Stephen E. Ward (1940-2021)

I wanted to post a Friday note with some personal news. My father-in-law, Stephen Ward, died last week; he was 81. Though many of you have only recently “met” me through my newsletter and books, I’ve been writing for over a decade about my family here on this blog, and I just wanted to touch on loss, something that affects, and will affect, all of us eventually.

Steve was a warm, big-hearted, loving husband, brother, father and grandfather and I’ll never forget one of the first times I met him, at Andy’s college graduation, when he broke out a toast in iambic pentameter that was as good as anything I had just studied in my American Poetry class. (I remember thinking, “Now this is a family I’d like to be a part of.”) Steve was so funny and smart and humble. As Andy wrote in this obituary: “He was a man of deep intellectual gifts, and a profound inability to take himself too seriously. The things he achieved in life, and the breadth of the knowledge he accrued, were not in service of some need to be important; they were simply the manifestation of his bottomless curiosity and the high standards to which he held himself.”

Longtime readers of Dinner: A Love Story might recall Steve’s cameo on the blog, sharing memories from his days working as a “soda jerk” on the Jersey Shore; or Andy’s Father’s Day ode to the only dinner Steve would ever cook for his family — the famously secret “Dadoo Special.” And hopefully you remember those poems. He wrote them for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, Valentines Day (his wife of 59 years could publish a book of them) and in the process taught me the special importance of marking an occasion with words. I wrote about his poetry ritual in my last book, and you can read it here

We will miss him so much and I am overwhelmed by the urge to have as many people know about him as possible. Thank you for reading.

One More Thing

Andy, his brother, Tony, Tony’s wife Trish, and I have been with Andy’s mom, Emily, for the past few weeks, helping her get through all of this, and of course, cooking for her. On one of those occasions, Andy was charged with making her something using only what was in her pantry, without a whole lot of fresh stuff to work with. In short order, he discovered a bag of frozen vegetable-rice mixture (procured at Whole Foods), and, in the absence of fresh aromatics, hunted around in the somewhat dusty spice drawer see how he might kick it up. Turns out, even dried minced onions and ground ginger (however old those bottles are) aren’t so bad when you’re in a pinch. He added an egg and some soy sauce and I found myself walking past the skillet again and again to sneak a bite of the crispy rice clusters mixed with salty egg. Comfort food at its best. It was so good, we asked him to make it for the caretaking crew a few nights later.

Quickest Vegetable Fried Rice
Serves 2-3

3 tablespoons neutral oil (vegetable, canola, or olive oil if that’s what you have)
1 20-ounce bag frozen vegetable-rice mix (as shown in photo), thawed for minimum 10 minutes
2 teaspoons minced onions/onion powder (or 3 tablespoon finely diced yellow onion)
1 tablespoon ginger powder (or 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced)
3 eggs, whisked
2 tablespoons soy sauce (plus more for serving)
hot sauce (optional)

Add oil to a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Add rice in as even a layer as you can and let sit for 4-5 minutes, to allow for crispy rice clusters to form. Turn heat down to medium, add ginger and onions, then toss a bit. (If using fresh onions and ginger, let them cook about 2-3 minutes.) Clear a nice little space in the middle of the pan and add eggs, stirring as they cook, and gradually stirring them in to the surrounding rice. Once eggs are just cooked, drizzle soy sauce all over, toss and serve hot. Add hot sauce if desired.

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12 Comments

Leah

I’m so sorry, Jenny + family. Thank you for sharing a bit about your father in law. He seems like he was a wonderful man.

Reply
Lisa Keckler

What a lovely tribute. I am sorry for your loss. May you all be comforted by your happy memories.

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Katy

I am so sorry to hear of Andy’s father’s passing. Your affectionate tales of him over the years are a testament to his talents and generosity of spirit. How pleased he must have been to gain a daughter-in-law with her own love of language. May his memory be a blessing to you all.

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Jo

Lovely memories of a special person so very sorry for your loss and your families. Thanks for easy stir fry recipe I will save for the days I’m low on supplies I seem to always have left over rice in freezer and frozen vegetables great way to use up bits of left over bits.
Again my sincere condolences for your loss.

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Kristin

I’m so very sorry for your loss. He sounds like such an amazing person! Thank you for sharing this with us.

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Leigh

I’m so sorry for your loss. No matter the age that our love ones pass it never feels like enough.

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Natasha

What a beautiful tribute to an incredible man, by all accounts. That poem he wrote to Emily had me in tears! Such a profound loss! Deepest condolences.

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Lori

I’m sorry for your family’s loss. Glad you shared so many wonderful times through the years and expressed your love for each other all along the way. No life, no matter how full and well-lived, is quite long enough. Prayers, blessings, and peace.

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