Peeling Onions

“Boys! Home for dinner!”

The alpha male with the booming voice was tasked with ringing the front door dinner bell and bellowing that call to the entire Casco Point neighborhood.

That daily ritual reminds me how important food and mealtimes were to the Family Project—especially Dad—right from the beginning.

Even when we were guests of my maternal grandparents, Ray and Mamie Adams (at left, picnicking in July 1964), Dad was at the head of the table, saying grace, our heads bowed. The women cooked the food and set the table.

Years later, after we’d moved to Minnesota, the task of setting the table fell to me and my brother. And, since Mom never really learned to cook, meal preparation was eventually split between Mom and Dad.

Because of grandmother’s preoccupation with making her husband’s life hell, she perhaps neglected Mom. I never recall Mom deeply considering supper menus, but owing for her role in a young post-modern family, she did her best to learn.

She kept Joy of Cooking in the kitchen and followed the recipes to the letter. She clipped coupons and bought convenience meals when possible, such as Chung King Chow Mein meal packs or Hamburger Helper.

I never recall her at the dinner table eating with gusto, but cautiously picking at her plate with a fork. She genuinely lacked curiosity about all things culinary.

Not so for Dad.

Truth is, the man loved to eat. His portion sizes were heaping. In the Army, his go-to recipe was Shit-on-a-Shingle. It was one of the first dishes he ever taught me to make: peel and dice white onions, sauté in butter. Mix flour, salt, pepper, and a bit of sugar together and sift over softened onions. After cooking that through a bit, add a cup of milk, whisk and stir in dried, chipped beef. Serve hot over toast. If we didn’t have a jar of Armour dried beef in house, he’d use pork sausage instead. That’d sate the Hunger Beast for a while.

We were never without onions: yellow, white or green. Dad would spread butter over a slice of white bread, then top it with a thick hunk of white onion and eat it as an open-faced sandwich. Yellow onions went into soups and chili, which he happily made himself. Green onions were for chomping on along with radishes, washed down with a cold can of Olympia while reclining in the front yard overlooking the lake.

That’s how I confirm my French heritage, passed down from Grandpa Maupin to Dad to me: onions and butter coursing through my veins. While I don’t exactly have Dad’s hand-to-mouth devotion toward onions, I always cook with them. French onion soup gratinée is still one of my favorite dishes to make.

So the other night I was further reminded of this connection to Dad when I went to slice an apple with the French-made Opinel #8 pocketknife Dad gave me. He always carried a pocketknife when he was working in the garden, or especially when we went camping, as we often did in summer.

When I ring my inner dinner bell now, I’m the only head of that table—surrounded by three empty chairs. I rarely set a place at it, opting to eat from a stool at the kitchen counter, much like Grandpa Maupin did for years after Hazel, his wife, died.

Back at Casco Point in the mid-1970s, I used to chafe at the thought of dinnertime with the Family Project. Unlike our Maryland neighbors, our Minnesota friends didn’t seem to gather around a table to share a meal.

Without fail, when we were ready to sit down, there went the telephone.

“Let it ring,” Dad always said. “We’re having dinner.”

~ by completelyinthedark on October 21, 2012.

One Response to “Peeling Onions”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    All-new post sitting in draft folder. So, instead of calling it a day, here’s how to make SOS for lunch.


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