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November 4, 2015

In the Kitchen With Dad

Throughout my childhood, my father cooked all our family dinners. He was not a good cook. Apparently, Mom was even worse. She had abdicated the lead role in the kitchen very early in their marriage, after one too many complaints from Dad.

Dad's culinary sense had been developed during his service in the U.S. Army during World War II. Unlike nearly everyone else, he liked the results of simmering everything for a long time in a huge kettle, until it was very, very thoroughly cooked.

Eating in restaurants was difficult for Dad because they just wouldn't make food the way he liked it. When we traveled in Europe, and had to eat in restaurants, he would repeatedly send his plate back to the kitchen to get them to cook the meat longer. Any hint of pink was unbearable to him, but it was difficult for the chefs to comprehend what he wanted. Finally, in Paris, he found a guy, running an American style hamburger joint, who had lived for a while in Chicago. At last, someone who understood.

"I know," the guy said. "You want it cremated." Yes!

At one point Dad became enamored of canned string beans, apparently because he had bought a few cases on sale. We had those beans two or three times a week for what seemed like eternity. I swore that when I grew up I would never eat green beans again. For a long time I didn't, and even now I touch them only rarely.

For a change of pace, sometimes we would get something he called slop on a shingle. (Yes, I know what it's really called, and aptly so.) It's creamed chipped beef poured over toast. Really.

There were no family recipes passed down to me and my siblings. I can, however, come up with a sort of generic formula for one of my dad's dinners.

• Meat. It doesn't matter what kind.
• Canned vegetables, probably green beans or peas.
• Instant mashed potatoes.

• Heat a small amount of shortening or cooking oil in a large skillet. Add the meat and cook until gray all the way through.
• Pour the canned vegetables into a medium saucepan. Boil. Drain.
• Make the mashed potatoes according to package instructions.
• If there is any juice left in the skillet after the meat is done, make gravy by adding some flour and whisking with a fork. Otherwise, use butter on the potatoes.

• Substitute dinner rolls or French fries for the mashed potatoes.
• Try some other kind of canned vegetable.

In my dad's final years, when he became too frail and absent-minded to cook, Mom took over the kitchen again. She overcooked everything just the way he liked it, and he realized she was a pretty good cook after all.

3 fabulous comments:

  1. My dad was the same way. He didn't cook but he liked his meat really, really well done and dry. My mother usually cooked his separately from everybody else.

  2. I had an uncle who used to say that about hamburgers when my dad was grilling. Cremate it!

  3. I can relate. My parents were both terrible cooks, and I think that's the reason I never had a weight problem.


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