The Best Meal I Ever Cooked

December 21, 2011

Those of us who like to cook and eat can remember so many meals we’ve enjoyed, restaurants we’ve visited, tastes we’ve shared, dishes we’ve created. We remember meals with family and loved ones. We remember the roast chicken Barcelona, the cheese steak in Philadelphia, the fish boil in Wisconsin, and the white beans in Florence. We tend to rank these meals: What were my top 10 dishes of the past year? What are my favorite restaurants in the Triangle?

But sometimes, an ordinary meal, something you’ve made or eaten dozens of times can be elevated by the circumstances. That is what happened to me a couple of weeks ago.

My father is 79 years old. He has had two open heart surgeries, suffered from emphysema, and a few years ago, was diagnosed with lung cancer. The effects of the cancer, the emphysema and then the radiation treatment left him with very little lung capacity and is on oxygen 24/7. It tires him out just getting dressed. Singing, the one activity he loved to do, is no longer an option. His vocal chords were damaged during one surgery and he doesn’t have enough breath to get out even a few notes. (And let me tell you, my Dad could flat out sing).

Quite frankly, living is quite difficult for Dad, and one of the other things he loved to do, eating, is also a chore. It tires him out. The flavors aren’t the same. Consequently, he’s lost about 35 pounds in the last six months.  I really don’t know how much longer he’ll be around.

I made it down to Florida a few weeks ago and spent a couple of days with my parents. My Dad’s spirits were pretty good, but he wasn’t eating that much. We went to a local Italian restaurant, and he ate a small slice of pizza. That’s all.

But he asked me the next day, as he always does when we’re together, if I could make some foccacia. He loves that simple flatbread, with some rosemary, olive oil, and sea salt.  I told Dad I’d be happy to make it, and I’d cook him dinner.

I decided on a simple dinner. Filet mignon, baked potato, roasted asparagus. For dessert, a molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. I knew that my Dad would appreciate the thought, even if he couldn’t eat it.

Dad ate 3 sizable pieces of foccacia that day. I was very pleased that he enjoyed it and was able to eat so much. But then he ate the filet. And half a potato. And about 8 spears of asparagus. And the entire freakin’ dessert. He ate it all. He ate more in one meal than he had probably eaten in the prior three days. And I made it for him.

I’ve cooked a lot of great meals in my life, but this one tops them all. It wasn’t technically perfect. It wasn’t fancy. But it nourished my Dad. My sick Dad. And, after the meal, he sat back, looked me in the eye, and said, “Delicious. Thank you.”


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