Thursday, October 29, 2015

My beef with red meat

For most of my younger life, I loved the occasional steak or burger. The thought of a nice juicy steak still makes my mouth water, but I know too well that I can't enjoy red meat any more.
     The reason? About 10 or 12 years ago, I started to notice that if I ate red meat for dinner, I didn't sleep well, and the food would stay in my stomach, seemingly for days. I wasn't digesting it properly any more, and it was giving me heartburn.
     Now the medical researchers are telling us that red meat and processed meats are pretty much for sure a major cause of colon cancer, and they contribute to coronary disease. I'm guessing that all the antibiotics in cattle and the chemicals in bacon and salami are coming back to haunt us. (Will this week's news about red meat cause children to wear cow costumes for Halloween...?)
     I weaned myself off of beef years ago, but I still eat the occasional piece of pork or a tiny portion of lamb when I'm feeling the need. I figure a couple of times a year isn't catastrophic. Instead of red meat, we generally have poultry once or twice a week, fish two or three times a week, and vegetarian the other nights. A plate of pasta with a tasty shrimp sauce makes a great meal with a salad, and you can keep some frozen peeled and de-veined shrimp in the freezer for whenever the urge takes you.
     Colon cancer is an awful disease, something to avoid at all costs. I heartily recommend eating a nice tuna or swordfish steak, or even better a nice piece of salmon (my favorite red fish) instead.
     In Japan, where people used to have a very good prospect of longevity, the introduction of a western diet has literally shortened their lives. Where they used to eat fish almost every day, they now eat burgers and fries, and they suffer coronary disease like we do, something that virtually didn't exist there before WWII. It's like a giant science experiment, with the Japanese people the unfortunate lab rats. It's pretty easy to draw the conclusion that the American diet of red meat once or twice a day is killing us, and anyone else who eats like we do.
     So what would happen if people started to eat a lot less red meat? The environment would improve, because the South Americans wouldn't need to continually clear cut the Amazon jungle to raise cattle, there'd be less methane gas from ruminants, and there would be fewer cases of colon cancer and heart disease, lowering our national medical bills. Sounds like a giant upside to giving up something that really isn't good for us.
     When I gave up beef, it was only hard when I was in a restaurant where I could smell a steak, but then when my own meal came - usually seafood - the feeling passed, and I enjoyed my meal without the slightest guilt, and I slept very well afterwards. It wasn't a hard price to pay.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Cubs Flounder, need something good for the sole

Well, they lost in spectacular fashion. At the end, I couldn't watch. A team we beat 7 times in the regular season trounced us. The Cubs are a young team, and got way further than anyone expected, but I was so hopeful that they would at least make a go of it. Lots of cheap Cubs paraphernalia around town. By Christmas some people will want it.
     Now for the sole -- as I explained in our email newsletter today, we don't really have any in the US, all the flat fish we call sole are actually flounder. The only true sole is Dover sole, from Europe, an amazing fish. When I lived in England, I used to love to order it in a restaurant and get a whole small fish which they would fillet at the table. So delicious when it's cooked whole - much more flavor, not sure why. Must be the bones.
     Dover sole is very expensive now, so we don't carry it on a regular basis. During the holidays we always get inquiries, and can certainly take special orders, for both Dover sole and French turbot, my absolute favorite fish.
     Don't be fooled by the west coast flounder that gets sold in supermarkets as Dover sole - it isn't the same fish, by a long shot. If you see something called Dover sole for $9.95/lb., I guarantee it's not the real thing.
     Cooking sole is easy - it cooks very quickly, because the fillets tend to be fairly thin. One of my favorites is the traditional Sole Almondine - in this case, Flounder Almondine. I gently saute the almonds in a little butter, then coat the fish in seasoned flour and saute in a mixture of butter and olive oil. I top with the almonds and serve with a lemon wedge - totally easy. I love using my Lodge wrought iron pan - it heats beautifully and cooks the fish perfectly. A good, heavy pan makes a great difference in many preparations.
     Making a stuffed sole is also easy - you just make your stuffing and wrap a fillet around it. We're doing a Florentine version this weekend (spinach stuffing), but this mild fish lends itself to many types of stuffing.
     Give flounder/sole a try - I believe it was a piece of beautifully prepared sole that influenced Julia Child to become a chef - thank goodness she did!
     As always, we'd love to hear from you about your favorite sole recipes.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Five generations of Cubs fans

My great grandmother Anna Stemwell emigrated to the US from southern Germany in the early 1900's, and her English was pretty rudimentary, according to my dad. He grew up in the same house with her from the age of 10 in Milwaukee. In the late 1930s, when my dad was in college, he would call his grandmother regularly, and she always worried that her English was hard to understand on the phone. At that time, there was no major league baseball in Milwaukee, only a minor league team called the Brewers. If you wanted to listen to a baseball game on the radio in Milwaukee, you could listen to WGN broadcasting the Cubs games. So my dad suggested to his grandmother that she listen to the Cub games to improve her English.
     This lead to my great grandmother becoming a huge Cub fan. She listened to every game, and her English did get a lot better - I've often wondered if she ever got to go to a game.
     For years, when my dad would call his grandmother during baseball season he would ask her how she was. Her response depended on the Cubs - if they'd won, she was in great spirits; if they'd lost, she'd say "terrible, terrible. The damn Cups, they lost again." (She lived into her late 80s and would have lived longer if she hadn't fallen on the ice running out to get the newspaper.)
     Because my dad lived in Chicago by the time the Braves went to Milwaukee in 1953, like his dad, he was always a Cubs fan, even when one of his good buddies, John Allyn, owned the White Sox from 1961-1975. We went to White Sox games at Comiskey Park, usually sitting in the owners box, but it was never as much fun as sitting in the stands at Wrigley.
     My brother became a die-hard fan, listening to games whenever he could - he was living in Arizona for the last 20 years of his life, and was over the moon when WGN-TV became a "super station" and he could watch his beloved Cubs again. He died much too young, but I hope he has a birds-eye view of all the games, along with all the other Cub fans who left us before the Cubs could have a good post season.  He was a huge Billy Buckner fan - that added to the heartbreak.
     I married a Cubs fan - one of my requirements - and we took our kids to games from a very early age. When our son was around 6, I took him to a game without his dad along. When he had to go to the men's room, I walked him to the door, and told him I'd be waiting at the exit door, which was down at the other end. I waited patiently at the exit, but he didn't come out. I was getting worried, so I found an Andy Frain usher, a young African American lad, and asked him to search the bathroom. He went in, called out our son's name repeatedly, but came out empty handed with a very worried look on his face. We looked all around the concession stands, no luck, and I was getting extremely nervous.
     The usher asked me if he could have gone back to his seat, and I thought it would be impossible for a 6-year-old to find his way through all those seats, but we decided to go look. and there he was - sitting happily in his seat, watching the game, oblivious to the fact that I was not there. When I saw him in his seat and exclaimed "He's there!" the usher and I hugged each other in relief.
     I went to my seat and asked my son where he'd been, and he said that he just came out the entrance and went straight back to his seat - he remembered "the hair do of the girl sitting in front of him," and found it with no problem. I, however, was having a coronary for about 20 minutes.
     Then there was the time I got hit by a Vance Law line drive foul ball - right across my chest. All I had time to do was turn sideways, so it didn't hit me straight on - it was a night game, and the guys in front of me, in business suits, didn't even try to catch it. Boy did that hurt. The ushers took me to the first aid room (the fish husband said it was a big inning and he'd find me after it was over). I was amazed at the number of people who'd been hit by balls - you definitely need to keep your eyes on the game!
     None of this has anything to do with fish - everything to do with a multi-generational love affair with the Cubs. It's hard not to get our hopes up - being very cautiously optimistic. Go Cubs!!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The demise of the dinner party

After the sad closing of our Glenview store, it's hard not to think about other things that are being lost to the constant clamor of change.  In conversation with a new acquaintance, an antique dealer, we were both lamenting the architectural swing to "open plan" homes, where the kitchen, the kids, watching TV, and all dining takes place in one big room. There isn't really a place to have a nice dinner party.
     It seems that many younger people would prefer just to meet friends at a restaurant, of which there are many these days. They don't want to bother with cooking or cleaning up.
     'What's wrong with that?' you ask...
     How can you have a really good conversation in a place where there's noise all around you, and wait staff is constantly bringing you things and asking if you want more? How can you relax, when it becomes apparent that there's someone waiting for your table? How can you bring together a group of people who may not already know each other?
     Don't get me wrong, I love a good meal out in a restaurant with friends, but I also love to have friends over for a nice meal that I've cooked myself. And, of course, I generally serve seafood for the main course, because it's delicious, and because it cooks quickly, so I don't have to hang out in the kitchen all evening.
     We recently had 9 people for dinner - 2 Chileans, a French chef, a Finnish post-doc at Northwestern and various significant others, plus some beloved neighbors. Not everyone knew the other attendees, but they all found things in common and the conversation flowed. As did the wine.
     It's extremely intimidating cooking for a French chef, but in this case, he is incredibly appreciative of anyone cooking for him - he says the only people who invite him for dinner are other chefs.
     Here's my advice to anyone contemplating a dinner party:
1) Choose foods/recipes that you can prepare mostly ahead of time.
2) Ask guests in advance if they have any allergies or food issues and adjust your menu accordingly.
3) Don't try out new recipes when entertaining (though I have broken this one myself). If something goes wrong, there may not be a Plan B.
4) Take advantage of seasonal items for the best flavors and freshness.

Here's what I served at the party:
Oysters on the half shell with lemon or cocktail sauce (opened just before guests arrived)
Fresh farmer's market melon cubes wrapped in Italian prosciutto (done in advance, refrigerated)
Sparkling wine - always a festive start
1st course:
EZ peel shrimp in fresh garlic & basil marinade (did on the grill while we enjoyed appetizers on the deck - recipe is on our web site) served over fresh greens
Main Course: 
Salmon baked with fennel, garlic, red onion & cherry tomatoes (vegetables are roasted in advance, you just add the fish and bake for about 15-20 minutes - this is what's in our Provencal Papillotes - buy those and save yourself a lot of chopping!)
Farmer's market multi-colored potatoes roasted with fresh herbs (done that morning, re-heated while cooking the fish)
Choice of Fume Blanc or French Pinot Noir
Fresh peach cake with vanilla frozen yogurt
Decaf espresso

     All the food was consumed, almost everything was prepared in advance and only needed a few minutes of cooking time, so I got to enjoy talking to our guests.
     Don't be intimidated by the challenges of getting food on the table for a crowd - with a little planning and some convivial people, you can give your friends a night to remember! If I can cook for a French chef, you can cook for your friends.
     There were a lot of dirty dishes, but the Fishhusband does those - works out well at our house. Something I negotiated on the honeymoon.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Heartfelt thanks to our Glenview Friends

We have been receiving hundreds of messages from our Glenview customers, thanking us for our commitment to quality and telling us how sad they are that we're gone. We're sad, too.
     Closing Glenview was a very hard decision for us - but our rent there was just astronomical. We know our Hinsdale location is too far for most people to drive, but we are still there, and we're looking into joining forces with a home delivery service, something which many Glenview customers said they would be interested in.
     I didn't understand until I took over last September how hard it is for small businesses to be successful. We have to pay the same licensing fees and insurance as the big guys, our utilities are expensive, every sale we make the credit card companies and the credit card processing companies take a chunk, we have to pay an accountant to do the taxes, we want to pay our employees a living wage, we're required to pay workman's comp, equipment breaks and needs to be fixed, and all of this is on top of paying for the fish. The large volume retailers can absorb these costs better than us small guys. Eventually, all the small specialty retailers will be gone.
     We have always tried to maintain a very high standard of quality, by buying only the best fish from small boats and top restaurant suppliers who do the same. So many of the Glenview customers said things like "Oh no, where am I going to get my really good fish from?"
    My request to you all - please support the small business that you love - the butchers, the bakers, the flower shops, the gift shops - and the fish mongers. It's not enough to just come at Christmas, we have to pay the bills all year long.