Photos courtesy of Element Productions
Aurora Leveroni may have limited, isolated experiences with cannabis, but she sure didn’t earn the culinary moniker Nonna Marijuana by happenstance. With a focus on helping people find pain and other medical relief, Nonna solidified “the Queen of Weed Cuisine” title from VICE, specializing in classic Italian food. And over nine decades on this mortal coil, Nonna has witnessed the shift in the public’s perception of marijuana almost longer than anyone in the industry, and she personally believes the herb will be legalized nationwide in the next decade. MERRY JANE caught up with Nonna to talk more about the future of cannabis and her singular first-hand experience with weed. She also shares a recipe for Nonna Marijuana’s Explosive Chocolate Lava Cake — a favorite, that comes with a warning.
Nonna Marijuana's Explosive Chocolate Lava Cake
1/2 cup of semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon of marijuana butter (make it as strong or weak as you wish)
1/2 cup of sugar
1 full egg
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons of flour
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix chocolate chips and butter in a small, microwavable dish. Microwave on high for one minute or until it all melts. Mix thoroughly.
Pour the microwaved mixture into a larger mixing bowl. Add sugar and eggs. Mix until it is all a creamy and soft chocolate batter.
Butter up or spray two ramekins and then sprinkle in a little flour. Pour the batter in the ramekins. Bake for 14 minutes. Pop the cakes out of the ramekins onto a plate. Add some sprinkled sugar and enjoy.
For more on Nonna, watch this clip from "Bong Appetit" and then read on for our interview with the legend:
MERRY JANE: You started cooking with marijuana to help treat your daughter's epileptic seizures. Tell me about any hesitations you originally had about cooking with the herb.
Nonna Marijuana: I had no hesitations whatsoever cooking with the herb. I started cooking with marijuana because I witnessed firsthand how it helped my epileptic daughter, Valerie Leveroni Corral, go from five to six grand mal seizures a day to being almost seizure-free. Because of this experience, my daughter [and] her ex-husband co-founded the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana. So, for the last 30 years, I was able to witness how it helped not only people with seizures, but also many other ailments, like cancer.
You don't currently smoke weed, but did you ever? What about edibles use?
I don't eat any of the edibles that I create. I have people who test the herb for the strength and flavor for my cooking. I smoked it once about 40 years ago, in the 1970s, at the insistence of my young adult children to try smoking a "doobie.” I agreed and took a couple of light puffs with no result. They explained, “You have to inhale.” So, I inhaled and held my breath as long as I could. Within a few minutes I had to crawl from the chair to the couch and immediately fell asleep. I slept about 14 hours! And with no after effects. I never had such a peaceful sleep. But, I never tried it again because I did not want to use anything that could affect my natural ability to fall asleep and wake up.
What did you know about cooking with marijuana before you started trying it out yourself? Any early learning experiences?
My mother had leukemia. She was taking chemotherapy and losing weight; she was constantly nauseous, constantly vomiting up everything she ate. This was in the mid-70s. My son and daughter suggested that she try to smoke marijuana to help with the nausea. But my mother never smoked anything in her life, so she refused. She thought it would be unbecoming of her. Then she said, “Well, why not? I may as well go to my grave smoking.” She tried it. She didn’t really like having smoke in her lungs. The herb had the same effect on her as it did on me. She slept like a baby, the best night’s sleep that she could remember. When she woke up, she asked my kids why they did not give her some sooner. Still, she didn’t take to smoking, so from then on, she began to drink a cup or two of tea before bedtime every night.
How have you seen cultural attitudes and prejudice towards cannabis use shift in your lifetime? Where do you see marijuana's place in the larger American community and culture in the next 10 years?
In the ‘60s and ‘70s if you mentioned marijuana, you feared that the authorities would come and arrest you. You even feared talking about it to some of your family and friends. What I find surprising now, after nearly 50 years, is that some of those same friends who had a negative opinion in those days are now calling me up wanting more info about it or have even become advocates. Over the years, I have seen a huge shift in attitude.
I believe that in 10 years or so it is going to be 100 percent legal. Eventually it will be a drug that will be [administered] by hospitals and doctors. However, I worry that when pharmaceuticals will take control, regular people will not be allowed to grow it on their own. And then, in some ways, we might be back where we started from — in terms of people going to jail and such. It is important to retain access by small business and for people to grow their own in their own backyards, just as we do our herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
Who else is doing great work with marijuana policy? Any other marijuana chefs you admire?
I'm not really involved with other cannabis chefs. However, I was featured in the first episode of VICE Munchies’ Bong Appetit. It became so popular that they featured me and my cooking in three other episodes. I cooked with Matt and Abdullah Saed. They are delightful young men and we had a ball.
Please tell us a little about the dish you're sharing with us today. Any stories from its creation? Pairing suggestions?
I chose to share my distinctive medicated Chocolate Lava Cake with you! Over the years, I have baked a non-medicated version for my usual guests. My favorite part is cutting into it and watching the warm river of chocolate pour onto the plate. I see it as a very romantic cake. It represents the bursting of the heart with love. It is the perfect cake, [with] the heart shape intended for Valentine’s Day, but also for romantic occasions when you want to express your feelings flowing with love. And in my world, that happens everyday! Therefore, I believe, that such a cake is perfect for anytime. I often pair the cake with raspberries or strawberries and a little bit of whipping cream. You might flavor the whipped cream with a blackberry cordial. Or have your cake with a bellini.
One last thing about the recipe: I want to stress and make it clear that different doses of medicine affect people very differently. Therefore, before you serve your cake to your loved one/s, please test the butter a day in advance to determine its strength and the correct dosage for your beloved. After all, you want will want her or him to be conscious.
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