Rockville Centre resident Patti Leboff has completed a cookbook, a memoir of sorts, in honor of her late parents, that presents a family history through shared meals and memories. The book, Cooking with Gratitude, was released last month after several years of planning, and offers more than 135 recipes, shared with a lot of love.
The project started after Leboff’s parents, Jim and Eileen O’Dea, died within in months of each other, her father in late 2014 and her mother in early 2015. She and her four sisters came across sentimental items while clearing out the house, including a recipe box. “We started to delve through them,” Leboff said, “and then all of the stories emerged.”
Hearing the stories that were revealed through the recipe discovery was the brainchild for Cooking With Gratitude, Leboff said. She reached out to more family members and asked them to share their favorite meals, as well as memories of those meals.
“Our family mantra was: family is not just important, family is everything,” Leboff said. “Food is universal language and brings families together. It can break down barriers, help develop friendships and make people feel at ease.”
Leboff, 65, grew up in Seaford, in the home her parents owned from 1951 until her mother’s death in 2015. She and her husband moved to Rockville Centre in 1984, where they raised their five children and were active in the community, including serving as president of the RVC Soccer Club and as a member of the St. Agnes school board.
Growing up, she said, meals were important. “I grew up in a house that was centered around the family table,” she said. She is one of six children, and even as the family grew, they remained close. The family would gather for holidays at her parents’ house until they died, and she took over the hosting duties five years ago. This year, the family did their best to keep the tradition alive for Thanksgiving, with different people contributing side dishes for everyone else, which they plan to do again for Christmas.
Her father was a detective in the New York Police Department, and during her childhood, his cooking mainly revolved around the grill. When he retired, however, he began participating more in the meals. Her mother, she said, was a “master chef who never got a toque. She would see things in a newspaper and magazine and try them out. I grew up in a test kitchen,” she said.
She said her mother brought a lot of creativity to the kitchen and the meals were varied and included international cuisine, from Irish to Armenian, Italian to Argentine. The important thing, she said, was that they sat down as a family every night, and on Sundays, extended family would join them for a big meal. With her own family, she made sure they also sat down and ate together every night, even if the meal was simple. The dinner table, Leboff said, “solidifies the bond of family. It’s an opportunity to share about the day and life experiences.”
The cookbook has about 135 recipes, from appetizers to entrees to desserts, and was a three-year process, partly because Leboff wanted to test out each of the recipes. She said the great thing about the book is its universal appeal. “You don’t have to be a master chef to use the recipes in this book,” she said. “Any level of cook can use them.”
Additionally, Leboff does offer tips for cooking and provides origin stories for some of the items.
Cooking with Gratitude sells for $35 and can be purchased in Rockville Centre at Jeannine’s Gifts and Revolution Yoga, as well as through the website, cookingwithgratitude.com.