Saturday, May 9, 2020

Fish Tacos in Quarentis

No fists, but two women got in a fight this morning in line at the garden center. It escalated quickly, as Ron Burgundy would say, after one super annoying lady ("the Enforcer") yelled at the lady ("the Beleaguered") ahead of me to move up and stand on her assigned square. Seems the Beleaguered had more social distance than the Enforcer thought she should have. There were, like, ten people in line but no matter what, the line wasn't moving until people left the garden center, so it didn't really matter how spread out we were, as long as we complied with the distancing thing.

There was nothing enjoyable about witnessing the obscenity-laced fracas (which eventually petered out with the Beleaguered apologizing to everyone in line for completely losing it on the Enforcer, whilst the Enforcer continued to try to bait the Beleaguered) but it was notable to see people behaving badly after so much tip toeing, niceties and polite deference. Maybe it's that I work for a company headquartered in Minnesota but lately even drivers in Chicago seem friendlier to each other, people everywhere seem to be cutting each other slack, and we've all been forced to surrender some individual freedoms for what our local elected officials have determined to be the good of the group. Do I sound conflicted about the present arrangement? To quote the Vampire Weekend's Harmony Hall song I like so much, "I don't wanna live like this. But I don't wanna die."

Anyhoo, my news feed informed me that people are cooking more seafood with a bravery I usually only summon for parties where I have friends to cook with. Feeling some shame for the pedestrian nightly meals I've been turning out, last night I picked up (and put down, and picked up again, much like when contemplating use of my hair straightener: "Should I? Do I have time? Will it come out well?) a WHOLE snapper. In a miracle of availability and perfect ripeness of supporting ingredients (butter lettuce, mangoes, avocados, corn on the cob, fresno chilis and cotija), and the last of our stash of El Milagro corn tortillas remaining unspoiled, fish tacos were a go. And while no one else wanted to touch the fish, advice was proffered, the grill was lit, and and my first born and I assembled an array of sides for an incredibly colorful and delicious dinner.

I was nervous about cooking the whole fish but there's really nothing to it but fresh lime, a splash of neutral oil, salt and pepper, and then a hearty redux of same on the platter once you pull the fish off the barbie. Want to give it a go? This amount served three (but would serve two more generously):

  • 1.75 pound whole snapper - rub in and out with a bit of oil, salt, pepper and fresh lime and grill about 5-6 minutes each side (I used my stainless steel grill basket thing). When done, place on a platter with more oil, salt, pepper and fresh lime juice
  • Guacamole: 2 ripe avocados, some finely chopped yellow onion, jalapeno, cilantro, salt, and lime
  • Spicy Mango Salsa: 2 small yellow mangoes, finely chopped red onion, red bell pepper, jalapeno, green onion, fresh lime juice
  • One head living lettuce - optional, if you like the lettuce-wrapped thing
  • Freshly charred corn tortillas - I just zap them on the open flame of my range
  • Shredded cabbage - tossed with fresh lime juice, salt and pepper

Serve with this, my favorite summer salad.

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Well, hello there!

It's been awhile, friends. In the past few years my career really ramped up and while I haven't been writing, I've had a fun romp as an urban farmer. Two years ago I built a chicken coop and went to the feed shop in Chicago (yes, Virginia, there's a feed shop in the city!) with the intent to come home with 3-4 chicks, depending on what they recommended given the size of my coop. Well, long story short, there was a rubber-chicken sized Pekin duck at the shop that day who had been surrendered by his family for being too aggressive with their dog. It was love at first sight for my youngest, who wore me down (I had, after all, made it well-known in the family that at some point my life had to include ducks) and so we went home with two chickens and Duck, who was charming but a total rascal. Over that summer I built a duck pond, collected eggs and devised various containment strategies for keeping the chickens in our postage-stamp city yard. In the end, a city lot isn't a great spot for birds, who needed more sun, pasture, and the company of other birds of their same feather. Duck now resides on a friend's farm in South Haven, Michigan, procreating happily. See the end of the story for a picture of his young breed.

We surrendered the chickens as well, a decision I'll never feel good about, especially if people start stockpiling eggs. As for how we're faring vis a vis the global pandemic, I am happy to report we are well in Chicago where we find ourselves mostly quarantined and provisioned, our concerns thankfully limited to ensuring our college kids retain that which is most important to them - their independence - even as they retreat home for their spring terms. As far as I can tell, that involves keeping a stocked fridge, an open door, and my own activities.

Anyhoo, in lieu of going out on the town and spring skiing and other activities that are suddenly verboten, I'm fixing to finish the teetering pile of books on my nightstand. If you're looking for recommendations, I offer The Time In Between, Being Mortal, The Overstory, The Righteous Mind, and Jocko Willink's Leadership Strategy and Tactics. Oh, and I really loved He Mele A Hilo, The Professor and the Madman (the OED's origin story) and my colleague William Cope Moyer's memoir, Broken.

On the food front, I just got a pretty good Vietnamese cookbook, though it remains to be seen if the Asian markets up on Broadway are sufficiently well-stocked for the journey down that rabbit hole. Two nights ago I made some pretty remarkable grilled lemongrass chicken but the recipe needs some refinement before I share it. Later that same night we made Maple Cream, something I'd been pretty excited about since seeing a recipe on a blog I positively looooove: The Art of Doing Stuff. The maple cream is pretty awesome, though it took forever to heat and cool and would have been murder had I not had my trusty stand mixer for the hard work of stirring. I slathered some maple cream on toast with peanut butter yesterday for breakfast. We were out of bananas, the only thing that would have made it better. 

Over the past few months I've developed my tomato basil soup recipe into something I'm quite proud of. It's a simple and quick thing, but certain steps are paramount, and like anything else, the products you use matter. I still love Muir Glen canned tomatoes and recommend those. You'll also need a box of chicken broth (I love Imagine Organic but these days almost exclusively use Whole Foods 365 brand), some fresh basil and a Vitamix. Maybe a regular blender can do it - you just have to cool the soup off before blending, and it probably won't get the soup nearly as silky as the Vitamix does. Sorry about that. If you find yourself doing a lot of blending the Vitamix will bring you a ton of joy - look for a refurbished one. Along the way of perfecting the recipe I relearned two essential facts that improved my cooking in general: 1. cook onions slowly over low-medium heat for 5-7 minutes and 2. allow the tomatoes/tomato paste to really caramelize before adding the broth or anything else.

With hope, grocers will figure out how to balance crowds and keep shelves stocked (Peapod, could your timing have been worse?!?) so we can all cook at home. If not, I'm going to have to figure out how to cook all this toilet paper. And with that, here's a pic of Duck's adorable spawn.

Be well, people!

Sons of a Duck!

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