In the realm of cookery, I think my dad was the equivalent of an ’80s new-wave one-hit (OK, maybe three-hit) wonder. But oh, those hits, they will always be with me. For the most part, my mom was the dependable source of everyday meals for my sisters and me — from spaghetti and meatballs to hot and sour soup — but when my father cooked, he did it with steely focus and uni-directional aplomb. Hunan catfish was his tried-and-true crowd favorite, an aromatic and homey dinner slated for the best of occasions, but he also cranked out perfect fried eggs, tenderly braised napa cabbage, and smoky barbecue chicken on the ancient black Weber. I was always amused by his boyish appetite for American snacks (UTZ potato chips, Hershey’s chocolate minis, Mini Babybel cheeses), and his lifelong affinity for respectably nutritious staples: bananas, roasted peanuts, endless cups of black tea. (After all, he was a scientist.) And best of all, he ordered a hamburger and Sprite in every restaurant, no matter how fancy the menu.
We asked around America’s Test Kitchen for fun stories involving food and dads. Here are a sampling:
Growing up, my mom was always in charge of food, so whenever she was out of town, my dad, my brother and I were always kind of left to our own devices, which usually meant take-out and movie night. One particular weekend in my childhood, though, my dad made a run out to the video store, came back, went down to the basement, dug out an ancient countertop deep-fryer that looked like it hadn’t seen the light of day since the Carter administration, and declared that tonight was not only the night that he was dusting off his old fried chicken recipe from college, but he’d also just bought all three original Star Wars films, and it’s about time we watched them. Needless to say, between dodging hot oil, discovering how excellent home-fried chicken is and experiencing George Lucas’ work for the first time, that weekend with my dad was life-changing.
My very quiet and reserved father invented (and would sing) a special song whenever we were to have manicotti for dinner. It wasn’t a good song, but it still makes me smile: “Man-man-manacotti, man-man-manicotti, I’m making manicotti!”
When I was about 10 years old, my mom went to visit her folks one weekend and for whatever reason, instead of ordering us kids pizza, or microwaving something frozen for every meal (which is what he usually did when Mom was away), he decided to cook… and my father cannot cook. For me, he took one of those vacuum-packed, frozen steaks that you buy in bulk at Sam’s Club out of the refrigerator, put it in a skillet (still frozen solid), looked in the cupboard… found a very, very old bottle of cooking sherry, poured about half the bottle in the skillet, added about a 1/4 bottle of Worcestershire sauce, and then turned up the heat. I struggle to find the words to describe how terrible that steak tasted. I can still sort of taste the sherry right now.
And now for the Silly Question of the Day…
What are your favorite memories involving food and dads?
Leave your silly answer in the comments!