If you have not guessed yet, food is a big deal to my family. For some people, vacations are about seeing the sights or experiencing some new culture. In a way, we agree, but for the most part we’re more interested in the food culture of a place and which restaurants we get to try.
My father has always been a big proponent of eating healthy. He was always a great balance to my mother’s love of homey, Southern food. My dad found ways to balance flavor, nutrition, and hominess all in the same dish. I still remember his pot roasts, in particular with the potatoes and carrots mixed in. My mother had issues with some of his taste in herbs, though, and would often request that “the green stuff” be left out. Regardless, my dad’s food was always healthy, nourishing, and dependable. See, my dad, and mom, were adamant about nightly family meals. I know it is difficult for many families to accomplish this, but I remember the act of sitting down and eating more than I do the food, sometimes. Those are good memories, and reminded me each meal that I had a group of people who loved me enough to take time and create a meal to share together.
My father has always loved Ethnic cuisines. I most often associate my dad with Mediterranean food – black olives, goat cheese, lamb, gyros, Taziki sauce. He loved those flavors, with their earthy boldness, much the same reason as he probably loved good Southern cornbread and pinto beans. I’ve come to associate those flavors and textures with home, with my dad. Every once in a while he’d make pinto beans, collard greens, and cornbread for supper. It has taken me years to finally love that combination, but sometimes I will sit bolt upright on the couch at 9 o’clock at night and declare that I will be making cornbread right then. And, yes, it is worth it every single time.
We also share a love of sushi. We discovered sushi right about the same time, if I recall correctly. Sometimes for lunch after church on Sundays we would drive by the Fresh Market and pick up some smaller things like sushi, bread, cheese, and meat to make a kind of smorgasbord at our dinner table at home. I enjoyed these little trips, and my dad and I began to sample to sushi. A particularly funny experience came when we went to Las Vegas for the western Optical Convention. We were exploring the area and found a sushi place that had a very low price, and so my father and I excitedly dragged my mother and brother along with us. My dad and I ordered some, as I recall, delicious rolls that had a great combination of flavors, spice, and texture, while my mom and brother looked on in disgust as we ingested raw fish. To this day, they still tell that story and how they left the restaurant early to find a ham sandwich or something recognizable.
My father is nothing if not consistent, and one of those points, beside family dinners, was breakfast. My father believed in sending us to school in the morning with a full belly so we could focus. Some days we would have cereal, others would be grits, or oatmeal with fruit, some days eggs and bacon or sausage. My father never let breakfast get old or boring. To this day, I get up and have at least a little something to make sure that I have energy and can focus in the morning. And his constancy may be the reason that breakfast, and breakfast food, remains my favorite type of meal.
My father gave me the gift of food and cooking. He gave me a passion to reach out and explore new flavors, to make mistakes in the kitchen, and to refine each dish until it became a masterpiece. The food may not have lasted, because we ate it, but the memories and the feeling of home that comes from a shared meal certainly did.