Editor’s Note: This is an edited selection of pieces from “A Collection of My Favorite Things to Cook: Plus Notes and Comments on Culinary Travels Everywhere,” by Tom Stockley (Peanut Butter Publishing, $24.95). The book is available at tomstockleycookbook.com, and at Pete’s Wine Market, Little Lago, City Cellars and Wine Outlet.
Introduction: The book “A Collection of My Favorite Things to Cook: Plus Notes and Comments on Culinary Travels Everywhere” grew out of our dad’s journal of recipes and stories gathered from his travels and the people he met along the way. His name was Tom Stockley. He and our mother, Peggy Stockley, were killed Jan. 31, 2000, in the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash off the California coast. Tom was 63, Peggy 62. After our parents’ deaths, my sister, Paige Stockley, and I cooked from the journal and shared it, and we often thought about publishing it for family and friends. But his memory and influence were far greater than we imagined, and soon the book included not just his journal in his handwriting, but some of his published work and tributes from colleagues and friends who had passed evenings at our parents’ houseboat, as well as reminiscences from our childhood as his daughters.
— Dina Moreno
AS A SELF-ABSORBED college student who came back from New York and music school on holidays to visit my parents on their houseboat, I was vaguely aware that my dad had a recipe journal where he would jot his favorite recipes and ideas from his travels, but I didn’t actually look at it until after the Alaska 261 crash, when we were going through his office and cookbooks. There we found his gold mine of recipes and travel anecdotes, with his artistic doodles of calamari and trout and Tuscan stone houses.
They were such good everyday recipes that my sister, Dina Moreno, and I began to cook from it and found them easy, fun to make and delicious, but also somewhat exotic, calling for smoked paprika from Budapest or describing French menu concepts our dad would pick up on his various wine tours through the vineyards of Bordeaux.
The publisher of his guide and reference books from years ago, Elliott Wolf, lived nearby, and we would often see him and his wife in our Eastlake neighborhood. As the years passed, he would sometimes stop by, and I would mention that my dad had an unpublished, handwritten cookbook journal that we were interested in publishing someday.
Every time I saw Elliott, he would say, “When are we going to meet about your dad’s cookbook?” “Soon!” I would toss out. Eight years later, with my daughter in high school and not interested in hanging out with her mom, I said to Elliott, “Let’s meet.” And meet we did.
It was slow-going. At one point, Elliott told my sister and me that this was the longest he had spent putting together a book, but we have powered (or is it bumbled?) on.
We hope you enjoy our dad’s cookbook journal as much as we have.
— Paige Stockley
TOM STOCKLEY WAS was born May 29, 1936, in Bremerton. His father was a butcher and grocer in Bremerton, and Tom grew up there, graduating from South Kitsap High School. From there, Tom went to Olympic College for two years, then transferred to the University of Washington. He joined the journalism program, and while working for the UW Daily, he met Peggy Hodges. Tom soon became editor of the Daily and met friends there he would have for the rest of his life.
After graduation, while Peggy finished her last year at the UW, Tom decided to make a change, and moved to Los Angeles. He had an idea that he would become a Hollywood reporter, but he ended up taking pictures for a private detective. Then, in 1959, he was drafted, one of only two in his county.
On Aug. 1, 1959, he married Peggy at Saint Mark’s in Seattle and returned to California for boot camp. There, with all the draftees gathered, the commander asked whether anyone could type. Tom raised his hand, the only one in the room. Quickly, he was whisked away to type letters for the Chaplain’s Office in Alaska. Peggy eventually joined him there.
After leaving the Army, Tom and Peggy returned to Bremerton in 1961, when he began to work for The Bremerton Sun newspaper. Their first daughter, Paige, was born there. Soon after, Tom got a job working for the Peninsula Times in the Bay Area, so the family went back to California. Dina, their second daughter, was born there. In 1967, the family bounced back to Seattle, where Tom began to work for The Seattle Times.
In 1972, he proposed the idea of a weekly wine column to his editors, and they agreed to try it on a trial basis. The column quickly became popular, providing recommendations for inexpensive but quality wines for the average wine drinker. He was known for his simple but always positive and generous reviews, which made wine drinking accessible, not elite.
In 1981, Tom and Peggy bought their houseboat in Eastlake and began hosting dozens of dinner parties on their back deck. He retired from The Times in 1989 but continued to write his wine column over the years. Tom was the first Northwest writer named Wine Writer of the Year by a national wine industry publication in 1990, and he received a number of other awards and recognition for his work.
On Jan. 31, 2000, on a trip back from Mexico, Tom and Peggy’s plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, killing all 88 on board. Tom and Peggy’s deaths were mourned throughout the wine, houseboat and Seattle communities, and Tom received a number of posthumous awards.
AT SOME POINT, our dad took over the cooking. He was naturally inclined to it, and although I remember his mother being a good cook, she was not adventurous. Growing up the son of a butcher, he knew the different cuts of meat, all of which we ate at some point, but Kitsap County in those days — or, for that matter, Seattle — was not exactly a gourmet food paradise. But it was a land of oysters fresh off the beach, blackberries and wild mushrooms, and everyone knew a guy on a fishing boat.
We ate homemade, gourmet food prepared by the father of the house. He took a sabbatical from The Times and spent it learning to bake bread, using a sourdough starter he had brought back from his time in the Army in Alaska. It became our standard story opener: “My dad cooks while my mom watches football!”
Stories around food, cooking, ingredients and places became our shared language. A family trip to Europe yielded four travel journals, faithfully recording what each of us ate at each meal, but little other information. Planning a weekend away started with, “What should we cook?” and, “Don’t forget to bring the good knife.” Landmarks on familiar routes were “that good bakery in Moclips” or “that place to get carnitas in Zillah.”
He would eat someone’s treasured family Jell-O salad with the same appreciation as a four-star meal in France. He accepted the shared gift of a meal together with generosity and offered that gift in return.
After he and our mom were gone, we found he had left us this small record to remind us of people and places and food shared and meals remembered.
It is his voice in the words of these recipes that are stories. Stories that we still cook.
— Dina Moreno
THEIR MOVE to the houseboat when they became empty-nesters, and our dad’s new status as The Seattle Times wine critic, meant the gloves were off as far as food adventure. Our father was now firmly in the kitchen, cooking delicious meals for anyone wandering in off the dock, and the next thing you knew, he was squiring Julia Child about on her visit to Seattle.
— Paige Stockley
TOM STOCKLEY’S ASSESSMENT of wine was personal, and not just from what he found in the glass, but also from what was behind it; vineyards, cellars, winemakers and industry notables all found a voice in his columns as he wrote to an audience that was quickly becoming a country of wine lovers. His readership found a generous, approachable vinous proponent with a breezy style. He championed a range of global wines but also was among the earliest proponents of Washington wine.
While Tom’s weekly writing was typically kindhearted in its coverage, he was no pushover. He wrote without baggage but was opinionated; he was a cheerleader but not gushy. I can recall one early column in which he reflected that the wine he was assessing was so bad that his wife, Peggy, thought he was trying to poison her.
Our times at their table were the best. Before the Stockleys moved to their houseboat on Lake Union, we would gather for dinner at their home on terra firma, with Tom eager in the kitchen, Peggy the most interesting conversationalist, and Paige and Dina tending to our much younger daughters. The food was always splendid, the wines far-reaching and the mood ideal. However, the conversation made the meal: Tom and Peggy were experimental, well-traveled and adventurous eaters, so the evenings circled authoritatively around the people, ingredients, grapes and techniques of what we were enjoying.
— Bob Betz, founder of Betz Family Winery
TOM STOCKLEY USED his curiosity, humility and gift for storytelling to make wine accessible for the rest of us. An ardent advocate for Washington wine and a champion for its industry, Tom demystified wine’s lofty culture and lingo, and he taught us that wine’s real purpose is simply to bring people together.
His readers learned how to share a good meal with wine and friends, and that good wine didn’t have to cost a fortune and didn’t need to be saved for special occasions. Readers eagerly awaited his recommendations, and local wine shops braced for the crowds after one of his columns came out.
In 1990, Tom became the first Northwest writer to be named Wine Writer of the Year by “Wines and Vines.” But the accolades and national prominence he achieved weren’t what was really important to him. What mattered to Tom were the people and the community and the stories to be told: the readers he wrote for and the close friendships he made with wine growers, makers and shop owners throughout our state. And above all, his wife, Peggy, and his daughters, Dina and Paige, mattered the most.
Tom was a trailblazer for us and an important part of The Seattle Times’ history. Cheers to one of our very best storytellers.
— Frank Blethen, Seattle Times publisher
I WAS A YOUNG dad, serving in my first role as executive chef at a tiny French restaurant in Friday Harbor, when Tom Stockley was an editor for Pacific, the Sunday magazine of The Seattle Times. I sent him a story proposal about soup, and he bought it. Not only did he buy the story, but he came with the photographer and the art editor to my restaurant to meet me. We spent the better part of a day talking, eating, drinking wine and becoming fast friends. Thus began 25 years of serving as a contributor to the magazine.
Tom was a brilliant wine writer, a solid journalist and an all-around great guy. But more than that, he was an enthusiast, an epicurean, the kind of person who made everyone feel like the work we were doing was fun — and it was! He was a positive force in the life of anyone who came in contact with him, the sort of person you feel glad to know when he’s around, the kind of person you miss when he’s gone.
I’m happy that this collection of his notes and recipes is here to cheer us on, to remind us to appreciate the simple pleasures, to pay attention to the details, to enjoy these few precious moments we have to eat, drink and be merry. Here’s to Tom.
— Greg Atkinson, a former contributor to Taste in Pacific NW magazine, is a chef and proprietor of Restaurant Marché on Bainbridge Island.
A FEW TIMES a year, our family would meet at the cemetery and lay a blanket in front of our grandparents’ graves. Someone would bring wine or tea or juice, and then there might be some cheese and crackers, or small cakes or cookies. We’d settle down in the grass, raise a glass and enjoy ourselves in the quiet, looking out over the field of gravestones surrounding us, telling stories and reminiscing.
As children, we three granddaughters saw these cemetery picnics as fun outings. I was just 1 year old when Grandpa Tom and Grandma Peggy died. I spent so much time at the cemetery, I began to learn my letters by tracing my fingers over the names carved into the gravestones. My sister, Julia, and my cousin, Daisy, were born after our grandparents died. They liked to run around the cemetery like it was their personal playground. [Luisa is 22 now, Julia 18 and Daisy 16.]
We have always exercised our memories over food. We sit together at dinner tables, over gravestones, or standing wherever we fit, balancing our plates, piled high with our grandfather’s recipes. Not a meal goes by where our family doesn’t tell us a story.
The importance of food in this family can’t be overstated. We center every family event on food. We email each other potential menus; we describe recipes in detail; we pore over cookbooks together. Before we’ve even finished one meal, we’re discussing the next one. We make travel plans based on eating the best possible food. We make calculated decisions at restaurants, making sure no one orders the same food, so we can all get a taste of as many things as possible. Perhaps that’s why Julia and Daisy wanted to open a restaurant together when they were younger. They were going to call it The Dipper, and every item on the menu could be potentially dip-able. They knew they were following in their grandfather’s footsteps, although they never met him.
As the three granddaughters, we have been told countless times over the years as we eat, “This is your Grandpa Tom’s recipe, you know.”
“We know,” we’d say. We have been told these things dozens of times before, every time we eat these meals. Then there are the countless people we’ve encountered who knew our grandparents, and they, too, like to tell us about a meal our grandfather cooked for them once and how welcoming our grandmother had been. But we don’t mind hearing these things. … We know our grandparents through these stories. We get to share these memories every time we eat one of the recipes in this book, even though we weren’t there or don’t remember them. These stories bring us closer to our grandparents.
And now we create our own stories and experiences around food. Chicken and cornbread salad for potlucks, Moroccan lemon chicken for weeknight dinners, tiramisu for special occasions. That one meal where Julia gorged on clams for the first time or when Daisy gave up being vegetarian because she loved barbecue ribs too much, or when I made moussaka for a dinner party. Meals become memories. We hope that those reading this book can do the same and use these recipes to form their own stories.
— Luisa Moreno
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.