Captain Rex in the Kitchen

Recipes 5, 6 & 7: Lemon Sole Fried with Bread Crumbs, Clarified Butter, Bread Crumbs.

Jim had to work on Saturday on his birthday, so Friday night’s attempt at Alice Waters’ lemon sole fried with bread crumbs turned out to be his birthday dinner celebration. This meant that Luca and I had to keep stopping in the middle of cooking to call Jim who was stuck in traffic so we could gauge how much longer it would be before we could start the fish. Traffic on the freeways was terrible. Luca read the last line of the recipe with urgency: “Mommy,” he said. “It says serve right away!” Right, I said.

Actually the stopping was fun for Luca. He had just gotten his Halloween costume and had done little else for two days besides walk around in it making very realistic shooting noises. I told him the sole would be messy and that he would probably want to change, but I knew there was no way he would agree to this. Instead he tied on an apron and rolled up his sleeves. In the pauses of waiting for Jim, he took off the apron and resumed his role as Captain Rex. I expected the costume to distract him from cooking. But the responsibilities of clone trooper captain and home cook must be pretty compatible because Luca had no trouble handling them both simultaneously.

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We put on some music; Baaba Maal’s new album, Television, our current favorite. Luca keeps playing his two favorite songs, the 1st track called “Television” and 7th track which is a gorgeous song called “Dakar Moon.” I beg him to let the whole album play out but he keeps running to the stereo to skip the songs in between. I wonder if all kids get stuck in a groove this way; the costume, the songs repeated over and over, the favorite pair of shorts that turn shiny and stained with overuse. As a character trait, a certain amount of obsessiveness has its good sides: the intense focus, the loyalty to people and work. But because I am a catastrophic thinker, I look ahead to the bad girlfriend, the one who loves sex and methamphetamines. There will be no turning Luca’s head from the object of his fixation.

Having a child is a lifelong exercise in relinquishing control little by little. I marvel at the parents of sixteen year olds who sigh and say, “Jake just got his driver’s license.” Lock him up! I think to myself. I know one day I will get there but I can’t for the life of me see how. I have no idea how my own mother managed with four kids who rode the subways at all hours all over New York City. We had no cell phones. She never knew where we were and half the time she was better off not knowing. I remember as a teenager coming home late and hearing her voice from the bed saying, “Sweetie? Is that you?” The poor woman never slept. One day Luca will be out there on the roads with the drunks and the texters, and along with the usual dangers over which I will have no control will be Luca’s own intensity.

But for now, Luca was laughing at the bread crumbs. He put a handful of bread cubes in the blender and pushed grate. The bread jumped up and down a few times before it settled into the grind. Each time bread went into the blender, it jumped up and down and Luca erupted in delighted fits of laughter. It is so much fun to cook with a person who gets a kick out of watching bread jump up and down in the blender.

Clarifying the butter was a mini science experiment. Luca liked watching the butter melt and then foam up. I understand the concept of separating the fat from the milk solids and why it is necessary. But whenever I do something like “skim the foam from the butter” it turns out not to be that simple. We took turns skimming the foam and putting it into a bowl. But the milk solids and fat seemed impossible to separate and the contents of bowl and the pan were identical.

We called Jim. He had moved less than a half a mile since the last phone call. I lay my head down on the counter and said, “I am so hungry.” Luca came over and patted me on the back, and there we were; a grown woman being comforted by a seven year old boy in full Star Wars regalia. He went back to playing and I drank some wine.

A little later, Luca cracked his first egg ever. He was good at it and he liked it. He got to crack another and then mixed them with a fork. Then he put flour in another bowl and the bread crumbs onto a plate.

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Meanwhile Jim had budged another few feet. Luca suggested I have some chips. I had a little more wine instead. Finally Jim called and said: “Start the fish!” At first Luca said, “I don’t want to touch the fish.” I have found that if I sometimes utterly ignore him he does a complete reversal. I have no idea why this is and have spent no time trying to figure it out. But here it worked again, because a few seconds later Luca said, “Oh! Actually I do!” And he picked up a sole filet and started dipping it in the flour.

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“Mommy! What about the lemon?” he said suddenly. I panicked for a second and then found a lemon. But there was no lemon listed in the recipe. Luca looked at me as though I were a complete idiot and, just like a teenager with a driver’s license, he said, “Lemon sole?” I had gotten plain old sole. But I cut the lemon anyway because it would be good on the fried fish.

Luca dredged each filet in flour. Then he dipped it into the gooey egg and then into the bread crumbs. His fingers were covered in eggy batter. He put the filets in the skillet and stood on his step stool. As the bready mixture began to sizzle it sent up a delicious buttery fried smell. Luca rubbed his stomach and said, “Oh, yum,” in a deep whisper.

Jim came in and said it smelled great. We opened some champagne and Luca gave him the best pieces of fish because it was his birthday. We added some salt and some lemon. But I found the fish a little disappointing. The bread crumb mixture had not stuck to the fish the way it is supposed to (maybe the crumbs were too big?) and the fish itself seemed little slimy (not cooked enough?). But Luca and Jim loved it and it was good to be home all together on a Friday night. Just as I had predicted, Luca’s eyes rolled up in his head as he dug in. “Mmmmm…”

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