Questions Answered by Carol Parker, Mother
(also answered on behalf of Brad Parker, Father-family primary cook)
I was a lucky kid. I was not only exposed to all types of food, but I grew up in a household where my parents cooked full, balanced meals every night for dinner. Whether it be a complex dinner with a meat, vegetable, and a starch, or something simple like homemade pizza (which were always my favorite nights), my sister and I were fortunate enough to experience true family time at dinner. My Dad was always the one to cook dinner, with my Mom occasionally cooking her specialties.
When we got the assignment to interview the person who cooked for us growing up, I immediately felt overwhelmed and upset, because I lost my Dad suddenly in 2012. I decided that I was not going to allow myself to be upset, because my Mom also cooked for us and could answer on behalf of my Dad, since they were married for 34 years. Below are the questions with answers, as I spent this special moment discussing memories with my Mom.
How did you start cooking? What made you want to start?
Dad moved away from home at the age of 18 so if he wanted to eat, he had to cook something! Living away from home made him want to start cooking.
What is your favorite meal to make?
As you know, Dad was a fantastic/gourmet cook who had many favorites but if I had to choose one, I would say crab cakes. He found a terrific recipe in the SF Examiner newspaper years ago (where he found many delicious recipes that became our favorites). Ingredients included: lump Dungeness crab meat, bound together with jumbo prawns along with shallots and other ingredients. Crab cakes were definitely a favorite of family and friends, especially when he would make sandwiches that he grilled sliced sourdough bread, like Raymond’s or Santa Cruz(?) brands, with lettuce and tomato. Absolutely delicious, actually award-winning in my opinion and could have been served at any restaurant at SF Fisherman’s Wharf.
What did your parents cook?
Dad’s family cooked traditional American comfort foods such as meatloaf/mashed potatoes, casseroles, baked chicken and fairly simple dishes that were not highly seasoned. My family also cooked traditional American comfort foods but they were highly flavorful and seasoned, with garlic and black pepper since my family was from Louisiana. In addition, my family also cooked lots of southern comfort food dishes such as gumbo, dirty rice (rice with sausage), black-eyed peas with ham hocks, pork chops or chicken or steak with gravy along with rice and vegetables. Years ago, everyone in the South cooked the same comfort food dishes. My family also baked lots of southern specialties like fruit (peach or blackberry) cobbler, pineapple upside down and other cakes, sweet potato pies, all made from scratch, including the pie crusts. My maternal Grandmother “Gram” also made homemade sweets for us every day when we got home from school. Her specialties included homemade popcorn balls and pecan pralines. Gram timed making these yummy treats so they were still piping hot when we arrived home from school.
What are your favorite food memories of me growing up?
Dad and my favorite memories of you are many, being our first born child. We absolutely adore you and of course your sister Amanda when she came along – in terms of food, you were the little girl that always loved vegetables and grocery shopping with you was lots of fun. Like most children, you would ask for apples, oranges, grapes, kiwi, strawberries and other fruits but you would also always ask us to buy lots of vegetables, especially brussel sprouts! Other shoppers would look at us with a double take and say, did she just ask you to buy brussel sprouts? Dad and I always got a chuckle out of other shopper’s response when you asked us to buy them. People couldn’t believe a child (especially when you were a toddler even up to pre-teen) so young would ask for something with such a strong flavor as brussel sprouts since many do not prefer eating them due to their strong taste. Dad would peel off the outer leaves from each sprout and steam them until soft but still firm, then add melted butter and sprinkle on parmesan cheese. The parmesan cheese would help to offset the strong flavor of the brussel sprouts and they were really yummy. In recent years, Dad would flash boil the sprouts and cook them in browned butter – wow…delicious!!
Do you regret cooking or feeding me anything? (Any type(s) of food that you tried to give me and I didn’t like? Funny stories?)
No regrets on feeding you anything since we always cooked well balanced, nutritional meals each night. You really loved most food and weren’t picky. As mentioned, you especially loved vegetables as well as salads. You would also try everything at least once – I guess you were quite an adventurous foodie from a very young age. J Although there are many, one funny story is your quest to eat food from McDonald’s. Neither Dad nor me were ever fast food lovers (except maybe In N’ Out in recent years) so we didn’t feed fast food to you or your sister if we could avoid it. We took you girls to nice restaurants with tablecloths from a very young age. However, you would always see the McDonald’s TV commercials and ask often if we could go there. You wanted the happy meal toys and whenever we would drive by a McDonald’s, you would plead with us to stop there to eat. Again, since fast food was never a first choice for us, we would always avoid going there. Once when on the road, you girls were hungry and we were stuck in traffic for about an hour and a half with more than hour drive (to a Sacramento family visit) still ahead of us. We had been successful up to that point keeping you girls out of fast food restaurants but we needed to get you girls some food and fast. The time had come – your first visit to McDonald’s, the place you had been asking about almost since you could talk. LOL. You were almost 5 years old, Amanda was about 2-1/2. You girls were telling us how hungry you were and of course asked to eat at McDonald’s. Dad exited the freeway and as you were asking about going to McDonald’s, he pulled into the lot. I still remember the look on your face when your jaw dropped open and your eyes were open quite wide and you asked, “are we finally going to eat at McDonald’s?” We told you that it was a special treat day and yes, we were going to McDonald’s, you screamed with joy and had the one of the biggest smiles on your face that I’d ever seen. J Your dream finally came true and you girls got your happy meals with chicken nuggets and…the toy! You hardly ate any of the food as you were both too excited about playing with the toy. You girls never really ate much of the food but always wanted a toy. Great marketing by McDonald’s because they make their restaurants look like lots of fun with delicious food and a place where kids get toys. It was really cute to see how excited you were on that first visit although you then really tormented us to eat at McDonald’s whenever we would see them on the road! However, we still kept visits to Mickey D’s to a minimum and that is still the case to this day.
What did I love eating as a child?
You really loved fruits, vegetables and salads. In particular you loved tomatoes. You loved tomatoes so much that if they were left on the counter, you would get the stool to climb up and grab one or two and eat them like it was an apple. We had to keep them out of reach or you would eat too many of them and get a tummy ache.
Is there a special food that reminds you of me?
Steak with A1 steak sauce! It’s one of your favorite things to eat and you never tire of having it.
How would you rate yourself as a cook?
As you know, Dad was a fantastic cook and produced restaurant quality food. He could make simple delicious dishes as well as gourmet/fancy food too so I would rate him a definite 10 of 10. Me on the other hand, I’m a good cook but not so fancy. I cook more traditional comfort food dishes like fried chicken with mashed potatoes or one of your favorite meals, cube steak with gravy, rice and cabbage cooked with bacon or maybe teriyaki chicken and shrimp fried rice. I would rate myself a 7 out of 10.
Have you ever had any kitchen disasters? (Or did Dad?)
I wouldn’t say that either of us ever really had kitchen disasters but we both have overcooked/burned dishes. This usually comes from leaving the kitchen and not standing over what you are cooking. Time goes by very quickly when cooking and if you get busy doing something else, the food continues cooking…and can easily burn.
What do you hope I’ll cook when I have my own family?
Well balanced, nutritional home cooked meals – what you cook is not as important as you just cooking. It would be great if you could cook some of Dad’s yummy recipes like: waffles (Dad’s recipe was so fluffy, light yet crunchy-just delicious!) crab cakes, slow cooked green beans with slab bacon, slow cooked chickens (with his patentable dry spice rub) and some southern dishes/recipes from my family such as: pop-over muffins that my Dad used to make, black-eyed peas with ham hocks, gumbo, peach cobbler, sweet potato pies and during the holidays, home-made egg nog.
Do you enjoy cooking, or do you do it because you have to?
Dad truly loved cooking and that’s why he did it so well. He was always on a quest to find new yummy recipes to cook for us and was very pleased when we loved the dishes. I like to cook but really didn’t have too much since Dad cooked every night so I guess for me, I cook because I now have to. When I asked him if I could help prepare meals (chop up ingredients or whatever), he always said no. He said it was just easier for him to prepare the meal. He would enjoy a beer, turn on the radio, listen to the SF Giants, Niners, Warriors or really whatever sports game that was on while he cooked. It was his relaxation and he truly loved cooking for his family and also friends…and we all really enjoyed eating what he made.
My Dad, sister, and me at my sister’s sweet 16 two years ago.