January 10, 2017: Tilapia Meunière with fried potatoes, Brussel sprouts, carrots, and memories of David Worthman
Feeling French today, and whenever that happens, it involves cooking, I like Ina Garden. I like everything about Ina. Beverly has four of her cookbooks. I went into the preparation of this meal feeling good about the possibilities of what was coming.
I used Ina’s Sole Meunière recipe to make Tilapia Meunière. The key is lots of brown butter, lemon juice, and heat. Plus, I used garlic.
I also fried some waxy potatoes in butter, and Beverly baked Brussel sprouts and carrots. Pretty basic stuff, but hearty.
Meunière is French for Miller’s wife, and of course a Miller is someone (I don’t think it has to be a male.) who milled grain. Meunière also refers to the cooking process, both the dredging of the fish in flour (convenient when you’re the Miller’s wife—or husband) and the sauce of browned butter and lemon. None of this mattered to me as I was cooking.
When I was young I used to love to fish. In the town in which I was raised, there was a reservoir, and I used to fish along its banks as often as possible. Usually, I was alone, but one summer my stepbrother lived with us, and he and I used to go fishing all the time. He had been kicked out of his mother’s house. We were the same age. His father was my stepfather, with whom I lived. Mostly, David and I saw each other at school. We fought constantly that summer.
David and I were different in so many ways it was clear to anyone who knew us that we were related in name only. David was gregarious; I was shy . David was brusque; I lacked confidence; David was good-natured but easy to anger and always willing to fight (and we did often); I was moody and generally mad at the world (fighting David might have been my outlet). I definitely didn’t win enough of the fights to find enjoyment in it.
We once got in a fight when our father—my stepfather—was pouring cement for our basketball court. David poured sand down the back of my shirt, and I dove into him. We ended up rolling around in the wet cement, grabbing at each other’s head and swinging wildly. We only stopped when our father hit us with a trowel.
My sophomore year, during a PE basketball game, David chased me as I ran down the floor on a fast break. He caught up with me and shoved me into the bleachers as I started to go in for a layup. I landed three rows up in the bleachers and broke my arm. I had to run track that spring with a cast up to my shoulder.
When we weren’t fighting, David always treated me well, better than I probably treated him. When I jumped at the chance to take his after-school job in a small grocery store after he got fired, he just laughed and said he was happy to be able to get fired so I could have the job.
My half brother contacted me tonight to tell me that David killed himself last night. I was just getting ready to cook the fish. For a moment I was lost, so disconnected and so far removed for so long that I didn’t know what to think or do. I had to stop what I was doing and stand in the middle of the kitchen. The David I knew was a kid, he was not the man who would be turning 56 in a month or so and now was dead. What do I do now, I wondered. What can I do?
I suspect David never stopped fishing, whereas I stopped before I graduated high school. If he were to read this post, he would probably laugh softly and say, “Chris, that fish really sounds good. I’d love to try. You really know how to cook, Chris.” At least, that’s what I think he would say, what I hear him saying, he was always full of compliments, and they were genuine. But that is the David I knew some 30 years ago.
I cooked the fish and thought about David. I thought about the good things I knew about him and the good person I remember. I thought about how our lives diverged. David stayed in our small town; I left. He kept his demons close; I ran from mine. I thought about how things could have been different, for me, for him, but I am not sure how. The David I knew would have shrugged off my concerns, and said, “Just stop thinking about it, Chris. I’m ready to eat fish.”