Wilmette, Community

Wilmette teen cooks up way to connect across generations — and she wants you to join in

(Editor’s Note: This story was republished in part at Better.net in alignment with a partnership between the two nonprofits: The Record Community News and Make it Better Media Group.)

Almost any room is an upgrade over the Room of Boredom, but the kitchen has worked out the best for Wilmette teenager Maya Ramaswamy.

When Ramaswamy and her younger sister, Anya, visited their grandmother Rajee Subramanian — who Maya calls Ammamma — in India, the siblings would spend time in Ammamma’s sitting room as she did chores, such as cooking and cleaning, around the home. They called the room the Room of Boredom.

As the pandemic began in 2020, Ammamma came to Wilmette, and with fewer tasks, she had more time to talk with a now-older Maya about her upbringing, much of which involved time spent in the kitchen.

“I like to think I was older then and she was more comfortable telling me a lot of these stories,” Maya said. “She was sharing when I could take it and understand it. It was all new to me. … I thought I was so connected, but she came and told me her stories and I was a little intimidated. There was so much I didn’t know.”

The conversations incorporated hands-on learning as well, and Maya was so moved by the experience and her family recipes that she wanted to share them. Recipe4Life was born.

To contribute a recipe or learn more about Recipe4Life, visit Recipefourlife.com

Recipe4Life is a digital cookbook containing vegetarian recipe cards inspired by the conversations between Maya Ramaswamy and her grandmother, as well as the family meals shared by the entire family.

The project began with Ramaswamy creating playful recipe cards for the sake of posterity, but then she realized how much the cards meant to her.

“I never intended to create a project,” Ramaswamy said. “It was fun to just do something to bring a bunch of these recipes to cook with my grandma. I didn’t realize the importance of it until I started doing it.”

To Ramaswamy, the cooking discussions strengthened a special bond with her grandmother.

Maya Ramaswamy (left) prepares food with her grandmother and younger sister, Anya.

People can struggle to relate across generations, but Ramaswamy hopes other teenagers will participate in Recipe4Life by seeking recipes from family members and enabling stronger relationships.

“These recipes are my connections to the past. Food is my connection with my parents and grandparents,” Ramaswamy said. “I will carry those recipes and transfer them on. That is something really valuable.”

Recipe4Life began with Ramaswamy’s family recipes and recipe card, including one for spicy potato curry.

She then solicited others to submit recipes that are important to them. Her cousin sent in chili chapathi, a dish he made up using traditional Indian flavors and family influences. The CEO of Land O’Lakes shared her recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts, and a family friend added Scary spaghetti.

Ramaswamy created recipe cards for each submission, adding her own personal touch with an inspirational quote and a whimsical drawing to represent the dish. All the cards are digitized on RecipefourLife.com.

The website also includes a digital form to submit your own recipe and information on how to make and 3D print your own recipe box — another creative addition from Ramaswamy.

She hopes you play along and maybe pick up a few things as you go.

“It’s suppose to inspire intergenerational connection,” Ramaswamy said. “That connection is really, really valuable for me and I think it is really valuable for others.”

The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.

Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.

Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.

joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

Related Stories