I think we can all agree that Dad, though he has some typical jerky man-traits (selective hearing, followed by selective execution of “unheard” tasks), is about as good as they come. Strong, yet sensitive, goofy yet unfailingly wise, he has pretty much spoiled me on the opposite sex for life. (Thanks a lot, Dad. Sorry, (non-existent) suitors.)
One of Dad’s most endearing quirks is just how much he loves to cook for himself when Mom goes away. Certainly, he doesn’t enjoy extended absences, but I think he secretly likes a two or three day stretch with the house to himself. And it’s not because he can watch all the Monday night football or March Madness he wants, although he does do that—it’s because the kitchen, which is usually her domain, belongs to him.
There are rumors floating around that Dad helped Mom cater some pretty bad-ass parties back in that unimaginable stretch before Mags and I were born. But up until a few years ago, Dad’s culinary quiver contained precious few arrows: French toast, Eggs Nova Scotia, and Graveyard Stew (the latter two will certainly be the topic of future blogs.) These days, his arsenal is far more robust.
When he’s by himself, there is no knee-jerk dinner solution. Each meal is carefully planned and executed. Sure, he’s been known to sear up a steak, simmer a luscious clam sauce, and steam-sauté a mean side dish. But for Dad, dinner is not a one-plate affair. There is always a first course. Sometimes it’s a composed salad starring his famous vinaigrette (extra special when made with shallots and that pear-infused balsamic), or maybe it’s a handful of shrimp sautéed in garlic and butter.
I’ve walked in on him fastidiously arranging his single-serving creations, pouring a glass of wine, and reading a book. I honestly felt like some kind of gastro-voyeur peeping in on someone else’s romantic meal. I’ve got this one unforgettable image of Dad filed away in my head, one that I like to call up during those jerky moments. It goes like this: I came home late one night to find him perched on the couch, cloth napkin in his lap, poised to cut into three little first-course scallops seared to perfection and drizzled with a citrusy, improv pan sauce. All this while watching Ghost on Lifetime. (Future husband, I dare you to top that.)
To say that I have a lot to learn from my Dad would be the understatement of the millennium. But let’s stick to cooking, shall we? I seem not to have inherited my Dad’s careful attention to plotting, cooking, and savoring his one-man meals (nor his furnace-like metabolism, for that matter). But perhaps it’s a trait I need to cultivate.
My first attempt was last night. I had two large eggplants on death row in my crisper and a bunch of cilantro so beautiful it made me want to cry. I’d have gnoshed on that cilantro all by itself, such is my love for it, but that seemed nutritionally suspect. So, I Googled “eggplant and cilantro recipe,” and was presented with a spicy, Indian-flavored roasted eggplant dish. Cumin? Coriander? Cayenne? Sold.
Despite the heat, I roasted those aubergines for an hour, sautéed the rest of the ingredients, mixed it all together and ended up with a bowl full of something that not-so-vaguely resembled vomit. Unfazed, I griddle-toasted some naan, sautéed some red cabbage, lit a few candles, cracked a beer, sat outside, and ate my meal. It tasted…awesome.
This morning, I am covered in mosquito bites. But I feel a little more like Dad, and that’s definitely a good thing. Now, if only I could remember what he’d say about not itching these suckers…