Cooking On A Budget: Kitchen Memories With My Dad

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kitchen Memories With My Dad

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One of my earliest childhood kitchen memories was with my Dad. He rarely stepped into the kitchen to cook when we were little so this food memory sticks out pretty clearly. It had to be 1957 or 1958 and I was about 4 years old. Too young to really help out, but old enough to be on a step stool near the stove to watch. Richard Boone had a hit TV Western show Have Gun Will Travel. Boone played Palladin and I remember watching the black and white shows with my mother and father. My father liked the shows content, my mother watched because she thought Richard Boone was a "hunk".
This particular morning my father had decided he was making breakfast and took out the much used cast iron skillet. Back then the cast iron skillets were a must have in most kitchens - before non-stick frying pans or anodized pots were even in the minds of any inventor. Dad was going to make scrambled eggs for breakfast. As he placed the butter in the hot skillet and the butter began to melt and "travel" to the edge, I spoke out and said something like: "have butter will travel". My dad laughed out loud and applauded my coming out with what was something cute and witty to say for a four year old as I was mimicking and playing off one of his favorite Western TV shows.  He could not wait to tell my mother.  He repeated that story many times throughout my life asking me if I remembered that.
Of course I remembered it and for many reasons. It was one of the few times that I shared a childhood memory of my father cooking for our family and that he was actually teaching me how to make scrambled eggs.  Coupled with the fact that I was able to make him laugh and that he thought I was rather witty for my age and that he deemed it "cute" made it stand out for me.  Also that was "back in the day" when the kitchen was clearly the women's domain and men stayed clear. They were the outside cooks - standing over a charcoal or wood fire grilling a juicy steak, but rarely, if ever in a kitchen.
It wasn't until I was a young adult that I got to see how great a cook my Dad was.  He and my mother divorced and he married a woman who disliked cooking and since he was retired he took over the nightly cooking. I was much surprised that later on in my life he was actually passionate about cooking and loved to brag about the dishes he made, how he made them and wanted to share his recipes with me and my sister.  By this time, my Dad had retired and moved to Florida where he would live out the rest of his life.

One of his food passions was making homemade bread. He made it regularly. Where he lived in Florida, the neighbors were about a sneeze away from one another. The small street he lived on was a community of "snowbirds" who migrated to Florida, purchased homes and got to know each other as friends and neighbors.
They often dined together, spent the afternoons drinking together and occasionally went out to the local Elks or Moose Lodge or Vets club for dances.
Dad would bake bread and make enough to share with some of the neighbors. After his second wife passed he often made enough food to be shared with those close neighbors. He loved cooking and he loved sharing his food. During one of his visits up north he stayed at my home.  I was making my mothers recipe: Pork Chops with Onions.  I recall becoming infuriated with him for his critique of my cooking method and I slammed a spoon down and shouted, "then cook the damn dinner yourself!"  After he went back to Florida he sent us a Showtime Rotisserie Oven. I think I was still ticked that he dared to critique me in the kitchen, that I did not open the box for over a year.
Eventually I did open the box and eventually my Dad passed away. With what he left me, we were able to purchase a Viking 6 burner gas stove and oven. Both the rotisserie oven and the Viking stove and oven have become the tools which have produced many a great meal in our home. I even implemented his techniques for the pork chop dinner - he was right.
I may have learned a lot about cooking and recipes from my grandmother and my mother, however what I received from my father was priceless. He showed me that real men do cook and they are damn good at it. He taught me things that made sense in the kitchen. But most of all he passed along a joy of cooking - one that is not born from a need to cook necessarily, but rather from a passion that is within a heart.
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