When I was about ten years old, my mother declared her days of slaving over a hot stove had come to a screeching halt. And she meant it too. When it came time for supper the following evening, we all assumed our positions around our table in the dining room, figuring she would come around. We waited and waited until my dad finally submitted, and just ordered pizza. This was the first time I understood fully that my mother is a woman of her word . So, we happily ate pizza for about a week straight, throwing in the occasional fish stick. It seems my brother and I were doomed to take out and frozen fare for the rest of our childhood.
My father, being forever loving to his old lady, didn’t utter a harsh word at her. He understood. It had been at least ten long years of three meals a day, with little to no help, and she had had enough. He got that. But his stomach didn’t follow his way of thinking whatsoever. My dad is a particular kind of man, and the likes of our small town pizza joints do not suit his oh-so-sophisticated tastes. And while he may be slim his appetite surely is not. He gladly eats chocolate cake for breakfast only to be followed by a full spread of eggs and bacon, and popovers with jam. He introduced me to the glory of the late night snack. He gets the urge for a scone at midnight (and follows through!). To put it plainly, he is always in the clean plate club. The man loves to eat.
So, he did what any intelligent person would do. He tried to cook. The first meal I can remember him stirring slowly over the stove was spaghetti. And before you think please, that is a sorry excuse for a meal that anyone who knows how to turn a knob, boil some water and dump contents into a bowl can complete, realize my father doesn’t do things half way. He goes all out. He went so far as to take a class at a cooking school from an Italian Woman who taught him not how to make spaghetti sauce, rather she showed him the art of red sauce. She divulged the amazing secrets of how to flavor olive oil by browning chunks of peeled garlic into the simmering golden liquid. She relayed the patience necessary to wait several hours for a tomatoes’ skin to disintegrate before your very eyes. And subsequently she paved the way for the next hobby he would pursue: fermenting limoncello. Oh, how I remember loving this hobby of his later on when filling small flasks of this potent liquor before leaving the house for the evening in high school. I promise, I was the star of the party with that fire water. But that is a whole ‘nother story now isn’t it.
Prior to this, I have no memories of my father cooking a meal with the exception of Saturday morning pancakes cooked atop the interchangeable piece on our stove top. (How cool is that? I have not seen a stove like this since…) Over the next few months he became more and more confident in his skills. He even had the nerve, unbeknownst to the rest of the family, to work in a high-end french restaurant for a small (oh so small) period of time. Luckily my father has grace and could not tolerate the high temper and out right nasty words of a stressed out chef, and quit. And though he claims he hated every last thing he learned to cook there, I think that perhaps this is where my love of the croissant may stem from.
My dear stubborn and oh so intelligent mama still makes a mean omelette now and then. And no one, I mean no one, can touch her apple pie. But all in all, she won the battle of the cooks. She got what she wanted, and in turn made my father into a truly magnificent chef. Even though years spent in a kitchen have taught me to reserve this title for a person of employed stature in the business, I would call him that regardless, because there is no other word for his level of cooking with out it.
Quick Quick red sauce
a ton of cherry tomatoes
a few tablespoons of olive oil
a few cloves of garlic
a handful of fresh basil
salt and pepper
Warm the olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Meanwhile peel and chunk up the garlic into about thirds. Brown it in the oil and discard, just enough to flavor the oil. Halve all the cherry tomatoes and place them into the flavored oil. Cover and cook on low heat for several hours until the skins are all but gone and has developed nice flavor. Periodically check to see if the sauce has become dry, and if this is the case add a few tablespoons of water. When the sauce is good and thick,tear the basil leaves toss them in. Season with salt and pepper to taste.