The Church of Perch

Yesterday we met up and had lunch with a perch enthusiast. The season for this freshwater fish is waning, as the shacks are now coming off the lakes. With this warm winter, I doubt there are patches of ice strong enough to hold a structure.

Perch, before.

Perch, before.

My father used to take me fishing when I was young. Our usual spot was off the side of the road at the old Georgia Pacific plant in Brattleboro near the Cersosimo lumberyard. The bank was rocky and the water still. We’d sit for hours as the sun glimmered off the ripples, blinding me and the boulders we sat upon soaked in the heat.

I had my own pole, though I was not pressured into catching anything. I was a pretty terrible fisherman, not knowing how to anticipate where fish would bite or how long to let the worm drown before pulling it back up to see if there was anything left on the hook. Whatever knowledge my father held, he did not share it with me.

One time he took me to a different spot, down a wooded path to a small soft landing covered with pine needles. He tied a plastic tarp between two trees, making a hammock for me. I remember it still as one of his most loving gestures. For hours that afternoon, I rocked in the cool shade while a little distance off, my father sat with his thoughts and slipped one fish after another into his catch bucket.

Sometimes Dad would make a fire and we’d clean and cook some fish there, having an early dinner as the sun lowered into the horizon. Always, we took the remaining catch home to scale and gut for the week’s food. When I was old enough, and especially when I no longer accompanied my father to the water, cleaning the catch was my chore.

I’d lay out newspaper on the kitchen linoleum, set the cutting board and knife upon them and two empty bowls—one for the scales and guts and one for the meaty bodies we’d eat later.

Perch, after.

Perch, after.

Fish cakes were Dad’s specialty. For this, he’d use the cleaver and chop away at the cleaned fish until it was finely ground. He’d add his mix of spices and fresh herbs, combining it with his hands. The mixture was then made into patties and fried in a skillet. Like everything else, we ate this with sticky rice, jaew, and an assortment of fresh vegetables.

Two Laotian fish dishes I really enjoy are whole fried fish and sour pickled fish. Whole fried fish balances the flavor of fire with the soft flesh and goes well with just about anything. I love that you can eat the head, the bones, the fins, all of it. Laotian pickled fish, made with sticky rice, is a mellow tart delicacy that holds up even to cooking. There was a time in my life when I ate it for weeks on end.

I have never known for any of these dishes to require a certain type of fish. And given the randomness of what comes out of the water, how could one be so picky?

I never thought I’d eaten perch before yesterday, but a quick Google search shows me the same yellow striped fish that I’d seen many times in my youth. I’d just never had them served up this way, like little battered fingers. They were deliciously meaty. One order came with five fish. I could have easily eaten a double order, as my friend so eagerly did.

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Beet Balls For The Big Game

I brought Beet Balls to a Super Bowl party last night, and my Facebook friends are asking for the recipe. Since I love, love, love beets, and have worked this recipe through many iterations, I feel confident that it will work for most home cooks.

This is based on Mark Bittman‘s recipe for “Hearty Winter Vegetable Burger” from his book How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. If you like this, he has many more goodies in the book. Continue reading

Three Ways to Use Roasted Cherries

While listening to a food-related podcast recently, a guest or host mentioned roasted cherries. It was an off-hand mention with no further elaboration. It was enough to pique my interest. I had no idea what to do with roasted cherries, nor can I remember the context in which they were mentioned.

I fired up the oven to a warm 350 anyway set my washed fruit on the baking tray and the timer for 15 minutes. I decided to leave the pits in tact, in case they offered any flavor, and to keep the fruit as juicy as possible. Fifteen minutes proved not long enough.  In total I think they were in the oven for about 1/2 hour with one stir mid way through.
Roasted cherries

They turned out just like I imagined they would.

I pitted them after they cooled and found the flesh to be dense and meaty, with a deep, dark color. I kept them in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

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The VDP crew on the porch of the Lake House

The Working Lunch

For the past two and a half years at Montpelier Alive, I’ve learned that I couldn’t eat at my desk. The work day is always too crammed full of work that I succumb to it whenever I’m at my desk. Or knowing my luck, I’d have someone stop by while I tried to eat and would abandon my food in order to help them. My office had been a revolving door of half-eaten donuts, forgotten chocolate bars, and crusty yogurt containers.

I had taken to eating my lunch out in order to make myself eat any food at all. I knew it would NEVER get eaten if it made its way back to my office. This always meant eating at a local restaurant. Lucky for me, Montpelier is full of great places to eat. But it’s heavy on the pocketbook. So imagine my surprise when earlier this fall, I packed a lunch of leftovers and ate the entire meal.  I posted a photo of it to Facebook and my followers were interacting with it in a way that made up for being solo in my office.

The response to that Facebook post was enough to motivate me to pack a few more meals from home. My tiffin carrier even inspired one of my friends to purchase one at her local coop. It became a fun way to have lunch with 1,500+ people at the same time. (Once I sign up for a Google+ account, there’ll be no stopping me!) Continue reading

Dinner Planning 2013, January Summary

Most people I know plan their dinner menus weekly or monthly, if they plan at all. For the past three years, I’ve been planning annually. That’s January through December, every single day of the year. I prefer doing something once and forgetting about it. Life is too crammed with other things to do, that dinner just cannot get in the way anymore.

Besides, the alternative is worse: my partner is cranky because he’s hungry and isn’t sure he’ll like what I make for dinner. I’m hungry, not knowing how I’ll make  dinner from limp broccoli, left over rice, and canned corn. I would have forgotten to go shopping. At our house, dinner is the true measure of an enjoyable evening.

Because planning is in the pursuit of variety, my only rule is: no repeats in the same month (except fend and leftovers).*

Life happens, and dinner plans have to work around them. We had surprise meeting schedules, out-of-towners visiting, and other deviations. All told, we only deviated 8 times. Our dinners out were to the Vermont Thrush (a new restaurant I hadn’t been to yet) and The Royal Orchid (our stand by).

Colin came for a visit and we played Settlers of Catan while eating black bean soup.

Colin came for a visit and we played Settlers of Catan while eating black bean soup.

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