Marital Discord, A Fish Story

On our second month anniversary, I packed a bag and went out the front door, the list of grievousness very long: Horrendously grumpy in the morning; way different musical tastes; critical of my laundry skills; unshakable belief that Kraft macaroni and cheese with breakfast sausages represented the ultimate dinner.

You will say I should have known all this after being together for two years but we were always at least 700 miles from one another. That calculated into six months of actually dating, usually the point where relationships become a make or break deal.

His deserved grievances against me: extreme moodiness; intolerant of being around people; unable to find a job besides waitressing; insisting that dinner be composed of edible ingredients and conclude with dessert.

You will say he should have been able to handle these faults and, for the most part, he did. A sane optimist, blessed with good humor and the ability to not recognize trouble even when it slept beside him, he believed in us. Dinner, though, remained fraught while I worked my way through wedding gift cookbooks. To be fair, he never complained (except for the roasted turkey legs that he’ll unearth as an entertaining joke). Instead, he required validation.

“What is this?” He asked of a plate holding coq au vin.

“Chicken.”

Carefully investigating with his fork: “Doesn’t look like it.”

“You’ll like it.”

He tasted. He beamed. I remained tense, exhausted.

So I left him. Made it all the way down the driveway to the dark country street of the tiny farm town where we lived, before ramming into reality: No bus; no train; couldn’t drive; in love to the core. I turned around and, after I slid in beside him, he wrapped an arm around me, none the wiser he held a fleeing wife.

I thought of leaving a gazillion times since but, even in my most off-the-wall moments, I remembered that life would be poorer without him.

And we have changed.

He’s learned to be good-natured midway through his morning coffee; he does the laundry and doesn’t question coq au vin. My depressions are fabulously medicated; have a good set of earphones for my Google playlist and have grown to accept Kraft macaroni and cheese.

What hasn’t changed: His suspicion about certain dishes, especially fish.

“What is this?”

“Cod.”

Carefully investigates with his fork: “Does it have bones?”

“I took them out.”

Stares at his plate a second too long.

“You’ll like it.”

He bravely clears his plate. I remain tense, exhausted.

I noted long ago in another post that the problem stems all the way back to his mother serving a lot of brook trout when they lived in Colorado and had access to a pond continuously stocked with docile trouts. Family lore has it that they all spent the evening coughing up little bone slivers when they weren’t convinced they were choking to death.

A kind cook always considers the phobias of her guest, none more so than when the guest is a loved one, that might lead to the possibility of grief, guilt and ensuing loneliness after the inevitable funeral. And here lies our on-going martial dilemma–my strong desire to keep us healthy vs. the husband’s still unsolved, irrational fish bone fears. I’ve learned to handle this with fillets and shellfish, poached or grilled.

In summer, I make the kind of fish stew I presented to him last night. He generally loves Sunday dinner because it involves whatever I’m cooking for this blog on Monday. Last night’s response wasn’t at all enthusiastic.

“Fish, huh?” He asked, coming into the kitchen after folding all the laundry.

“You had it before.”

“Okay,” he said, unconvinced.

An hour later…., “That was good, honey.”

The travel bag remains on the top shelf of our bedroom closet.

A Fish Stew

This is a very basic fish stew, accepting of additions, such as tomatoes, diced potatoes, and things like kale. You can rely on the juices of clams as they open up. Or, make an equally fast fish stock. The one personal difference in this recipe is incorporating saffron (shameless self-promotion alert). Although the spice may be on the expensive side, you’ll have a lot left because the recipe calls for only enough to impart a beautiful color and a softly sharp undertone that fish adore.

Fish Stock

The measurements are for about 1 1/2 quarts.

standard size bottle of white wine

2 tablespoons butter

1 leak or large shallot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

2 stalks fennel, diced

1 large carrot, diced

several different kinds of well rinsed fish heads, bones and shells

salt and pepper

Handful of fresh herbs of your choice, such as thyme, tarragon, bay leaf, basil, rosemary. (Choice of herbs will influence the final taste of the broth)

Melt the butter in a large stock pot then saute vegetables until the leak/shallot are wilted and the fennel.

Place the fish heads atop the vegetables then pour in about 1/2 a bottle of the wine. Add enough water to about an inch above the heads. Add salt and pepper and herbs.

Bring to simmer then partially cover. Cook for about an hour.

Drain over a bowl. Remove fish heads but press the vegetables/herbs with a back of a spoon to squeeze out additional flavor.

Taste for seasoning and put aside.

Wipe the stock pot clean

Soup

about ten saffron threads

white wine

2 tablespoons butter

1 leak or large shallot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

2 stalks fennel, diced

Variety of sweet, firm flesh fish fillets, chopped into bite-size pieces (check for bones and remove)

clams and/or mussels that have been soaked for at least an hour in cold salted water then scrubbed cleaned

variety of sweet, firm flesh fish fillets, checked for bones to remove

variety of shellfish such as shrimp or cray fish. Previously cooked lobster tails, cut into chunks, may be a good choice, too.

Stock

Place the saffron in a small cup and cover with white wine. Set aside to steep while you make the soup.

Melt the butter in the clean stock pot. Add vegetables and cook until wilted and soft.

Off flame, carefully lay the fish over the vegetables. Add equal parts wine and stock to be above three inches above the fish.

Cook over low flame for about 10 or 15 minutes. Add shell fish. Add liquid as needed and the steeped saffron.

Cook until clams, mussels and the rest of the shellfish are cooked through, about 10 minutes. If using lobster, throw the pieces in about 5 minutes before the shellfish are finished.

Serve with crusty bread, sweet butter and a better bottle of chilled white wine or rosé‎.

Pavlova

I had six egg whites left over from a couple of desserts I recently offered and these little meringue things pair well with the strong taste of fish. They’re extremely easy but impressive and provide a sweet crunch to all the ripening fruit in the market now. There is one change I’ve made to the traditional recipe by substituting almond extract for vanilla. Any leftover meringues will keep for about a week in an air-tight container and are wonderful crumbled over ice cream. As if all of that isn’t enough, they barely register on the calorie scale.

6 egg whites

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice 

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 pint heavy cream

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using a mixer fitted with a whisk, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gradually add the sugar, beating well after each addition. Beat until thick and glossy. Gently fold in almond extract, lemon juice, and cornstarch.

Drop about a tablespoon of the meringue mixture on the parchment paper. make a small depression with the back of a spoon on each meringue.

Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack.

To serve: You have a couple of choices. Either pile the fruits all around a whole meringue and circle with whipped cream. Or carefully cut a bit of the top off, spoon a tiny bit of whipped creak inside and cover with fruit. Sprinkle additional fruit around the plate and plop more cream on the side.