He's Your Daddy: Your Kitchen Stories

Last month in this space, we celebrated Mom. Now, just in time for Father's Day (this Sunday, June 15), it's Dad's turn. In the same generous, kind-hearted spirit, you shared your stories about D-A-D, opening the virtual scrapbook with memory crumbs and photographs.

Olga Berman (pictured, left) and sister, Anna, with their father, Leonid, in Moscow, 1983. (Family photo)

"Popcorn prepared in the turkey roasting pan," is what Wisconsin native Jo Demars remembers about growing up with her frugally-minded, improvisational father. "This made a humungous batch which satisfied the brood throughout a long, long drive-in double feature movie night."

For Sarah Choate of Odessa, Tex., the "flaming nachos" episode sticks in her mind; for Katie O'Hara of Alexandria, Va., it's the case of the exploding milkshakes while Mom was out of town, and for Cheryl Fountain, of Edgewater, Md., it 's the indelible images of those father-daughter Easy Bake oven sessions.

Below, five kitchen stories chosen from an oversized batch of e-mailed entries, for which I am truly grateful. Many thanks to all of you for sharing your Dad with me, and to the winning entries, for capturing a kitchen moment that exemplifies the love that you possess for your father.

P.S. And if you're wondering why none of the selected entries come from men, it's because I didn't receive any submissions from the guys!

A very Happy Father's Day to Dads, both past and present.

Alexandra DiPaolo
Montreal, Quebec; spent part of her childhood in Annandale, Va.

The thuds of veal being tenderized for schnitzel, the aroma that arose from the simmering of bouillabaisse, the tightening of string around torcinelli. My brother and I would arrive home from school, or come inside with our friends to escape the energy of the park, and who would be the one responsible for these aromas, sounds, and sights? Our Dad. The division of household tasks was not at all traditional in our home, which my friends found very strange, indeed.

Vincent DiPaolo and his daughter, Alexandra, in Montreal. (Family photo)

As a schoolteacher, my Dad arrived home in mid-afternoon, and was thus able to indulge his love affair of food. Although he has never put this thought into words (at least as far as I know), my Dad's attitude regarding food is similar to his attitude regarding life: he believes extravagance and beauty should be part of each day. In fact, it is clear to everyone who dines at his table that the culinary sensory experience matters to my father as much as the nourishment provided by the meal.

After adopting a vegan diet eight years ago, I faced my Dad's frustrated objection: I would miss out on all his best meals. To his credit, he came around, and now creates beautiful vegan meals (stuffed portobellos, Asian-inspired noodle soups, homemade pasta sauces to go with his mother's homemade vegan gnocchi...the list goes on and on). Thanks to my Dad, I have a discerning taste for good food, be it simple or extravagant. I hope he and I share many more great meals together!

Nancy Ford
Philadelphia, Pa.

My father, known simply by his given name, Mac, was rarely a presence in the kitchen. Providing for his brood of seven children took up all of his working hours. However, I do remember one occasion when he stood lovingly tending a pot in the tiny room, more shed than kitchen, making chicken soup like his Jewish mother used to make. He tied together celery, carrots, onion and parsley, the bundle placed in the pot with the chicken and broth. He continually skimmed the side of the pot removing the accumulation that formed, explaining that was necessary to keep the broth clear. I still remember how good that soup tasted. And with nine in the household, I am sure a taste was all I got.

Jessicarobyn Keyser
Pittsburgh, Pa.; grew up in Laurel, Md.

When I was growing up, my darling dad, David, was always something of an interesting cook. He had mastered only a few dishes, but those few were phenomenal (now in my mid-twenties, I STILL get cravings for his fried chicken, and I can't quite grill a steak like he can). Anytime Dad tried to venture too far from his tried-and-true, however, the result was more often than not a culinary disaster; I still haven't recovered from the mayonnaise brownie incident enough to feel comfortable talking about it.

One of his most memorable flubs came when, upon receiving a cookbook as a gift, he decided to try out a recipe for peanut butter pie. While baking his confection, he realized he didn't have any cornstarch in the kitchen. Rather than panic or scrap his plans, he decided to use what he considered to be the next best thing - the drug-store brand cornstarch he kept in the bathroom and used to powder his feet each morning. As long as I live, I'll never forget the taste of baby-powder laced peanut butter creme!

Olga Berman

Arlington, Va.

I grew up in Moscow, Russia. Both of my parents cooked. My mom made great cakes, delicious potato salad, etc, but my dad's specialty was and is borscht. Even my grandmother (my mom's mom) thinks my dad's borscht is the best. He cuts and sautes the vegetables individually in plenty of olive oil, taking care not to rush the process. The smell of the beets, onions, garlic and carrots travel throughout the entire house. And the color of the soup is magnificent. My dad makes borscht year around. Even though I have been living away from my parents for the last seven years, I know that whenever I fly back to Seattle (that's where my family has been living for the last 15 years), there will be a big pot of borscht in the refrigerator. I can't wait to have cold borsht with sour cream when I come to visit in July.

Erin Donaldson
Bloomington, Ill.; grew up outside of Philadelphia, Pa.

Dad lied to us all the time when while we were growing up. When we were little girls, He would always rescue us from the burnt pieces of toast or the gross you-know-exactly-what-I'm-talking-about fatty piece of bacon by telling us that he loved burnt toast and fatty bacon. In fact, he would tell us, burnt toast and fatty bacon were his FAVORITE foods in the whole wide world. "Don't even get me started!" he'd say while licking his chops when we complained about a hot dog that had spent too much time on the hibachi. I am pretty sure that I was in my teens before I figured out that maybe Dad wasn't really fond of charred pork flesh.

Chris Donaldson, Erin Donaldson's father, having fun in the kitchen in Sea Isle City, N.J. (Family photo)

I also remember very long and very serious conversations that took place when I was a little girl about how eating the crusts of bread made one's hair curly. Dad has stick-straight hair that he later "corrected" with years of curly perms (that's a story for another day) and so I guess in his mind curly hair was much-desired. I took him at his word and dutifully ate the crusts of my sandwiches and the crusts of my sisters' sandwiches and any other random crusts that I could score at the lunch table at school. I am now 40 years old and I'm pretty sure the pains I have in my hands and wrists are not from years of writing and typing, but instead are due to countless mornings spent twirling an enormous round brush while drying my hair in the vain attempt to straighten and smooth my curly hair.

Maybe Dad wasn't lying after all. For Father's Day, I think I'm going to make him a meal of some blackened sourdough with a side of a few generously-marbled slabs of bacon

By Kim ODonnel |  June 13, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Family
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wow memories! my dads specialty was breakfast! he could fry some mean potato's n onions. great pancakes too! except one day he decided he was going to flip the pancakes in the pan rather than with a spatula ..... and yes they ended up on the ceiling. LOL he made my brother and i promise not to tell mom and she never noticed the stain on the ceiling til years later! :)

Posted by: nall92 | June 13, 2008 8:12 AM

Kim, I meant to send you a story but I've been way busy lately. I'm the youngest of 7 and my mom did almost all the cooking. But Sunday mornings, my dad made homemade pancakes and waffles (alternate Sundays) with the best sausage I've ever had (only available in Western MD, not here). He did this for at least 3 decades. He's 87 now, but if there's family visiting on a Sunday he's the one in the kitchen.

Posted by: GAFF | June 13, 2008 10:06 AM

I'm so glad you chose my story! My dad will be so happy. Thank you.
See my blog
for more food stories.

Posted by: Olga | June 13, 2008 11:08 AM

oops, here is the link: www.cooking-shopping-crafts-etc.blogspot.com

Posted by: Olga | June 13, 2008 11:10 AM

here's the "flaming nacho" story:
The greatest memory of all was the time my dad made nachos from take-out tortilla chips. Keep in mind, he'd made nachos plenty of time prior to this display of culinary talent. I remember walking into the kitchen intending to ask when the nachos would be done only to see my dad pulling a cookie sheet ouf of the oven with no pot-holder and each little chip had it's very own flame. He yells in pain, drops the cookie sheet, and flaming chips go all over the floor. For years after, you could see little tortilla shaped burn marks on our kitchen floor. And that story still brings a laugh from my dad whenever we remind him of the flaming nachos.

Posted by: Sarah | June 13, 2008 11:34 AM

Great Stories!! My Dad always cooked Christmas Morning Breakfast. It was like a buffet. Homemade pancakes or waffles, also. He was a great cook! Dad would wear his cooking apron, also! He also would bake the best "Pound Cakes" and take them to the elderly, sick, homebound, and his Mother every week. I can still smell the "Cakes" baking... He has been deceased for a few years, like Your Father, Kim.....from heart complications. I loved my Father, Dearly. Happy Father's Day to all the Fathers..... Past, Present and the Future Daddys to Be. : )

Posted by: East Coast | June 13, 2008 1:32 PM

My Daddy was a gadget man. I remember the deep fried donuts with the as-seen-on-TV donut machine, the apple-brown-betty icecream in the hand cranked ice cream machine, the baked alaska with the fancy blow torch. These culinary sessions were huge adventures for me and my sibs, and always ended up with lots of laughter.

Posted by: Jess | June 13, 2008 1:51 PM

My Dad was not very good in the kitchen, and still isn't. When he and my Mom divorced after 20+ years of marriage, my mom's mother called him to make sure he was getting by.

But the years my mother was in college and he had to make dinner for 3 kids, he followed her directions dutifully and most of the time we did alright.

It was when he struck out on his own, that we, as children, made some fascinating discoveries.

Did you know that Sweet-n-Low does not taste the same as sugar when spread all over corn flakes?

Or that if you cook hamburgers on a flat cookie sheet, the bottoms will be gray and mushy and the tops will be charred, because all the grease will run off the sheet when you try to pick it up, setting off a large fireball in the oven?

He's turned into quite the Grillmeister though, so it's too bad I live so far away.

Posted by: NC2 | June 13, 2008 1:52 PM

Sarah - That nacho story has me LOL at my desk!

Posted by: Beth | June 13, 2008 2:29 PM

I thoroughly enjoyed this. As I read all of the memories, I saw in my minds eye all of the wonderful and not so wonderful things that my dad prepared. His vocation was cooking, but he wasn't the chief cook in our home. That was mom. However, if you need something special, you could call on him. If it was fruitcake at the holidays or a Lady Baltimore for revival, Dad was the man to call. He's been gone two years, but I can still see him in his white uniform pants and t-shirt checking his pots and pans. Thanks for the wonderful story, Kim.

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | June 13, 2008 4:33 PM

My father grew up during the Depression. When he was still a small boy, he was responsible for cooking the main (noontime) meal of the day and having it ready for the adults to eat when they'd all come home from work for their break before heading back out again.

My mother was from a more well-to-do family with servants, and I don't think she'd ever made toast before she and my dad eloped. He taught her the basics of cooking, though, and she learned the rest on her own.

Mom became a terrific home cook, but I don't think she ever had the sheer love for it that my dad did. It was his true passion. He loved cooking everday meals as well as the big holiday extravaganzas. He also loved to watch the cooking shows on TV and read cookbooks so he could try out new recipes--usually with his own twist.

I still remember all those special treats my dad made for me--everything from chocolate-dipped strawberries, to fish chowder, to vegetable soup, to smoked chicken, and vegetarian dishes after I gave up meat.

Thanks, Dad. I love you. I miss you.

Posted by: alex | June 13, 2008 5:12 PM

My father was never allowed into the kitchen when he was growing up, so it's no surprise that I don't remember ever eating a meal he'd cooked.

The one time he tried to cook something was hilarious: he got upset that lunch wasn't ready, so he grabbed a can of Campbell's soup out of the cupboard and put it, unopened, in a saucepan full of water on a burner. When I asked him if he might not want to open the can first, he said, "No! I'm using the double-boiler technique!"

The one thing I remember him making, and it was delicious, was a breakfast smoothie of bananas, milk, quick oatmeal and cocoa mix. To this day that's the only way I'll eat bananas.

Posted by: csdiego | June 13, 2008 6:28 PM

My mom was the main cook, but occasionally my dad would engage in some exotic endeavor. I remember the sweetbreads he would marinate and grill. He had a penchant for steak tartar, but not the technique, so we would merrily eat raw hamburger on saltines (hey! I'm still here!). I have vivid memory of standing around the grill my dad had prepared. I was poking the fire with my brothers when I discovered aluminum foil wrapped orbs. Not knowing what they were, I proceeded to chuck them as far as I could. A little later my dad appeared and asked what happened to the potatoes he was roasting. All of my sibs were appalled at his idea that jam mixed in water was an acceptable soft drink. On the other hand, he did know the best restaurants.

Posted by: Bert's son (Dave) | June 14, 2008 7:37 AM

My dad is a great cook and baker, I think partly due to his training as a chemical engineer, but he has one very famous flop. When I was about 7 or 8, we were in a group called Indian Princesses, kind of like a father-daughter Girl Scouts. For our annual weekend camping trip, each father-daughter pair was responsible for one meal.

My dad signed us up for a dinner and decided to make "tin can casseroles" -- hamburger patties, potatoes, onions, and carrots cooked in some small, never-used paint cans he got from work. The cans were assembled and put in the campfire. After some time we heard a hissing noise, and then loud explosions from the fire. Chunks of meat and vegetable started shooting into the air. People ran over from the next camp to find out what the noise was, and some were pelted with flying food.

Our dinner was lost, but luckily it was the first night and there was plenty of other food to eat. My dad said if he ever made that meal again he would remember to poke holes in the cans to release the steam, but I don't think he ever tried it.

Posted by: Julie | June 14, 2008 11:44 AM

I have seven siblings and one of the fond cooking memories of my dad is how he used to make "Shelton Stew" when my mom was in the hospital having babies. He's clean out the fridge usually the night after one of my siblings was born...empty leftover whatever was in there into a large stock pot with some water and canned tomatoes. It always tasted pretty much the same. He still loves making soup. Mom says, "Give him a cabbage and turn him loose!"
Dad was recently in Germany visiting my daughter and granddaughter. He looked in the fridge and saw a cabbage and announced, "I'm going to make a pot of soup." Dad's back in Florida, but Jenny and Elena are still eating soup!

Posted by: Patty | June 14, 2008 11:59 AM

Posted by: Adjetey | June 15, 2008 3:29 PM

There were six kids still living at home when Mom went to the hospital for a hysterectomy. My father, a Naval officer who had been away on ship for what seemed like the majority of our growing-up years, was left in charge of us.

These were the days of Popeye cartoons, and we loved our spinach. So Daddy went to the Giant and bought a few large leaves of spinach. He brought them home, filled the large black iron skillet with water, brought it to a boil and proceeded to carefully lay one long leaf in the pan. He continued to test the leaf with a fork until it appeared tender. Then he lifted the floppy leaf with a fork and spread it out onto one of the children's plates. Then he set another leaf in the simmering water. "That's not how Mom does it," didn't phase him. He was an engineer; if anyone could figure out how to cook spinach, he could! We six kids waited about an hour for our spinach. I don't remember if we had a main course.

Posted by: Cordelia Reagan | June 15, 2008 4:14 PM

I always make my dad a card for Father's Day, and this year I was having trouble finding inspiration for rhymes or funny drawings. Then I stumbled upon this suggestion of remembering the good, old stories, and I wrote my dad a letter describing some of the best. He loved it! (So did I.)

Posted by: Lisa Wallace | June 16, 2008 12:07 AM

Kim, How was your Father's Day for you and Mr MA ?? These stories have been great. A great time for reflection, and cherishing the memories we have of our Fathers. Thanks for a great blog!

Posted by: East Coast | June 16, 2008 12:33 PM

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