Like many seven-year olds, my dad was my ultimate heroic figure. He could do no wrong, say no wrong, and was always filled with an alluring intrigue. He also was an amazing storyteller. My father’s stories weren’t about monsters he battled with swords or rough oceans he bravely steered ships through or mythical creatures he aligned with to save the universe. My father’s adventure tales were all real. Born in Israel, then called Palestine, in 1933, my dad’s place in history gave him a first rate place in storytelling.
I was an eager and voracious listener, clinging onto his every word as if my life depended on it. His stories where always vivid and alive and somehow woven in with food of some sort. His mother’s incredible Lemon Meringue Pie was one of those food items that came up again and again. No one, apparently, could duplicate it. He’d return home from some sort of mischief with his cousin Rafi and there it would be, the perfect combination of tart and sweet and fluff gulped in irreplaceable bites. Recounting the Jerusalem siege would bring up more food memories. The road climbing up to the city was locked in battle and little food was available, so my father mustered up stories of making do with meals of grass, tea and if lucky, scraps of some type of meat. On good days, you’d have an occasional egg. (Our family joke growing up was that this was why my father was so obsessed with hording food in the fridge as an adult. We called it his Jerusalem Siege Complex.) He talked about his father Isaac Abbady’s historical role as the official translator for the British government in Palestine, where all the players, from the British, to the Jews to the Arabs, seemed somehow dependent on this man’s intelligent and accurate interpretations. Of course, equally fascinating was my grandfather’s obsession with Cacciocavallo, a salty aged goat cheese he would fry into crispy bites. This was the stuff of the perfect movie and it was coming to me live through endless enthusiasm that sparked off my father’s hazel eyes.
Then there were the wild James-Dean-like tales of my father. The ones that occasionally made my mother blush or quietly shake her head and walk away, but the ones my sisters and I equally adored and demanded to be told over and over and over. His daring move to New York as a young entrepreneur and all the challenges and successes that brought on, the endless list of starlet American college women (all from upscale Ivy League stock, of course) that he mesmerized, and then the blind date that almost didn’t happen with a young woman named Marilyn who ended up stopping his heart with her beautiful smile, graceful figure, sharp wit and unparallel intelligence. Marilyn was only filling in for her roommate who had backed out of her blind date at the last minute. Marilyn didn’t really feel like going, but went anyway, she was that kind of friend: loyal and kind. Thankfully that meeting stirred a series of events that would lead to marriage and eventually to me. Of course, during this important chunk of their history, many meals where shared, but the one that sticks to most stories is Marilyn’s famous Spanish Rice, a stew of ground beef, rice, green peppers and spices, which was all she knew how to cook and all they could afford to eat!
My dad is 76 now and still manages to find adventure. High tales follow him wherever he goes. Food is also still an integral part of his day to day, whether it be rubbing shoulders with local Ecuadorian market vendors where he sells his hotdogs every Saturday, perusing one of the cookbooks that line his library, or cooking up his superb omelets bursting with fresh herbs and cheeses. I feel the same way about this omelet as he does about his mother’s lemon meringue pie: there will never be one as tasty. When I think about him I often wonder what meal he is enjoying: it is the one solid ground we’ve always had, despite many other ups and downs. It is an obsession he helped pass on to me (and I dare say, like him, I’ve been known to wonder out loud during lunch what we will be having for dinner). And no matter what, I always, always miss his omelet.