The Last June Supper

Last night was a family affair to remember – celebrating my dad’s birthday Pacific Northwest grill style.  Lightly overcast, somewhat unusual for this time of year, overlooking a miraculous tucked away, nearly hidden Cove, we set out to serve a meal fit for a king.

My dad is a beef snob.  His birthright was farming beef cattle (happy cows with plenty of acreage to roam freely) and his steadfast rule has always been the same.  Butcher no later than 30 months, no younger than 24.  Always feed plenty of rich grass and high quality hay.  Depending upon the breed, slowly begin introducing cracked-corn (AKA crack candy) approximately one to two months prior to butchering.  During this time a transition to hay is necessary, that’s why butchering in the fall imparts a rich, buttery marbling.  Dry aging for a minimum of 14 days is necessary, longer is highly preferred.

My parents sold their farm years ago, as the upkeep was just too much for their farm-worn bodies.  Now when I serve my dad beef, I always hold my breath in angst.  It’s always the same – like a slow-motion picture where he cuts a small piece, holds it up on his fork to analyze the texture through his bifocals, slowly chews, absorbs the taste, his eyes look around thoughtfully, and then he announces, rather matter-of-factly, something along the lines of, “This was an old cow,” “This was a female in heat,” or “Not finished on grain … wild flavor.”  My dad is the ultimate beef critique.  I’m convinced his flavor palette in this one arena may very well exceed Chef Gordon Ramsey’s (my apologies Chef Ramsey, though compliments to my dad).

We bought local Wagyu steaks for his birthday dinner, but I realized while these were happy cows, finished on pea hay (acceptable in my dad’s eyes), I had no idea if these steaks were a heifer or steer.  So while my husband seasoned the steaks (a variety to appeal to my dad’s senses – sirloin, new york, and rib eye), I roasted the yellow baby Dutch potatoes, roasted the brussel sprouts, warmed the artisan garlic cracked peppercorn bread, and sauteed the baby cremini mushrooms, all the while in the back of my mind I wondered how he was going to critique this fine, new trendy beef.  I also prepared a Juan/Canary melon salad with a light sprinkling of sea salt to bring out the depth of the melon’s flavor.

I began to feel like I was in a Dinner: Impossible episode with Chef Robert Irvine.  Dad’s steak: rare; brother’s steak: medium rare; husband’s steak: medium rare; mom’s steak: charred to a burnt, lifeless crisp; my steak: medium rare, but more rare than medium.  But, to my relief, my dad volunteered to grill the steaks, though I was still anxious how is palette would critique this local Wagyu beef.

(At this point I should probably mention that I bought my dad a beautiful birthday cake and it accidentally slid out of my car when I opened the door.  Nothing a little CPR – Cake Professional Resuscitation – couldn’t handle though.)

We sat down to eat with mounds of delicious food accompanying our bloody gorgeous steaks.  I wanted to break out my camera and take pictures of the delectable food, but in all the family commotion with setting the table, breaking out serving platters, etc., my camera got lost in the heat of the moment.

My assigned seat was next to my dad.  I watched him closely while he tried the Juan/Canary melon and announced to his surprise that it did in fact have a cantaloupe taste and texture.  Then he cut into his steak, analyzing the side profile.  He looked at it acceptably, and then followed his standard routine of slowly inspecting the marbled texture.  I felt as though I was watching one of the original black and white movies where they show a slow motion reel clip, followed by a short narrative on the screen.  In my head this was playing with my dad’s narrative saying, “Mmm.”  Break to screen shot, take another bite and slowly chew.  Narrative, “This is pretty good.”  Pretty good?!  Wow, that’s like my dad deeming something USDA Choice.  I quizzically looked at my dad and said, “It’s not a heifer in heat?”  He took another bite, slowly chewed and said, “No way do I taste that wild flavor.”  At that very moment I did an imaginary Charlie Chaplin ankle click in my head.  Then of course my anxiety decreased and I began to enjoy my own sumptuous dinner.

After cleaning up, eating dessert, we sat around the bar in the kitchen talking.  We reminisced, shared stories with my husband, admired my parents’ newly remodeled kitchen, and just relaxed.  It was one of the best meals I’ve had with family since I can remember.  It’s amazing how food has so much soul in its essence that it actually draws people closer and helps create memorable moments.  In this case, it imparted the best Last June Supper.


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