Fish Stew

I’ve always been a romantic.  It definitely comes from my mom, she was all love and passion and fire.  It made her sometimes explosive, but being around her flirty energy was intoxicating in the best way.  I remember there was a time she was ghostwriting love letters on behalf of her friend Anna to a boyfriend who was in jail for some kind of fraud during the mani pulite sweep in Italy.  We would sit in Anna’s boudoir like apartment in Rome in our nightgowns and my mom would write these letters that were right of Dangerous Liaisons or La Princesse de Cleves.  We would giggle for hours, and we kind of knew this guy didn’t deserve them, but the ideas and writing were so beautiful, a lost art form.  Romantic words and gestures from a partner have never been lost on me –

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-But something I think I missed was the intense beauty of the letters I received from my friends over the years.  The other week I was clearing out my storage unit in Los Angeles and read through piles of old letters.  They were so touching – filled with love and hope, expectation and honesty.  Most of them came from the period right after high school, during college and post-college.  These are of course transformative years where people are searching for themselves. So, I wasn’t surprised at the current of words about change and transformation, talk about what is important to us, what we are good at, where we are going – but what touched me most deeply were the reflections on our friendship.  Letters and poems about how we met and what we did and what our future together, what our future relationship/ friendship was going to be like.  I love the hope in them, no one was afraid to project into the future.  You could take these letters and substitute the names and they were like the best love letters ever.

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Letters

These days we like each other’s photos on Facebook and Instagram and we might dash off an email about what a great weekend we spent together and these are all lovely things, but there is something different about putting a pen to paper – committing our thoughts to something that can be held and touched and maybe stumbled upon years later. The difference is the vulnerability of it.  I think being emotional, being expressive has kind of gone out of vogue these days.  Everything is about being really cool and chill, but what we’ve lost sight of is that vulnerability is power. It’s the strength to know ourselves and other people.  We are older now and the stakes are higher so it’s harder to be quite as honest about the journey we are on, or our emotions, but we should try.  Celebrate the people that you love, cherish them, be vulnerable and maybe drop them a note just for the beauty of it like those Chinese lanterns that you light up and let drift off into the night sky.

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FISH IN SAFFRON, FENNEL, TOMATO BROTH
Cooking for someone is definitely a gesture of devotion and love.  Try this dish with those close friends you care about while you pour your heart out over a bottle of white… or you know, just hang out.  Serve with rice or Israeli couscous.

SERVES 4

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
3 tbs. olive oil
1 fennel bulb, tops removed and used for broth, the bulb finely chopped
1 onion, peeled
1 carrot, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
a 1 inch piece of ginger
1 large pinch saffron
½ cup white wine
1 ½ lbs. of firm fleshed fish such as cod, grouper or tilapia
2 tbs. finely chopped cilantro stems
Salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet, douse with a generous tablespoon of olive oil and slow roast for 1 ½ hours.

In a large pot with a lid bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil with the top of the fennel bulb, onion, carrot, cinnamon and ginger.  Turn down the flame and simmer for an hour or more.

In a large pan sauté the finely chopped fennel in the remaining olive oil, add a large pinch of salt, saffron and white wine.  Sauté over low medium low heat for 30 minutes.

Add the broth to the fennel, add the roasted tomatoes, add the fish, and a large pinch of salt.  Simmer until the fish is just cooked through, a few minutes should do it.  Salt to taste. Turn off the heat and let it rest for a little bit so the flavors come together.  If it cools too much you can gently reheat before serving.  Serve over rice or Israeli couscous, top with finely chopped cilantro stems.