When Patty Griffin’s American Kid came out last May, I was getting ready to hit the road with the band for a three week tour of the west coast. I played that album from start to finish at least once during each of my van-driving shifts, and I loved it more with every listen. Sure, that’s to be expected with me and any Patty Griffin record, but there was something especially poignant about the story behind these particular songs. I had heard her talk about the record a few months prior when she was in Denver, and she explained that she wrote most of them as a way of dealing with the death of her father. I would be lying if I said I wasn't weeping at the wheel as we made our way through Wyoming.
My own dad has never been one to treat his mortality with any sense of delicacy. For as long as I can remember, he’s been pretty candid when talking about what he wants from life, knowing that one day he’s going to die. I tried asking him over a year ago to write his life story down for me so I could have it when he’s gone, but I'm pretty sure he never started. He’s more of a verbal storyteller, I think.
One thing my dad has always been good at it is food. He was the one who typically did the grocery shopping for our family of seven (I think because he probably cherished the time to himself on a Saturday morning) and he just loves to cook. I think he finds great joy in feeding his family, too, which has only gotten more fun as we’ve grown older. At age 32, I can show up at my parents’ house and tell him I’m hungry and - as long as it’s not in the middle of a Broncos game - he’ll stop what he’s doing and whip up a gourmet BLT.
During that tour of the west coast last May, I started dreaming about what it would take to write a cookbook with my dad. You know, the story of his life paired with his original recipes, all so I can have something to hold on to when he’s gone? I’d been tossing around ideas for the title of the nonexistent cookbook when we found ourselves at Fenton’s, under a blazing sun, getting ready to have lunch. As our “your table’s ready” buzzer went off, a stranger who was also waiting for a table asked if we’d like to take the only unoccupied seats underneath an umbrella. Since we were on our way inside, I looked at him squarely and said “Have at it”, which is a phrase I’m pretty sure I have only ever heard my dad say, and am certain I had never said myself before that moment. And there it was.
So I’m going to try something new here this year. I set a goal of one “Have At It” post per month, to include a story from my dad’s life with one of his recipes. I figure if nothing else, it will give me some motivation to get serious about getting my dad’s stories down, even if I have to write them myself. And who knows? Maybe if it’s a roaring success, I’ll actually try writing a cookbook when the year is over.
Because of his forthright attitude about savoring life while he’s still here to live it, my dad doesn’t concern himself with healthy eating, per se. I think his main concern when it comes to food is that it be enjoyable. Sometimes that means he cooks with a lot of fresh, seasonal produce - because what’s more enjoyable than that? But sometimes it means he cooks with a lot of salty, fatty, creamy ingredients too - because perhaps sometimes they are more enjoyable than fresh, seasonal produce. This recipe is actually from my mom’s mom, but it’s the first thing I can remember my dad teaching me to make. I think of him teaching me to drizzle the condensed milk like I think of him teaching me how to vacuum carpet - making sure to get all the way to the corners and not to miss any spots. Because “if you do it right the first time, you won’t have to do it again”.
Vera's Goldrush Cookies
1/4 cup butter
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 14 oz can Eagle Brand (sweetened condensend) milk
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a 9x9 pan (in the preheated oven). Mix graham cracker crumbs into the melted butter. Press down the crust until it evenly covers the bottom of the pan.
2) Sprinkle on coconut. Sprinkle on chocolate chips. Sprinkle on chopped pecans. Drizzle Eagle Brand milk over the entire pan, making sure to get all the way to the corners and not to miss any spots. Top with a little more coconut.
3) Bake for 30 minutes or until top is light to medium brown. The liquid kind of bubbles when they are done. Cool, then refrigerate. Remove from refrigerator and let thaw for 5-10 minutes before cutting into squares. Enjoy!