My father was a cook in the Army, not at home. The only thing I can remember him ever preparing was a crispy rice dish, sort of an Italian-American version of the Korean bi bim bap. He would line the inside of a well-oiled black iron pan with cooked white rice, let that fry a good long while, then layer in a variety of meats, cheeses and vegetables.
Not a man bound by orthodoxy, the dish, as best I can recall, never tasted the same twice. How could it? One day the meat might be freshly prepared sausage, another day leftover fried veal cutlets or pork rib meat from Sunday's gravy. Vegetables could be sliced mushrooms or ripe tomatoes or cooked carrots or what was left of the sauteed escarole we'd had the night before. Cheese? The only thing you could count on was that there would be some of it present, either mixed inside or grated on top.
After the rice had browned sufficiently, by which I mean after it had become crunchy hard, and all the other ingredients had either cooked, reheated or melted, my father would crack a couple eggs and slowly empty them over the fried-up mass. There the eggs would settle to cook, under a lid now, but not too much; a runny egg is better than a stiff one, at least to my father and to me.
Now, on this next point, I must admit that I could be terribly mistaken. Because I do not recall anybody else being around when my father prepared this dish. There is just him in my memory and, I'm guessing, a 10-year-old me. That's it.
I can see him at the stove, the one in the kitchen behind our fountain service store, and see myself nearby watching him as he cooks. I am also picturing us both at the little formica-topped table out back of the store while we ate the crispy rice. Crunch-crunch-crunching until the black pan was empty and our stomachs full.
But again, I am not at all certain that my memory can be trusted. When you lose someone before you have had time to grow a bit larger alongside them, it is possible that remembrances, such as this one, are more molded than recalled.
I would like to keep this particular memory intact, if I could. Otherwise, the crunchy rice dish that has comforted me for so long just would never, ever taste the same.
And I would miss that. Very much.