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Man With a Pan

Stories from dads who cook, by fathers from Mario Batali to Stephen King.

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In his witty entry, “Kitchen ABCs: Always Be Cleaning,” memoirist Sean Wilsey keeps a running count of the dirty dishes that pile up during breakfast with his honey-obsessed toddler. Wisely, he doesn’t even try to assess the damage from three versions of spaghetti carbonara – gluten free, cow’s milk and egg white free, and traditional – produced simultaneously to accommodate his family’s food allergies.

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Not surprising in a book about cooking for children, Italian recipes predominate. Donohue offers Weeknight Chicken Parmigiana, while Bittman presents Pasta alla Gricia. There are also a smattering of curries, a Vegetarian Bobotie, the Low Country Red Rice that This American Life writer Jack Hitt grew up eating in Charleston, and, in case you’re feeling ambitious or ravenous, Peter Kaminsky’s instructions for Whole Roast Cow. New York magazine writer Jesse Green, forced to take over in the kitchen in his two-dad household when his partner is sidelined by a hernia operation, suggests a Spinach and Rice Torta adapted from Marcella Hazan.

While few of the essays or interviews would qualify for a volume of classic food writing and several feel downright half-baked, there are some standouts. Ever a lusty breath of fresh air, Jim Harrison confesses that “The off-the-wall arrogance that allowed me to become a novelist and poet didn’t pan out in the kitchen, and it has taken me nearly 50 years to become a consistently acceptable cook.” His wife, he writes, “had the specific advantage of not cooking with her ego.” He offers recipes for “Grouse Surprise” and “Elk Carbonade,” and advises befriending accomplished chefs. “Your meals in life are numbered and the number is diminishing. Get at it,” he admonishes.

“Man With a Pan” could make a terrific Father’s Day gift – either a not-so-subtle hint from a burnt-out wife, or further inspiration for that paragon, the cooking husband.

Heller McAlpin, a freelance critic in New York, is a frequent Monitor contributor.

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