As he chewed, he made a face that said “This could use some help”. Then he said “This could use some help.”
Celebrating my father’s 3/4 century mark took precedence over a “legit” Ivory Coast experience. So I bought plantains to fry up (these are a west African staple) and have as part of dessert in our family back yard.
Peter Okens was born and raised in Germany, came to Toronto merely to learn English but met and married mom, got a job in Brazil (where I was born), returned to Canada to raise a young family, and bought the small suburban bungalow where my parents still live. The back yard where we are having his birthday meal has featured a maple tree that my sister and I climbed, a small wading pool where we excitedly created whirlpools, rabbit hutches and a rhubarb patch, a wide array of festive gatherings and years of painstaking, endless (both my parents would agree) improvements and alterations.
“I think we made the right decisions”, is dad’s summary of his 75 years to date. As good and simple as anyone would want it to be.
The plantains are a dud. I bought them underripe, and the sweet flavour doesn’t come out, leaving them starchy and bland. We try drowning them in maple syrup, with limited improvement. My sister and I turn to the more entertaining spectacle of having mom take her first-ever family-at-the-dinner-table selfie (which ends up taking a long time – mom being more used to not having herself in such photos). Dad, still focused on plantain improvement, goes to the kitchen to get some fruit – disrupting the selfie process. He returns, the selfie process resumes. Soon, he also gives up on the doomed plantains. Discreetly, he feeds them to the dog. Five minutes of Okens family magic.