I stood on a street corner in New York last week crying about my father.
I had just enjoyed an amazing meal at chef David Chang’s Vietnamese-French restaurant, Ma Peche. As I walked back to my hotel, I was savoring the details of my dinner: crispy triangles of pig’s head terrine, a luscious lobster steamed bun and the simple sophistication of a dessert that married chocolate, coffee and coconut. I was thinking about blogging about my meal when I was overcome by the realization of how much I am my father’s daughter.
My father was always on the hunt for a good meal and, even more so, a good bargain. He’d happily regale you of the details of each. My childhood is littered with memories of outings to divey Pittsburgh bars and low-rent restaurants my father boasted could feed a family of three for $25.
While my father was partial to a good cheap meal, he also raved about a now-closed restaurant that made diners wait an hour after the salad course to serve the entree, reveling in the enjoyment of a three-hour meal. My family also enjoyed annual holiday outings to fine dining restaurants, where I tasted escargot for the first time and put my reading of Emily Post to good use.
I learned the geography of my hometown largely because of my father’s adventurous appetite.
He still calls me after reading a restaurant review in the Pittsburgh paper to suggest we check it out the next time I’m in town.
My father was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I had barely begun to process the news when it became apparent that the disease is taking him away from us more quickly than we could imagine.
He struggles with the present. He often doesn’t know what day of the week it is or if I’m coming to visit tomorrow or three weeks from now.
His mind dwells in the past. He can recall distant chapters of his life in detail – his college days at Slippery Rock University, serving in the Navy during the Korean War – or some odd fact about a friend or acquaintance. This is where our conversations linger.
I have this faint hope that, even though he may lose his grasp of the present, I may be able to reach him in the past. My father has always had an amazing taste memory. He can recall meals his mother cooked for him more than 30 years ago. I used those memories to try to re-create my grandmother’s nine-layer almond-flavored and studded porcupine cake, which I’ve previously chronicled in the paper.
Now, I’m trying to collect some of my grandmother’s recipes from family. I have grand designs of testing and adapting them for modern kitchens to share as a collection with my Weigl relatives. I envision making these dishes for my dad and giving him a moment in the present that connects with his past.
I don’t know if my idea is realistic. I have a formidable foe in this wretched disease. I only know that I’m running out of time.