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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A Big Bowl of Metaphor Soup: Ina Garten's Baked Fish Chowder

Hoo boy. It has been a year, and I’ve posted no recipes. Aside from my poem-a-day posts throughout April (and a 3-ingredient scone post I drafted but never posted), I didn’t blog at all this year. 

So why am I here now, just a few days before year end? 


Well, I received a new cookbook for Christmas—Modern Comfort Food by Ina Garten—and while flipping through a few nights ago, I saw a recipe for Baked Fish Chowder. I’ve never been a particular fan of fish soups—I can occasionally enjoy a well-seasoned Crab and Corn Chowder, and have oohed and ahhed over some very decadent Lobster Bisques in my day—but, in general, you won’t find me excited for fish soup. However, when I saw this one, something about it seemed so delicious and wonderful and screamed out, “Make me!” In fact, the thought of that soup took root in my head for a few days, and so I decided, yes, this would be my maiden recipe of this book.


There’s something about cookbooks that takes me out of my world for a spell. When I read good cookbooks, I see my life differently than it actually is. I imagine myself eating, as a meal, a baked raclette (which is basically baked potatoes and sausages with cheese) served alongside a “big green salad and a crusty baguette” even though that’s not what meals at my house look like. Yet, in the moments of scanning recipes and brilliant food photography (in this case by the perfectly-named Quentin Bacon(!)), I see myself eating that way, imagine my kids delighted by their open-faced Spanish-imported tuna melts or fancy chutney-studded grilled cheeses or even, yes, the potato thing. 


That’s how I found myself salivating over the fish chowder. I decided it would be a gift to myself to try to slow down and mindfully prepare this meal (as opposed to checking it off a to-do list as mealtime has started to feel these days), and be thankful for our good fortune at having food to eat and a way to pay for it and a home in which to prepare it, especially as so many others are denied what should be human fundamentals. 


Two days ago, I set about acquiring the necessary ingredients. The list required a separate trip to the market (something I avoid at all costs these days) for items like fish stock (which I’ve never purchased in my life), saffron threads, yellow potatoes, fresh cod, dry white wine (I mean, of course I have wine here, but I wasn’t using one of my expensive wines in my soup, so I bought an $11 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc rated a 90 by Wine Enthusiast, and that’s what I used), and a little travel-sized bottle of Sambuca because it turns out I didn’t have anise liqueur among my barstuffs. I already had celery, onions, fresh thyme, bacon, butter, heavy cream, and half & half. An inexpensive throw-together recipe this was not. 


Yesterday, it was Chef Time. I put on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and got to it.


Full disclosure: I’m not what one would call a “quick” cook. In fact, I’m pretty slow at just about every aspect. Set-up, prep, clean-up, all of it. Though not among my favorite personal characteristics, I’ve come to accept it. I know that when I cook, it’s going to be a process. For recipes I’m trying for the first time so I don’t know where to implement shortcuts, a longer process. And for recipes I’m photographing as I make them? Even longer. 


Thus, I knew going in that this particular chowder was going to take me a long time to make. 


Oftentimes, cookbooks include time estimates at the top of the recipe to give you a semblance of how long the recipe takes to prepare. I find these guidelines frequently underestimate the total time, even accounting for my aforementioned pace, so I automatically tack on an extra 15-30 minutes depending on the number of steps and/or ingredients, but I still appreciate an author including them so I don’t end up eating dinner at 10pm. This book, however, does not include any time estimates. Which means that, even though it’s something you should always be doing anyway, it’s even MORE important in this instance to read through the entire recipe before you start


Between my own tortoise pace and a recipe that--after much slicing, dicing, washing, and peeling—still required 10+ minutes to crisp up some bacon; then around 15 minutes to sauté onions, celery, and thyme; then 30-40 to bake with potatoes and stock; then another 20-30 to bake with the cod; then 5 more to rest after stirring in some final touches before serving, I’d prepared myself for a marathon cooking sesh. That said, I still wasn’t quite prepared for how long it took me. 


I tied on my apron at 4:40pm and began my veggie prep (I’d already prepped my cod the night before when I got it home from the market) and I sat down and tasted my first official spoonful at 7:59pm. I could have shaved a good 20 minutes off my time had I worked smarter, but I basically cut and measured everything so I had mise en place going, rather than using the cook times to prep as I went along. 


Here’s how I suggest you tackle the project. 


Start by crisping up a half pound of bacon in a large oven-safe Dutch oven. 

While that cooks, prep your veggies: you need 6 cups of thinly sliced onions, 3 cups of diced celery, 1 Tablespoon of fresh thyme. 


When the bacon is crispy, remove it with a slotted spoon and add the veggies to the bacon grease. 


Sauté that situation for 10-12 minutes, until it gets soft and starts to become lightly browned. During that 10-12 minutes, peel and slice a pound of golden potatoes. Pro-tip: DO NOT get baby ones. Ina called for 2” diameter goldens but my market was all out, so I subbed in the babies. It was a PITA to peel that many tiny potatoes, and I shaved off a fingernail in the process. 

When the veggies are lightly browned, add ¾ cup of good white wine (scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan) 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt (I used Morton’s which, apparently, is saltier than Diamond, which Ina uses and calls for 2 teaspoons), and 1 teaspoon pepper, and let that simmer for another 2 minutes. 


Remove half the onion mixture from the pot and then layer on half the potatoes and 2 Tablespoons of diced butter. 

Add the onions you removed back into the pot, evenly distributed over the potatoes, and repeat the process with the rest of the potatoes and another 2 Tablespoons of diced butter. 


Add the 2 15oz cans of Bar Harbor seafood stock (which, I’m seeing only now, I was supposed to have heated to a simmer prior to use, but which I didn’t—oh well!) and saffron threads (which I hydrated by stirring into a Tablespoon of hot water just before use) into the pot. 

Cover and bake for 30-40 minutes. I set my timer for 35 minutes and headed downstairs to watch the season 2 finale of Virgin River. When the timer rang, the potatoes were nearly cooked through, which was the goal, so 35 minutes was perfect for me.


Pour ½ cup EACH half & half and heavy cream and stir gently.

Then add in 2 pounds of fresh cod cut into 1”x3” chunks and sprinkled with kosher salt and pepper (I used just under a Tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper) and press gently into the cooking liquids. 


Cover again and bake another 20-30 minutes. Mine took about 30 for the fish to flake easily with a fork. 


Add 2 Tablespoons of anise liqueur (I used Sambuca, but Ina suggested Pernod) and the reserved bacon (I only added half the bacon and topped individual bowls with more because stirring crispy bacon into liquid makes it suddenly soggy bacon once more) and let it sit 5 minutes before serving. Note: you might be tempted to skip this liqueur. After all, the recipe doesn’t call for that much and you probably don’t have it on hand and it can’t possibly make a difference, right? Wrong. It adds a subtle depth of flavor that makes the dish feel complete. You don’t get strong anise flavor, but you do get a little less fishiness, and a roundness that flavors the broth in a pleasant manner. For $1.49, you can buy a tiny hotel-room sized bottle of Sambuca and it is worth it. 

Now, after all this work, how was it?, you’re doubtless wondering. 

I thought about this earlier today, as I drank my coffee, and chuckled to myself as I realized my experience of the chowder was sort of the perfect metaphorical reflection of 2020. 


See, I’d gone in with certain expectations, a hope for it to taste as delicious as it looked, for it to be satisfying and, frankly, wonderful. I knew I’d have to do my part to help achieve that outcome—I’d need to use the right ingredients, follow the recipe guidelines, know when to make executive decisions if the directions outlined something that I experienced differently, etc. I thought I was ready for all the work and expense involved with making it—and I did do my best to stay enthusiastic as I went—but sometimes along the way I wished I hadn’t taken it on, wished I’d just ordered pizza instead. 


It was a whole lot of buildup, but when I tasted it, my first thought was that it was fishy. Too fishy, not good. Oh no! Catastrophe! All this time and effort and money completely wasted! But then—right behind that initial taste, other things came through: well-seasoned onions and creamy, well-cooked potatoes, and a really rich broth with hints of fruit from the wine and just the right amount of spice from the black pepper and some floral notes from the saffron and smokiness from the bacon and whatever that roundness of flavor is that came from the anise. I didn’t love it overall, but I loved things within it. I ate everything in my bowl because this was my dinner.  


My family had their own mixed feelings—my younger daughter liked it. My older daughter said she just doesn’t like seafood (which isn’t entirely true, but she blows hot and cold about things she likes in general, so this day was one when she doesn’t like fish). My husband looked as though he was doing his best to tolerate it, but he had the misfortune of getting quite a few hidden bones in his cod (nobody else did) so that made for a tense eating experience. At the end, we had half a pot left on the stove—nobody went back for seconds—and I felt a little sad because I’m not prepared to throw it away but I also have very little desire to eat another bowl of it in the future. 


All in all, it wasn’t what I’d been hoping it would be, didn’t feel like it was worth the struggle, and I was glad when my bowl was empty.


And yet…I did go back today and have another taste. It’s still not my favorite thing. For sure, it’s not. But there are some delicious aspects of it. It’s most certainly not all bad. There’s parts of it I loved, techniques and flavors I would take with me in the future and try to replicate or improve. There were parts of the soup that were worth the added time, expense, and effort, and that were part of my experience which, fine, maybe wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but that I’m not worse off having tasted. Oddly, this baked fish chowder ended up being the perfect recipe for the end of my year, even if not for the reason I thought.


Even better is that I look forward to trying other recipes, even as I know some will be a complete triumph while others will be a disappointment. But guess what? That’s the joy of cooking, and what a gift it is to be able to do.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

April 30: "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley

The 2020 National Poetry Month poster from


by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.


Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day! That means you should carry around a poem in your pocket today. Pick one you really enjoy. Then, read it to someone or otherwise share it. If you're lucky, they'll have a poem in their pocket, too, to share with you. (If you want to read more about my background celebrating this fab holiday, I wrote a guest post for my friend's book blog back in 2014. You can read it here.) Today, I'll be carrying with me the powerful poem above. (Carrying it around the house since, you know, lockdown. But still. It'll be in my pocket per the rules!)

I had big ideas for this year's Poem in Your Pocket Day festivities, but obviously the pandemic had other plans. So my plans have to wait until we can, you know, leave our houses and come within 6 feet of one another. But we'll get there. Here's hoping we'll have a vaccine by next April (that's probably too soon to have one ready yet, but we're gonna hope for it just the same!) 

Today is also the last day of April, which means the last day of daily poems. Thank you for joining me this month. I hope you read a poem or two (or ten!) that spoke to you and made you smile or laugh or sigh or feel understood. 

Here's to all the beautiful words we shared this month. Here's to the poetry. Be well, friends.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

April 29: "My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms" by Bon Jovi

My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms
by John Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora
My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Misery likes company I like the way that sounds
I've been trying to find the meaning
So I can write it down
Staring out the window it's such a long way down
I'd like to jump but I'm afraid to hit the ground

I can't write a love song the way I fell today
I can't sing no song of hope
I've got nothing to say
Life is feeling kind of strange
Since you went away
I sing this song to you wherever you are
As my guitar lies bleeding in my arms

I'm tired of watching TV it makes me want to scream
Outside the world is burning
Man it's so hard to believe
Each day you know you're dying
From the cradle to the grave
I get so numb sometimes that I just feel the pain

I can't write a love song the way I feel today
I can't sing no song of hope
I got nothing to say
Life is feeling kind of strange
Strange enough these days
I send this song to you whoever you are
As my guitar lies bleeding in my arms

Staring at the paper I don't know what to write
I'll have my last cigarette-well, turn out the lights
Maybe tomorrow I'll feel a different way
But here in my delusion I don't know what to say

I can't write a love song the way I feel today
I can't sing no song of hope
I've got nothing to say
And I can't fight the feelings
That are burning in my veins
I send this song to you wherever you are
As my guitar lies bleeding

I can't write a love song the way I feel today
I can't sing no song of hope
There's no one left to save
And I can't fight the feelings buried in my brains
I send this song to you wherever you are
As my guitar lies bleeding in my arms 

Source: LyricFind

Personal Note:

Last weekend, for a change in scenery and because I felt incredibly sad, I went for a walk in my old neighborhood. I thought a stroll down memory lane might cure what ailed me: namely, a sense of loss over my previous, less fraught way of life. 

I thought visiting my old neighborhood and walking the streets from my (mostly happy) childhood would calm me down. Or cheer me up. Or both. 

Sadly, it made it a little worse. The neighborhood looked so different. The changed landscaping made the street I’d lived on almost unrecognizable. (There used to be hedges and trees separating property lines, setting each house apart as its own little section. Now most of those were gone. Each house blurred into the next.) My elementary school has been leveled and replaced with a new housing development. The whole experience was incredibly sad. 

I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course, since I haven’t lived there in over 17 years, but it was still jarring. 

What hadn’t changed, though, were the streets. Those I walked the same way I did in the evenings with my best friend all those years ago. I even texted her while passing some of our favorite old spots. Also keeping me company on this walk was Bon Jovi’s album These Days

One of them—today’s “poem”-- stood out to me as I walked along. The lyrics resonated as I thought of this current situation and how I haven’t been able to do much writing (or even significant reading since I can’t concentrate for long spells) since sheltering-in-place started. 

Listen to the song here

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

April 28: "A Woman's Answer to a Man's Question" by Mary T. Lathrap

A Woman's Answer to a Man's Question
by Mary T. Lathrap (1838-1895)
(Written in reply to a man's poetic unfolding of what he conceived to be a woman's duty.)

    Do you know you have asked for the costliest thing 
        Ever made by the hand above— 
    A woman's heart, and a woman's life 
        And a woman's wonderful love?

    Do you know you have asked for this priceless thing 
        As a child might ask for a toy, 
    Demanding what others have died to win, 
        With the reckless dash of a boy?

    You have written my lesson of duty out, 
        Man-like you have questioned me; 
    Now stand at the bar of my woman's soul 
        Until I shall question thee.

    You require your mutton shall always be hot, 
        Your socks and your shirt be whole; 
    I require your heart to be true as God's stars, 
        And as pure as heaven your soul.

    You require a cook for your mutton and beef; 
        I require a far better thing. 
    A seamstress you're wanting for socks and shirts; 
        I look for a man and a king.

    A king for the beautiful realm called home, 
        And a man that the maker, God, 
    Shall look upon as he did the first 
        And say, "It is very good."

    I am fair and young, but the rose will fade 
        From my soft, young cheek one day, 
    Will you love me then 'mid the falling leaves, 
        As you did 'mid the bloom of May?

    Is your heart an ocean so strong and deep, 
        I may launch my all on its tide? 
    A loving woman finds heaven or hell 
        On the day she is made a bride.

    I require all things that are grand and true, 
        All things that a man should be; 
    If you give all this, I would stake my life 
        To be all you demand of me.

    If you cannot do this — a laundress and cook 
        You can hire, with little to pay, 
    But a woman's heart and a woman's life 
        Are not to be won that way.

Monday, April 27, 2020

April 27: "The Moment" by Marie Howe

The Moment
by Marie Howe (2011)

Oh, the coming-out-of-nowhere moment
when,    nothing
no what-have-I-to-do today list

maybe  half a moment
the rush of traffic stops.
The whir of I should be, I should be, I should be
slows to silence,
the white cotton curtains hanging still. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

April 26: "I May, I Might, I Must" by Marianne Moore

I May, I Might, I Must
by Marianne Moore

If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

April 25: "Anger" by Charles and Mary Lamb

by Charles and Mary Lamb

Anger in its time and place 
May assume a kind of grace. 
It must have some reason in it, 
And not last beyond a minute.
If to further lengths it go, 
It does into malice grow. 
'Tis the difference that we see 
Twixt the serpent and the bee. 
If the latter you provoke,
It inflicts a hasty stroke. 
Puts you to some little pain,
But it never stings again. 
Close in tufted bush or brake
Lurks the poison-swelled snake 
Nursing up his cherish'd wrath; 
In the purlieux of his path,
In the cold, or in the warm,
Mean him good, or mean him harm, 
Whensoever fete may bring you,
The vile snake will always sting you.

Friday, April 24, 2020

April 24: "April Rain Song" by Langston Hughes

April Rain Song
by Langston Hughes from Collected Poems (Estate of Langston Hughes, 1994)

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night--
And I love the rain. 
In case you want to hear the poem with some graphics, here's 2 options for you. 
This one is from Disney Junior and features Disney characters. (The poem itself starts around the 35 second mark after an introduction of kids talking about how they love poetry.)
This one is by the New York Botanical Gardens, and features lovely nature shots. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

April 23: "Forgetfulness" by Billy Collins

by Billy Collins from Questions About Angels (University of Pittsburg Press, 1999)

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

April 22: "I'm Feeling Fabulous, Possibly Too Much So. But I Love It" by Mary Oliver

I'm Feeling Fabulous, Possibly Too Much So. But I Love It
by Mary Oliver from Blue Horses (Penguin Press, 2014) 

It's spring and Mockingbird is teaching himself
new ways to celebrate. 
If you can imagine that--that gusty talker.
And the sky is painting itself a brand-new
robust blue
plenty of which is spilling into the pond.
I don't weigh very much, but right now
I weigh nothing.
And my mind is, I guess you would say, compounded.
One voice is saying, Ah, it's Mockingbird.
Another voice is saying, The pond never looked
this blue before.
Another voice says, There couldn't ne a more
splendid world, and here I am
existing in it.
I think, just for the joy of it, I'll fly.
I believe I could.

And yet another voice says, Can we come down
from the clouds now?
And some other voice answers, Okay.
But only for a while. 

A note from me: I love this poem. I've had it earmarked to share since I decided to share poems this month. However, I'd been waiting for--hoping for-- a day I was actually feeling fabulous. Unfortunately, lately, I haven't had any of those days. The best I've managed is "okay," but definitely not "fabulous" in any degree.  

Now, though, it is Earth Day. And despite a strong breeze and cooler-than-preferable temperatures, it's gorgeous out. The sky is blue. The sun is shining. The flowering trees are blooming. The leaves are pushing out of their buds. The world looks alive and stunning and, dare I say, fabulous. 

So, rereading this poem, I feel like maybe--even if I can only manage it for a short while--I need to force myself to let these wonders of natures spread outward to make me feel fabulous.

For Earth Day, the poem had to be one by Mary Oliver, because no one is better than she is at noticing and capturing life itself in her poems. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

April 21: "No Matter What" by Mary Oliver

No Matter What
by Mary Oliver, from Blue Horses (Penguin, 2014)

No matter what the world claims,
its wisdom always growing, so it’s said,
some things don’t alter with time: 
the first kiss is a good example,
and the flighty sweetness of rhyme.

No matter what the world preaches
spring unfolds at its appointed time,
the violets open and the roses,
snow in its hour builds its shining curves,
there’s the laughter of children at play,
and the wholesome sweetness of rhyme. 

No matter what the world does,
Some things don’t alter with time. 
The first kiss, the first death,
The sorrowful sweetness of rhyme.

Monday, April 20, 2020

April 20: "Burning the Old Year" by Naomi Shihab Nye

Burning the Old Year
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Letters swallow themselves in seconds. 
Notes friends tied to the doorknob, 
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable, 
lists of vegetables, partial poems. 
Orange swirling flame of days, 
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t, 
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space. 
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves, 
only the things I didn’t do 
crackle after the blazing dies. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

April 19: "Otherwise" by Jane Kenyon


by Jane Kenyon from Otherwise: New & Selected Poems

I got out of bed
on two strong legs. 
It might have been 
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might 
have been otherwise. 
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and 
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.