'A Collection of My Favorite Things to Cook' Celebrates Memory of Acclaimed Food and Wine Writer

The collection was put together by Tom Stockley's daughters
| Updated: June 1, 2021
 
 
First, Tom Stockley; Second, Tom and Peggy Stockley; Third, Paige Stockley, left, and Dina Moreno

This story is featured in the May/June issue of Seattle magazine. Subscribe here to access the print edition.

It was a quintessential Stockley dinner party on the houseboat on a warm summer evening. A pork shoulder roasted on the grill, Lake Union sparkled in the sunshine, and consummate hosts Tom and Peggy Stockley kept the conversation and wine flowing. 

And then the cat got the pork.

It took but a moment, when chef Tom and good friend Fred Birchman made a quick trip into the kitchen to collect cooking ingredients. When they returned to the deck, the entire grill was in the lake, with the pork shoulder lost to Lake Union. The culprit, a houseboat cat, had knocked their dinner into the water.

Rather than mourn his lost main dish, Stockley laughed. He improvised that evening, crafting a pasta dinner for his hungry guests with ingredients found in the kitchen. Nobody missed the pork roast as they indulged in Stockley’s homemade cook-ing and ample wine collection.

“Tom was one of those cooks who could hold a conversation, drink a glass of wine and cook at the same time,” says Birchman, who worked with Stockley at The Seattle Times. “He was very good at socializing.”

The casual, improvisational skills of Tom Stockley as a home chef and entertainer ring through in a new book, “A Collection of My Favorite Things to Cook.” Stockley is a familiar name to many longtime Seattleites, as he worked as The Seattle Times’ wine columnist from 1973 until his untimely passing in the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash in 2000. The new book celebrates Stockley through old newspaper columns, journal entries, recipes he collected throughout his travels, and tributes from family members and wine and newspaper industry colleagues.

Unlike a traditional cookbook, some of the recipes include only a rough ingredient list, leaving exact measurements up to the experimental home cook. Others include Stockley’s doodlings from travels abroad, or his personal notes: “The Best Oyster Stew we ever had!” or “I’ve cooked this so often I feel that I know Madame Guerre,” on a recipe from French cook Madame Guerre from a 1980 issue of Sunset Magazine.

The collection came together through an eff ort by Stockley’s daughters, Dina Moreno and Paige Stockley. After the plane crash, the sisters frequently visited their parents’ Lake Union houseboat. They discovered Stockley’s recipe journal, filled with travel anecdotes and drawings of the food and places he’d seen. The women began cooking some of the recipes, finding that many of them were both easy to make and delicious. 

While in the nearby Eastlake neighborhood, Paige Stockley and Moreno often ran into fellow resident Elliott Wolf, who had published the wine critic’s travel and wine guidebooks years earlier. Th e sisters mentioned Stockley’s treasure trove of old recipes, and after years of casual discussion, the three decided to formally team up to create a book.

From that point on, they met every week at Little Lago on Portage Bay, mapping out the book over bagels and cappuccinos. Th ey included Stockley’s scrawled notes on scratch paper or a napkin, photographs, restaurant menus, and classic wine and food columns. Stockley’s sense of humor arises frequently. Recipes for two rabbit dishes include a clipped drawing of rabbits and the title “Bunny Recipes: They’re cute, but oh so tasty!” He titled another recipe “The ‘Lost’ Scallop Recipe,” and added, “I was halfway through cooking this appetizer from the N.Y. Times when the clipping blew into the lake and vanished. It came out fine.”

Many of the dishes are relatively simple and time efficient, and that’s because Stockley didn’t want to spend hours in the kitchen. He loved to cook, but he also relished entertaining. He wanted plenty of time to pour himself and his guests another glass of wine and enjoy good conversation. One recipe for chicken and black beans includes just four steps and the title, “A really easy company dinner that will wow ’em!” 

Stockley’s recipes ran the gamut from fancy to plain. As Moreno recalls, the book’s selections range from a dish off the menu from a four-star French restaurant to a lobster bisque that uses canned soup. He held a similar philosophy in his job as wine critic, where he didn’t discriminate against aff ordable wines. Birchman remembers his friend creating wine lists for local restaurants and purposefully selecting wines that wouldn’t break the bank. 

Paige and Dina had plenty of material to work with for the collection because of Stockley’s prolifi c career as a journalist, wine and food enthusiast, and global traveler. He grew up on the Kitsap Peninsula and his fi rst journalist job was at the Bremerton Sun. Stockley moved to California to work for the Peninsula Times, and then returned to the Northwest when he was hired by The Seattle Times.

When Stockley proposed writing a regular wine column for the Times in the early ’70s, only a handful of wineries  existed in Washington state. Most of the wines he wrote about came from California and Europe. As Stockley’s column readership and expertise grew during the subsequent decades, so did Washington wine. Many in the industry credit Stockley’s writing as introducing consumers to local wines. Bob Betz, a winery consultant and the founder of Betz Family Winery, recalls how well Stockley knew Washington growers, winemakers and sellers.

“He was a champion of Northwest wine yet brought a global perspective,” says Betz, who became a good friend of the Stockleys.

At the time Stockley began covering wine, everyday wine drinking wasn’t the norm. Stockley sought to change that with his easygoing, casual writing style. Th rough storytelling, he educated his readers about wines both local and from across the globe. He believed that wine should be accessible, and didn’t need to be elitist or expensive.

“He was never known as a wine snob,” Paige Stockley says.

In the era before online reviews, a local newspaper column carried extraordinary weight. Wine shops and grocery stores clipped his columns and hung them near bottles of the wine he’d featured. Betz worked at La Cantina wine shops before starting Betz Family Winery, and he recalled customers coming in clutching one of Stockley’s columns in search of a wine he’d reviewed.

Stockley often received one or two cases of wine on his doorstep. After sampling small amounts for reviews, he handed out bottles to houseboat neighbors, friends and family. His daughters knew they’d never go home from dinner at their parents’ home without arms full of wine.

Wine sent Stockley and his family on travels around the world. The family took vacations to Europe and Napa Valley, visiting wineries and exploring the regions. They were invited to dinners and tastings with prominent wine families, and Moreno still recalls learning as a child that the late Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery owner August Sebastiani owned 64 pairs of identical overalls.

airs of identical overalls. The life of a wine columnist suited Stockley, and so did a residence on the water. Stockley and his wife Peggy left land for ood in 1981, when they moved from Bellevue to a houseboat on Lake Union. As Stockley noted in an old Seattle magazine column, houseboat living wasn’t for everyone. Downsizing to 1,000 square feet forced them to weed out many of their belongings and give up any real sense of storage. 

Stockley wrote in the article, “There’s an old saying among houseboaters that if you buy a new pair of shoes, you throw the old pair away.” The Stockleys searched for scarce parking spots every time they returned home and lugged groceries down the long dock.

But despite these inconveniences, the houseboat lifestyle fit the Stockleys. Th ey delighted in lounging on the end of their houseboat dock, their feet dangling in the water as they watched boaters pass by. After raising two children in the suburbs, they appreciated walking to urban markets and coffee shops to peruse food and drink each day. Stockley, a born conversationalist, loved the communal aspect of a dock full of residents. He didn’t discriminate when handing out dinner party invitations, and didn’t hesitate to include the quirky neighbor with a houseboat filled with mattresses, old newspapers and other junk.

“Everyone on the dock knew him,” Birchman says. “He was not a solitary person.”

While Stockley loved to host, he also frequented the local restaurant scene. He was equally at home at fancy restaurants and casual neighborhood joints. Birchman and Stockley were part of a group of friends who met for breakfast every Friday at 7 a.m. at the Varsity Inn. They gave each member of the gang nicknames. Birchman, who had a bad knee, was
“Frankie No Knees.” Stockley, in a riff off a character in the Gumby cartoon, was “Stock Stockley.”

Stockley’s love for people and conversation meant that he always took the time to talk to others about wine and food. Paige Stockley recalls a friend running into their father at Pete’s Market and Wine Shop in Eastlake. She asked for his help picking champagne, and rather than give her a quick reply, he spent time asking her specifi cs on the food she was serving, her budget and the group of friends she was inviting over.

“People starting out in the wine industry would comment on how helpful he was,” Dina Moreno says. “He was always really generous with his time.”

Both Stockley's social nature and his prolific journalism meant he attracted many friends, colleagues and fans. As such, a large number of Seattleites were stunned when news came that Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crashed into the Pacific Ocean en route to Seattle from Puerto Vallarta. All 88 passengers aboard died. Tom and Peggy Stockley were among them.

The day the plane crashed, Moreno had been planning on picking up her parents from the airport with her 18-month-old baby in tow. She had their flight number written down, so when her grandmother called with news of the crash, Moreno knew her parents were on it. Even so, Paige Stockley drove to the airport, hoping against hope that Tom and Peggy would be on the next flight from Mexico. They were not.

Even now, Birchman chokes up when he recalls hearing the news that the plane had gone down. He and his wife were in Bilbao, Spain, and had returned to their hotel after sightseeing all day long. Birchman already had a strange feeling that something was off, and then he received the message from friends at The Seattle Times. 

“I proceeded to get really drunk that night,” Birchman recalls.

In the days after the crash, Paige Stockley obtained the full passenger list from the Alaska flight. Many of those gone left behind families in Seattle. A group of local family members met for the first time on the deck of Tom and Peggy’s houseboat. For a couple of years after that, the group met once a month, helping each other as they dealt with the crash investigation, lawyers and grief. So great was the bond that Paige Stockley invited some of them to her wedding in 2002.

In the Stockleys’ passing, it became evident how many people the couple had known and touched. The memorial service at St. Mark’s on Capitol Hill drew more than 1,000 people and was standing-room only. The wine industry held an event at Chateau Ste. Michelle with 250 people honoring and remembering Stockley. The Columbia Tower Club dedicated its wine cellar to Tom. At Lynn Street Park in Eastlake, friends and family of the Stockleys created a colorful tile bench overlooking the lake, in a style reminiscent of benches the couple loved in Barcelona.

The Stockley daughters hope their father’s memory will endure in the new book. Their own three daughters, who never knew their grandparents, wrote an afterword in the book in which they describe how Tom and Peggy Stockley live on in the recipes.

“Meals become memories,” Lusia Moreno writes. “We hope that those reading this book can do the same and use these recipes to form their own stories.”

The book sells for $24.95 and is available at www.tomstock-leycookbook.com and at local wine shops and bookstores.

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