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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Father’s Day 2011

June 21, 2011

I love being a dad. It’s the best— and most important— job I’ll ever have.

So far, there have been several monumental moments my 14-year career as a father. Certainly the day each of my children was born tops the list. There are first steps and first words, and all of the funny expressions and phrases that you tell yourself you will remember, and later realize that you should have written down.

Each event elicits a different emotion. The first time my daughter walked out on stage in the leading role of a play was a moment that filled me with such a surprising jolt of joy that the strongest levee on the Mississippi River couldn’t have held back the tears. My son’s first tackle behind the line of scrimmage in a football game caused me to run up and down the sidelines jumping up and down and screaming like a lottery winner.

Out of all of those moments, events, and occasions, Father’s Day 2011 was a date that will certainly make it into the top ten. That is the day that my 14-year old daughter and 10-year old son offered to make me breakfast, lunch, and dinner for Father’s Day.

“Choose whatever you want to eat, daddy,” they said. I chose the menu, their mother did the shopping, and the kids did the cooking (with a little help from mom). It was one of the most memorable days in my life.

The menu was simple, and one I would have chosen no matter who was manning the stoves. Breakfast consisted of fresh cantaloupe, my grandmother’s pancake recipe, and bacon. The lunch menu was based on one of my favorite childhood meals— stuffed peppers, mashed potatoes, English peas, and yellow cake with chocolate icing. At dinner, they cooked garden vegetables their mother had purchased at the Farmer’s Market— pink-eye purple-hull peas, butter beans, baby new potatoes, fried chicken, cornbread, and a dessert of Chilton County peaches, local blueberries, and vanilla ice cream— a perfect ending to a perfect day.

The food was great. The company was better. Though the thing that solidified the occasion as one of my most memorable days was when I walked through the kitchen and noticed that the kids were using my cookbooks to prepare the dishes.

Seeing my second cookbook open and dog-eared on the counter stopped me in my tracks. I wrote eight books in eight years, and realized in that moment, I had never even had a conversation with my kids about publishing. I speak to people all of the time who prepare recipes, or comment on stories, from my books. But that was the first time I had seen my children reading, much less using, one of them.

Their apathy hasn’t bothered me. I guess I had just never thought about it. The two of them were there when most of the stories I have written occurred. Actually, they were the subjects of many of the stories. They were also there when the recipes were being tested and got to eat the results.

Though in that moment, it struck me as strange that I have a few hundred thousand books floating around the country and two of the people that I love the most had never put them into practice. Sure, they have attended a few book signings or cooking demos while I was on publicity tours, but it wasn’t until Father’s Day morning that the spatula met the bowl and they prepared food that I had developed. It was a great feeling.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner cooked by my children. No one could ask for a better present. I was happy with the recipes when I initially tested them, but the food tasted so much better when prepared by my kids.

As parents, we try to soak up every minute, and freeze time at certain stages of their development, but no matter how hard we try, time moves forward.

People warned me when my wife was pregnant with our first child, “It goes so fast,” they would say. I changed everything about my life at that point, just to try and make sure it wouldn’t go too fast. No matter what I did, or how hard I tried, it’s still going too fast. But I’m milking every second out of it.

I am of the strong belief that the most important things in life are: Faith, family, friends, food, and fun. Through the years I have learned if you can combine two or three of those in one sitting, the memories made will be long lasting. On Father’s Day 2010 we combined all five.

Zucchini-Squash Casserole

2 TBL olive oil
1 1/2 pounds yellow squash, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 tsp salt
2 tsp Creole Seasoning

2 TBL unsalted butter
1/2 cup yellow onion, small dice
1/4 cup red bell pepper, small dice
1/4 cup celery, small dice
2 tsp fresh garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup green onions, sliced thinly
1 TBL fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup smoked cheddar or provolone cheese, shredded

1 cups coarse unseasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
2 TBL melted butter

Preheat oven to 400.

Toss the olive oil, cut squashes first teaspoon of salt and Creole seasoning in a large mixing bowl. Spread the squash onto a large baking pan and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the squash from the oven and place it into a colander. Gently press the squash to remove as much excess moisture as possible.
While the squash is roasting, melted the butter over a medium heat in a small sauté pan. Add the yellow onion, red bell pepper and celery and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in the garlic, salt, pepper and green onions and cook for 3 more minutes.
Place the cooked squash, the onion mixture, fresh basil, sour cream and cheddar cheese and in a large mixing bowl. Use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to gently fold the mixture together until the sour cream has been incorporate well.
Lower the oven to 325.

Place squash mixture into a 2 quart baking dish.
Combine the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, parsley and melted butter and top the casserole evenly.
Bake for 20 minutes.

8-10 servings

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