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The Way to Dad's Heart

We're a tight crew here at RCC, and the past couple of months have shown me, in many different ways, how we have each other's backs. Our goal is to post on the blog around every holiday, but staff shortages and a sudden, steep uptick in business have me way behind on, well, everything. That, and the fact that I have exactly zero happy things to say about Father's Day, having never celebrated it in my life. So when one of our team members, Cait, offered to write a short essay about her relationship with her dad, I was not only grateful, but truly touched. Read her beautiful story below. – Kate Shaffer

The Way to Dad's Heart

By: Cait Powell

If I’m in just about any city on the East Coast, I can call my father and he’ll tell me a good place to eat. He travels for work, so he’s had the opportunity to eat all over the country. He has an encyclopedic memory for meals. It’s how he judges places; by their diners and delis.

I learned to cook with my mother, but it was my dad who made us bear-shaped pancakes on the weekends and sat us down for traditional meat, starch, and vegetable meals. His parents separated when he was little, and he did a lot of cooking for himself. In college, he acquired a 1947 kosher cookbook (titled "The Way to a Man's Heart,” entertainingly enough) at a yard sale, and most of the dishes he cooks today came from that book. I think his regimented approach to cooking and eating is how he built an orderly life for himself. We ate green scrambled eggs for dinner when my dad was away, which was great fun, but the full English breakfasts and three dish dinners taught me the difference between food and a meal.

When I was a baby, my father burned up a blender trying to purée pot roast for me. Before we all wanted our kids to eat like the French, my parents fed me whatever they ate. Some nosy fellow diners informed them once that a toddler shouldn’t eat clam chowder, in case of an unknown allergy. My parents shrugged, “But she likes it!” My dad taught me my first toast when I was two or three, and I performed it with gusto at dinner parties: “Here’s mud in your eye!” I remember sneaking downstairs with him for ice cream after I was supposed to be in bed, and swearing not to tell my mother. I always did, but sitting down there with him, it was our little secret.

Not all of my food memories are good ones, although they're funny now. I’ve never been fond of spicy food, perhaps thanks to the Tabasco sauce that my dad put on my scrambled eggs as a baby. I also once ate an entire spoonful of Coleman's mustard, the really hot kind made from a powder. I'd asked for another glass of milk, and my dad said I could have it if I ate a spoonful of mustard. Apparently he didn't think I'd do it, and I ate it before he could stop me. I almost stopped breathing, and my dad got to add another learning experience to his list of things not to do with the next kid.

The first things that I cooked for myself were cornbread, cream of mushroom soup, and macaroni and cheese. All of these came out of a box or a can, but I quickly discovered the spice rack. The early attempts involved most of the herbs and spices on the rack, and were inedible. Eventually I learned moderation, and got a feel for the flavor and strength of these magical little bottles. My tastes are a bit more exotic now than the fried breaded pork chops and baked chicken thighs with frozen vegetables that I ate as a kid. My dad does a lot of suspicious questioning when I put some experimental dish down on the table, but if it’s good he eats it, and then has more.

We've done a bit of offshore sailing together, and are both prone to serious seasickness. After days of not being able to keep anything down, once our stomachs settle into the rhythm of the swells, my dad starts planning his first meal ashore. When we sailed to Bermuda the year after I graduated from high school, the meal was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. This was a meal that his Scotch-English father had been a master of, and it made an indelible impression on my dad. I remember sitting in the cockpit with the bimini up, coasting through the Gulf Stream at about four knots. It was the first time we'd both been on deck since we left Bucks Harbor, and shared more words than the necessary change of watch updates. He talked about his father's Yorkshire pudding while I scoured the guidebook for restaurants that served it. Unsurprisingly in very British Bermuda, there were several.

My dad is the one who taught me to appreciate and pursue quality, budget be damned. It started with pot roast and clam chowder, and expanded to gleaming varnish on boats, German cars, well-made clothes, single malt scotch, and good food. When I graduated high school, I was reluctant to leave home, but my dad was clearly ready for me to start my own life in the real world. However, despite trying to hurry my creeping exit from the nest, when I do come home to visit, and admit what I eat on a daily basis, my gruff father sends me home with a little extra money for groceries. “Buy some meat” is usually the accompanying advice. The old adage “Eat to live, don’t live to eat” was certainly penned by some sad shriveled soul who never savored the joy of sweet vegetables straight from the garden, or a perfectly done steak, or let a chunk of chocolate melt slowly on their tongue. Good things are worth spending time on, whether it’s gathering, preparing, or eating.

Food is important to my father. It’s important to me. It’s how we say, “I love you; let me take care of you.” We haven’t always seen eye to eye. We’re both stubborn and quick tempered, and he has probably made me cry more times than anyone else I know. As a teenage girl too much like her father, we had our rough patches. Looking back from the ripe old age of twenty-seven though, a love of food was the first thing we shared. Last year for Father’s Day, I brought home sixty dollars worth of dry-aged steak, an array of cured sausages, and a bottle of scotch. He was thrilled. There’s a quote that reminds me of him, attributed to both Churchill and Oscar Wilde (more different men I’ve never seen),“My tastes are simple. I am always satisfied with the very best.”

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