The Fish Whisperer

“My friend asked me who was the better cook in our house, you or Dad,” my college-aged daughter shared while home for break from FSU.

My attention was momentarily drawn away from boiling eggs on the stove for salads, chopping cilantro for fresh salsa and trimming mold from stems of worn-out grapes. I was also discarding questionable brown ones in order for them to make a suitable debut for that evening’s fresh fruit plate. I smiled sweetly at her, confident of my culinary skills.

“What did you say, honey?” I asked knowingly.

“I told her that you make several things at once and I usually like one of them, while Dad makes one thing at a time, using the best ingredients, and it’s always delicious!”

My smile faded as the eggs boiled over, I cut myself while chopping cilantro at the same time trying to stop the 17 perfect green grapes from rolling off of the cutting board. I threw the knife down on the counter, angrily grabbing a paper towel to wrap around my now bleeding finger.

“Oh really,” I said irritably as thoughts like, What does she know, she’s only a kid, and Why aren’t we charging her rent, raced through my throbbing head.

After the bleeding subsided, I had to admit she had a point. My husband Tom is a thoughtful, creative cook who has a knack for the culinary arts. HIs specialty is fish. This isn’t surprising since not only does he grill, sauté, fry and blacken exquisite fish dishes but he also catches them

You see, he’s a professional fisherman. In fact he’s not just a professional, he’s a great professional fisherman! Just ask anyone at the dock. I heard one of the captains at our marina once say, “I want to grow up and be like Tommy Hylton.  So, I’ve dubbed Tom “The Fish Whisperer.”

He catches the fish. He cleans the fish. He unpacks the fish. He seasons the fish. We eat the fish. If we were idol worshipers, we would then bow down and chant something like, “You are the fish god.” But we aren’t, so we don’t.

Sometimes he isn’t home when I need to fix the fish. I call him and he tells me what he uses. Then, I fix the fish. We eat. Instead of the fish worshiping, there is the fish pushing. Pushing it from one side of the plate to the other, then pushing it into the garbage. It’s not particularly terrible, it’s just not particularly good.

One evening, I decide to stalk him while he cooks to see if he’s holding out on me. I watch as he takes three simple spices from our pantry. This night, he has decided to do something different, so he cuts up 3 scallions, discarding any part of the plant that is less than perfect. He slices all three, but only adds 3/4 it to the fish. He feels a sauce is in order so he rummages through the refrigerator, looking for exactly what he thinks he’ll need to make the dish its best.

He then drives to Publix and comes home 18 minutes later with $23 worth of spices, uses 2 teaspoons of one of them, and puts the rest away. He disappears outside and ten minutes later, viola, he’s created a masterpiece!

The next night, it’s my turn. I look in the pantry for the three simple spices, find only one and substitute the other two. The phone rings. It’s a fishing customer and I cradle the phone, pull out the charter fishing appointment book, writing with one hand and shaking substitute spices with the other. I look for scallions in the fridge, find red peppers with several bad spots, and think that the spots make the fish appear artsy. Plus, I reason, no one has ever died from my cooking,… yet.

Next, it’s time to grill. I didn’t have time to warm it up so I turn it on high and add the fish. It’s then that I remember that I have laundry from this morning. After a trip to the laundry room, I notice that no one fed or watered the dog. I do this and remember that he hasn’t had his heart worm medicine yet. I look for it, but can’t find it, so I go online to see where I can save $2 and not have to drive to the vet. While I’m thinking of the vet, I think about how much schooling it takes to be a vet and realize that my son hasn’t registered for his classes, so I text him. He responds, “lol, too busy now, b home latr tlk then lol. Texting reminds me that no one writes real notes anymore and I remember that I was supposed to write a thank you note to my sister-in-law. I look in my desk and can’t remember where I stashed my them. All I can find are sympathy cards.

My mom then calls me into her room to tell me that the dog wants outside. I open the sliding glass door to let the dog out and realize the grill is on fire. I rush out to put out the flames and save what is left of the fish. I plate it on a beautiful serving platter, covering it generously with cheese and bounteous shakes of paprika to camouflage any remaining traces of ash.

That is when we’re back to the fish pushing exercise mentioned previously. I think I need the sympathy card. At least I know where that is.

Recently, I’ve asked 4 young women to my home once a week to go through a Bible study and teach them how to cook. Yesterday, I cubed chicken and vegetables and placed them in an olive oil-lemon marinade for chicken kebabs. I pulled out a watermelon and had my son, Micah go to the store to purchase fresh corn on the cob. He and I set the table with gold silverware and colorful napkins. The ladies arrived and I assigned them various jobs. After the meat was skewered, I asked Tom to grill the kebabs.

We sat down to a feast of fellowship and fine food.

“Did you cook the chicken mom?”

“Yes, why?”

“It’s so good and it’s not over-cooked like you usually do.

“Actually, your father cooked the chicken.” I responded while grinding my teeth.

I looked at  Tom. “That’s because I don’t do 10 things at once,” he said, smiling at me

Let me whisper something to you, Tom “Fish Whisperer.”

 

“I love you.”

 

 

 

4 Comments on "The Fish Whisperer"

  1. Cheryl Koufas says:

    Good morning Pauline:

    I needed a chuckle today! You write from the heart and I can picture myself right there with you! What a talent! Love you, Cheryl

  2. phylton says:

    Thanks, Cheryl! Glad I got a chuckle out of you!

  3. diane gordon says:

    I have eatten at both sides of the hylton plate and I must admit that I have thrown out a few dishes you were going to serve, But no one would be at your house if you weren’t so kind
    to always invite your friends,strangers churchgoers,your neighbors and who ever else you find wondering around needing a meal. You have taught me that you don’t have to have perfect fish just a willing heart. Anyone can cook but inviting people into your home and making them feel welcomed,well, thats an art form many lack my dear friend.

  4. PaulIne Hylton says:

    Thanks, Diane. Although you could have said I’m a marvelous cook! Remember I said people could eat off of my floor. They could find a grape or a chip or even the beginning g of a salad:)

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