This is a story about my dad. My relationship with the man who gave me life (and a fine-tuned palate) has always been a touch shaky. Mostly because we are very similar people (stubborn, moody, impatient), but also because he, well, sends me flying over the cuckoo's nest (ie. drives me crazy). That's not to say I don't love my dad -- I do; I just lack the ability to enjoy all his personality quirks.
Of course, he does have his redeeming qualities too. Despite his whole I'm-man-of-the-house-hear-me-roar persona, he's totally got the whole "softer side of Sears" thing going on. Nothing seems to please him more than doing things for his family, and more often than not, those things he does involve food and wine. Sometimes his efforts to drown us with caloric love are successful (especially with the wine), and other times, they end up in the waste basket. With him, it's always a little touch-and-go, and over the years, my mom and I have come to fear the days when he brings home little white boxes from the latest bakery he's discovered, or massive amounts of grocery bags from his favorite produce shop.
One weekend this past October, he brought my mom and I a couple desserts from Let Them Eat Cake, a Costa Mesa bakery that was featured on Food Network's "Ace of Cakes" for their dramatic specialty cakes. As usual, we were immediately concerned about what was in "the box." We are both picky about our desserts, and often find that my dad's idea of what we enjoy is in direct opposition to what we actually like. He brings home chocolate mousse or rich chocolate decadence cake, and we cringe in disgust -- wishing he'd thought to just bring us a simple chocolate chip cookie instead. On this particular occasion, we were both dismayed to find mocha cheesecake and a huge, rectangular chunk of what appeared to be pecan pie.
"Do you think he'll be offended if I don't eat any?" I whispered to my mom as we stared in horror at the absurdly decadent desserts. Despite my affection for Billy Crystal's humorous line from When Harry Met Sally, I did not want to "partake in the pecan pieeee."
She gave me a look. Nay, not just a look -- the look. The one we give one another to telepathically communicate a message of grave importance. That day, the message was clear. Eat it or break his bull-sized heart.
That evening, I trudged into the kitchen as though I was Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking. I yanked out the slab of pecan pie from the fridge, shooting a lustful glance to the freezer. I desperately wished I could forgo the contents of the dreaded white box for a bowl of the mint chocolate chip ice cream my mom always buys for me when I'm in town, but didn't even want to contemplate the fall-out from that slap to my dad's face.
It was pie or nothing.
I cut into the slab, nearly wincing at the effort it took for the knife to slice through the dense cake of pecans, something brown and gooey, and what appeared to be a shortbread-type crust. I sat down at the table with my plate and giant mug of Tazo Calm chamomile tea and took a deep breath as I braced myself for extreme sugar impact. I took a bite. And then another. And then another. And then I went back to the fridge to cut off another hunk of the unexpectedly delightful dessert that I couldn't even begin to describe if I tried.
Approximately a month later, as my dad and I were driving home from his produce market with all our fixings for Thanksgiving, he turned into the small parking lot in front of the unassuming bakery on Newport Blvd. I immediately protested.
"No Dad. We don't need anything -- I'm making chocolate chip cookies, remember? The batter is resting in the fridge?"
He glanced over with a twinkle in his eye. "Let's just get a little something."
I followed him inside (again, like Sean Penn.... Dead Man Walking), but quickly found myself smitten by the work-shop appearance of the bakery. Aside from a short counter and condensed display case, most of the space was occupied by the sizable kitchen where a man and woman were working on breathtaking cakes. Their focus and concentration were compelling, and I secretly wished I could pull up a chair and watch them create their works of cake art for the rest of the day.
My dad had other ideas. In yet another example of how my dad wrecks havoc on my nerves, he began chatting up the counter girl about a bottle of wine he recommended that she try. At first I was annoyed (he has a tendency to trap strangers in ridiculously long conversations), but after a few minutes, I began to see the interaction in a different light. In that moment, I realized that my dad and I don't just share the same bad qualities -- we share a few good ones as well. The interaction reminded me of similar conversations that I strike up with cashiers and receptionists at my regular haunts in Los Angeles. He wasn't being annoying -- he was being nice.
By the time we arrived home -- pecan pie in tow -- I had reached a new level of appreciation for the man with the overactive vocal chords. Just like the dessert I hesitated to try, I felt as though I'd been hesitating to look for his redeeming qualities. Watching him make the bakery girl's day a little brighter made an indelible impression on me. That's all he is trying to do when he brings my mom and I desserts we don't like -- he wants to make our day a little bit brighter.
If he keeps filling those boxes with pecan pie, I may just let him.