TEN TASTY FISH

Living a few miles inland from the Atlantic, I’ve learned a few things when it comes to fresh fish. Just be sure to stock up on lemons and melted butter and maybe a few spices and fresh parsley.

  1. Cod. Once available in unbelievable quantities, it’s become scarcer and costlier. Still, it’s classic – especially as scrod.
  2. Haddock. Makes a great sandwich or flaky fish ’n’ chips.
  3. Monkfish. Like lobster tail.
  4. Dayboat dogfish shark. It’s a favorite in England for fish and chips. A different texture than haddock. Nothing like a little variety, right?
  5. Trout. You don’t have to be near an ocean.
  6. Salmon. Now we’re talking.
  7. Striper, so I’ve heard. This one’s purely for sport fishermen and their friends and family. Or the cormorants and osprey and bald eagles that follow them upriver.
  8. Flounder. We have some good species at hand.
  9. Dabs or American Plaice. Now we’re into a cooperative program to protect the local marine resources through more responsible practices. These less popular but more populous alternatives make for fine fresh eating.
  10. Hake, flounder, pollock, or king whiting. Ditto, ditto, ditto, and, yes, ditto. Depending on the week they come in.

For details on some of these, check out the New Hampshire Community Seafood site. The cooperative’s introduced us to some delicious but largely unknown species that are abundant in our own waters, and it’s devoted to sustainable community.

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When it comes to fish and shellfish, what are your favorites? Any special way of preparing them, too?

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Continuing the poetry parade, see what’s new at THISTLE/FLINCH.

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AS A FOOTNOTE AT THE TABLE

I wonder if the longstanding tradition of morning cleansing of marble steps at the front door in many inner city neighborhoods of Baltimore has survived the stresses of two-income families or single-parent households? Who knows when it started or in how many other locales it’s also practiced. This has been a custom of row houses, connected to each other – blue-collar communities, in fact – and not of detached suburban housing. And that makes the foremost difference.

These poems consider what women do and preserve – though not always exclusively. Yes, I’ve known women who bale hay or decipher monastic manuscripts, and I’ll also admit men can know nothing of bearing children or nursing. Yet, somehow, many women seem most at home around the kitchen, even if it’s nothing more than a teacup or a picnic. Even her garden, should she be so inclined, seems to extend from that table or the alchemy of her oven. And that goes for flowers, as well as vegetables and berries. (Remember, though: not all mothers and daughters can stand to be in the same kitchen at the same time, though they both be masterful cooks.)

Looking back on Baltimore, I remember my next-door neighbor, each morning in season watering the black locusts between our houses and the street. Maybe she did her stoop, as well. But the trees, which seemed to have always been there, were beautiful and timeless, as if spreading their own table.

Returning 1

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For the poems, click here.

DON’T OVERLOOK THE BUNS AND ROLLS

My wife and I have listened to some restaurant pros relate their perspective on reviewing the ideas bantered about hopefuls – folks who have no idea how to clean an oven or pass health inspection regulations.

It’s enough to make me quiver.

Quite simply, the seasoned pros say you don’t begin with a set of menus. You have to think about pricing, for one thing. Fair enough.

My new novel, What’s Left, includes a family-owned restaurant that’s facing big shifts in public tastes and consciousness.

One of the basics they look at closely is bread. And buns and rolls. Especially as these relate to hamburgers. The right answer, of course, could improve everything. But, as they realize:

Where would we find them at an affordable price?

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As I’ve already posted, I believe a great baguette alone would have assured France an honored place in the culinary hall of fame. But these aren’t especially cheap, and they demand bakers who are committed to long hours and hard work – something, so we hear, that’s shamefully harder and harder to find even in Paris.

A stop in Warren, Maine, where we found what might be the perfect Reuben, thickens the plot. It wasn’t just the delightful sauerkraut, which might have come from Morse’s a few towns over, but rather the way the bread was toasted without being overdone or soggy – such a fine line! And let’s not slight the Swiss, either.

Well, a sandwich is such a basic of American cuisine, from baloney to hamburgers to ham itself and on down the line to wieners.

As far as you’re concerned, what’s makes the world’s best sandwich? And just what kind would that be? Anybody want to argue for wraps or flatbreads?

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A white frame church next to the family home becomes their playhouse in my new novel. It might look something like this one in Manchester, New Hampshire.

FARM-FRESH POTENTIAL

Carmichael’s, the restaurant her family owns in my new novel, has me looking more closely at others.

The daily soup special at the family restaurant in my new novel, What’s Left, was one way to introduce the now widely touted practice of local sourcing, perhaps with a hint of organic gardening. Here it begins when Cassia’s great-grandmother and her sister make rounds of nearby farms, gardens, and orchards in search of fresh produce, eggs and dairy, and perhaps meat. (I never get quite that specific, but a quick brushstroke will do.) The action picks up with her parents’ generation and its back-to-the earth movement – one in which I suspect some bartering might have occurred. Used cooking oil, for instance, has found value as motor fuel for some farmers.

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BIG DIETARY CHANGES, OH, BOY …

Yeah, it seems everyone these days is on some kind of restricted diet. Just try throwing a party or inviting others over for dinner, you soon learn all about it.

My cardio incident has had me essentially eliminating eggs, butter, and cheese from what I eat – three glorious mainstays that now get in only as gingerly applied additives or, for the cheese, in low-fat and fat-free versions. And it’s red meat no more than once a week. Look up the Healthy Heart stuff if you want. I’m trying to be stricter than that, at least for a while.

Simply reading the labels on most prepared products is a horror story. Do you know how many bad fats show up in cookies or doughnuts or, oh my, just about everything snack like? And forget fast food along the highway. No, I’m not stopping at McDonald’s for a salad and having to inhale all that lovely fry-vat grease in the air. At least around the corner there’s sushi. Or a bagel with jam or jelly, no cream cheese, though lox might pass the test. You get the point.

My cholesterol levels weren’t bad before, but since the stent went in, my medical professionals want them even lower. Well, I pushed the profile down sharply in five or six weeks. It can be done.

I’m considering this as perpetual Lent of a Greek Orthodox sort, with a few tradeoffs like red wine thrown in. OK, mine’s not really that strict – I’m not vegan – but I am applying many of the lessons we gleaned from observing a strict Advent back in ’16.

Among the negative tradeoffs is caffeine, which my primary care physician wants cut down to a cup a day, max. I’m there now but do miss the second big mug (café au lait style, heavily laced with one-percent milk and sugar) as well as the midafternoon pickup. A substitute instant brew found at the natural foods store is surprisingly satisfying, apart from its lack of kick. The lingering question is do I shift to decaf, which strikes me like cheating but cuts out the caffeine? Any suggestions?

Well, the caffeine reduction is essential if I’m to address another issue. Will spare you the details, for now. Maybe forever.

At least the garden’s kicking in. A sorrel sauce on the asparagus almost has me forgetting mayonnaise, melted butter, or a runny egg or two atop the spears. Do I cheat with the fresh whipped cream when the strawberries hit in a few weeks? I’m already planning on that low-fat mayo when the tomatoes finally flood us in August – you don’t need the bacon to create a great sandwich, especially if you use basil instead of lettuce.

I hate to sound grumpy. This getting older does have its downsides, doesn’t it?

MAINTAINING THE BUZZ

Carmichael’s, the restaurant her family owns in my new novel, has me looking more closely at others.

Successful restaurants, or so I’ve read, can go downhill overnight. The public can be fickle, on one side, and the operation itself, on the other, can implode. Oh, the stories we could tell!

In my new novel, What’s Left, her parents’ generation takes bold steps to anticipate changes in American food tastes. They brazenly agree to slightly re-position their landmark burger-and-fries restaurant (now called Carmichael’s Indiana) and the bar (the Taverna) while adding two new venues, one upscale (Carmichael’s Starlight), the other vegetarian (Bliss).

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Though I cut this from the final version, I still love the taste of it on me tongue:

And the new Carmichael’s Stardust usually offered something daring, for our neck of the woods, depending on how we were feeling and how adventurous our customers were responding. Lamb shanks, anyone? Artichokes? Cornish hens? Brussels sprouts? We were expanding their horizons.

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Well, that would have been pretty daring for the mid-’70s! We’ve come a long way since, something I’ll assume the Stardust menu has pursued. Vegetarian, meanwhile, has become both stricter and more innovative through its vegan adherents. I’m not at all surprised to find how often our meals fall into its range, even without trying. As for a late-night gathering spot? The Taverna strikes me as a step up from a typical bar. Makes me think, in fact, of the late lamented Barley Pub here in town.

Think of your own tastes. Which of the restaurants would be your first choice?

TEN FAVORITE DESSERTS

For me, it’s:

  1. Pie, rather than cake.
  2. Really creamy vanilla ice cream.
  3. Or gelato. I’m more open to other flavors here, too. Unless it’s Tahitian vanilla, which comes close to ambrosia.
  4. My wife’s really changed my mind here.
  5. Anything creamy, actually. Tapioca float, panna cotta, custard – she knows the long list.
  6. Crème brulee. Don’t tell me it’s mostly custard, not when it’s done right. And that shattery top is like walking on ice-covered puddles when we were kids. You just love to hear it crackle.
  7. Blueberry torte, as my wife makes it. With our own blueberries, natch. Makes a great breakfast, too.
  8. A hearty red wine accompanying a chunk of dark chocolate.
  9. Or their cousins, creampuffs or eclairs.
  10. Fresh strawberries, as in shortcake. (Well, you wouldn’t call that cake now, would you?) Although actually, I tend to think of this more as starting the day.

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What would you add to the list?

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Towels and a washcloth await guests in the room across from my studio.

Of course, this is totally unrelated to the theme. Just another thing on my mind.