Once Upon a Table
It is the time of year to step up and give a nod to parents of every stripe. We want to hear your family tales and cook the recipes that link you to your family table. Be it about your father or about the father who lived next door, we want to hear your stories -- both warm and dysfunctional. It's family, right?
Contributors to Once Upon a Table received a menu of recipes developed especially for Father's Day. The best stories, lightly edited and condensed, are published on this page.
Pati starts us off with a story below about her dad.
See also: Tales of eating with Mom
From Pati Jinich, Host, Pati's Mexican Table
"All I want is a hamburger, a hot dog, a pizza, a nice big steak, some Texas-style barbecue and a big plate of pancakes ... no tacos or anything Mexican, OK?" my dad said, after devouring the welcoming meal I prepared for him, which happened to be Tacos de Guisado.
Guisados are Mexican-style stews, which can be ladled into warm corn tortillas. There are plenty of fondas, or small restaurants, that specialize in them throughout Mexico. Since my dad loves them, I received him with three of his favorites: Chicken Tinga heavy on the chipotle, beef cooked in a green salsa with cubed potatoes and nopalitos, cactus paddles sauteed with onion, Guajillo chilies and corn. There were also refried beans and white rice, as they are such friendly sides to tacos.
After he made it clear that he didn't want anything Mexican for the next 3 days, making me laugh so hard along the way, we set off to satisfy his cravings.
The next morning we were at the pancake place in front of a double stack of buttermilk pancakes with butter, extra maple syrup and bacon. And some grits. It was hard to make him wait for lunch. When he lost all patience, he dragged me to the pizza place and then had a hot fudge sundae from across the street. Dinner came around soon enough along with steaks, baked potatoes and a Mexican Chayote salad I snuck in there.
The next morning, after lox and bagels at home, we went for a late Texas-style barbecue lunch. Dinner was a reuben with lots of dill pickles and a potato salad. But the last morning he couldn't help it.
As he tied one of my aprons around his waist, he announced, "I am making the best Huevos a la Mexicana that you have ever tried in your life." So we chopped just enough onion, fewer tomatoes than I would have wanted, and a lot of jalapeños. As he cooked, he used strange and probably nonexistent terms to describe what made his eggs so tasty: "See how I am un-rawing the onion and mushing the tomato?"
There are countless egg dishes in Mexican cooking, one better than the other. But these are the ones I prepare the most at home. They are easy to make, super tasty and dress up a breakfast in a wink. What's more, I always have oil, eggs, tomatoes, onion and either jalapeño or serrano chilies handy.
Although the ingredients are always the same, versions can vary. That is mostly because some people like my dad cook the tomatoes slightly, while others like me cook the tomatoes until they are pasty and smooshy looking. (I see where I get my funny use of terms now.) The ratio of ingredients also varies. I use more tomatoes than my dad, but we both like it spicy. Whereas I like to eat them with hot corn tortillas, my dad likes to eat them with toasted sandwich bread. (Some people love these eggs with a side of toast smothered in cream cheese, and that is pretty tasty too.)
This just makes me think of how accommodating Mexican food is. You can learn a basic idea and how to make it, and then tweak it to your preference.
Though while we were making breakfast I was craving more tomatoes in those eggs and wishing we could cook them a bit more, I have to admit that his version that morning topped any that I have tried. Maybe it was because of the way he explained why his version was the most incredible in the world. Maybe it was because of how much he enjoyed eating them and scooping some into corn tortillas to make some tacos for me. (He had said "No more tacos," but one can only go so many days without tacos, you know?) Or maybe it was because I was sad to see him go.
We didn't get to the hot dogs or the hamburgers. I had thought of the places to take him so he could eat them all, but we ran out of time. But as it's been said, you have to leave something for the next time if you want that next time to happen. I have until then to recover from all that eating.
Laura Kaliebe, Production Assistant, The Splendid Table
Pie is my dad's specialty -- give him any type of fruit, and he will gladly turn it into a pie.
When my sister and I were little, and my mom was out of town, we would run to the store to get ingredients for cherry pie. We would throw everything together and put it in the oven, waiting impatiently for it to finish baking. If we had extra filling, we would turn it into miniature pies for our dolls. We would eat the pie straight out of the oven, not waiting for it to cool, the red filling running everywhere -- always with a glass of milk.
Last fall, my dad had eye surgery. What did he want to do when he returned from the hospital? Make apple pie. So he sat at the dining room table wearing thick, black, wraparound sunglasses from the eye doctor, his hand still bandaged from the IV. I worried that he couldn't see what he was doing, but he sliced the apples as precisely as ever.
After we filled the pan with apples, he cut a smiling face into the top crust of one of the pies, so we would know which one was his. And we ate it straight out of the oven, with a glass of milk.
Stories from our readers
My dad is not much of a cook. If it doesn't come in a box, pouch or can, he probably wouldn't even give it a second thought; recipes are as good as Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Truth be told, my mom wasn't much of a cook back then either, but she at least could put together a square meal without the microwave or drive-thru.
When my parents first split up, I lived with my mother for a while, but it was soon apparent we weren't getting along. I moved in with my dad in his one-bedroom bachelor (read: cramped) apartment.
We basically survived on a rotating cycle of easy-fix meals, pizza, fast food and eating at my grandparents' house. If either McDonald's or Burger King had closed, one-fifth of our sustenance would have dissolved. My dad had three things he could prepare -- really only one from scratch because the other two were at least partially from a box -- Mac n' Cheese, Tuna Noodle Casserole and Hungarian Goulash (actually more like spaghetti with elbow macaroni).
My favorite was Mac n' Cheese. But it wasn't ordinary run-of-the-mill mac. No, my dad sliced several pieces of a large tomato, laid them on top and placed the already prepped mac into the oven for a quick broil.
The irony here is that this was a recipe my mom had created and fixed before they split up.
Other than the fact that I actually like Mac n' Cheese, I believe the reason I look on this dish from childhood with fondness is it gives me a happy memory to cling to from a time in my life when I did not have a lot of happy memories.
I have even passed this memory along, or maybe paid it forward, to my daughter. I updated the recipe of course -- we weren't as concerned with hydrogenated fats and cholesterol back then -- adding steamed broccoli and apple sauce (all the food groups present, thank you). I might use a little less butter and maybe get spirals instead of elbows, but I can still see myself back then happy with my dad and now happy with my daughter.
Eating with my dad is sometimes a challenge. He's stuck in the mindset that if a dish doesn't start with a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, it isn't dinner. He scoffs at kale and whole wheat, and after snarfing a giant slice of expensive-to-make cashew/coconut/raspberry freezer cake, asks what's for dessert, and proceeds to finish off half a carton of ice cream.
But my dad is also the guy who taught me how to pick the crunchiest, ripest apples from our apple trees. When I headed off to college last fall, he brought me a few of the best apples he could find when he came to visit, because he knew I missed them so.
My dad taught me the skill of discerning wild blueberries and juneberries from their sneaky imitators in the woods. He was the one who showed me (though I really have no use or desire to know this skill) how to gut and bone a fish. He's the one who orders fried catfish, curry with four fire-breathers or lutefisk on a menu just to show off his adventurousness. My dad taught me how to best build a fire to cook in (you have to make an oven shape with the logs to allow for airflow, which ends up making a pocket of hot coals in the bottom).
My dad is one of the most valuable food resources I have had in my life. He's shown me that simple is best, and nature knows what we need. He has taught me invaluable skills, and has helped me to realize that food is more about the story than the nutrients. My favorite meals with dad include ones of wild-caught fish and freshly-picked wild blueberry pie eaten on the deck at the cabin near sunset. He's a wonderful meal companion.
One of the best memories about my dad were the hiking trips in the spring to hunt for morel mushrooms. It was a yearly event for myself, sister, mother and dad. When we found one, it was like finding treasure.
And the more we found the better, because the best part was when we got home and we got to eat them. My dad would clean the mushrooms, slice them in half, season them with salt and pepper, and dust them with flour. Then he would fry them in an iron skillet with Crisco, the solid kind in the can. This was in the 1960s and everything was fried.
Finally when he was done, we would sit down and feast on our mushrooms until they were gone. There was nothing better.
My dad always loved coffee. At the end of his life when so much was done for him, the one thing he could still make for us was coffee. He got up and made and poured and served it, pouring love and caring for us into every cup. In predawn hours on cold winter mornings, drinking coffee brings that love and care near to me again as I think it always will. Here's to you, dad!
My dad bent his head toward the radio next to the kitchen table, his dinner plate in front of him and a copy of that morning's Detroit Free Press sports pages folded at his elbow.
"Hush, shhh," he'd warn my mother and me seated across from him. Mom and I would still our forks, swallow whatever we were chewing, and try to maintain silence as the radio popped and crackled in the corner.
At about 6:15 p.m., the horse race results were broadcast, and it took a lot of effort to pull AM waves from a station in Detroit to our dinette in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The static was like aural indigestion.
Dull pencil in hand, dad would lean in closer to take notes, scowl as he strained to hear. He was a gambler and this was vital information, but news was not readily available in conservative Grand Rapids, where such vice was not condoned in the 1960s.
After the results were announced, he'd switch off the radio, the static would cease, and we'd resume eating our meat and potatoes, cube steak, lamb patties broiled to a crisp, or maybe baked chicken. Dad's mood would lighten or lower depending on which horse won or lost.
Whenever I am feeling nostalgic and missing my dad, I feel like making pork and beans. This simple dish is pure magic for me.
We had these rituals, he and I. Together on weekend afternoons we sometimes made pork and beans. No, we didn't soak beans and render pork. We opened cans and used condiments. He especially liked to use Heinz baked beans "because they are English."
We would open a couple of cans and he would talk about the army. Each time we cooked, I heard a new story -- but he always talked about eating canned beans and how he had perfected seasoning them. He would ask me to hand him the ketchup, the mustard (plain yellow, not the fancy stuff), pepper, brown sugar and sometimes even vinegar. We would pour, shake, taste and adjust until it was just right. Then he would cut hot dogs using surgical scissors and toss them in the pot, which would simmer until lunch.
We would sit together, talk and laugh. When I try to think about all the important moments of my life, my wedding, the births of my children, etc. I feel this ranks right there. I didn't even know it at the time. I hope that my children and I are creating these food memories as well. They seem to stick, much like pork and beans sticks to the ribs.
This is the power of food. The best meals don't always come from Michelin stars, but are remembered so deliciously because of the moment in time and the company. When I need to journey back in time, I just need a couple of cans and some condiments.
I miss my dad's cooking. I'm far from home and dad's food, and I can't seem to settle in one place. Last year I lived in Germany and now I'm in Japan. It's the foods I grew up with that I miss most wherever I am. My mother is German, but prefers being experimental rather than traditional in the kitchen. My father is American, and likes to cook traditional recipes from both our German and American heritages. He cooks the Spätzle as he learned to cook them from my German grandmother.
When we gather for Christmas, dad will show off his kitchen skills by deboning a chicken and rolling it around ricotta and spinach. Or he will make Daube, once even in a hand-built, wood-fired oven he made in the backyard. And of course there is his homemade bread, which he bakes early in the mornings before we get up so we have fresh bread for breakfast. But what I yearn for most from my father is his pie, especially his pumpkin pie.
Being a scholar, my dad always makes sure to name his sources. The pie recipe is from my grandmother, my father's mother, but the crust came from a woman named Edith Norton. The recipe was her contribution to a congregational cookbook called "Our Cup Runneth Over" of the First United Methodist Church in Schenectady, New York.
Dad is not a practicing pastor like my grandfather was, but he has always been on a mission to get people to make pie. When grandpa once expressed a wish that grandma make more pie, dad gave him the recipe and said, "If I can make it, anyone can." Dad would hand out the recipe in his classes before Thanksgiving and tell his students to make it for their families. If anyone ever talked about how hard it was to make piecrust, dad would hand over the recipe.
Although dad makes all kinds of pie using this crust recipe, the most popular filling is pumpkin. Whether we meet up in the U.S. or in Germany, there is always pumpkin pie. It's fun to give to people who consider pumpkin a vegetable that shouldn't be cooked into sweets and to watch them discover how amazing pumpkin pie can be.
When I think of dad, I want pie.
Easy as Pie Crust
- 3 cups flour
- 2 sticks (= 1 cup) butter (the original recipe calls for margarine, but we prefer butter)
- 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening (as in Crisco, not oil, or more butter if it's hard to find shortening)
- at least 1/2 cup sour cream
Cut the fat into the flour using a fork until you have pea-sized little pieces of mix. Add the sour cream. If you add too much sour cream, you end up with a sticky glob, so go on the low side to start with and add gradually until the mixture is pliant.
Cut the dough into two equal pieces and place a piece on a floured surface. Roll out and place the crust into your pie pan and crimp the edge. (Dad taught me how to roll the edge outwards, making the crush thick and then to pinch the thick edge using the thumb and pointer finger of each hand. This creates a wavy pattern all the way around.)
You can use both halves in one pie (one for the bottom crust, one for a top crust for cherry or apple pies), or you can use the recipe to make two pies with just a bottom crust (recommended for this pumpkin pie recipe).
This dough can be frozen for at least 1-2 months or stored in refrigerator for 3-4 days.
Pumpkin Pie/Custard Mix
Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees
Mix dry ingredients:
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp allspice (If you're in Germany, its called "piment." In Japan, most import stores have it as "allspice.")
- 1/4 tsp salt
Mix wet ingredients:
- 2 cups pumpkin (canned is fine; fresh winter squash works just as well
as fresh pumpkin)
- 2 slightly beaten eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract (or lemon juice)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tall can (about 1 2/3 cups) evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup of water (If you cook your own pumpkin and it is dry, use up to a full cup of water. My sister says half a cup is more than enough for canned pumpkin.)
Combine the two mixtures and pour into a prepared pie crust. Bake it for 10 minutes at 450 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius) then 35-50 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius).
My dad has a very strange sense of humor. It was often employed as some sort of comic relief or distraction.
One particular evening, I must have been 4, my sister 3, our mom had put together some sort of rice dish for dinner. It wasn't very good -- if even edible. I continued to eat it, fearing I would offend mom, or get in trouble for being picky.
Apparently my dad had more opinion than everyone at the table. We were startled as he pounced toward the refrigerator. He made a huge presentation of his search, clamoring, rearranging, it seemed more a battle with the Thanksgiving leftovers.
With a yelp, he emerged from the refrigerator, left hand holding right hand, displaying on the palmar side a horrifically gruesome bloody gash. "It got me, it got me," he said over and over as he approached the table, and shoved his hand under my mom's nose.
Her grimace turned to hysterics, with tears rolling down her red face, her body shaking with laughter, she turned and collected the plates. Saying between gasps, "It really wasn't that good was it?" Turns out, my dad had used some of the leftover turkey and spattered ketchup in suggestive patterns to obfuscate the atrocity that was being consumed.
My father always made the best salads. A skinny Italian, my dad relished good food and antipastos, pepperoncinis, tomatoes off the vine, vinegary salads, olives and pickled veggies. To this day, I can never find a salad that quite tastes as good as his.
He'd improvise, adding in whatever items in the fridge that struck his fancy: leftover steamed veggies, blueberries, pumpkin seeds and always thinly-sliced lemon -- peel and all. The lemon is the thing I remember the most. I would watch him artistically prepare these salads, carefully slicing the lemons so thin that the peel was translucent. The lemons would soak up the rich balsamic and turn a lovely yellowy brown.
My father always carefully selected tomatoes in the market, always tomatoes on the vine, plump and perfectly red. He would slice them into sweet quadrants. Sometimes dressing them simply, with extra virgin olive oil from the big oil can, he would buy from the market in Little Italy, lots of salt and pepper, thin-sliced lemons, some olives. We would eat this tomato salad with fresh crusty bread and butter, sometimes coupled with thick slices of aged Parmesan.
I try to approximate these salads at home -- friends are always telling me that I make the best salads. I still think I can never get it right.
Dad was born in Germany and loved all kinds of weird food. We ate beef tongue, steak tartar with raw egg, Caesar salad, rota grutzin (sour raspberry pudding), liverwurst, liver and onions and all sorts of odd -- to American tastes in the 60s -- food. I learned to love all food; there wasn't a thing I and my three siblings wouldn't eat.
My mom didn't know how to cook when they were married, so my dad had to teach her. He was adventurous and always cutting recipes out of the SF Chronicle to try. He was raised in a proper household and taught us how to behave at the table, knocking our elbows with the edge of a butter knife if we put them on the table.
He was reserved in his demeanor generally, but food always brought out the best in him. I remember evenings at dinner every night, sharing the food and conversations that brought our family together. Though he always disapproved, when a food fight erupted, as it did from time to time, he would participate.
My dad is 88 years old and is a WWII vet who earned a Purple Heart. He is Portuguese-American and I grew up with him making Portuguese Sweet Bread in our kitchen. I never learned how to make it until recently, at age 57, when I had him come over (and invited a friend of mine) to teach me.
When I was a child in western Minnesota, my father would take me fishing. The menu was always peanut butter, bacon and sweet pickle sandwiches -- you never ate peanut butter, bacon, and sweet pickle sandwiches at any other time.
We caught a variety of pan fish, including brown bullheads. My dad would clean the fish and put the fillets in a paper milk carton and cover them with enough water so that the fillets were not exposed, and place it in the freezer. When the carton was full, he would staple the top shut.
When thawed months later, the fillets were fresh as the day they were caught. My dad's way of preparing it was to dip the fillets in beaten egg and roll the fillet in cornmeal before frying in a hot skillet.
I grew up with two younger brothers in the 60s. Our mother was prone to migraines and would be in bed, in the dark, for 3 days. My father was left to feed us.
I can remember him going through the icebox and scraping the mold from the top of the jelly jar and telling us it was OK to eat. And we did -- none of us ever got sick.
He was not a good cook -- but we certainly did not starve. We remember the fun times and eating whatever he gave us: chocolate cake, Campbell's ABC vegetable soup from the can, hot dogs and whatever leftovers were in the icebox.
We have always been very competitive. He liked the heels of the bread, so I'd try to eat them first. At dinnertime I developed a fast pace so that I could get as much food as I wanted -- before he had a chance.
My grade-school years were spent in Portland, Oregon, in the 1950s. My dad worked in hotel and restaurant administration. Since he "ate out" two or three meals every day, our family rarely went out to eat. For a special treat, he would have me ride the city bus into downtown, meet him at work and then we would walk over to Jake's Famous Crawfish.
The delightful restaurant was founded in 1892, and is decorated from that period. The bar has a brass food rail and a tile-enlaid trough in the floor (where men of old spit their chewing tobacco). We would eat French dip sandwiches, look at the ancient oil paintings and talk about what it might have been like to eat at Jake's in the old days.
In 1958 our family moved to Idaho; 1966 was the last time we all lived in the same town. But about 10 years ago, when dad was in his late 80s and had dementia, he and mom were able to visit me in Oregon. Of course, we had to eat lunch at Jake's. He made the same observations about the decor that he had made 50 years earlier. What a treat to revisit our special place -- and to have him remember it.
For 2 weeks every year or so, our mom would go on a trip to Europe with her mother. Daddy was then in charge.
When it came to grocery shopping during this period, cookies, Cocoa Puffs and other usually verboten food made their way into the house with tall tales of "mom lets us have them!"
During this time, my dad would try some culinary experiments. The sloppy joes where daddy forgot to drain the ground beef were far greasier (and less edible) than we were used to. His red beans and rice? I will spare you what the brown, dried mix resembled.
I do remember his chili: one morning, my dad got out all of the cookbooks and from them concocted his own recipe for beef and bean chili. It was great.
But my father's best cooking talent then -- and to this day -- was grilling. When mom was away, more often than not our dinner came in from the grill. And if it was the sludge he claimed was some Cajun delicacy? Well, thank goodness for the Cocoa Puffs.
I remember being too short to reach the counter. Standing on a stepstool, I could peer into the large bowl where my dad had mixed oil, eggs, sugar, and milk as a base for his famous banana bread.
Growing up in a family with five kids meant that bananas were staples in our home. However, there were occasions where there were more bananas than we could eat before they started getting specked with tiny brown spots. At this point, being kids, if we saw the brown speckles we'd refuse to eat the bananas.
My dad, on the other hand, would take this opportunity to let the bananas sit and turn almost fully brown before whipping up a couple of loaves of banana bread. Miraculously, those over-ripe bananas would turn into a delectable treat that we all enjoyed eating -- straight out of the oven, warm, with a little butter, or the next day, cool, with breakfast and a glass of milk (for us kids) or a cup of coffee (for my parents).
What I loved best about the banana bread, though, was the whole experience of getting to cook with my dad. He would let me stand on tiptoe on a stepstool next to him as he mixed the ingredients. He allowed me to help crack the eggs and pour ingredients into the bowl. Then, when it was time to add the vanilla, he would pour it into the measuring spoon and let one of us (usually my older sister or me) dump it into the wet ingredients. The reaction between the alcohol in the vanilla extract and the milk always seemed so fun -- the vanilla billowing up in a dark cloud from the center of the bowl, spreading through the milk.
While I have since developed my own banana bread recipe that I prefer, those special times I spend with my dad will never be lost. To this day, whenever I enjoy a slice of banana bread, I always think of him and how grateful I am to have such a fantastic father.
My dad loved to fish, but rarely had time to enjoy a day of fishing. The exception was Father's Day, and that was his request that we go to a high mountain stream and fish for the day. The fish we caught were brook or rainbow trout usually less than 10 inches long.
After arriving at the stream, the kids would go off fishing, Dad would build a campfire and then join us on the creek. The goal was to catch enough to have our noon meal, Sunday dinner.
The morning's catch would be cleaned, and dad would dust them with cornmeal and flour then fry them over the campfire in a bit of bacon grease. They would come out crispy and delicious. There would usually be potatoes that had roasted in the coals. What a treat that meal was.
Dad and I making strawberry jam were probably my happiest moments with him. Dad was very precise about recipes, ingredients, timing and equipment. I always had to curb my free sprit with him in the kitchen, but it was such a joy to see him like that. Watching him give away the jam during the holidays was also a joy -- he was always so proud of our jam.
Because my dad was a chef, we had to enjoy eating with him on his day off: Monday. Every Monday we would rush home from school to eat the noon meal with him. With all his skill, we only wanted beans and wieners.
My dad has always loved food and he passed it on to me. For that I'm thankful. He was a busy physician, and dinners were sometimes rushed before we were on to the next event. But sometimes, dinner was the event.
He'd conduct blind taste tests. Those were the days, the 80s, in our smallish town in North Carolina, when good Chinese food was a bit of a luxury. Oh, but we loved it. One happy Friday night, my dad drove all over town and picked up six or eight egg rolls and six or eight cups of hot and sour soup.
At home, he numbered them, reheated them and portioned them out. We tasted, chewed, sipped, and critiqued like little aficionados. We rated, judged and declared winners who would never know they'd won. The prize: a sweet memory of a great dad who, despite a now mature and well-developed palate, still appreciates a good egg roll.
My father was passionate about food. It became an ongoing joke between my sister and me how, after every meal, he would exclaim, "That was the best darn [insert food here] I ever ate!" He really meant it too, every single time, over and over.
Dad loved to cook, and one of his specialties was boiled Dungeness crab. My sister and I looked forward to dad's crab feeds with both anticipation and trepidation -- anticipation for the stupendous meal, and trepidation for the disastrous mess he would leave behind.
Our nickname for dad was the Crab Master (pronounced "Mastah"). He preferred to purchase his crabs at the Ranch 99 down the street because he claimed their crabs were "meaner." Dad would make the guy behind the tanks hold up the crabs so he could select the feistiest of the lot, one for each person and an extra for the chef to "keep up his strength" during the prep.
Then he would bring them home and get a huge pot of water boiling. Once the crabs were properly cooked, the "fun" would begin. Dad made an unholy mess out of cleaning and cracking his crabs. Crab guts and juice would fly everywhere as he madly pounded, cracked and crunched those crabs into manageable legs and body parts. We called it the Crab Frenzy.
My sister tried spreading towels on the floor in a vain attempt to keep the kitchen somewhat clean, but it was a futile endeavor. Dad's Crab Frenzy knew no bounds. Walls, appliances, cabinets, underneath cabinets, all were targets for flying crab waste. Once, after my sister spent a good part of the night cleaning the post-Frenzy kitchen, we looked up to see bits of crab guts clinging to the ceiling. After that, dad was banished to the back yard for his Crab Frenzies.
Once the crabs were prepped to dad's satisfaction, including much pre-meal taste-testing by the Crab Master, he would serve up his crabs with bowls of spicy chile butter for dunking. We had decided years before that the only acceptable side for dad's Dungeness crabs was some San Francisco sourdough bread. Anything else just took up valuable crab space in our stomachs. That, and some good wine, or maybe some cold microbrew, made up one of our favorite meals. Our friends were always angling for an invitation to one of dad's infamous crab feeds.
Our dear Crab Master is gone now, and even though my sister and I are darn good cooks, and we learned how to cook crab from the master, somehow our Dungeness crab just doesn't taste as good. We cook the crab the way dad did, we serve it the way he did, but what we can't seem to recreate is the Crab Frenzy. I'm pretty sure that what is lacking from our crab is the passion and unmitigated joy that the Crab Master put into his. Dad's Dungeness crab truly was, and always will be, the best darn crab we ever ate.
I was nicknamed Fresh when I was growing up because my parents moved us to a small farm in western Maryland. We had a huge garden, chickens, fruit trees, ducks, a goat and horse.
When we got a Cuisinart, we made our own mayo. I would go to school with egg salad sandwiches made on homemade bread, homemade mayo and our own eggs, an apple from the tree, and anything else fresh they could throw in.
It was my dad who was a huge instigator of growing and producing our delicious foods. He loved having us in the garden to catch the tomatoes in rapid fire as he picked them off the vine. It always turned into a game.
There was never a question of what we'd have for dinner during each season. During spring we'd have everything with asparagus. Boy did we get creative -- it went into eggs, quiche, pasta, soups, appetizers or just plain on the side and we could eat it with our fingers. Same was true for strawberry, raspberry, corn and tomato season.
His generosity for sharing his creations with friends and family and putting his love into all that he creates has been a gift to us all.
My dad is famous for his gravy. We will go to family dinners or potlucks, and he is always the gravy man. People ask how he does it, and he always smiles and says it's easy. Yet I have never had a gravy as good as his.
One day, my dad was making gravy. I was sitting there watching him, and he said, "Before you go to college, I will teach you how to make gravy." I looked at him and laughed and said, "No dad, I'll just screw it up, it's OK."
He replied, "It's easy, anyone can do it." I said, "I don't think I fall into that category." He just smiled and kept cooking.
I still have a few more years until college. Before I go, the one thing I will be in charge of is gravy. Who knows, I might even be called the gravy girl.
Dad was a WWI vet with a stomach problem caused by chlorine gas during the war. Mom was the family cook, except on Sunday evenings. Dad would fill a drinking glass with fist-crunched soda crackers, add some sugar, then fill the glass with milk. He called this delightful snack "country stew." Maybe it was the company, but to this day I think of country stew with pleasure and satisfaction.
My dad's grilled chicken was famous in our family. We have years and years of stories about it. The reason why it was so famous and why the myth still exists today in our family? It was always burned, charred, crispy, crittered. We never ever ate tasty, juicy chicken off of my dad's grill.
I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, but my parents divorced when I was young. Once I moved away to California at the age of 16, I rarely saw my dad. I remember a special trip with my husband when we went to visit my father in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, and he took the two of us to Boston -- a city I had visited infrequently during my childhood.
It was wonderful to walk the Freedom Trail, see the swan boats at the Boston Public Gardens (since I was a great fan of Make Way for Ducklings), to eat lobster at Legal Sea Foods and best of all, to visit the Parker House for Boston Cream Pie -- my favorite dessert.
We had finished our dinner and asked the waiter where to get the best Boston cream pie. Although they served it at the restaurant, he graciously suggested that we go to the Parker House, home of the original Boston cream pie. It was delicious and I will always remember that day with dad -- he is no longer living, but I think of him each time I order a slice at any restaurant.
If mommy was suppertime's executive director, daddy was the entertainment. Around the kitchen table he reveled nightly with silliness, song and the day's daily discourse. All he wanted was for his girls to be happy, as is evidenced in his very rare foray into meal preparation.
When mama made her Sweet and Sour Spareribs and Fried Rice, daddy stuffed his own flawlessly printed fortunes into the home-baked cookies. Wife will find perfect dress 50 percent off. Eldest daughter will be asked to prom by heartthrob. Youngest daughter will get 3 snow days off school this year.
My dad was an engineer who put a chalkboard on the back of a cabinet in the kitchen that faced the table. His reason for the board was for family messages as well as the grocery list, but he also used it to diagram his nightly lectures on various topics from black holes to running a small business to the way optimism works.
He would start off a topic and as we asked questions, out came the chalk. He would usually find something to draw that added to the discussion. He is 93 today and still likes to discuss topics rather the small talk at the table. I learned a lot from sitting at the kitchen table with my dad.
I was sick with the measles during our school's annual trip to the local amusement park. Mom took the three other kids (my siblings) on the trip, and dad stayed home with me.
Mom had planned a simple lunch for us: grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. The soup was Campbell's, the cheese sandwiches were to be made on our electric grill/waffle iron -- easy peasy, right?
Except he couldn't find the flat grill plates, the ones in the "grill" were the waffle plates. So we had waffled grilled cheese sandwiches -- the best grilled cheese I've ever had.
(Those flat grill plates? They were on the reverse of the waffled ones -- but only mom knew that secret.)
One of my fondest culinary memories is of the "Daddy and Allison Cooking Show," a fictional program that I hosted along with my dad on Sunday mornings when I was little, 20 years ago. Though we sometimes made French toast with fruit salad or scrambled eggs and toast, the most common, and my most favorite fare, was Bisquick pancakes, made Swedish-style according to the recipe found in our Xeroxed and stapled-together vintage copy of The Betty Crocker Cookbook.
It wasn't until adulthood that I really considered the connection between Swedish pancakes and crepes. I knew these pancakes were something we made together, something special, something that was ours. Because they required the consultation of a recipe, they were also something rare, a treat prepared according to a magical formula that we had to get just right.
My dad and I cooked the pancakes in a regular frying pan, Bisquick pancakes with the addition of a significant amount of melted butter. They were thin and crisp and delicious, slathered with syrup and maybe a little jam. We'd keep the pancakes in a warm dish in a low oven as we cooked, and dad made little drizzle pancakes along the side of the pan for me to snack on before the main event. The technique used to make these mini-pancakes was similar to that employed by my dad on the beach, when making drip castles out of wet sand. They looked more like little pine trees than castles and I loved them. I still do.
I can't honestly say that I remember much of the narration of our show, except for my bright and loud pronunciation of, "It's the Daddy and Allison Cooking Show!" This was always partnered with some sort of "ta-daa!" hand motion, of course. I remember my dad's high, warm laugh, his toothy smile, and that glint in his eye. When we made breakfast together, nothing was wrong in the world. My dad was a picture of joy, damp dish towel thrown over his shoulder as he showed me how to wait until bubbles had formed across the surface of the batter, instructing me to wait and wait and wait to flip each pancake until some of the bubbles had burst and the surface had just begun to dry.
It was common knowledge that the first pancake always came out the worst, light-colored and weird, cooked in a not-quite-ready pan. Though I was the first child, and my dad had to be under 30 himself at the time when these memories were created, I was never made to feel like that first pancake. I was daddy's little girl. As long as there are pancakes in the world, I guess part of me always will be. I lost my dad when I was only 9. I'll always cherish those Sunday mornings, spent together in the kitchen.
Daddy and Allison's Swedish Pancakes
- 2 c. whole milk
- 3 lg. eggs
- 1 1/4 c. Bisquick
- 1/4 c. salted butter
Melt the butter in the microwave. Crack your eggs into a bowl, removing any stray shells. Add the milk and the Bisquick, and mix with a whisk until smooth. Then add the melted butter, and mix some more. The batter should be thin.
Preheat your oven on a low setting and get an oven-safe dish with a lid down from the highest shelf in the kitchen. Preheat a large frying pan on medium heat and coat with butter.
Pour enough batter onto your preheated pan for one medium-size pancake. Allow to cook, and flip when bubbles that have formed on the surface of the batter have begun to pop, and the surface has become just a bit dry. Flip, but do not be too disappointed when the first pancake seems a bit light or imperfect. That's just how the first pancake is.
Remove the first pancake from the heat and place gently in your oven-safe dish. Put dish in the oven, and repeat this step every time a pancake is finished cooking, until all of the batter is gone. Add enough batter to the pan each time to cook one large or two medium pancakes. Make some small drizzle pancakes along the edge of the pan to eat while you're cooking. When they're ready, place these one by one into a little cup, so they'll have a chance to cool before being gobbled up. Add some more butter to the pan, as you see fit.
When all of the pancakes are ready, serve with butter, maple syrup (preferably artificial), and jam. Goes great with a side of blueberries, a glass of milk and a glass of orange juice.
My dad fancies himself as quite the Jeffersonian man. Be it gardening or landscaping projects, reading history or poetry, being a surgeon or preaching at our church as a deacon, he strives to be well rounded. Yet no man can conquer all things equally. He may be able to fuse metal rods to the spine of a child with scoliosis, but it never occurred to him that washing newly-dug potatoes in the dishwasher would be a problem.
Most of his culinary endeavors are entered into with a similarly innocent and experimental joy, for better or worse. My childhood was full of dishes named for himself: "Papa's Perfect Pasta," "Papa's Perfect Pie," or the annual summer event that came to be known as "Papa's Burnt Turkey Festival." Despite more misses than wins, when he won, he won big.
One summer he created one of his "Papa's Perfect Pies" using strawberries and pineapple. Although he wisely used his mother's pie crust (with lard, of course), he opted to "wing it" with the filling. It was a mess. No thickening agents of any kind meant a fruit soup within a crust. But you know what? It remains the most delicious "pie" I've ever had. Sadly, he never wrote down his successes, thus every delicious dish lives on only in the realm of memory and myth.
While my dad may not be able to pass down any tried-and-true recipes, he has imbued in me a spirit of culinary adventure. I have become an avid home cook and baker, but I struggle with needing everything to be perfect. But I've learned from my dad that mistakes can often as not lead to great memories and become the stuff of family lore. He's taught me that cooking has to include a sense of whimsy and experimentation in order to excite our minds and hearts as much as our palate. I will forever be grateful to my dad, Dr. Steven Koop, for playing a role in every meal I make.
Sundays in the summer were special days in our house. My dad made sure my brother and I went to Sunday school and church.
Then came the good part: We would drive over to the ice house and watch the guys who worked there pick up a big block of solid ice with a crane-like machine and put it into a chopper. Huge chunks of ice spewed forth into the bucket my dad brought to contain it. We drove home in the south Louisiana heat without the ice melting too much and helped carry the bucket into the house.
After a quick lunch, my dad spread newspapers on the kitchen table and pulled out the wood and metal old-fashioned ice cream bucket with its heavy handle that had to be cranked for what seemed like forever. Inside the bucket he placed a metal container with all the ingredients that would become the best homemade lemon ice cream I have ever tasted. The lemon ingredients were from the trees that he had planted in our backyard.
As a child, it was amazing to watch what was liquid freeze and harden into ice cream. At first the cranking was easy and my brother and I took turns at it until it got so hard to turn the handle that my dad had to take over. Then our job was to add rock salt from time to time to the chunks of ice to hasten the freezing. Finally, finally, the magic happened -- we had delicious, refreshing lemon ice cream.
This Sunday summer ritual provided lessons in teamwork, perseverance and patience, all qualities that were just some of the many character traits that my father passed on to us. He is 99 years old and still blessing us with his love. The old wooden bucket and crank have long been history, but the memories remain. We still enjoy a good dish of ice cream with him on a hot summer day.
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup light cream
Beat eggs. Gradually add sugar and beat until thick. Add remaining ingredients and blend. Pour into today's electric ice cream freezer and enjoy.
My Pop ate lunch at a local restaurant each Friday. I had a somewhat tumultuous relationship as a teenager with my Pop, but had grown closer to him in my 20s. I stopped by to see what he was up to at that restaurant one Friday. He greeted me with that big smile of his and I sat down.
I barely had enough money left of my paycheck to cover the cost of lunch and tip. I got my plate from the buffet line, a real Southern cooking buffet line. With eyes like saucers, I remembered my upbringing and only took out what I could eat. We ate our lunch together, talking about the events of the world, country, state, county, city and finally about us. Before long his lunch hour was up, we had to leave. As I prepared to pay up, he said, "I got this." Boy, was I relieved.
The next Friday came and I was there at the restaurant. So was my Pop. This continued for some time, and each time he picked up the tab. Starting out as hope for a great free meal, it wound up being a cherished hour of his life he and I shared each Friday.
This Friday tradition went on for several more years. I had progressed upwards a bit with a major soup company and was more financially solvent. I started treating him to lunch from time to time -- that is if I was fast enough to grab the tab when the waitress dropped it off at the table.
My widower father and I shared cooking responsibilities for a time in my childhood. Since my dad worked a half day on Wednesday, he would make dinners that night.
Because he wanted to play golf, he worked out the perfect menu -- it was ideal for the age before the many concerns about food safety. He figured out how to use the oven's timer and would set up Shake and Bake chicken in a pan in the oven. It would sit there for several hours before it actually cooked. He called it his "Thumb-Licking Good Chicken" -- neither of us ever got sick from it.
The first Thanksgiving after my mother died, I found him early that morning looking at the turkey and holding a big, unused garbage bag in his hand. I said, "No, dad! You can't Shake and Bake it!" Crisis averted.
My dad was traditional and didn't really cook -- unless we were backpacking as a family. We spent our summer family vacations trekking the Wemenuche Wilderness Area and many other regions of the Colorado Rockies.
When I first went backpacking with my family, we brought freeze-dried food, and I was sure I'd starve on those trips. That was until dad would catch our dinner (and sometimes breakfast) fly fishing the cold rivers and lakes for fresh trout.
He taught me how to clean them, keep the skin on and cook them over the campfire on an old cookie cooling rack. Then we'd put a little salt on them, peel the skin off with our fingers and pull the meat off the bone. I have never tasted anything so delicious in my life.
To this day, I can't order trout in a restaurant for two reasons: I don't know how to eat it with a knife and fork (just my fingers) and nothing compares to pulling it from the water and eating it within an hour.
I have been fortunate to travel more than a few times with my father in France. Our first travels were 40 years ago when my father was just beginning to be inspired by the tastes of French cuisine.
We drove from one excellent meal to another that trip with barely enough time to recover meal to meal. He was so excited, but my memories of that first trip were almost bordering on misery -- who would want to sit and eat and eat and eat at the same table for so long?
I am back in France with my 86-year-old father. Yesterday we enjoyed a 4-hour lunch together on a beautiful day in the south of France.
Growing up in Korea, I never once saw my father in the kitchen. Dad was the one who left the house in the morning to work and would come back in time for a painstakingly prepared dinner. Mom went to the market daily and cooked every meal.
Well, this was America, and our family had to come together to make our precious kimchi, so it was all hands on deck. Dad was tasked with peeling and pounding garlic cloves -- many, many cloves, perhaps hundreds.
My only visual memory of my father during kimjang (kimchi-making) is the top of his head as he sat on the floor, pounding garlic cloves with a mortar and pestle. Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! The house would be filled with fine particles of deep crimson-red pepper powder swirling in the air and the unmistakable aroma of saeujeot, the briny fermented paste of minute shrimp that provides kimchi's distinctive and potent flavor.
Once the garlic was pounded, mom and dad would tug on industrial rubber gloves that went up to their elbows and begin rigorously seasoning the cabbage, which at this stage was already brined and slightly wilted, by massaging the viscous and pungent red paste between the leaves.
And afterwards? Dad would do the dishes. The head of the household doing the dishes?!
In the evening, after the seasoned cabbage was packed into buckets and buried like gold bullion or so much criminal evidence in the backyard to ferment, mom would serve us the last of the previous year's kimchi along with a steaming bowl of white rice and strong miso soup with tofu. Again, my only visual memory of my father during the meal is the top of his head as he tucked in to slurp his soup loudly and enjoy the food that reminded of him of his home.
He had to eat fast. There were a lot of dishes waiting for him.
We were camping next to a restaurant/convenience store owned by my parents' friends in northern Wisconsin near the Wolf River. Although our makeshift camping site was near a county highway, we didn't pay much attention to that until the day a potato truck took a wide turn and spilled potatoes all over the road.
Gleefully, my dad scampered to the edge and collected his bounty. He then proceeded to whip up the most delicious breakfast of trout (which he had caught earlier that morning), onion and the potatoes fresh from the truck.
Sauteing with a grin, my dad -- much to the chagrin of my mother -- grabbed his bottle of Fleischmann's gin and sprinkled a few drops of the clear liquid into our breakfast for good measure. It was the most exquisite breakfast I have ever eaten. My joy of cooking comes from my dad, and I will be eternally grateful that he passed along his passion to me.
I grew up with a mom who was a chef, so my father didn't cook much -- pretty much not at all. But when I was 8 or 9, my mom started teaching French cooking through the continuing education program in our local school district. Her teaching required her to be out of the house one night per week and my father, two brothers and I were on our own for dinner most of those nights.
I don't remember everything my dad cooked on those nights, but I vividly remember two things: pizza and bread.
My dad wasn't a cook, but he could follow a recipe and he was a mechanic who liked to figure things out. The bread baking was pretty straightforward and always delicious -- half white/half wheat sandwich loaves that were consistently perfect. Baking bread together is what inspired me years later to bake bread on my own when I lived alone in Vermont after grad school and needed something to do on those cold, lonely nights.
His pizza was incredible too, because my dad had the great idea of arranging four 12-inch, square, terracotta tiles in the oven on which to bake the pizza. This was the mid-70s, long before pizza stones were sold in stores. But I imagine he had read somewhere -- probably in the Mother Earth News -- that the secret to a crisp crust was the hot baking surface in pizza ovens, so he figured out a way to mimic that in our home oven.
The pizza wasn't quite the same as the pizza available in our local Long Island pizzerias, but the dough was always homemade and perfectly crisp on the bottom.
Although most of my love of cooking and pretty much all of what I know about cooking came from my mom, I still bake bread and make pizza for my two daughters.
My dad always worked two jobs; he was a Philadelphia fireman and worked part-time at the A&P. So with shift work, he sometimes came home after 6 p.m. or sometimes had to be at work at 5 or 6.
I learned dinner isn't a set time, it is a set experience. We always ate when he could join us.
Hipsters got nothin' on my dad. Decades before young foodies flocked to restaurants like Portland's Olympic Provisions for charcuterie or the bridal registries of Minneapolis Uptowners included home canning kits, dad was growing, canning and pickling his homegrown vegetables and perfecting his coveted deer sausage recipe.
Born on the South Dakota prairie just in time for the Great Depression but late enough to miss fighting in World War II, dad grew up during a time when living off the land was a necessity, not a healthy fad. The simple ingredients of Prussian-American cooking -- vinegar, salt (lots of salt) and a vehement hatred of garlic -- are the foundations of his culinary style.
After acquiring a business degree, dad took over the family grocery store, which privileged us enough in the 1970s to enjoy weekly steak dinners (minimally seasoned to let the flavor of the meat speak for itself). Dad's gardening, hunting and fishing skills kept our freezer and pantry stocked year-round. While I never developed a taste for the goose, duck or pheasant that dad prepared, thanks to him I am a pickled watermelon and deer sausage snob. Which, sadly, is a snobbery rarely exercised given the dearth of pickled watermelon or deer sausage eateries in the world.
Dad's pickled watermelon recipe is his mother's, and likely originated with her mother in Odessa, Ukraine, over 120 years ago. "My mother used to put whole, small watermelons into a 35-gallon barrel and just set them in the basement to cure," dad tells me. Today, my dad uses small Ball jars, slices the watermelon and removes the rinds. He allows "just a little bit of garlic to taste -- but boil it first and then strain it out before pouring the brine into the jar." The resulting sweetness of the watermelon mixed with the tang of vinegar and copious salt is a memory-infused delight.
Dad's deer sausage making tradition is his own, passed on to my hunting brothers and a cousin or two who have adapted it over the past 45 years. While dad no longer hunts deer himself, he still processes up to eight each year for those same relatives.
He is adamant that he is not a butcher, but "a meat cutter"-- revealing a bit of his own snobbery in the semantics surrounding his artistry. "What a guy has to do is cut all the fat and gristle off the deer and mix it with 50 percent lean pork, because you do need some fat for sausage."
He stuffs the ground mixture into pork casings, then smokes it himself using apple wood. (DIY hipsters, please note that he used to use the oak shavings from his furniture-making hobby, but has since decided that apple wood simply produces the best flavor). When I asked how long he smokes the sausage, dad is vague on exact times, "Well, long enough to let the smoke go through the meat to flavor it."
Dad's deer sausage is one of the defining flavors of my childhood, and lives on as a prize to show off among my foodie friends (at which opportunities I refer to it exclusively as "venison sausage"). Within 24 hours of my most recent trek home to central South Dakota, I had commandeered a friend's grill to share my precious two rings of sausage with their sophisticated palates.
The look on my friend's husband's face as he took his first bite expressed my own emotions: the rolling of the eyes is a compliment to the sausage's smoky, juicy-but-not-fatty uniqueness; the slight frown is the instant realization of scarcity -- this treasure is not for sale anywhere, and the recipe and skills to create it exist only within the abilities of one octogenarian half a day away.
Those are some of the moments when my heart plumps up with family pride -- and I desperately hope there is a hipster among dad's great-grandchildren who will become his pickle and sausage-making apprentice to carry on his humble gastronomic legacy.
When visitors came, my father loved to grill steaks for everyone. He would carefully take everyone's order: rare, medium well, medium rare. It would usually be some time before dinner was served.
As a child in love with fire, I would ask how he knew when the meat was cooked just the way people liked. His response was, "I don't know, but they have waited so long for dinner that how ever it is cooked they will think it is great." He referred to it as "the steak principle."
Through much of my childhood, my dad travelled during the week and was home only on weekends. His specialty was breakfast: Swedish pancakes, French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage -- all the usual breakfast foods.
What great memories I have of being a teenager and smelling breakfast cooking downstairs. I knew I was expected to be up and joining the rest of the family for a meal, prepared with love by dad. It was a tradition that I am pleased to see my brothers carry on with their families.
For a few consecutive years when I was younger, my sister and myself would make a restaurant-style menu for Father's Day. On the door of his room would be a list of items to choose from, and we would cook whatever he chose. Usually that amounted to salad and toast -- for some reason he never picked cereal.
When my father's birthday rolled around in April, he started the conversation: "When are we having fried tomatoes and bacon? It is my favorite meal, so ... "
"Soon, soon," she'd say.
Of course, at that time, tomatoes could not be had in April, so it was a belated birthday gift to be made late in the summer. My dad had a garden and always brought in tomatoes for her to fry, but they were not to her liking. He had to wait until she could find the best and biggest, to get the most meal out of them.
When the meal was over, each one of us more than satisfied, Mom would then relax a bit and dad would start his stories, always with a tomato in there somewhere.
I remember the smile on his face when the platter was passed around with fried red tomatoes and bacon.
When I was 5 years old, I developed my love for oysters standing sink-side next to my daddy as he shucked them.
We had recently moved back to the U.S. from my army father's duty station in Japan. We lived in Alexandria, Va., and on weekends he'd sometimes take me to the docks. He'd pick up oysters (and maybe other items, like fresh fish for sashimi for my Japanese mother).
As he stood at the sink washing and shucking the oysters, I'd stand beside him like a little baby bird, waiting for him to drop an uber-fresh and delicious raw oyster right into my mouth.
There was always plenty of food on our table -- only when we got old enough to understand, my dad started telling us stories about people who were so poor, they couldn't afford to eat. He had been a homeless 9-year-old, hungry and too poor to eat.
But his story really wasn't about the sadness of poverty, it was about the enjoyment that he got from smelling the recently-baked bread really early in the morning, when he wandered the streets looking for a warm wall that would offer some comfort. He could recognized every piece of bread and pastries by their names and aroma: cinnamon, orange bloom, coffee, almond, chocolate, vanilla.
Since then, never have the crumbs been wasted or unappreciated.
I did not like hot dogs. The only way I could choke one down is if it was burned black on the grill -- my father obliged every time.
I still remember a couple of his creations in the kitchen -- or at times I should call it the galley. He loved sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. His favorite boat was Alva, and it was about 30 feet with only a two-burner Primus stove to cook meals for a family of six. On the boat we used a kerosene version.
I remember one of the meals that mom and dad fixed quite often in those cramped quarters with a limited supply of pots and pans. Dad called it "Slumgullion." I still like it, but have never duplicated the taste I remember from the days of my youth.
Growing up in food-rich central California, my dad harvested fish, abalone, frog legs and elk -- then my mom cooked. We've also tried rattlesnake and various varieties of birds. He grew up a "West Virginia holler," so foraging was just part of him.
Karen Loan Chrestay
My friends don’t understand why preparing a four-course dinner for 20 makes me so happy or why I spend months curing a piece of meat I could buy at the grocery store. They don’t get my devotion to homegrown, homemade, edible Christmas gifts every year. They would if they grew up in my father’s family.
My father spent a lot of time as a child in the kitchen with his mother before he was old enough to go to school or work on the farm. He learned from a master Southern cook and became a damned good one himself. He taught my mother to cook when they first married. There are stories of tear-filled mornings during a biscuit tutorial and utensils flying across the room during a fried chicken lesson. But she got it and I watched and learned myself.
My father was delighted by my love of food and cooking. He was always willing to try the dishes and concoctions I created and was always complimentary. He wasn’t afraid to try strange new foods uncommon in the Appalachian region where he lived. We took him to a trendy steakhouse in Tampa, Florida, and he ate steak tartare, raw oysters and escargot without a flinch. Until the day he died, though, his favorite meal was slow-cooked pinto beans with fatback, skillet-fried potatoes with onions, and cornbread -- just like his mother used to make.
He often worked nights, returning home early in the morning so that my mother could leave for work. Before leaving for school, I would toast two slices of white bread and spread them with butter, bringing them to him on a blue china plate. He often requested an extra serving before I made my way out the door.
Almost 50 years later, I can remember how making that toast each day made me feel: a gesture of kindness and great appreciation from a father who would leave too soon. Eating with a loving dad, no matter how simple the menu, is never truly forgotten.
My dad is an excellent cook. However, my memories from early childhood tell a different story.
My mom worked nights as a nurse, and my dad would be in charge of feeding us. This often meant "breakfast for dinner," where we would get cereal with bananas and raisins, and he would make a game of combining leftovers. I don't remember exactly what he would have, but it always seemed like everything he mixed included refried beans.
I'm pretty sure most of these tales of dining with dad will be warming, unfortunately mine is not one of them. One night that I remember quite well is the night I accused my dad of having an affair. To say the least, this did not go over well.
The next thing I realized was a baked potato being thrown across the table at me, from my dad, and hitting me in the face. You could hear a pin drop as my mother and two brothers sat in utter silence, before the crying started.
The moral of the story is never to accuse your father of having an affair while eating baked potatoes.
My parents are retired teachers, so most summers when they had the boat, the "Mar-Lyn" (named for myself and my sister), they spent most every nice day on the lake fishing. We waited for them to get home, and were thrilled when there was fresh fish for dinner.
My dad was the "fish cleaner and preparer" of the family. His preparation was very simple, but so delicious. My favorite was when my dad grilled the whole fish in a rotisserie basket on the grill, seasoned with some lemon pepper and garlic salt. The fish was usually accompanied with some crusty bread and either steamed asparagus or broccoli, so it made a colorful, beautiful plate.
The meal was made even more special with the conversation sharing our day, usually getting a good "fish story" that happened when they were on the lake.
My family camped frequently when I was growing up. On one memorable occasion, it was just dad and the kids -- my brother, sister and me.
We were camping near at a lake in eastern Arizona, an area that receives frequent summer storms. Dad was quite handy in the kitchen; he was always the breakfast cook at home. Cooking on this particular camping trip was memorable because dad had forgotten to pack the box containing the eating and cooking utensils. Plastic forks and knives were purchased at the campground store, but no cooking utensils were to be had.
I will never forget the sight of dad cooking breakfast with a towel over his head because of the rain, attempting to flip eggs using a plastic fork and the metal lid from a can of orange juice concentrate. I don't remember what breakfast tasted like, but I do remember that dad, with his terrific sense of humor, was able to laugh right along with us as we ate that breakfast.
Life at our house was non-stop. Between school and work schedules, we had far less time together than we would have liked. As the three of us kids got older, it became increasingly harder to find family time. My dad had a solution.
He sat everyone down one evening and declared Saturday evenings "sacrosanct." No one could make plans. We were all expected to be home by 6:30 p.m. sharp. While he had already won our respect and love, this was quite a demand to ask of high school and college students. How could he motivate us to look forward to this time and make the effort to be there?
He did it with food. He would cook all day Saturday in preparation for this family meal. He would research new recipes, experiment with new ingredients and try new techniques. His Saturday routine usually consisted of at least two runs to the grocery store and perhaps a stop at the local kitchen supply shop. If I was lucky enough to be home on a Saturday morning, I would hear music blaring from the kitchen. Dad would cook, sing and talk to whomever would listen about his preparations for the evening.
At 6:30 p.m., we would all sit down and enjoy the incredible fruits of his labor. We would be at the table for hours discussing the menu, laughing about our experiences, discussing important ideas and just enjoy being a family.
Now I live in Poland far from my Indiana home. I miss that time together more than anything, but I'm so thankful for a father who took the time to invest in our family.
Mary Jane Spadin
Daddy gave his seven children the gift of curiosity and a willingness to "try anything once." We all credit him with our diverse and eclectic tastes. He did not cook, however, except for the Sunday meat entree -- more often than not, a beautiful piece of meat on the grill. He designed his own rotisserie and enjoyed every minute of basting, marinating, testing.
Daddy reigned on the patio, and T-bones or burgers on Saturday nights in addition to the Sunday masterpieces are highlights of our childhoods. He even cut the legs off a charcoal grill so it would fit into the living room fireplace; he grilled all winter.
He is not far from my mind any time I fire up my own grill or enjoy a beautiful cut of steak.
My dad left very early for his milk route, but he would stop at home after he was out on his route and have breakfast every morning before I left for school. It was a different time, and bacon and eggs were on the menu every day. The greatest thing would be if it was a little stormy or cold, he would give me a ride in his milk truck to school. I always thought that was really cool.
When I was growing up, the oldest girl of seven children, my dad travelled much of the time as he climbed the corporate ladder at Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. Weekends were our special time together, so every Saturday morning dad would try to make up for the week by fixing us a fabulous breakfast -- the kind his mom used to make for him and his six brothers and sisters in Alabama.
As we watched with increasing awe, amusement and trepidation, dad would whirl around, getting out the cookie sheet for toast, skillets for eggs, bacon, pancake fixings, and everything else the meal would take.
At first the aromas would be to die for, but quickly they would be more in the burned department. Poor dad was never quite able to get it all together as they would in a restaurant. But we knew he loved us, and we ate every single thing he made on those Saturdays. I surely would love to enjoy those burned breakfasts again with my brothers, sisters and mom.
My dad's birthday was in April, and his older sister's birthday was a couple of days later. One year for his birthday, my mom baked him a cake. It was a single layer cake from a small box mix. It turned out to be the size and consistency of a large frosted pancake, which my father didn't fail to notice.
A couple of days later, my aunt was visiting us. My mom made a cake to celebrate her birthday. This time she made an angel food cake that was beautiful.
My dad went on to tell about the inequities of the birthday cakes at every birthday for the rest of his life, always laughing as he told it. He knew that the "pancake" birthday cake was made with love.
Growing up in New Mexico, we always had chile at meals. We looked forward to the green chile harvest. My mom would roast it, my sisters and I would peel it, but my dad would take it upon himself to blend it by hand with garlic. He didn't want his mijitas to have our hands burning from such contact with the wonderful chile verde.
Vivian Van Kekerix
Pop was the cook in our family. He was studying for his Ph.D., and became Mr. Mom while my mom taught school to support the family. He was very adventurous and made many ethnic foods that were not part of the "normal" American diet during the '60s. He did this on a very tight budget.
One night, he made sheep's liver. He baked it because my sister was supposed to eat low-fat protein. I have always hated liver and was usually the only one to liberally use catsup. That night, my mother and sisters were also reaching for the catsup.
Pop was stoically eating his portion, when suddenly he humbly asked, "Is it any better with catsup?" After having a good long laugh, we had tuna sandwiches for dinner. We never had sheep's liver again -- even when it was a very good price.
My father was a genius when it came to teaching his kids to enjoy food.
When I was 7 or so, I really, really, really hated lima beans. One evening at dinner, when I was pushing them around on my plate, trying to disguise the fact that I did not want to ingest a single one, he looked over and said, "Look at those poor little lima beans. Their mother raised them only so they would please you, and you hate them. Poor little beans. I feel so sorry for them."
I teared up immediately. I felt sorry, too. And I ate every single bean -- because I felt sorry for them. Today, of course, I love them.
One of pop's rules was that we had to try something new every time we ate out. We lived in Detroit at one point, and ate one evening at a local Italian restaurant when I was about 9. I got through the whole meal eating things I knew I loved, and thought I'd gotten away with murder -- ice cream for dessert.
But my father hadn't forgotten the rule. "Sorry," he said. "You haven't had anything new. I think you're going to have to try this gelato that's on the menu." "Oh, no," I cried, "Ice cream. Please!" "Sorry," said pop.
When it came, I was abashed, to say the least. He smiled, and said that was his point. Something delicious might lurk behind any unfamiliar label -- we had to be brave and try.
When I was first learning to cook, I wanted to surprise my dad for Father's Day by making him dinner. I made hamburger patties and french fries, but I wanted to make some gravy to go on the beef.
I didn't really know how to make gravy, but I knew it should be brown. So I looked in the spice cabinet for something to make it brown. What I found were cloves. I added enough cloves to make the gravy brown -- and awful.
But bless my father's heart, he ate the dinner, hugged me and told me how proud of me he was. It wasn't until years later that he mentioned the clove gravy. Now whenever I make something that isn't quite up to snuff, we laugh and call it clove gravy.
My dad was at home in the kitchen, and was a great chef and baker. My first memories of his cooking were up at our place on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. He would have his old charcoal grill maxed out with chicken for 20. It was a sight to see -- and he was a master.
His secret sauce was butter and spices slowly applied over time, with a finishing touch of Open Pit BBQ sauce. Over the years I have tried to recreate his special grilled chicken, but there is always something missing. As I have grown older, I have determined that what's missing is him.
I went with my dad every Sunday morning to pick up smoked whitefish, lox and bagels. My mother toasted buttered bagel halves under the broiler and served the lox and cream cheese, while my father beheaded the fragrant whitefish, skinned and plated the oily, smoky delights.
We gathered with the rest of the family on our screen porch to have our traditional breakfast. When I was a small child, he taught me how to get the meat off the bones. I felt it a rite of passage when with delight in my dad's eyes, I could accomplish this by myself.
One early Sunday morning, the smell of breakfast cooking in the kitchen woke me up. I was about 5 at the time.
I wandered out to the dining room table, where my older sisters were setting the table. "Go see what daddy brought home," they told me, pointing toward the kitchen doorway. Inside the kitchen, laying on the linoleum counter, was a large pheasant with beautiful plumage waiting to be undressed.
Dad had gone hunting early that morning. The lovely cooking smell that woke me up was coming from the stove where mom was preparing scrambled eggs.
Revelation was quickly followed by revolution. That's where eggs came from. They were the guts of pheasants. Mother could not understand why I picked at my breakfast that morning until later that day, when we both had a good laugh.
One of the most enduring memories of my dad is of summer barbecuing. Every June during my early adolescence, the family would pack up the car to bursting point and head out to Long Island, where we would rent a bungalow on Tiana Bay on the south shore.
My mom, sister and I would spend the entire summer there, accompanied at various times by cousins and friends. Besides his 2-week vacation, my dad would arrive every Friday after work to spend the weekend. He loved to barbecue London broil. I clearly remember him squatting over his beloved hibachi, supported on cinder blocks, fanning the embers and getting the heat just right.
Whether it in fact was or not, I totally remember the meat to be the best I have ever had, if only because it meant dad was there for the weekend.
Whenever I had an opportunity to meet my father for lunch during work, we would sneak off secretly to eat a stacked pastrami sandwich at Katz's Deli -- a delectable, artery-clogging treat that was much frowned upon by my health-conscious mother.
What made our dinner meals so memorable were the stories my father told. If he could be cajoled into conversation after a long day of work, he'd talk of how he and his brothers would steal a ride on the back of trolley. He'd reminisce about hitting a tennis ball against the side of the house and getting so good he eventually became the junior city champion. He explained science -- the islets of Langerhans, Archimedes' principle.
The stories of his life with his three brothers, four sisters, immigrant Polish parents, and school exploits were gifts that transcended the ordinary, plain meal.
One of the evenings after bringing home a goose from our hunt, it was just dad and me home alone. For dinner, dad planned to cook the goose -- the whole thing.
We shut the oven, went to play games and then suddenly realized 4 hours later that the goose was still in the oven. Dad rushed over and pulled out what looked like a totally black piece of, well, something that used to be a goose. We tried to eat it, but after a few quick bites of charcoal-like ash, we took our goose to the trash and ate something else for dinner.
To this day, I still ask dad if we're going to have burnt goose. We still haven't.
Dad, knowing mom would complain about heating up the stove for dinner on hot sweltering summer evenings, kindly stopped by the roadside fruit and vegetable stand. He owned a barbershop near the stand. There he'd purchase either a huge watermelon or a heaping mound of sweet corn. We loved these simple dishes.
My dad was a rather dysfunctional cook, but he got the job done -- of course I didn't know any better. Often when we came in late after hoeing cockleburs in the soybean field, we had to feed ourselves. He would whip out a couple of tall glasses, fill them with milk, add a couple of teaspoons of sugar and add a couple of torn-up slices of white bread: Bread and Milk.
My mother hated Sunday dinners, always a large meal after church, that was made fairly disruptive by three kids who always insisted that dad should tell them the latest autopsy report. Dad was a pathologist and on call every other Sunday, so often there was a wonderful grizzly tale of somebody's death. We, of course, wanted all the details. Mom was squeamish, we were not -- the gorier the story, the more we liked it.
I come from a Cajun family, and everyone cooked. My dad and all my uncles all had specialties from the kitchen. One of my dad's favorites across the whole extended family was his barbequed chicken. He could barbecue for 24 folks at the drop of a hat. One of my jobs as a kid was as his runner -- get things from the kitchen, bring things back inside.
One day we're cooking for a huge family get-together, and I'm watching him turn the chickens over. One wing (my mom's favorite part), falls off the edge of the grill into the coals, and gets covered in ash. He grabs it out and tells me, "Go get me a twist-tie."
I come back with one, and he ties it around the poor wing (he's brushed off almost all of the ash, then put more barbecue sauce on it). As he takes the chicken off the grill and puts it onto the platter I'm holding, he points to the marked wing and says, "Tell your mom not to eat that one." Meaning, of course, that he figured the relatives would get it. Laissez le bontemps rouller!
My dad's favorite dinner is liver dredged in flour and fried, fluffy mashed potatoes, creamed peas and corn, and of course, lots of gravy (cream is preferred but brown will do). For as long as I can remember, we have celebrated dad's birthday and Father's Day with this tableau.
Dad usually tells the story of when he was a boy in St. Louis, Missouri. He would go to the local butcher to get free liver, and bring it home for his mom to fry up for the dog, Rex. He would look on, mouth watering, and would be rewarded with a small sliver that he ate with much delight.
Sometimes in the 1950s, they started putting whipped cream in aerosol cans. My older brother was trying to put some of the whipped cream on his strawberry shortcake and nothing came out.
When my father said, "Let me try," he took the can from my brother, re-shook it and started pushing on the white nozzle without realizing where the cream was going to come out. He was pushing on all sides when all of a sudden there was the whipped cream all over my dad's face and his shirt. We all laughed, but my dad didn't think it was that funny.
My dad was not a cook, but he did take charge of the grilling. However, he didn't have a lot of patience with it, so he would put the meat on before the flames died down to charcoal embers, and then go inside to watch whatever ball game was on TV.
When my mother, who was in the kitchen preparing the rest of the meal, would notice smoke out the window, she would call out, "Walt! The meat!" My first memories of hamburgers were crusty on the outside and rare on the inside, but that combination made for the best steaks ever. I still like my hot dogs charred on the outside.
I grew up on a wheat and cattle farm in Montana. On the rare occasion when mom was gone, dad would make fried egg sandwiches for the six of us kids. He would heat up the cast iron skillet and put some of the bacon fat in that was always sitting next to the stove. The eggs were fresh from our chickens. He would toast the homemade bread and smear it with mustard, then slide on the almost hard-cooked egg. I miss my dad, and am sure to tell my kids about him each time I make this for them.
My mom was a good basic cook, but my dad was the experimental cook. Things did not always work out.
He decided to try a lemon meringue pie. He did not quite understand lemon zest. He diced whole lemon rinds into the pie. Boy, was that bitter.
Then there was a cake he made. I am not sure what recipe he was using for the frosting, but there were chunks of Crisco in it.
At 89, dad's gusto for life is more robust now than it was for most of his previous years. When I was growing up, he was a grouch, but as he's aged, he's become an effervescent cheerleader for all the simple pleasures, especially good food.
Dad sits at the little round table in our kitchen while I get him the short glass I bought at a garage sale stenciled in gold with "V.I.P." As I finish the last of the preparations, Dad munches slices of ricotta salata, roasted olives or sautéed peppers. Sometimes I just set out store-bought dip and crackers. No matter -- he'll gobble these snacks and make his first proclamation of the day that "the food is just wonderful!"
When I was growing up in north Minneapolis, Saturday night was steak night for my dad. About 8 p.m., when all the neighborhood games got off to a rollicking start, we would be called in for sirloin (extremely well-done for the kids), baked beans, garlic toast and tossed salad with mom's secret vermouth-based Roquefort dressing.
Dad would then regale us with stories of his youth, war experiences in France and the characters he regularly met while managing an office building on 8th and Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis. My dad was a masterful storyteller and loved holding court at his 8-foot-long, homemade dining room table each and every Saturday night.
When I was a child in the 1950s, steak was a rare treat, and I loved steak. I especially loved eating steak with my father because he would give me his fat.
If he did not like dinner, he never complained. If we complained, he reminded us he had to pick bugs out of the bread in the Philippines, but he never complained.
If my mom's cooking veered too far from a meat and potatoes sort of dinner, he would just quietly get up from the table after dinner, pull out that classic '60s white bread, smother it with peanut butter and top it with green onions.
A peanut butter and green onion sandwich? "Ick, Daddy!" "What, you don't like peanut butter and green onion sandwiches?"
He did make a mean hamburger; one of my favorite memories is my dad teaching me how to make his special recipe. The best part was when I got to plunge my hands into the cold meat and seasonings to mix the meat. It made me feel like a craftsman. To this day, I can't taste those burgers without remembering that experience.
Some of my best memories are waking up to the smell of dad's slow oven-cooked cinnamon toast on Saturday mornings. It was such a treat.
He went through an omelet phase after a trip to France, and patiently taught me how to make them.
Then, after a stint in Spain, there was my introduction to flan, which was very exotic in the small Georgia town in which I grew up.
His stuffed bell peppers were magical, and I even chose them as one of my birthday meals.
A big weeknight treat was "porcupine balls," which were ground meat and rice rolled into little balls and put in the pressure cooker -- which in itself was very dangerously interesting as us kids were told to "stand back" as the little top fizzled and jumped -- until the little meatballs emerged spiked with rice.
When I went through my "no meat" stage, he wisely decided not to waste the nice steaks on me. Instead he made me and only me sautéed mushrooms with garlic and a splash of wine, which made me feel very special and not just a little smug toward my steak-eating siblings.
Of course, there was his piece de la resistance -- the Sundays he made roast duck. It was an all-day affair with many a child peering into the oven and the smell permeating the house all afternoon. Then the feast!
"You sure that's cooked enough?" My dad lives in constant fear that I will undercook the steak, broccoli, scrambled eggs. We're both a little cavalier in the kitchen, and I'll admit to surreptitiously turning down the heat in the hopes of turning his taste buds on to the joys of rare meat, al dente broccoli and creamy eggs. Just as often, I'll turn around to a dish at full boil that I'd earlier turned off, as we both attempt to wrest temperature and taste control from the other.
As a kid, I loved when dad would take a rare turn in the kitchen to throw a mess of ingredients into a simmering pot of his award-winning chili or his famous Antwhistle: the oddly named, but delicious, ground sirloin sautéed with cashews, raisins, soy sauce and shallots. Dad's style is free-form, uneven, never follows the recipe ("It's just a guideline") and infused with love.
I developed my first real interest in Food with a capital F as a college student on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Ethiopian food, real sushi (not easy to come by in Austin in the '90s), and Baja cuisine opened my eyes to spices, seafood and many things that we just didn't have growing up with my mom in charge of the kitchen -- her vegetarian taste buds run from mild to milder.
I began to read cooking magazines, watch Food Network and when my dad would visit, we'd go to Matsuhisa or Kate Mantellini's and tour LA's farmers markets. My food awakening coincided with dad's discovery of his own passion for food and cooking and, as mom took on a very active life as a state legislator, she gladly transferred primary kitchen duties to dad.
When I'd come home for holidays, we'd battle it out in the kitchen, each determined to stake our claim and each certain the other couldn't possibly do it right without constant meddling and supervision. There may even have been a few Thanksgivings that involved tears and shouting, hurt feelings and barely edible food. I was headstrong, passionate, stubborn and a lot like my dad.
As a newly married grown-up, I have settled into a more companionable rhythm with my dad on Sunday afternoons. Dad sits at the counter with a stack of heavily dog-eared food magazines, a glass of wine in hand, as I busy myself chopping, sautéing, stirring and humming along to the radio. I'll bring dad a cutting board with garlic and onions to prep for the meal. He'll glance at the recipe on hand, quickly deciding he knows a better way, and call out suggestions to me.
"Maybe a little less salt?" "This says 1/2 cup of sugar, but I never use more than 1/4 cup."
Mom busies herself with the tall order of cleaning up after us, as we use every plate, pan and dish in their kitchen. She usually tells my dad to stop telling me what to do (he doesn't), checks in to make sure I don't mind dad assuming the executive chef role (I don't), and before too long we're sitting down in happy chaos with my husband, brother, sister-in-law, sister, her boyfriend and all five of our dogs to what my dad will declare to be The Best [Dish] Ever. Generally he reserves that title for whatever dish he commandeered, and he's almost always right.
My father passed away several years ago, but I fondly remember when I told him I would be visiting him and wanted to make his favorite meal. Very promptly, he replied, "Meatloaf!"
Now if there is one thing I have never been happy with, it's my meatloaf, but I made the attempt. I perused the supermarket aisle with the mix packets, and sure enough there was one for meatloaf. I didn't think it was any better than my homemade attempts, but my father, ever the gentleman, told me how much he enjoyed it.
As a family, we decided to make pizza for our New Year's Eve dinner. My dad and I took it upon ourselves to even make the dough. He showed me how the yeast reacts with the sugar and warm water. I would watch as it mysteriously began to bubble. Throughout the day I peered into the dough bowl only to notice it had magically doubled in size.
Late afternoon would arrive, the time to begin rolling those large doughy masses. The kitchen would fill with frustrated laughs as we tried rolling it out. Despite the struggle, the pizzas always tasted delicious.
My dad taught me the order of how to top the beautiful pizza, always letting my sisters and I choose the combination of toppings. Pizzas assembled and in the oven, there was only the short wait left. The scent of browning dough filled our nostrils, alerting us when it was ready to be devoured.
The pizza tradition continues to this day. Although our family might not technically ring in the New Year together, we still celebrate with a delicious pizza meal. This past year my dad and I hosted a New Year's party -- the pizza was the star of the show.
Since I was little, my dad has helped me learn about food and good eating. My favorite memories are us in the kitchen, with a delicious scent wafting out the open windows.
Our traditional Christmas Eve dinner was sauerbraten and potato dumplings. While mom made the sauerbraten (which I believe involved 3 days of marinating), the dumplings were dad's territory -- it was the only time I remember him cooking.
In one of mom's aprons, he did it all, start to finish -- from the peeling of the potatoes and the mashing to the forming and cooking of the dumplings.
While we always said they were kind of on the heavy side (they were about the size of a baseball and we would comment afterward we felt like we ate a baseball), they were so delicious going down, topped with gravy and accompanied by the sauerbraten.
I still have the wooden bowl the dumplings were made in -- and we all have great memories.
I was born in a barn. I can say this because my father bought land with a barn on it, then converted the barn into our family's home. I was not only raised there, I was born there.
The house was unique, like my father. He left intact the exposed hand-hewn beams, the ladder which originally led to the hay loft and the octagonal window. This was all part of its charm. As were the not-exactly level floors.
Mealtimes found my father seated at the head of the table. With five active, growing girls in the family, someone inevitably spilled her glass of milk. What would happen next is the milk would run downhill, the length of the table, directly into my father's lap.
He became adept at keeping his pants dry by jumping up every time he heard the sound of a glass being knocked over -- a habit he retained no matter where he was. Even when we were at a restaurant, if anyone tipped over a glass, my father bolted up from his seat. This led to the occasional disapproving glance from other nearby diners.
It became an amusing and endearing part of mealtimes that I will long remember.
My dad has always loved creating new and unique flavors. Today, still, he is always looking at what we have in the fridge, pondering for a moment (always with the refrigerator door closed, because otherwise, that would waste electricity), and somehow combining a random old pepper and block of cheese with other impromptu ingredients and spices to create some delicious dish for dinner -- which can never be exactly recreated.
He's been doing this for years, and teaching me as well. One of my favorite and earliest memories of our cooking escapades was when I was in elementary school. After school, or anytime I was just looking for a snack, we'd come up with some new creation and give it a name.
The most famous? Bloody Caterpillars on the Snow. This, clearly, was an open-face bagel with cream cheese and sliced pimento olives (pimentos = blood). And there were others, Yellow Snake or something of the like, that described a pretzel with mustard twisting along its surface, and another bagel dish with melted cheese and mayo, whose named changed with our mood and additional toppings.
While the caliber of my dad's creations reach levels far beyond bagels and cheese (he's got a knack for cooking Indian food and homemade naan, seafood aioli pizzas from scratch, tomato mozzarella paninis on homemade bread, and much more), I will always cherish the simple snacks we created together -- and really all the meals we create together, or I simply just eat with him -- because food has always been a great connection for us, one that will continue even as we are apart.
Sometimes, now that I'm off at graduate school, I'll eat a Bloody Caterpillar on the Snow in between class, think of him, and smile.
Submitted by Elizabeth Baratta, written by Suzanne Owayda, Nancy Baratta, Mary DeCourcey, Amy Baratta and Elizabeth Baratta
Dinner with dad. It sounds so simple, but in my mind it includes so much: the dinnertime bell, gathering together, cleaning up, a trip to Brigham's ice cream shop and overall an adventurous spirit toward food.
What I remember about dinner and our father was the fact that he was very appreciative of every meal our mother cooked for us. He always let her and all of us know how lucky we were for having her and the excellent dinners she took the time to prepare. We very, very rarely were allowed to have take-out, an occasional pizza night, but usually it was a home-cooked meal every night at 6 p.m.
At 6 p.m. the brass dinner bell was summoned by my father, and out the back or front door it would ring ding a ling a ling until we all reached home. We were spread in all different directions of our neighborhood, playing, riding our bikes and hanging with friends. This was our signal to "come back in, it's time to gather." This was the original cell phone, I guess. And it worked: It was never lost, out of juice, or dropped and broken. It remains sitting on my parents' mantle in our childhood home today.
When I first think about those times, my memories immediately go to me as a child, the youngest at the family dinner table, with all the others around each in her place. We are around the table that my dad crafted out of an old door. At some point before me, they outgrew whatever table came before, the door was taken off the hinges, cut down on the side to get rid of the handle hole, and criss-cross legs added.
My dad built dinner from the ground up. It was a sacred time, no phone calls, no answering the door, no excuses -- just us. Dinner was the central meeting place for my family. We really did all share our day at this time. We talked about our day, he and my mother asked about our days and told us of theirs. Issues in our lives and out in the world were discussed, and everybody got a turn -- even the youngest.
Although we were in sports and my older sisters worked and had other things to do that were beyond my imagining, we were all there. My dad was our leader, he kept the pace and kept this time sacred. If the phone rang, he was the only one allowed to answer it, explaining to a friend of ours, "We are having dinner right now, she can't come to the phone. Who is calling please"? If the doorbell rang -- we had a neighborhood of what seemed like a gazillion kids -- again my dad was the only one allowed to answer it. "We are having dinner right now, she's not available, I'll let her know … "
Even though it was Saturday and more leisurely than a weekday, we were not allowed to get up and have breakfast whenever we wanted -- after all, "this house is not a restaurant" as my dad liked to say. To maintain the family breakfast, we all had to be "up and at 'em."
Dad had a number of different strategies for rousting five girls out of bed on a Saturday morning, but the most successful was the train record. We had a family subscription to National Geographic Magazine and sometimes the magazine came with a 45 rpm plastic record that went with one of the articles. An article about birds would include a recording of bird songs, a story about the Amazon River would include the sounds of the river. Most annoying was the train recording that accompanied a story about the first steam locomotives.
Dad would play the train record at full volume when he felt it was time for us to get up and greet the day -- it would start with a mild choo choo choo choo choo choo choo choo choooo chooooo and then get a bit louder CHOO CHOO CHOO CHOO CHOO CHOO CHOO CHOOOOOO CHOOOOOO and get louder still until you thought there was a steam engine barreling through the bedroom, CHOO CHOO CHOO CHOO CHOOOOO CHOOOOO. It was hard to ignore, especially when dad played it a second time and reminded us that it was time to get up so that we could enjoy breakfast together and then get to our Saturday morning chores.
Our dad was strict about always making us at least try everything that our mother cooked. The rule was you must at least try a little of every food that was made for you. When I was a young kid and was forced to eat something like spinach, Brussels sprouts and liver I was less than happy. But as I grew older, I realized the wisdom of this and many of my dad's other rules.
It is all the ingredients in the family dinner ritual, not necessarily the meal, that really do contribute qualities like groundedness, stability and understanding of the world.
While mother planned and prepared all the supper meals, daddy was the breakfast cook. He had developed his skills while on the naval ship during World War II when he and a couple of other sailors snuck into the galley and made a late-night snack.
With his family, every weekend he then turned into the short order cook. He and mother would determine the breakfast meat before most of us kids were even out of bed. The choices, depending on their supply, were bacon, country ham, sausage, breakfast steaks or pork chops. The bacon and ham were cured using my grandfather's recipe, and the sausage was homemade according to my grandfather's recipe.
Mother might make biscuits and if in season, fried green tomatoes, maybe peel some potatoes, but that's it. These 2 days a week for breakfast, Stan was the cook. The entrée was eggs. Everything else was sides as far as he was concerned. Once he had the chosen the meat, he began taking orders for eggs.
One at a time, he would call each of us kids by name, and ask us, "How do you want your egg? How many do you want?" Our understood choices were scrambled, yolk busted, over lightly or sunny-side up.
This was no entire family sit-down meal by any means. When your order was up, daddy called your name, and you were expected to hightail it to the table and begin eating. There might be another sister or brother finishing up, but this meal was not a family sit-down meal.
But always, always, he wanted to know how he did on your egg order. If there was conversation, he led it: "Was your egg to your satisfaction?"
He usually shared the cooking technique. He'd often explain, "Burner needs to be turned down real low. Cook it slow. Don't get in a hurry. Got to watch what you are doing. If the flames are too high, you're are going to ruin it! Keep those cast iron skillets clean."
My guess is that it took him half the morning to make breakfast for his six children, his wife and himself.
In the Catskills, at a bungalow colony, I may have been 3 years old. Dad and I were sitting on the porch, me on his lap. It was pouring rain. He introduced me to eating tomatoes, sprinkled with salt, like an apple. Biting into it, with the juices running all over me, we were laughing. It was the moment I fell in love with all things food-related. It was a moment with my young father I will always remember.
Cheese rarebit, breakfast pizza, ranch burgers, oven bacon with cheese toast -- school day breakfast belonged to my father. While my mother dealt with the babies, my father created a protein-rich, economical breakfast for his school-bound kids.
I would often sneak into the kitchen early while my big brothers hogged the bathroom, just to have some time with him. I watched him slicing those chunks of Velveeta into that double boiler -- sometimes he'd let me stir in the mustard and milk.
But always, he sang. He'd smile with those Paul Newman eyes of his and asked if I wanted a taste. The crowd would begin to assemble, the big ones shoving me out of the way, noise taking over the space we had shared.
Even now, when I see cheese rarebit on a menu or have my first taste, the memory of my father's morning smile warms my heart.
Where did the word "foodie" come from? I don't know when food lovers started calling themselves foodies. But something tells me that my dad was way ahead of his time. My dad was definitely a foodie.
In fact, food was such a huge part of our lives that there aren't that many foods that don't remind me of growing up. We lived here and there, in different countries and ate at different tables, but we always shared an incredible love of food.
Dad could describe in a few words the smells and taste of what he wanted to eat. He was an amazing but messy cook. It took hours to clean the kitchen after dad was done cooking.
My dad traveled a lot on business and liked to bring us something from all the different countries he visited. He brought home sweets, cookies, nuts and cheeses.
Whenever he went to the market, he always seemed to get carried away and buy more than we could eat. He would buy 100 oranges instead of maybe 12 oranges.
One of the dearest memories of my dad was when he took us to the beach. He found a restaurant owned by a grumpy gentleman from Madrid. It was a Spanish-style building with a red roof that almost looked like a house instead of a restaurant. This place was unique; it served the best churros and horchatas, sweet, creamy and so tasty.
For those of us who grew up in Latin America or Spain, when we think of churros, we must pair them with a heavy creamy and delicious hot chocolate. But when I think of churros, I think of that beautiful white house by the ocean, I think of horchatas and of course, I think about my dad.