King of the kitchen

By Kris Ferrazza | Apr 15, 2021

When I was a kid, it was a memorable thing to see my father in the kitchen.

Mainly it was memorable because it was so rare. The kitchen was my mother’s domain. But it also was memorable because he made such a big deal out of it.

My dad was his own hype man. He made such a big production out of the fact he was cooking or baking; it was hard to miss. While he prepared, he would assure my mother and his brood of five kids that whatever he was about to create would be the greatest, most delicious, best-looking thing anyone ever saw.

Anticipating what was to come definitely was part of the mystique. There was plenty of time to anticipate it, because we had to wait and wait and wait for the finished product. Speed was not part of his skill set.

This was in great contrast to my mother, who whipped up a nightly miracle every evening at 5 p.m., usually with a baby on her hip while also talking on the telephone, feeding the cat and dog, and doing heaven knows what else. She could have been a short-order cook while my father took a month of Sundays to create one simple dish.

Not used to waiting hours for food, we would wonder what was taking so long and causing such a racket in the kitchen. My poor mother dared not look, for fear of seeing what he was doing in there. Luckily his forays usually fell on the rare occasions when she was not home.

After every last bowl, spoon and pan in the house was dirty, he would emerge victorious, looking so proud. Once, I remember he was carrying a plate of cream puffs that looked like they belonged on the “British Baking Show.”

“Ha-haa!” he said, extending the plate with a flourish and waving it under our noses. “How do you like that?”

We cheered and gobbled them up, heaping praise on him the whole time. He soaked up our admiration, discounting the fact we all missed lunch and were starving.

But he didn’t always get rave reviews when he called us to the table.

“Kids, it’s ready!” he called one day. “Who wants eggs and tomatoes?”

We charged into the kitchen, then looked into the frying pan and recoiled in horror.

“What is that?” somebody asked.

“Whatta ya mean? It’s eggs and tomatoes,” he said.

Four poached eggs swam in a sea of rosy marinara. If that wasn’t enough, to tempt us further, he grabbed the nearby pepper shaker and sprinkled black pepper liberally over the whole thing.

“I don’t think we can eat that, Dad,” I said. Being the eldest, I had to represent the others.

“Good,” he said. “More for me.”

Pulling the pan toward him, he used a piece of crusty bread to break a yolk, dragged the yellow goo through the sauce, and shoveled the bloody mess into his mouth.

“Who wants Spaghettios?” I asked, bringing cheers from my siblings.

Over the years, he has invented quite a few recipes of his own, starting with a breakfast he one day hoped to patent. Dubbed the “Egg McPan,” it was a pancake with a cooked egg in the middle.

I personally never tried the Egg McPan, because I was married by the time my father developed it. So as fast as he would serve them to me, I would slide them onto my long-suffering husband’s plate.

“Who wants another one?” he’d ask, spatula in hand.

He used to joke he was going to patent the Egg McPan and then sell the idea to McDonald’s for a million dollars. Imagine our surprise when McDonald’s finally came out with a limited time special that amounted to a hotcake with an egg cooked in the middle. I clipped a glossy advertisement out of the weekend newspaper and showed it to him, then watched his heart break.

An inventor at heart, he didn’t quit. He then came up with an idea for “coffee bags.”

“I mean, why do we have tea bags, but no coffee bags?” he would ask.

I remember watching him take coffee from our pantry, pour it into a square of cheesecloth, and carefully stitch it into a little square like a teabag. He attached a string, dunked it into a cup of boiling water, and voila.

“It works!” he said, insisting he was going to patent coffee bags and make a million dollars. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before Maxwell House did the honors and wrecked his day again. They still sell them today, and I chuckle each time I see them in the store, but they never really caught on with the public (much like the Egg McPan).

At age 91, my father has slowed down in the kitchen, but still likes to talk about his glory days as a “cream puff man” and so on. Just when I thought his invention days were over, he called recently to say he discovered the best breakfast ever.

“You don’t say,” I said. It’s at this point in our conversations I now know to pick up a pen, because what comes next is something my brothers and sisters definitely need to hear. While I took notes on a nearby envelope, he related his latest top-secret recipe.

“First you get a big bowl,” he said. “Add half a teaspoon of sugar and fill it three-quarters of the way with hot coffee.”

“Wait, what?” I said, already confused. “Fill a big bowl with coffee?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Not a huge mixing bowl. Like a soup bowl.”

“Oh, OK,” I said, scribbling furiously.

“Add some half and half to lighten it up,” he said.

“So basically make a big bowl of coffee,” I clarified.

“Yeah, but there’s more,” he said. “Slice a banana and add it to the bowl.”

I did not see that coming. Laughing, I had to stop him.

“Are you being serious right now?” I asked.

“Yes, listen, don’t knock it ‘til you try it,” he said. “Trust me, you won’t regret it.”

“OK, one sliced banana, got it,” I said.

“Now fill it to the brim with cornflakes,” he said.

This was an instant classic, I could tell already. My siblings were going to die. I was stifling my laughter.

“Are you with me?” he asked.

“Yes, go on…” I said, pen poised.

“Listen, because this step is important,” he said. “You’re gonna push the cornflakes down so they soak in the coffee.”

“Got it,” I said.

“Now, the best part: add two big teaspoons of blueberry preserves to the top,” he said. “Heap it right up.”

“Blueberry preserves?” I said.

“Yes, like that jar you got me, what’s it called?” he said.

“Stonewall Kitchen?” I said.

“Yeah, that’s it,” he said. “That’s the best.”

I groaned at the thought of him mixing those beautiful preserves with coffee, bananas and cornflakes.

“So then what?” I said, half afraid to ask.

“Scarf it down like a seagull,” he said. “It will keep you full, happy and regular.”

And the beat goes on.

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