Though I characterize myself as a home cook, I average about three home cooked meals a week when not entertaining my father (can you say eat out often 3 times fast?). That changes radically when my father is visiting the Palmetto State. My grocery experience slides into a daily routine and my kitchen time transitions to preparing three square meals a day. I don't get near the amount of work done when he's here that I'd like, but then work will always be there, my dad will not.
I've documented the routine staple foods his visits generate in this blog recently, click here. But the humor is in the cooking. Cooking three meals for a senior whose palate has withered away, whose diet lacks raw or anything remotely healthy, whose dark chocolate obsession rivals any woman I know and whose penchant for covering everything (and I mean everything) in ketchup brings horror to many onlookers. Sidebar1: Ages ago I put away my horror of a delicate entree at a fine dining establishment embellished by my father with the red sauce. In fact, I actually now order the bottle as a matter of routine before the meal arrives knowing it will make the entire experience far more smooth for staff as well as myself. Sidebar2: Food eccentricities are minor compared to what dementia has robbed of the person I use to know.
Many times I try to take the occasion of dining with dad to introduce him to something new that he might enjoy even on his own. There's been great success with hummus in the last several years thanks to his 80 year old Lebanese girlfriend. I don't even have to suggest it when we pass by the deli counter, he picks the container right up (always the original, no flavored version). And though I wouldn't consider it healthy, compared to the number of dark chocolate candy bars he was known for consuming in the past, a simple 1.25 oz portion of Philadelphia's Dark Chocolate Indulgence provides as much pleasure as the pudding cups I remember enjoying as a kid.
The ground rules for cooking for my father are pretty simple: 1) There can't be a great many ingredients in preparing a dish; 2) It has to be something he's agreed to try (mushrooms are always off limits); 3) Hot or cold if it can't be delivered in 30 minutes to the table we approach major break down mode (sound familiar to another stage in life?). So we always have a starter of hummus (safe) and an adult beverage~his preferred drink: a single bottle of Miller High Life, mine a bourbon on the rocks~ both set the stage for some light conversation before the meal and to give the main course the time it needs beyond 30 minutes if necessary.
Sweet potato fries and salmon are now pushing up the list of simplistic dishes we can count on making two or three times during a visit. Thanks to Ina Garten and her Baked Sweet Potato Fries and Kraft for its Parmesan Baked Salmon recipe using crackers~crackers are always a big hit as long as it's not my gluten free variety, that's a bridge we haven't crossed successfully. And neither, sweet potato and salmon, require a bath of ketchup to make the meal complete.
So when the electric bill arrives later next month and it's nearly doubled due to the increased use of kitchen appliances (did I mention he never uses the same glass, plate, bowl or utensil twice?), I just smile knowing that all the while I've captured time with my dad that will remain forever memorable and will most certainly expand my horizons on eating.