Fathers Day

brendadad1I met my father when he was fifty, I was a newborn and he was in the twilight of his life. He attached like a lion protecting his fold and he never let go in a tender and loving way. My dad was a paradox. He migrated from Albania at the young age of 5 with nothing to carry because they had nothing and anything was an improvement: simply arithmetic. James Anthony Athanus was a force to be reckoned with, he knew who he was and he knew what he wanted out of life. You either loved him or not, but if you didn’t embrace him believe me it was a fatal judgment call on your part.

My Father was all of 5’8” but he ‘operated’ like he was 6’4” with all the trimmings. Charismatic, handsome, impeccably dressed, full of common sense, fine manners and always right - oops, did I say that? Well that has taken a while to admit it slipped out and I fear his wrath if I delete it.

He was a delight and he was MY dad. Older and a whole lot wiser than all my friend’s fathers and he was a true hedonist of the old-fashioned kind. No, not a Diamond Jim Brady but he knew good food and critiqued a dish until it was ‘proper’.

So, the unanswered question still - how did a five year old migrating from Albania who struggled to find food since birth, which continued for a few more years in America, be SO discerning? Don’t look at me, I still haven’t any answers but he has my respect and admiration after all these years. I still don’t understand him - he was a royal maybe not in this life but definitely in his last one.

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stevedadIn many families, grilling and barbecue are rites of passage. Son or daughter reaches the age when he or she can handle fire without disaster. Dad passes the tongs and secret family recipes and a new barbecue generation is born.

Well that’s how it works in theory, although in my family, my mother did the grilling and my father kept strangely silent on the subject.

So in honor of Father’s Day, I asked three barbecue masters what their fathers taught them about barbecuing and grilling. Whether you’re teaching or learning this year, Happy Father’s Day! You’ve earned it.

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makers46Even though my father doesn't drink it, bourbon just seems like the quintessential spirit for dad. In my visit to bourbon country, I learned the distilleries were all pretty much family ventures, though now mostly owned by conglomerates. Even if you don't drink bourbon, a visit to this beautiful part of the country outside Louisville is a treat.

I was a guest at the Maker's Mark distillery in Loretto which feels more like a national park than anything else. Historic wooden buildings with touches of their trademark red are set against a lush green backdrop. The tour of the distillery is very worthwhile. It's so old fashioned and small scale you might be surprised, I loved seeing the buckets of yeast and beautiful copper distillation pots.

Maker's Mark is made from corn, barley and local wheat. It is smooth and has featured prominently in my recipe development efforts. It has a sweetness and rich caramel and toffee notes with a hint of citrus.

If you like Marker's Mark, try 46, which is also made from Maker's Mark, but is aged with more specially charred oak staves, it's a bit higher proof but still mellow and has more spice and vanilla to it.

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grilledlobsterSince Father's Day coincides with the start of summer, grilling is the best way to celebrate male parenting.

For me, nothing is better than a platter of grilled Italian sausages with sautéed onions, deveined shrimp seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper, corn on the cob, charred red peppers mixed with capers and garlic and lobsters split open and doused with pats of sweet butter.  With a tossed arugula and carrot salad, a loaf of freshly baked bread and a fresh fruit salad and I am happy.

When the boys come to the house to celebrate a birthday, mother's day or father's day, they frequently take command of the grill. As my younger son, Michael, reminds me, they are my sons so of course they are good cooks. And that makes me very very happy.

Our other son, Franklin, doesn't regard a meal a proper meal unless there are appetizers. So to add to the celebration, I offer three of my favorites. They are all easy-to-make. The tapenade and lavash crisps can be made a day or two ahead. The grilled corn salsa is best made fresh.

All three are addictive so you may find you'll be eating them all summer long.

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lobsterrisotto.jpgI've got the best Father's Day gift idea!

– It doesn't involve neck ties or golf shirts.
– There will be no trips to Lowe's or Home Depot (you're welcome, ladies).
– You get to enjoy it too.

So what is it? Risotto made with fresh Maine lobsters from Sagamore Lobster.

Now that we live in Southern California instead of New England, we really miss fresh Maine lobsters. A couple of months ago, I wanted to make risotto with Maine lobster instead of with smaller spiny lobsters (which are plentiful here on the West Coast).

Not only did I have trouble finding fresh Maine lobsters here, but when I did, they were prohibitively priced -- about $50/pound. Thankfully, Sagamore has made it cheaper to buy live lobsters and have them shipped 3,000 miles than to buy them in a store here.

Though lobster is often best enjoyed simply boiled, there is something sumptuous about a creamy lobster risotto. That's because chewy Arborio rice is cooked to perfection in flavorful broth, dry white wine, and savory San Marzano tomatoes. Silky butter and aromatic fresh parsley only enhance the flavor of the succulent lobster meat. Dad won't soon forget this dinner.

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