- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I look forward to June the way some people anticipate the winter holiday season. The month heralds not only the beginning of summer but also the arrival of vacations, weddings, graduations and genial Father's Day celebrations.

Since its 1910 inception in Spokane, Wash., Father's Day has paid homage to dads and given men, in the words of my own late father, “an excuse to spend an afternoon relaxing and indulging” with their loved ones.

The indulgences of the day — cards, gifts and favorite foods — have altered little in recent years. It is the celebrants who have changed. Today, countries as diverse as India and Sweden, Nepal and Brazil also devote a day to honoring the dads of their lands.

Viji Kanagasundaram, a native of Karaikudi in southern India, did not experience this event as children in India do today. “The culture as such, every day you were honoring your parents and receiving their blessings. There was no specific day to do it,” Miss Kanagasundaram says.

She notes that over the past decade, as Western culture has permeated her homeland, the notion of this holiday has caught on in cities and larger towns. As in North America, Father’s Day in India is observed on the third Sunday of June. On that day, children shower their fathers with cards and presents and take them to the movies or, increasingly, out to dinner.

If celebrating at home, women prepare such special-occasion foods as biriyanis, Miss Kanagasundaram says. A Mogul dish resembling a casserole, biriyani consists of layers of basmati or long-grain rice and marinated chicken, fish or lamb. Although it’s a fairly elaborate meal, it can be made in advance and reheated before serving — a gift to any harried cook.

In Great Britain, Ireland, Canada and South Africa, fatherhood is commemorated in much the same way as we do in the United States and on the same day. Cards remain the most popular way to recognize dads. Clothing and dining rank as close seconds.

Although increasingly viewed as a commercialized event, Father's Day started with humbler motives.

Founded by Spokane resident Sonora Smart Dodd in 1910, it began in response to the 1909 Mother’s Day tribute to moms. Miss Dodd’s mother had died during childbirth, leaving her father, a Civil War veteran, to raise her and five siblings. She reasoned that if mothers received a day of appreciation, caring, hardworking men such as her father warranted 24 hours of deference, too.

Her original observance included a religious service and the wearing of simple but symbolic corsages. A red rose signified reverence for a living parent. A white flower represented remembrance of a deceased dad.

The affair garnered early support from such dignitaries as the governor of Washington state and President Coolidge. More than 50 years would pass before it gained official status. That finally occurred in 1972, when President Nixon signed it into law and declared that the celebration of Father's Day would be on the third Sunday of June.

By the 1970s, though, the day had become associated more with gift giving than with religious ceremonies or memorial flowers. By 1978, the year Miss Dodd died, the holiday was estimated to be worth more than $1 billion in retail sales, according to “Holiday Symbols and Customs” by Sue Ellen Thompson (Omnigraphics).

Despite the emphasis on consumerism, a few countries continue to carry out Miss Dodd’s original intentions. On Gokarna Aunsi — Nepal’s Father’s Day — children travel to the shrine of Shiva to pay their respects to the dead.

Offerings of fruit, eggs and confections are made, and pindas, small balls of rice or barley, are dropped into holy waters or fed to sacred cows. Those with living fathers journey to their homes and toast them with drinks and sweetmeats.

In Brazil, households convene on the second Sunday in August to share a meal and bestow small, often homemade, gifts. “My father still has the collages, cards and paper crafts that I made as a child,” says Simoni Leal-Bhagwandin, a journalist from the northern Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

On Father's Day, Miss Leal-Bhagwandin’s relatives gather at her parents’ cattle ranch, where they swim in the nearby lake, watch soccer on television and eat a sumptuous lunch outdoors.

Although the menu varies from year to year, rice and beans, sauteed greens and cold beer invariably appear on the table. Pasta, roast meat, chicken hearts and pigs’ ears also grace the lunch plates.

Since the 1930s, Swedish dads have started their designated day — the second Sunday of November — with coffee, cake, flowers, gifts and songs sung by their children. Handmade cards adorned with flowers or the national flag are received frequently, and close to half of the 2.2 million celebrants get ties.

My family’s fetes have been a hodgepodge of traditions, including going out for brunch; attending church services; giving homemade cards, golf-oriented gifts or whimsical neckties; seeing a movie; and joining my father in one of his favorite pastimes, gardening.

Today I mark the occasion in a manner similar to Miss Leal-Bhagwandin. My clan dines alfresco at my farmhouse in the midafternoon. We indulge in such beloved dishes as broiled spiced salmon, sauteed spinach and our family friend Liz Theisen’s signature dessert, succulent strawberries Romanoff served atop meringue shells.

There is no better way to celebrate Father's Day than relaxing in the back yard with family and close friends and savoring wholesome, home-cooked food.

Chicken biriyani

Oil for greasing baking dish

2 onions, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

3 tablespoons fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced in sticks

½ teaspoon coriander seeds

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon cardamom

1/25/8 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup plain yogurt

1 teaspoon saffron threads

2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut in 1-inch pieces

1½ cups basmati or long-grain rice

8 cardamom pods

Water

1/4 cup almonds, skinned, roughly chopped

1/4 cup cashews

1 scallion, sliced

Grease a 5-quart baking dish. Set dish aside.

Place onion, garlic, ginger root, coriander seeds and lemon juice in food processor and process until smooth. Add nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, chili powder, cumin, garam masala and salt, and pulse several times until well combined.

Pour marinade into a large bowl and add yogurt and saffron threads. Stir together and set aside.

Place chicken in marinade and toss to coat all of the pieces. Refrigerate and allow chicken to marinate for at least 1 hour.

Using the flat surface of a spoon or the handle of a knife, press down on each cardamom pod, bruising but not breaking the shells. Place pods, along with the 1½ cups rice, in a saucepan. Following directions on rice package, cook rice in water. Once rice is finished, remove cardamom pods, then cover pan until ready to use.

Remove chicken and marinade from refrigerator and pour into a large saute pan on stove top. Bring contents to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 15 minutes, remove chicken and place it on a plate. Continue cooking sauce for another 5 minutes to reduce it slightly.

In the greased baking dish, layer rice, chicken and sauce. (There should be two layers of each.) Place baking dish in pre-heated 350-degree oven, cover and bake for 25 minutes, or until heated through. While it is baking, toast almonds and cashews in a dry skillet on top of stove until golden. When biriyani is baked, remove from oven, top with toasted nuts and scallion and serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Broiled spiced salmon

½ cup olive oil, divided

3½- to 4-pound side of salmon, skin and bones removed

1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted

2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted

2 teaspoons anise seeds, toasted

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons onion powder

Grease a baking sheet with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, then place salmon on sheet.

Place toasted coriander, fennel and anise seeds in the bottom of a mortar and, using a pestle, grind seeds until broken up and powdery. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, use a shatterproof bowl and heavy spoon or a very clean coffee grinder.)

Dump powdered seeds into a small bowl and add sea salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Stir together, then pour in remaining olive oil. Mix with a spoon or whisk until well combined. Brush spice marinade onto salmon and allow fish to marinate for 20 minutes.

Turn on oven broiler, setting it on high. Insert a digital thermometer into fish and place baking sheet on top rack of oven, directly beneath broiler. (If you don’t have an ovenproof thermometer, test fish with any kind of instant-read food thermometer after 10 minutes and retest until correct temperature.)

Broil salmon on high until it reaches an internal temperature of 135 degrees, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest 10 minutes before serving. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Liz Theisen’s strawberries Romanoff in meringues

2 quarts ripe strawberries, washed

1 6-ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate, defrosted

1 cup port wine

Sugar

3 tablespoons Mandarine Napoleon liqueur

2 cups heavy whipping cream

Meringues (recipe follows)

Flowers or flower petals or shelled pistachios

Hull strawberries and place in a large bowl. Add orange juice concentrate and port and season to taste with a little sugar, if desired. Gently stir and allow berries to mellow in this mixture for 2 hours.

Add Mandarine liqueur, taste and add more sugar, if desired. Whip cream with or without sugar to taste. Fill meringue shells with berries, garnish with flowers or pistachios and serve with whipped cream on the side. Makes 10 servings

FORGOTTEN MERINGUES:

These meringues bake while you sleep.

6 egg whites

1½ teaspoons lemon juice or ½ teaspoon cream of tartar

2 cups sugar

Beat egg whites with lemon juice or cream of tartar until frothy. Gradually add sugar and beat until stiff and glossy. Pipe into 12 nest shapes or drop by small spoonfuls in circles on brown paper on a baking sheet.

Place tray in preheated 400-degree oven, close door and turn off the heat. (Don’t peek.) Let stand overnight in the oven. Meringues will be baked by morning. Makes 12 meringues.

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