Do you have quirky little things that you do that your mom or dad used to do before you? Come on. You know you do. I do. Such as the above title announces, I broil my fish in milk. Topped with a dot of butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
When we were small, that is how my mother made fish. It makes even the most humble filet tender and flaky, moist without being mushy and very mildly flavored. I thought that was how all fish was cooked if it wasn't fried.
Monday night, I pulled fish from the freezer for dinner. Beautiful, white Tilapia filets, in fact. Out came my baking dish. I gave the pan a quick spray of olive oil and then laid the fish on top. Then came the milk.
My husband turned to me and said, "Why do you do that?"
"Pour milk on the fish."
Now, I could see him asking that question if we had just been married and this was the first time he had seen me broil fish for dinner. But, we have been wed for over twenty-five years!! And he just now wants to know why I pour milk on the fish? You have got to be kidding me!
The problem is, I didn't really know the answer. So, up the hill to my parent's house I went.
(I will have to preface this by saying that in our family there are the fish lovers and the fish haters. My mother belongs to the latter group.)
"Mom, why did you broil the fish in milk when we were kids?"
"Because I hate the smell of fish. The milk took away the fishy smell. If I had to cook it, I wasn't going to smell it."
Well! Talk about deflating my culinary ego. Here I had thought that I was following a long tradition of innovative cooking, and all I was doing was reducing the stench in my kitchen. Well! - again.
I suppose that all of this doesn't really matter in the long run. I will still broil my fish in milk, because I love how it turns out. Just like I will always make an abundance of pie dough, so I can roll up the extra bits with cinnamon and sugar and bake pinwheels the way my Grammy did each time she baked pies. Or top a hot dog with yellow mustard and celery salt, like my grandfather. Or make oatmeal cookies without spices, like my father. Or feel the need to create something, anything, with my hands, like my other grandmother.
I don't think we really have to know the "Why?" behind everything we do, as long as we know the "What."
We are keeping a bit of those we love with us. My grandmothers are never farther away than the flour bin or the craft room. My grandfather, I am sure, is smiling when I take a spicy bite of a hot dog and remember him as I do so. On baking day, I bring my dad a plate of oatmeal cookies, plainly made without spices, just the way he likes them.
But I don't bring my mother fish. I just cook it like she did all those years ago. It's the only way.