It always struck me as odd that I still answer the phone as if I don’t know who is on the other end of the call. Modern technology has given me the luxury of not having to answer the phone unless I know for sure who it is yet I have not updated my basic salutation since I learned it at age 4. I used to enjoy talking on the phone but these days I tend to avoid it. The act of answering the phone used to give me an attractive sense of danger or thrill I suppose. Would it be an annoying solicitor? My best buddy? My boss or a client? Or worse! What if it’s my sister?
“How come you never write about me in your blog? And where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you for days.”
It was my sister. Evidently she was calling to let me know she had discovered yet another thing I don’t do for her. Either the caller ID or my brain must have been malfunctioning for I tend to let her calls go to voice mail. Some telephone thrills I can live without.
“I’ve been busy. And besides, I’m not really sure how to tell you this but I write primarily about food, and, well, you don’t really know how to cook”.
Should you think I was being unnecessarily cruel to my sister let me assure you that this wasn’t the first time I have had to tell her she should avoid the kitchen. This is something she is used to me telling her. Its not my fault she is a slow learner and needs the constant reminding of her younger brother.
I always tell people that my sister doesn’t even know how to make tea and they laugh it off as if I’m joking but it is true — she actually called me once to ask me whether or not you had to leave the teabag in the hot water longer for herbal tea than you do for ‘regular tea’! To my way of thinking that qualifies one as not knowing how to make tea, right?
After she asked me that, and after I stopped laughing I had to use the occasion to lecture her on Tea 101 — the best teas are loose teas and that she should eschew teabags altogether — blah, blah, blah. Then I suggested that she just go to her herb garden and grab a handful of fresh mint to steep in the cup.
If you have ever seen her “garden” you are laughing right now.
I suppose people expect the sister of someone who enjoys the kitchen as much as I do to be equally at home in one. Genetics doesn’t work that way. For example, I don’t know how to replace a water heater or how to keep score of a football game but she does. She managed to avoid the ‘cooking gene’ that just about everyone else in my family benefits from.
“That isn’t true. You don’t just write about food and I cook just fine! Everyone had a fantastic time at my house that one time last month.”
“That was a potluck. Mom and I brought most of the food.”
“Not the fish. Everyone loved that fish I made.”
She was right. Everyone did love ‘that fish’ and yet everyone was also quite sick to death of it. “That fish I made” is the same fish I’m featuring here today: Tilapia with Mustard and Capers. I wanted to tell her that if she was going to be completely accurate she should have said “everyone loved that fish I make every single time anyone comes to my house for dinner.”
Last year I showed her how to make it when she needed some emergency kitchen coaching. She had inexplicably invited her boss who travels a lot over to her house for dinner for a home-cooked meal. An act I can’t help but think reveals an astonishing lack of self-awareness on her part.
I suggested this fish with mustard and capers for her as it is just about the easiest thing to make I can think of. Instead of copying out the recipe for her I rewrote it so it would look more like something she would understand: assembly instructions. She was always very good at making Ikea furniture and I imagined that if I ever should have to assemble a new bedroom set from Ikea (as if!) I would want her to help me out by rewriting the diagrams into recipe format.
These flavors are wonderful on any white fish and the elegant sauce makes itself. Food that makes itself is right up my sister’s alley.
It never dawned on me that once she had mastered it she would never again feel the need to learn anything else! Despite its deliciousness my family has grown quite tired of it as it is the only thing ever served when it is her turn to host a family evening. If she has any friends I’m sure they are sick of it too.
“Teach her something new! Please!” my dad begs me.
It wasn’t that long ago they used to tell me I was doing “God’s work” when I would lie and try to convince her there was no shame in hosting potlucks just so we would be allowed to bring our own food to her house. Now I am being asked to teach a woman who last used the All Clad I gave her to wash engine parts from her Wave Runner to turn around and make something edible with it.
When I succeed, like I did with this fish, I feel just like Annie Sullivan.
Tilapia with Mustard and Capers
This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten. Whenever you see the word ‘adapted’ and ‘Ina Garten’ in a recipe featured here it usually just means I’ve either reduced the sugar or I’ve reduced the salt or in some cases I’ve reduced both. Here it was the salt. Rarely is there anything else I would ever quibble with The Ina over as she tends to get just about everything else just right.
The method is great and is quite welcoming to variations unless you are my sister in which case you should stick to the instructions.
You see dear sister? I will too write about you if you ask nicely.