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Betsy Block


Small Victories

Small Victories
Coming in July 2008 from Algonquin Books:
The Dinner Diaries: Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World

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Last Saturday, I cleaned the basement, did laundry, took Zack to basketball, helped Maya and her friend make a gingerbread house, and hung out talking with my friend Eileen while the girls played. So it was lucky I'd gotten this extremely easy yet impressive recipe from Michael Leviton of Lumiere in Newton, Mass., because we were having friends over for dinner and thankfully, at least food prep was a breeze. By the time our friends got here in the evening, the house was tidy, there was a fire blazing in the fireplace and dinner was almost ready. We poured drinks, visited for a few minutes then I went into the kitchen to finish cooking the fish.

Everything went off seamlessly. At the end of the meal, my friend Kathleen said, "That was delicious." I was obviously happy to hear it; then again, she's a gracious guest and a friend, so I took what she said with a grain of salt. Then Andy added, "It was good," but I just sort of rolled my eyes in response. Andy doesn't really like my cooking, but that's only because he pretty much doesn't like anyone's cooking but his own. Along with the fish, which I figured he'd choked down plain, I had also served squash, mashed vegetables and vinaigrette for dinner, all of which are No's in his book. I wasn't sure what angle he was going for with the compliment, but I figured there was something tactical going on.

The next morning, as I was pulling a box of tea out of the cupboard in the kitchen, Andy came over and said, "You know, dinner really was good."

I looked at him blank-faced; annoyed even. Didn't we go through this last night? I wasn't in the mood to award him any points for effort.

"I ate everything you served me," he went on emphatically. "Even the squash. Even the vinaigrette."

By now he had my attention and I stood there for a few seconds, stunned into silence. I was still waking up; was I hearing him right? He ate squash?

"You ate vinaigrette?"

He nodded. I cocked my head and furrowed my brow. Of all the things that Andy won't eat, and there are far too many even for me to remember, vinegar's at the top of the list. Plus, I know better than to put squash on his plate, and I'm diligent about serving him protein with nothing even resembling sauce on top, whether it contains vinegar or not. I gave him plain fish last night, right?

Then I remembered: for some reason, I'd kept miscounting how many people would be eating, so I plated up too few dinners at first, then I felt rushed and got confused, so I served everyone the same thing. After all these years of motherhood I know better than this. Every plate must be custom-crafted to meet all food aversions, especially Andy's. But on Saturday night, I forgot all those unspoken rules of marriage and motherhood and doled out the very same meal to everyone, kids and grownups alike. This was a faux pas of the highest magnitude, but doing so apparently resulted in Andy's eating certain foods on his verboten list for the first time in the 20 years I've known him. My mouth dropped open in amazement as I realized this. Could it have been this easy all along? Have I created a monster by pandering to his preferences for the past two decades?

Just as I was trying to wrap my head around all of this, he spoke up. "The vinaigrette didn't have vinegar in it," he clarified.

It didn't? Let's see, lemon juice, olive oil, canola oil – "You're right," I admitted, deflated. "No vinegar."

But then I realized: Andy ate squash, mashed cauliflower and a lemony sauce, all in one sitting? I'm not sure why or what happened that magical night, but to me, Andy's midwinter transformation offers final proof that there's more to life than I'll ever know.

stories 1575

Here's a recipe from Michael Leviton of Lumiere in Newton, Mass. This easy, elegant, healthy dish from the chef made Andy, me and our friends very happy. (No, the kids didn't eat it, but you can't have everything.)

Chatham Hooked Haddock with Roasted Cauliflower and Golden Raisin, Caper and Pine Nut Vinaigrette
NB: Chef Leviton, a stickler for sustainable, specified hooked local haddock, which of course I couldn't find. I substituted frozen Pacific cod, per the recommendations of Seafood Watch. Eating seafood these days is extremely confusing; I go into all the various fish issues in my book.

For the vinaigrette
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons canola oil
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons toasted pinenuts
4 tablespoons rinsed capers
4 tablespoons golden raisins – briefly soaked in hot water
2 tablespoons minced chives

Place the lemon juice in a small mixing bowl. Slowly add the oils while whisking constantly. Reserve the vinaigrette base. The rest of the ingredients will be added just before the vinaigrette goes on the plate.

For the cauliflower
1 cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces florets
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves

Heat a large heavy-bottomed sauté pan over high heat.  Add the butter. When butter melts, add the cauliflower and sauté over medium-high heat until lightly browned and barely warmed through.  Season lightly with salt and pepper and reserve.  Let cool to room temperature.

For the haddock
4 6 ounce skinless portions of hooked haddock – preferably from the loin
1 egg
1 cup milk
Semolina dredge – recipe follows
8 tablespoons ( ½ cup) canola oil or, preferably, clarified butter

In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg and milk together.

Place the haddock in the "egg wash." Dredge the haddock in the semolina, dusting off any excess. Place on a cookie sheet or a plate. Try not to let the pieces of fish touch each other.

Heat 2 large sauté pans over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add 4 tablespoons of oil to each pan. Add the fish and cook over medium heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip the fish over and cook until the other side is also golden. Remove from the heat. Drizzle the fish with some lemon juice and remove from the pan.

While the haddock is cooking, re-heat the cauliflower in a medium sauté pan. This can be done either on top of the stove over medium-low heat, or in the oven (about 7 minutes at 500 degrees works very nicely). When the cauliflower is hot, add the parsley and adjust the seasoning. Place one-fourth of the cauliflower in the center of each of four plates,

Combine the remaining vinaigrette ingredients with the vinaigrette base. Spoon a few tablespoons of the completed vinaigrette around each mound of cauliflower.
Top with the fish and serve.

Semolina Dredge
2 cups semolina
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

Combine all of the ingredients and mix well