Every family has traditions and I hope every father/daughter duo has their own.  My father and I have many, born out of the few years that we lived on our own during my early adolescence. The obvious difference of my dad being a dude aside, our relationship mirrored “Gilmore Girls” much more than “Blossom.” He was in his early thirties, in a band, and had a home recording studio–I was a brainy adolescent making pancakes for the touring bands sleeping on the living room floor. By day my father is a chef, and like most in his trade lost the inspiration to cook by the time he made it home from work.  Regularly at dinnertime I would ask “Dad, what’s for dinner?” he would respond, quite matter-of-factly, “Whatever you make.”  In all likelihood, this is probably part of how I became a chef myself. (Between the two of us we ate pretty well as I listened to dissertations on how the eighties’ style of popular record production overshadowed the genius of Richard Butler, and how as influential as Nirvana was they wouldn’t have been able to exist without the Pixies or the Modern Lovers paving the way.)  Alternatively dinner was eaten in front of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and on occasion, when neither of us felt like cooking, we would declare “Freaky Food Night.”

The rules of Freaky Food Night were simple: go to the grocery store and purchase anything you want for dinner as long as it comes out of a can, box, or the freezer case.  Dinners of cereal, boxed mashed potatoes, or Velveeta macaroni and cheese with canned tuna were a given. Sometimes our visions of the meal we were preparing differed, as in the famous “Canned Hash Incident” when my father declared he wanted “his hash sliced and pan fried.” I refused his insane request because frankly, who could possibly slide a cylinder of corned beef hash out of a can and effectively slice it? This required a phone call to my future stepmother to settle. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about sliced hash. The only item I refused even in the spirit of Freaky Food Night was Hamburger Helper, which did not stop my father from making it for himself.

The deeper you look into convenience foods, past condensed soup and frozen meatloaf and onward to frozen cheese blintzes and buffalo flavored mozzarella sticks you begin to wonder who is purchasing these products in earnest? Who is buying canned Franco-American Mushroom Gravy to grace their Sunday dinner table? Is anyone actually eating potted meat? I’m pretty sure we tried to feed it to the cats once and even they weren’t interested. Years later at I dinner where I was awarded a scholarship from the Institute of Food Technologists my father informed the chairman that part of his design in Freaky Food Night was to round out my food education, because he believes that you cannot elevate food unless you understand its lowest and/or most basic forms.

Motives aside, Freaky Food Night has stuck with me. My husband and I observe it together and share it with others. Trader Joe’s is a prime starting spot for Freaky Food Night. Friends of mine bought me a Trader Joe’s gift card for my birthday this year in recognition of the tradition.  I used it to purchase turkey meatloaf “muffins”, Korean short ribs, masala dosas and frozen chocolate covered banana slices.  I invited my father and stepmother over that night to partake in the evolved tradition.  You may have noticed–there was no Hamburger Helper in sight.