Dad, who died last week, loved his food, his way _ late-in-life cook

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This blog could continue to be all about me, and learning to cook. Or, it could become all about us, and our appreciation for food, kitchens, dinner tables and entertaining with food, and gardens and farmers’ markets, and the so many more aspects of sourcing, preparation and enjoyment of food.

I vote for the second.

I’m not easing back on my plan to learn to cook, at long last, at age 56. But I am adjusting how I write about my new food awareness.

“Cooking is as easy


as following recipes”: That’s what I’ve been hearing from friends in the last month. And, I get that. Happily, I seem to have turned the mental corner about my approach to food and cooking.

I am not a scaredy-cat in the kitchen anymore. Four times in the last two weeks, for example, I have baked chicken this-or-that for myself. Point is, for hot food, I did not just revert to my easy default of pasta-in-the-microwave.

But, this blog entry is not intended to be about me (for once). I write this one in honor of my father, Peter Williams. He died four days ago, age 84, of complications of vascular dementia.

He lived in the nursing home in Virginia for the last two years. Our mother has also been living at the continuing care community, independently, in a cottage about 400 yards from the nursing wing.

Lovely set-up for both of them, because Mom visited him daily, and true to form, continued to make sure he got the most from his meals. She brought him in his wheelchair to her cottage for lunches, then wheeled him to the facility’s dining room for dinners.

Food was always a huge part of Dad’s life. There was never a meal that he didn’t like — any of his six children would back that up.

“What’s for dinner?” was the single biggest question we heard around the house, daily and without fail.

These were some of Dad’s food beliefs, the way he thought about eating. I share the best tales about this because when we think about Dad and food, we can only smile. Among them:

— Dinner should be on the table at 6pm. No sooner, no later, and no excuses. (Although in his older years, his dinner hour with Mom crept up to 5:30 p. m., and then even 5:00 p. m.).

Notably, I grew up thinking that every family in America did the same thing, come together at the table at 6pm to talk about the day. Only much later I learned that this isn’t true; that we were a fortunate family to have this habit.

— Hot food is served hot, and cold food is served cold. No wonder, then, that in the nearly 40 years after I left the house after high school, when family and guests gathered for special meals, our mother always gently heated the dinner plates in the oven or microwave before serving. (Mom has just corrected me, upon reading this, that it wasn’t just when company came that she heated the plates: She did that daily for the last 20 years because, hot food goes cold fast on cold plates, company at the table or not).

— Hors d’oeurves should be plentiful. When extended family and other friends came for dinner, and they did this often, Dad loved serving hors d’oeurves. You could say that he felt hors d’oeurves with drinks was the most important part of the meal. Our mother, on the other hand, was a big believer all those years that well-planned desserts were the most important part of the meal.

Unfortunately, I came to believe in hors d’oeurves as much as Dad did. That is, I always helped myself to more than I should, bringing on Mom’s irritated words, “You’ll ruin your appetite!.” I still have trouble holding back today, when I am presented with hors d’oeurves. Just an unalterable food habit I picked up early.

— Salad is always part of dinner. Always. And, salad should follow the main course, rather than being served first. Dad started on this habit after returning from a business trip to France. For the many years that Dad had a garden (peas, beans, tomatoes, squash, beets and leafy greens), he loved to go pick the greens, then make the salad. And his salads weren’t to be tossed with the homemade dressing until the first of us reached for the salad bowl. Dad was a slower eater, so always was the last to take his salad. Always.

— Dad did the food shopping, but left the cooking to Mom. He took on the food shopping once he retired, carefully taking his time to bring home only the best from the grocery stores he favored, particularly Giant and Trader Joe’s. But aside from his routine salad-making, that’s where it ended. Aside from the summer evenings when he barbecued (and blackened) chicken outside, any indoor cooking was entirely Mom’s domain.

He got the ingredients, but she got the meals.

It’s funny to think back on the ways Dad thought about food. But memories that make us smile are the best kind, right?

About Katherine Cassidy

Making meals is an everyday occurrence for everyone else, yet this writer has gone years without making much of anything in the kitchen. On the verge of turning 56, she is committing herself to learning to cook at last — both late in life and in public. Watch her as she ventures beyond boiling an egg,

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Katherine Cassidy

Making meals is an everyday occurrence for everyone else, yet this writer has gone years without making much of anything in the kitchen. On the verge of turning 56, she is committing herself to learning to cook at last — both late in life and in public. Watch her as she ventures beyond boiling an egg,