remember when you were a kid and a special occasion would roll around for which you'd get to choose what you had for dinner? those were exceptionally special days--no asking "what's for dinner?" and dropping your head in disappointment after hearing "goulash" or, even worse, something involving large slices of stewed onion. no, this was your birthday, and you were in complete control over what would be on your dinner plate. for my brother and me, the answer was always the same--"MANICOTTI! manicottimanicottimanicotti MAAANICOTTIII!" we were absolute fools for the stuff, and our father would dutifully indulge us, every time.
my dad's manicotti wasn't only for for the immediate family. my cousins remember dinners at their aunt noopy and uncle micky's house before my brother and i were born where they would be served a pan of the cheese-filled pasta and a salad presented by lazy susan. there were baby shrimp for the salad. they tell me it was a real treat.
it's always a treat when someone cooks something special for you. there are tons of ways to say "i love you," but a meal prepared with love feeds body, mind and spirit. i know i always feel closer to people i've cooked for, as we sit down to eat. it feels like, "hey, i made this for you. it's food, it'll help you stay alive a little while longer. and it's important to me that you do just that!"
rob and i made a manicotti together last week. it was good. definitely good. but not as good as my dad's! we went by the recipe for baked manicotti from saveur and made a couple of changes, including adding toasted pine nuts to the cheese filling--rob's inspired idea.
but, the point here is not so much the dish as it is the association. ever since the recipe landed in my inbox from saveur, i looked forward to trying it, all the while thinking about my father. "daddy used to cook this for us, yay!" and as we stuffed the noodles with cheese, i noted what a pain in the ass it is, and appreciated even more what he was signing up for every time my brother and i got to name our special occasion dinner.
so, this one is for you, pop/daddy/uncle robert*! thank you for cooking for us, we love you!
my father, master griller and hole-in-one'r extraordinaire, and my mother, accomplished hostess who can set a table that would make martha weep with envy, living it up on a mcminnville, oregon, rooftop
*"uncle robert" requires some explanation--when i was 4, my parents took me to the beach. playing in the hotel pool i made a friend with some kid about my age, and when his parents said to me, "your dad is calling you," i soberly replied, "oh that's not my father. that's uncle robert." my mother was understandably mortified that her daughter had basically announced to the poolside gathering, "i'm on vacation with my mommy and her boyfriend." to this day we call him "uncle robert," and still have no idea where my little proclamation came from. kids.