Thursday, April 1, 2010


In the summer of 1974, I taught photography to five or six students at the Provincetown Art Association, which meant I actually rented a small cottage for Krissy and me, as if we deserved a vacation that wasn't scrounging off friends. (I'm pretty sure that I stiffed the landlord of the last payment in mid-August.) We were in transition then since I had been hired for my first full-time teaching job at MIT that fall and was absolutely dreading the move from the cocoon of New York.

She was nine and only later told me that she and her cousin, along with other pranks, had sold the fruit I'd bought to passersby from the front gate. 

My brilliant friend S., must have been studying and living in Providence then, so it was easy for her to visit. She baked a tin-foil pouch of fish that I've never forgotten, it was that delicious. The best fish I've ever tasted and a complete surprise that someone I knew could come up with a recipe like that -- it seemed so effortless. I've never attempted anything like it since I almost never eat fish unless I'm in a restaurant.

However, when I recently e-mailed her about the delicious salmon dinner at the Victoria, I expressed some worry about how large fish are effected by the many pollutants in the ocean. I find this extremely distressing. She called, thank goodness, and gave me some information that I trust -- small fish that are caught wild have fewer hormones and toxins. Avoid farmed tuna, a large fish, fed antibiotics. Sardines are high in protein and made a delicious meal on rice with lemon and parsley. Make sure to buy those caught in the wild, packed in olive oil and perhaps lightly smoked.

(Talking about sardines brought back memories of visiting my parents in Nova Scotia, the wonderful pickled herring in sour cream that my father loved...and some very particular herring dish that many natives made, the name of which I've forgotten. It was easy to buy jars of it, advertised by homemade signs in someone's drive. And I stopped often to stock up. 

At some point, tuna farms appeared in St. Margaret's Bay. I stood in their living room early in the morning, watching fishermen row out to the round pens to throw feed in. Though I knew that these were being fattened to be sold to the Japanese for sushi later in the summer, I never thought much about how crowded and unnatural this was. I knew about the fish houses where my parents' housekeeper often worked in the winter, chapped hands and all, and had visited a whale processing plant not that far from Queensland.)

Naturally I couldn't remember how S. had cooked this fish so many years ago, but I heated the oven to 300, tore off aluminum foil, got out the very expensive piece of sole that K. bought at Wholefoods (usually called Wholepaycheck), put (too much) olive oil on it, sauteed some zuchinni slices and lay them on top, pepper and wrap it, stick it on. I thought ten minutes, does that seem right? And then remember the book, "Cooking for One," that my Panera-friend lent me, that this author had mentioned cooking fish in parchment (quite different) and checked out her directions. Oven at 400, more vegetables, only the thinly sliced potatoes were sauteed before hand.

Okay, I raised the temperature, waited ten minutes, and this is what happened! Not perfect, but actually it tasted very good.

Generally, yesterday was a downish day. 

Krissy has changed remarkably in the last six weeks. She now says things like, "I really wouldn't have taught on Monday and then gone to the doctor on Tuesday. You need time in between," "Naturally you're tired today, you did too much," and "If you have a new food one day, don't eat it again for a couple of days. You're testing what works." She comes up with, "Oh, no, I can't eat much sour cream, too much fat. I'm sure you can't," and "I think you should concentrate on eating fish, right now."

But I did go to the doctor on Tuesday because he had made time for an appointment. And that went quite well. Two months of prednisone that is tapered down very slow, every two weeks, adding another medication now, much crossing of fingers that this takes care of this surprising flare up, careful watching and an appointment in two months.

After that we went to the soup factory. I had a photograph of our empty pint containers, but accidentally erased it. I guess I don't need proof of how good that chicken soup was, even though I'm extremely tired of chicken, thank you. No more.

My late night PBS watching has been fascinating...the program about black rats in a region of India (ethnically Chinese and Christian) that appear every 48 years, at the point when the bamboo flowers, dropping large, plentiful seeds which allows the rats to overpopulate and decimate grain crops of the subsistence farmers. The event, which had never been studied or proved and was regarded more as lore, was well documented in this documentary. When there is little available food, the population of black rats in easily kept in check, the mother often eating her young. But this cycle of plentiful food leads to tens of thousands of rodents, breeding underground, making themselves known just as the grains ripen, stripping a field in two or three nights, leaving the farmers without enough food for that year.  And then the Nova program about the earthquake in Haiti. Last night was a marvelous video about a coach at a school for inner city New Jersey kids living in dire straights, St. Anthony's, and the coach determined to batter them into taking responsibility for their actions. Fascinating the way  he cajoled, badgered, scolded, punished, no-easy-love-there, his team, who over the many years that he's been coaching have (all but one) gone on to college, often to basketball careers. He's in the hall of fame.


  1. Hello, dear Melissa: You've had quite a time! I'm so glad you are eating!


  2. fish pouches, how clever. my mother used to say the only thing a microwave was good for was to cook fish...locked in the juices and vitamins. i dont know...
    you look gaunt but still lovely as an early spring morning.

  3. Hello Melissa,
    I got your messages about tofu recipes. I rifled through all of my favorite tofu recipes but many of them rely on high-fiber vegetables, seeds, or nuts for flavor. I googled "low residue diet" and got quite a few great pages of recommended menus. Even though none of them specifically state avoiding spicy or oily foods, I assume that you do would not care for these foods at this time.

    My favorite vegetarian cookbook, "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" is by the very-talented Deborah Madison. Here is an excerpt from her tofu section:

    "If you wish to cook tofu with no oil, simply cut it into cubes without bothering to drain it, then lower it into a pot of lightly salted simmering water or stock...Simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain briefly on paper towels, then serve, warm or chilled with ."

    The low-residue webpages advice against coconut, but I think they are referring to whole coconut or coconut flakes, because my can of unsweetened coconut milk states that there is no fiber content. Check with your doctor or advice nurse first, but coconut and tofu are great partners.

    I have lots of tofu recipes that I think I can modify by taking the extra ingredients and bundling them in a cheese cloth. The ingredients can then infuse the dish during the cooking process and be removed before serving. VoilĂ , flavor with no fiber.

    If you give me your e-mail address, we can talk offline to discuss what flavors you like (ginger, lemongrass, curry, sesame, garlic, coconut???) and I can come up with something for you.

    As for your hummus question, I'm afraid hummus is generally garbanzo-bean based and off your list. Applesauce is allowed though :-)

    Hope you feel better very soon!