Archive for June, 2011
With Father’s Day 2011 landing deep into the month of June this year, I’ve had many reminders of it in the form of advertisements, family conversations and themed stories in magazines. At our house, the day will start with breakfast in bed for my husband, presents (watching for that UPS truck today to deliver a brand new…oh, no, wait, my husband may read my blog!) and then instead of easy at-home day and celebration dinner, we’ll be driving our daughter up to music camp in the North Carolina mountains. All day long, I’ll be thinking of my father, James Patrick McDermott, born in 1920 in New York City, and the long, happy 89 years he lived on this earth. He passed away peacefully in October of 2009, with our family all around him, while living with my sister and looking back on his life with gratitude and delight. I feel lucky to have had such a father, and to have had him in mine and my family’s life for such a long time.
I love this photograph, taken on a New York City rooftop in 1941. Possibly he was at his family’s apartment on East 53rd Street, having just feasted on Mama’s wonderful cooking, most likely roast leg of lamb enjoyed after mass. Possibly he was at his friend Vinnie’s family’s apartment in Brooklyn, having recently feasted on Vinnie’s mama’s Sunday dinner. From the grin on his face, I am certain that a glorious meal was either in the offing or a very recent memory. Daddy loved to eat; he loved to celebrate and spend time at the table; he loved spending time with friends and family, and he loved enjoying New York City’s pleasures. He felt so proud throughout his life of being a Marine, of having served his country in World War II. He loved to read, he loved to travel, he loved to have company at home and to host as many friends as I could gather together for a big dinner out. He loved classical music and opera, reading nonfiction and history, and going to the movies, particularly Clint Eastwood’s entire body of work, from “Rawhide” to “Gran Torino”. He loved his daughters and his grandchildren with all his heart; he loved to work and he loved to learn new things; he loved teaching Sunday School and ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at Christmastime, and delivering Meals on Wheels with my stepmother well into his 80′s (‘helping the old people’ as he would say). Politically, he made a right turn somewhere in his 70′s, and we chuckled over the fact that in election years, his and my votes cancelled each other out.
Daddy didn’t worry much — he didn’t exercise, didn’t hold a grudge, didn’t look back except to recall good times gone by. “You can’t live in fear…” he would advise me when I was much younger and fretting about whether I ‘should’ go here or there, do x or y, choose a or b. I found on my own, that he was wrong on that — one can indeed live in fear; and in fact many of us do. Living in fear is easy to do; in fact it is actually encouraged in many circles. But what Daddy meant is that living in fear has a great cost, and a terrible one. He chose not to live in fear, and he was right. Nowadays, when I get stuck, I think about Daddy’s wisdom on that, and about many other lessons from him that serve me still. I wish I could go by for a Father’s Day visit, and ask him the story of this picture. Where in New York City was he, and who took it? Was it on Vinnie’s rooftop, and even if it wasn’t, what did Vinnie’s mother serve that time he and his buddies went by for a meal? Though in the last few years he didn’t remember day-to-day issues such as whether he had taken his medicines or paid a bill, he could have told me every detail around such a picture: location, occasion, what he ate, and who was along for the fun. In his last few years, he couldn’t have named my cookbooks, but he knew that I wrote them, and he was deeply proud of me, just as he was back when I got my Baptist Junior Memory Work Tournament award, my driver’s license, my first teaching job, and my first newspaper byline.
I love this photograph below, taken in my house in the spring of 2009. In it I see his walker, his hat, a newspaper, and his breathing machine, since he would be spending the night on that sofa. In front are my husband and daughter, and beside him is his nephew Tony Smith, visiting from Ireland and just about to play some tunes on his fiddle for The Man Himself. We’ve got him surrounded, with people who love him and the prospects of music, food and a good night’s rest in the offing. A good day. As he wrote on the postcards he faithfully sent out to a host of friends from my kitchen table during Southern California visits, we are clearly “Having a grand time!” Here’s to Father’s Day, and to remembering those people in our lives who have taught us, encouraged us, fed us, inspired us, and loved us. Here’s to passing that along, while having a grand time!
On Tuesday, June 1, I was lucky enough to join a garden-and-kitchen celebration in Austin, Texas, where students from University of Texas Elementary School starred in a culinary marathon honoring their year of gardening and cooking and learning about the pleasures of the kitchen and the table. The Hands-On Garden-To-Table Workshop was a movable feast, beginning with an assembly at UT Elementary School, moving out to the fantastic vibrant garden the students had planted on campus, then onto busses from UTES to Austin’s flagship Whole Foods Market’s Culinary Center, where the kids washed, peeled, chopped, sauteed, stirred and cooked up a gorgeous and delicious meal with an assist or two from Whole Foods’ kitchen crew and a bevy of members of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, in Austin for our annual conference in the Texas sunshine. IACP member (and chair of the conference’s Host Committee) Toni Tipton Martin, food writer, cooking teacher and culinary historian based in Austin, traveled to Washington DC last June for “Chefs Move to the White House”, where hundreds of chefs and food people toured the White House garden and accepted First Lady Michelle Obama’s challenge to get moving into schools and help America’s kids “…fall in love with food.” My good friend Toni listened well and came back to Austin with a plan; this day was ‘graduation’ for UTES’ Garden to Table program, only way more more fun than the word “graduation” would suggest. I still remember the excitement of arriving at UTES, a wonderful school bustling with teachers, staff, students and their proud family members, members of the press with cameras and notepads, fellow members of IACP’s Kids in the Kitchen team, and Guest of Honor Bill Yosses, White House Pastry Chef, who traveled to Austin from Washington, DC, to bring greetings from First Lady Michelle Obama, meet and cook with the Garden to Table students, and give them a message: ”You are important!”, he told smiling rows of kids in carrot-colored UTES Longhorn tee-shirts. “When you grow food and cook it, you are part of something happening everywhere in the world.” This post is the second of three — I’d planned on two, but just as once you start cooking, you end up with more wonderful food than you’d planned to create, I’ve got abundant photos, and I’m going to let these tell you the next chunk of the story, and finish up with, well, dessert, in my third post. Meanwhile, enjoy!
On Wednesday, June 1st, I was lucky enough to visit this wonderful school in Austin, Texas, where I was able to meet, garden, and cook with a remarkable crew of kids. University of Texas Elementary School hosted “Garden to Table”, celebrating a delicious year of learning with Austin-based Chef Toni Tipton-Martin. Teachers, students, parents and family members welcomed guests including Chef Bill Yosses, pastry chef at the White House, and a happy crew of International Association of Culinary Professionals members like me, for an afternoon of harvesting vegetables from the school garden, prepping, cooking, and eating a feast of fresh, delicious locally-grown food. Students at UTES shine in First Lady Michelle Obama’s visionary program, “Chefs Move to Schools”, and thanks to the generous support of Le Creuset and Whole Foods Market, they ended their year of learning with this unforgettable celebration. Here’s a look at Part 1 of a memorable gathering, the ‘Garden’ portion of UTES’ Garden to Table adventures. Stay tuned — from here, we got on our buses and headed off to Austin’s Whole Foods Market to wash, prep, cook, and feast on this hand-crafted harvest with the Garden To Table students.