Other than my father’s corny jokes, most of our family traditions involved food. Dad was clever. He hid his lack of culinary skills by entertaining the troops, and his show magically made everything taste better. When serving his creations, he often proclaimed them, “Better than food.” And who were we to disagree? His crazy-shaped pancakes always delighted, as did his made-from-leftovers spaghetti sauce and soup—what he called “Baseball Soup” during the season that extended into the fall if the Yankees reached the playoffs. Dad roasted chestnuts all year long, divvied up pomegranates, made an art out of day-old corn on the cob, carefully peeling off one row at a time and distributing the kernels into eager hands. He stuffed ice cream cones with cold mashed potatoes that never melted on a sweltering summer day. And in 1963, he reinvented popcorn. He named his crunchy half-popped popcorn snack, Nutranuts. His goal was to lure us kids away from candy and junk food to reduce dental bills. Mum’s the word on his success rate.
Other than Michael’s potluck Tuesdays, the occasional sushi night, or the obligatory monthly takeout from Boston Market®, I cooked all of Mom’s meals—not a simple task. This woman whose taste buds retired years ago still had a particularly picky pallet. Whether it was the color or texture, I don’t know, but her comments could be brutal. She scolded Michael. “Not your soup again!” Or when serving a breakfast dish she hadn’t enjoyed in years, I asked, “Best French Toast ever?” She forced a smile, then shook her head, no. So, to avoid any more ego-crushing, I tried to keep things fresh and exciting. When whipping up my world-famous ratatouille, emphasizing “World-Famous” catapulted this healthy meal onto her favorites list. My homemade chicken soup and my special French Toast—whether she admitted it—also made the list. She loved spareribs, so I bought a grill to barbecue them year-round. Another blast from the past treat she enjoyed was corn on the cob. But for Mom and her loose dentures—she refused to let me secure—getting the corn off the cob proved too difficult, so I stripped those kernels off with a knife as my babysitter did so many years ago. Thank you, Mrs. Becker.