Most of my happy memories of my father involve either the piano or food. Mostly food. Some good food memories, some bad (but funny) food memories, but food memories stand out foremost in my mind. Is it any wonder food has been such a big part of my life all of my life.
Some food memories are as simple as the taste tests he used to conduct. He would go into our laundry room, which had a window into the kitchen. He would blindfold himself and my sister and I would pass him things to taste and offer opinion. The only one I really remember was trying to decide which milk to buy based on which was the richest. (This was in the years before I was put on skim milk, I assume!)
Some food memories involve going with him to the local pizzeria. This was when this country was just discovering pizza and there were no Pizza Huts or Dominos. The pizzeria made pizza. You stood and watched them make it and then you brought it home to eat it. along with a big 5 gallon jug of "Dago red" that you could also buy there.
I used to love to go to the pizzeria because it was a small place, and I remember it was wood--dark, rough wood on the floor and on the walls, and boxes and bags of stuff around the place. They made the pizza at a little counter with a box in front of it, so I could stand on the box and watch them. The smells of yeast mingled with tomatoes and oregano mixed with the wood and the fire from the brick oven is a smell I will never forget. As the guy tossed the dough up into the air to stretch it and then spread it with tomato sauce, he would hand me pieces of mozzarella to nibble while he worked.
I know memories change with age and I was probably Bri's age when I started going to get pizza with my father, so my memories may not be accurate, but that's how I remember it.
I also remember how he LOVED chocolate malt shakes, and we sometimes went to the corner drug store (which had a soda fountain) to get malteds. That's another taste I keep trying to recreate and never can, the taste of those thick, rich malty shakes.
Occasionally he cooked. He wasn't the type to follow a recipe. When the mood to cook struck him, he took over the kitchen to create something all his own. To this day I have never tasted a potato salad to equal his and the secret died with him. It was never a secret exactly, but my mother could never make his potato salad because she always over-salted it. What made his different from any that I get anywhere today is that he used sweet, not dill pickles, and no mustard. Just potatoes sliced very thin (he said that was the secret), diced onions, sweet pickles, Best Foods mayonnaise, salt, and parsley. I was his taste tester to see whether it needed more salt or not. I used to make it once in a great while, but it relied heavily on onions and since neither Walt nor Marta will eat onions, if I make potato salad today, I know I will eat it all myself and while that would be wonderful, it's probably not something I should do.
One time he decided to make calzone, those yeasty Italian bread pockets filled with a meat stuffing. I have had lots of calzones through the years, trying to find the taste of my father's. I don't even remember now what it tasted like, but I know that I absolutely loved it and no store or restaurant bought calzone has ever affected me the way his did.
I still remember fondly the Christmas he made his own egg nog. All I remember about it was that it was like drinking sweet whipping cream and it was fabulous.
But the most famous of his creations had to have been the peanut butter cookies. It's sad that my sister is gone and my mother doesn't remember because we teased him about those cookies for decades (almost as long as we teased him about the one book he'd read in his life -- "Away All Boats." I don't remember his every picking up another one.)
My mother, Karen and I weren't home when he decided to make peanut butter cookies, but he had this strange look on his face when we got home. My mother asked him what was wrong and he said, sheepishly, that he had tried to make peanut butter cookies and he didn't know what he did wrong. He showed us a bowl filled with brown liquid. It was as thin as skim milk and this was supposed to be his cookie dough.
His heart was in the right place, but I suspect that if he had a recipe, he severely misread the ingredients. As I recall we all had a small glass of his peanut butter cookies.
It's nice to remember him and smile and think about having a glass of peanut butter again.