In the past, Ted and I cozied in at home for New Year’s Eve, cooked up some favorite comfort food and toasted each other and our future with Champagne. We watched the ball drop in Times Square pretending it was midnight here in California. Year after year, this felt safe and familiar.
Maybe because this new decade was starting off with a blue moon, a rare second full moon in a single calendar month, we were up for something different. And, when we heard that our favorite local restaurant, Lucca Café in Irvine, would be serving their regular dinner menu, we just had to make a reservation.
Word was that star chef Cathy Pavlos, with her flair for flavor and reverence for great ingredients, was pacing her kitchen concerned that the fishermen in Greece might be tempted to take the week off and not bring in the Branzinos (Mediterranean sea bass) she was determined to add to the menu that night. We wanted to experience this dish that was so important to her, and when I mentioned our plans to close friends, they asked to join us.
As soon as we arrived, Cathy brought a serving of the exotic sea bass she was delivering to another table to show how she had stuffed it with lemon slices and fresh parsley and thyme and baked it in a thick crust of rock salt. Using a chisel, she cracked the crust open and returned to her kitchen to fillet the bass. On her second pass-by, she showed us the finished dish--drizzled with a lemon/olive oil/garlic/herb mixture she served with roasted potatoes and spinach. Three out of six of us ordered the Branzino.
Meanwhile, we all dug into a Lucca cheese platter (gorgeous, as you see!) and the conversation began.
Because all my friends know how I feel about small talk, they encouraged me to choose a theme.
Hmmm. How about What is appearing on your horizon in 2010?
I was excited to declare my resolution for “Twenty Ten” is to learn a new poem by heart every week (as opposed to memorizing). And, beyond that, to begin sharing my passion for poetry in schools, and develop a poetry program that might be perpetuated.
In response to their nudging, I recited a few from memory, such as Derek Wolcott’s Love After Love, that seemed appropriate . . .
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart. . .
The words wove themselves into our theme seamlessly. Then, just for fun, in honor of the evening’s moon, so did a few lines from the 13th century poet Rumi ‘s poem Deep Listening (translated by Coleman Barks):
There's a moon inside every human being.
Learn to be companions with it. Give
more of your life to this listening. . .
Around our table, as each guest dove into the inquiry of what 2010 can become, there was a spirit of uncovering new meaning in our lives sparked by the depth and beauty of poetic imagery. And, as always, the sharing of personal feelings deepened our connection and appreciation for each other.
Cathy reappeared, and her preparation of sea bass was by far the best I’ve ever tasted! She generously told us how to recreate it at home. (See below)
Perfection on a plate! I can’t wait to serve the sauce on all kinds of fish—and to see what appears in this New Decade.
May yours be filled with food, fun, friends and new adventures.
WHOLE FISH IN A SALT CRUST
WITH AN HERB AND LEMON SAUCE
“Clean a whole fish then stuff with lemon slices and fresh herbs-parsley and thyme. Mix up some cage free egg whites and kosher salt. Then completely encase the fish in the salt mixture on a sheet pan and roast it for 15 minutes at 375 degrees (to an internal temperature of 130 degrees). Then crack the crust, dust the salt off and fillet the fish.
“Make the sauce earlier by pouring olive oil from Costco—their regular stuff, not extra virgin—in a skillet over low heat. Add a little butter, some more fresh parsley and thyme, garlic, whole peppercorns, and fresh lemons cut in half. Let all this simmer and steep for an hour or so.”