whether it's cultural or family rituals or traditions…I think tradition comes in, in many forms. Then people will say stuff like, “Oh, but you get to make your own new traditions.” That's one of the worst things for someone who has experienced loss to hear, because of course you want to live your life and establish your own kind of way of doing things.But you also want to be able to bring those you have lost into present day. And through tradition is one of the only ways you can, in a way.
Welcome back to Root & Seed, a podcast about tradition seekers who are sparked to explore, define and celebrate their family and cultural identity. I'm your host, Anika Chabra.
So far this season of Root & Seed, we have explored the theme of relationships. Relationships between culture and work and with yourself and your stories. Perhaps today’s episode may feel like a departure for us, or maybe very natural, familiar and comforting ... .it truly depends upon your lived experience with the topic - one’s relationship with Grief. What does remain consistent is that no matter your lens of reclamation that there can be bittersweetness in discovery and joy when you find beauty and peace in the process if it all. For today's guest, the trigger to reroot into her traditions and recipes was the loss of her anchors, her parents. In this episode we wanted to explore tradition and connection through a collective history... How even after the loss of an older generation, it's the appreciation of the traditions of the past that keep our loved ones alive in our hearts.
Francesca Saraco is a daughter of Italian immigrants, an educator, philanthropist, kick ass fitness instruction, and proud Aries. Fran and I met many moons ago professionally but now connect more intimately over our shared and profound grief. At Root & Seed we have stood witness to her efforts to inform others about her relationship with grief over social media and feel a deep sense of gratitude to dive deeper into the nuances of her story in this interview. Here’s Fran.
My journey is definitely unusual for someone my age. I'm 33. But by the time I was 28, I was what you would consider an orphan and something that I still consider myself to be now. So I had lost both my parents before turning 30. I had previously lived a relatively, “normal life”, which I mean, there's no such thing as normal. But I had two parents and a sibling and went to school and one Monday morning when I was 25, my dad passed away from an aneurysm in my arms and that event definitely shifted my entire life, and I think anybody that has gone through a profound loss in their life will tell you that the moment that a figure in their life as close and as stable as something like a sibling or a parent, could be a parent figure, a friend passes, your worldview shatters, and that is definitely the ethos of what I felt in that time. And about a year and eight months later my mom also passed away. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer and at that time I became her full time caregiver and I shifted and uprooted my whole life and dedicated it to her care. Which I would do again in a heartbeat.
But aside from that, my whole... my family dynamics changed and my whole life as I knew it fell apart in a lot of ways. A loss like that really rocks the family system to its core. I always say that there's multiple losses in addition to the loss of both my parents. I think people often think it's just that person is gone, and that's what you're grieving. But I am grieving a family system and structure. I'm grieving traditions. I'm grieving a home. I'm grieving a way of life that no longer exists for me anymore. So there are really secondary, tertiary losses among the initial loss of both my parents.
I love that you bring up the idea of secondary losses. In fact, that's something that informed the beginning of Root & Seed because when I lost my mom, not only did I lose her physically, I lost all her stories and I lost all the traditions and all the recipes and all those other things.
I have witnessed and watched you just transform from that moment that your dad passed away, we met just before that. And I have witnessed you channel for lack of a better word, your grief and your efforts and your energy against a couple of really interesting projects can you talk a little bit about those projects?
Yeah, for sure. And thank you for saying that. I think when we're confronted with a pain and loss in our life. It can really hamper you or you can channel that pain into purpose.And so that's really something that I focused on. Initially, my first kick at the can was starting a fundraiser in memory of my dad. My partner really was trying to find a way for me to channel all this pain into something more purposeful with his encouragement and support we launched a website and Instagram and I didn't really have anything flushed out. I just said, “Hey, I'm going to bake shortbread cookies in each dozen, every cent is going to go to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. It's the first Christmas without my dad.”
I am really struggling, but I really want to turn this into a distraction for myself, selfishly, but also something that can bring good and bring light to a lot of people. And we launched it with no expectation. I went into a meeting and my phone kept going off. I finally answer the phone and he was like “You need to call your mom, I forgot to put a limit on the website of how many cookies in stock we had and we're now at about 40 dozen!” and I just remember that first year, it was so special, because I got to meet so many wonderful humans who I had never met before and just shared and connected their stories of grief to mine or were inspired by it. And it was more really about the community and the conversations that really came out of it that were so special. And in addition to that, after my mom passed, I also began getting heavily involved with Myeloma Canada. My mom passed from a fairly rare cancer called Multiple Myeloma. And through Myeloma Canada, I've been able to speak at several conferences for caregivers that are old and young. It's not just about this particular cancer or my mom's particular experience, but just showing people that these issues exist, whatever it is that you are impacted by and we can all share our stories to impact change.
To me it's the lens that you put on everything that you do. So you decide that you're going to do this thing for your mom and your dad around baking, but then you also share such a big piece of your heart while you're doing it and your lens and your process.And it's like behind the scenes, but not behind the scenes in an Instagram way. It's like a window into your soul. And I was recently touched by some content that you published around just some things that you used to do with your parents as you were growing up. I think you published some information about CNE and visiting that on Labor Day weekend.I wonder if you can talk a little bit about what it's like to do some of those meaningful things without them here anymore, and what that means for you and your lens on those for lack of a better word, not cultural traditions, but life traditions.
For context, my parents were both in education, so going to the CNE was very much like the end of summer ritual and was something that they partook in as newcomers to Canada, which I still actually see at the CNE now, which is really nice. There's a lot of newcomers to Canada that go and really celebrate the experience that is the X and it was a big deal for them They didn't have a lot of money when they came to Canada and the CNE has always been relatively affordable. And it was such a treat for them to be able to go with my grandparents and get treats and they always used to joke as we went as kids that there used to be such good free stuff and now there's not good free stuff anymore. They would come home with bags and bags of fun things. I think some born and bred Torontonians maybe can look down the scene and think it's a bit junky or silly or kitschy.And it's so much more than that, especially if this is not your home of origin or you maybe didn't grow up in a certain socioeconomic class. So I do appreciate it for many reasons, but you know, doing anything now without my parents, whether it's as big as, changing a job or moving or going to something like the CNE - it is surreal. It is incredibly surreal. And I spoke about this a little bit in my Instagram posts, but I do feel like I am between two worlds a lot of the time where I am trying to be present and appreciating the experience of my life as it's unfolding, but I almost can't let myself fully commit to the present moment because I have such a longing for a time that I can never go back and repeat.
And so it's deeply uncomfortable a lot of the time because you're never quite fully there. I'm back in the city where I've been my whole life every summer, but it doesn't feel the same. I'm compelled and called to take action to remember things that ground me in the past, but yet I'm here trying to enjoy the experience with my partner who never grew up going to the CNE, but is trying to appreciate it through my eyes and my life traditions in a way, right? Because we all have, whether it's cultural or family rituals or traditions, I think tradition comes in many, many forms.Then people will say stuff like, “Oh, but you get to make your own new traditions.” That's one of the worst things for someone who has experienced loss to hear. Because of course you want to live your life and establish your own kind of way of doing things, but you also want to be able to bring those you have lost into the present day and through tradition is one of the only ways that you can in a way.
And so, sometimes you don't want to do new things and you kind of just want to keep it as it was, which is a living memory. I do really struggle with maintaining these kinds of rituals or ways without them because I don't ever really think I'm fully there.
Speaking of the past, is there a recipe or a tradition that you practice, hold near and dear to your heart, wish that future generations know about? Even if you don't have children, your nieces and nephews, your cousins, whomever. Is there a family tradition or recipe that just warms your heart?
A lot of Italians who grew up here, we'll tell you it's like the ritual of making sauce on Sundays, specifically Sundays because obviously of Jesus. I'm not a practicing Catholic anymore…sorry, mom! But you know, it was very much like the pre church ritual of getting this sauce started for lunch.And so it's not something that I do every Sunday, but I find that when I am missing my parents extra and Sundays are usually a day that triggers that a little bit more for me. Mainly because they are very much like a slower, more family centric day. I go get the ingredients for our family's sauce and I just commit the two to three hours it takes to simmer everything down very nicely and I make it and I felt like it was never really a recipe. It was more like just vibes. We knew of how to prepare everything and how to get everything going.It was very much like an oral or telekinetic tradition. Like mind reading that was passed on but I've jotted it down in a note and I actually will send it to people that buy jars of sauce. Because I think that's criminal. Everybody should have access to delicious homemade tomato sauce at home.And, I mean, it makes the house just smell incredible… just so homey and cozy. And for me, it brings back a lot of memories of smelling that on Sunday morning as I was maybe sleeping. And then knowing that I could run downstairs, and my dad would give me a little bit of the raw sauce, as we would call it, not quite cooked on Wonder Bread. And I would eat that and just think it was the most delicious thing in the world. But it's just like such a special connective ritual for me. And brings me a lot closer to them because I can just feel them in the process. And I think, you know, their grandparents did this.
Prior to that the history that I'm connected to in Italy. That's kind of like my next mission, is reconnecting with the part of my family that is still in Europe. And what that kind of genealogy looks like because I really only knew the people that were here in Canada.It feels much more generational to me where there are some gaps I think in my collective history. So that's probably my favourite. I’ll send it to everybody who listens to this podcast because no one should get Prego.
You've heard it here! DM Francesca and we'll send it to you. Her little gift to the world. Don't buy Prego, please!
So Fran, we have, we have a number of people in this community who are grieving, and I was wondering if there might be a piece of advice that you would have that you've learned through your journey through grief or a piece of your heart that you want to share that you think might be useful for anyone listening who is grieving.
I think there's two things. Because I've done, a considerable amount of work around grief through all sorts of therapy and groups and reading. I'm actually going to probably be starting a new type of therapy that's more body focused in the later half of this year, which I'm looking forward to.And I think the, especially the Western way of identifying what grief is, it really reduces it to a single emotion and what I have found just very helpful is understanding that it's not an emotion but actually a state and a little bit more like a verb because you can be very happy but still in grief and I think the English language really reduces a lot of the language we have around emotions. Like we only have one word for love, for example, and that's again, also pretty criminal, but it is a state of being and it is very much active versus something that is a passive, like, “Oh, I'm feeling grief right now.”
You're always going to be in it. And the second part for me is it doesn't get better. And I hate that language around grief of like, “Oh, are you feeling better?” Or it'll get better with time or any of those positives that we say. But it changes and you learn how to live your life with it and it'll always be with you.And I see a fair share of people just in the connections I've made around grief who think that it'll just vanish and go away. And you can never outrun it and it's really about how you continue to live life with it and in that state. And so that I think for me, those particular points of framing are very helpful for me as I kind of continue forward.
Hmm. When you were talking about it being a verb, I always say I'm feeling rather griefy. And there's also degrees to that, right? If I'm feeling in the depths of grief, I feel it physically actually just right above my heart.My mom also passed of an undiagnosed heart situation. But I just, there's something about saying to myself, okay, I get it. I'm feeling griefy. And then I tend to myself in the appropriate way. And because I feel like it's a bit of a scale because sometimes I'm feeling just a tinge of it.
And then sometimes I'm feeling like it's a duvet day and I need to stay in my bed.
A good duvet day. I say those days for me are my “not for human consumption days” where I just can't be around people. Because I am pretty uninhabitable even to myself and it's all fine.
It's so true. It's all fine. Okay, friend. I'm gonna ask you a question from our conversation card game. All right channeling Francesca…do a little shuffle. Here we go like Root & Seed tarot. Of course, it's going to be a food question because we talked about it!
What is our most important family dish or recipe?
So sauce is definitely it, but I would be remiss to not mention biscotti or tiramisu or any sort of Italian sweet. Mainly because it's very much tradition when it's a Communion or Confirmation or wedding or shower to make an abundance of different kinds of biscotti. And people take home the baking So I feel like there's a very active process around baking. Whereas like, to me sauce and that is more like in the home and baking is more about community. So I would say that recipe and I have several of my mom because you have to make three or four kinds, and she would just crank out llike three or four dozen of these things at a time. It was wild, and I would obviously eat the the butts, as I called it the ones that are just not good enough for other peopl., But there's so many different baking recipes from amaretti to those little peach cookies.
and are you allowing people to DM you for the biscotti recipes too?
Yes. I actually have a lot of her recipes in a tin. But I haven't really let myself dive into that whole era of baking. I don't know why. but if they're curious, I can send whatever. It just might be a weird photo with a lot of oil stains on it, because that's where all those recipe clippings are right now.
There you go. We were meant to talk about food. And all the beautiful recipes and your mom's tin, which when it's time, you'll open it up and it'll be its own experience which is part of grief. Francesca, thank you.
Ohh Food. Food IS culture and IT IS sustenance. And Fran helps us see that food is even much more than that: for many families, food is love in the form of tradition, repetition and legacy.
After an amazing story like Francesca’s you don't need me to pontificate on how the smells of family staples can bring our loved ones back. How you can taste love in even and perhaps especially the unpresentable "butts" in a batch of cookies. How replicating a recipe can wash you with the warmth of moments that you once shared with a passed loved one.
We love that Fran reminds us that tradition doesn't need to be cultural, ethnic or religious to be important. An end of summer tradition that is unique to just your family is worth continuing, or at least reflecting and reminiscing about. Not only do they shape us but they truly keep our loved ones alive. And don’t fret, Francesca did share a piece of her heart and family with us - the Saraco family’s pasta sauce recipe which you can find on her podcast transcript at rootandseed.com. No Ragu needed for anyone in the Root & Seed community, Thanks Fran.
Next episode, we meet another deep and inspiring person who is keeping his heritage alive through hoop dance. We found Eric Michael Hernandez and were immediately attracted to our shared mission to help people recognize the value in their culture and story. He is a man who is living legacy and preserving tradition and we can't wait for you to meet him next time.
Hosted by: Anika Chabra
Brought to you by: Root & Seed
Executive Producer: Jennifer Siripong Mandel
Editing by: Emily Groleau
Sound Editing by: Camille Blais
Music credit: Something 'bout July (Instrumental) by RYYZN https://soundcloud.com/ryyzn
Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0
Free Download / Stream: http://bit.ly/-_something-bout-july
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