January 28, 2013

Fish On Mondays

Say what you will about the internet.

It's turning our kids' minds to mush. It's replaced intellectual curiosity with The Google. It will be the end of books and libraries and literacy.

Well OK, maybe so, but let's set those trifling realities aside for a moment and look at the good side.

This looks pretty good, doesn't it?

Now, those who read my scribblings here and in the comments pages of the blogs I frequent will probably have noticed that I shy away from most discussions about cooking. It's not that I don't like the fruits of cooking, or the meats of cooking, or the seafood and desserts of cooking. It's just that I've never been much of a cook myself.

Discussions of things like beer basil butter generally leave me bewitched, bothered, and bewildered.

I am usually left in charge of charcoal grilling and have developed some survival skills there, but that occurs safely al fresco. In our kitchen proper, I'm strictly the sous chef. I do what I'm told and try to stay out from underfoot.

But, with the advent of the internet, that may be starting to change.

Over the weekend, our head chef and menu planner was looking for something different to do with salmon. A few months ago, she discovered a YouTube video on how to make homemade pizza and that has worked out well for us. So, this time, instead of scouring her collection of cookbooks, she headed straight for the interwebs.

The cool thing is that you don't need to be a culinary genius with decades of experience. On YouTube, helpful practiced chefs, both amateur and pro, walk you through all the perilous steps of preparation, just like Julia Child. But here, you can pause, rewind, and replay as many times as necessary so you can get the crucial details right without setting fire to the kitchen. And with the iPad, the video is right there next to your cooktop. Voila! Voici! Or voiever you want.

The video we found for pan-seared salmon over sauteed spinach, mushrooms, garlic, and tomatoes was done by an enterprising Jersey girl named Laura Vitale, who seems to have mastered the art of marketing herself on the interwebs rather well. I don't know what professional chefs would make of her, but her recipe - and more importantly her video - worked out superbly for us.

As usual, my wife did most of the heavy cooking, but, when I wasn't staring at where Laura was wearing her microphone, I learned a lot, too. I think I'm starting to gain the confidence to take on stuff like this, myself.

I even added a secret ingredient to Ms. Vitale's recipe.

Ten blogging points to the first one who spots it in the photo at the top of this post.

January 13, 2013

City Folk And Shore Folk

My fellow blogger and champion of most things New Jersey, Baydog, has been in mourning of late.

He might manage a smile or two and put up the cheery post to keep up appearances, but underneath, there's the telltale melancholy that we often wear when we've lost a loved one.

In late October, Baydog's beloved New Jersey shore was brutally ravaged and left for dead in the wild Atlantic surf. Worse, appalling images of the violence were splashed all over the tabloids and the evening news. There was no opportunity to cope with the loss quietly or to mourn in private.

Baydog is mending as best he can, as his folk always have. For Baydog is shore folk.

He was raised down the shore, got most of his schooling there, and grew up with sand between his toes. He was babtized in the warm water of Barnegat Bay, took communion in a hard-chined dinghy, and sang in the boatyard choir. He lettered in clamming and wrote his senior essay on the sound of the surf.

I spent my summers just two hours down Route 528 from Baydog, but I may as well have been ten thousand miles away. I was born of city folk.

My city was paved over. Almost all of it. What wasn't concrete was asphalt. And the few odd lots that remained between the concrete and the asphalt were given a peculiar name - vacant - as if whatever had once lived there had moved away. Trees and grass had been herded together and put in places called 'parks' where they wouldn't get in the way of more important things. If you wanted, you could visit a park, but you could never live in one.

In my city, there were no waterways to speak of, outside of the parks. The big river was mainly hidden behind security fences. Our parents would warn us about the dangers and tell us never to go there. In fourth grade once, we all got on the bus and took a class trip to the sewage treatment plant, but that was pretty much the most water I got to see all in one place. And it smelled funny.

Occasionally, we city folk would try to escape the summer heat and drive down the shore (you never drove down to the shore). As we'd approach the ocean, I could sense my parents getting uneasy. We were leaving the safety of the city behind. Not only were there no sidewalks here, but there was sand everywhere, and sand got into your shoes and socks. "Make sure you don't get any sand in the car," we were warned. "It gets into everything."

My parents never really understood these shore people who liked to walk barefoot in the sand. Why would anyone build a house down here? You'd be tracking sand into the house all of the time. How would you keep the carpets clean?

And then there were those awful storms. Didn't these people know the ocean could come up and wipe their houses away? How could they be so foolish?

It wasn't until many years later that I moved to California, far away from my city, where I got a sailboat that started teaching me about the ocean. At first, this city boy was afraid to venture very far from the safety of the harbor. But the boat and the ocean soon began their usual conspiracy.

It wasn't long before the ocean stopped smelling 'fishy' and started smelling like home to me. And it wasn't too much after that that I began thinking about those foolish shore folk back in New Jersey. I was beginning to understand their foolishness. And I was getting a little foolish myself.

Some of us live lives that are entirely too safe. Boats can spring leaks. Boats can leave you stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Boats can sink. But sailors keep sailing. Sailors need to sail. It's what we do.

I'm beginning to think those foolish New Jersey shore folk knew very well what the storms might bring. But they also knew things city folk would never learn.

In time, the shore's battered barrier islands will recover. The shore folk will recover. And Baydog, I hope, will recover. They all will have been changed a little by their ordeal.

Meanwhile, back in my old home town, the city folk are safe, untouched by the ocean, untouched by the storm.