Deconstructing familiar foods for his family and yours
Barry C. Parsons’ recipes are masterpieces of accessibility. The meals featured in his Rock Recipes: The Best Food From My Newfoundland Kitchen (Breakwater Books) are easy to make, adapt and enjoy. His perfectionism is that sly brand that works behind the scenes to make his colourful family recipes happily casual yet foolproof. The sheer bulk and consistency of his creations make him saleable and effective. Without any particular dreams of grandeur, he has built the foundations of an empire one dish at a time.
Though his recipes are often quick to make, nothing about Parsons is slapdash. The perfect example is his kitchen. It is tidy, well kept and well used, unadorned by a single impulse buy. Though he has wanted a make-over for it for years, a little more counter space and custom counters for his tall frame, he has never rushed into it. After all, he says, “How can I be without a kitchen during renovation?” This ingrained way of both making do and just doing day in and day out has produced 1,400 recipes viewed by an average of 20,000 daily visitors to his blog, rockrecipes.com.
Parsons and Lynn (his wife, the grocery shopper, kitchen cleaner, note taker and general “unsung hero”) have always been meal planners. They prioritized gathering their family around the table to share freshly made each night. They don’t buy or cook in bulk and almost never eat the same meal reheated the next day. Not that food gets wasted, thanks to a combination of good planning, and friends and neighbours who are happy to help. When food is left over it is reinvented, as Chipotle Chili Sloppy Joes or Meatloaf Marinara Panini, rather than reheated.
His pantry and spice drawer are filled with simple building blocks. His recipes call for short lists of ingredients that can be found without a trip to a specialty grocer. In this way, he has turned the regional food security challenges that Newfoundlanders face into a shared connection with rural households across North America. You may not have off-season access to fresh figs, artichokes and persimmons, or any access to saffron and sumac, but Rock Recipes proves you can still make hundreds of meals with what you have at hand. Parsons knows what food is available in a range of communities as he and his family have taken what they call “diners, dives and drives-style” vacationing along “every mile of the Eastern seaboard from St. John’s to Key West, FL.”
Canvas printed photographs from these vacations hang in their dining room. This is where all the eating, writing and documenting of the chicken pies, the beef stews and stir-fries, the cakes and baked goods takes place. Natural light comes in through large glass doors opening on to a terraced yard, filled with snow in the winter, herbs and flowers in the summer. Here he works, pulling together both handwritten and online notes, photographing desserts and editing. To optimize his blog for searches, he has rewritten almost every post made since 2007. While working at this Herculean task of indexing, Parsons realized what a chronicle of his family’s life he had made. His (now teenaged) children were just eight and nine when he began. With a second cookbook in the works, a freshly organized and hugely popular blog, and freelance and commissioned requests for more recipes coming in, his memorializing of family life through meals looks like it will continue for many more years.