At the beginning of The Child’s second year of middle school, she unfriended her best friends from the first year, and vice versa; at the beginning of her third year of middle school, she unfriended the group that had replaced the first girls, and was welcomed back to her original table in the lunch room.
I had thankfully been warned by other parents, of older girls, that all of this might happen, so even if none of the social drama made sense to me, I at least was able to roll with it, with a little help from the school’s guidance counselor.
So it was that I found myself sitting in a Starbucks over Christmas break, having coffee with a mom I had barely seen for a year, while our teen daughters giggled and checked their phones at a table next to us, warming themselves after some mitten-free ice skating.
More invitations arrive rapidly, and they are welcomed and accepted: An evening with the moms is infinitely preferable to an evening spent wondering why I’ve received not one reply to any messages I’ve sent on OKCupid. I’m a little surprised by that, but when I wonder out loud, one of the moms suggests I’m on the wrong site. A friend of mine told me all the sites have their own personalities, she says, and she’ll get dozens of messages on one and none on another.
Her comments make sense, but the context does not: I’ve never talked about online dating in a Mom gathering before, unless we are discussing How To Keep Our Daughters Safe From The Internet, which is a rather frequent topic among parents of teenage girls. But suddenly, I am being offered advice, from another mom, and I’m not getting any I Pity The Single Mom undercurrent with the remark, either.
Looking around the room, it makes more sense. There are seven moms, two of us fully divorced, two are separated and nearly divorced, and of the remaining three, one mentions the understanding she has come to that allows her marriage – of a sort – to continue, maybe. I spend a half hour discussing the ugly divorce of a mutual acquaintance with one of the two happily marrieds.
There is nothing happy or satisfying about it, but I am no longer on the sidelines of the moms; I am not only part of the majority, I’ve been divorced so long and, with two divorces under my belt, so frequently, that I’m actually an elder statesman in the group. I offer advice and empathy and maybe even a bit of hope that where they are now is a place they are just visiting.
I visited New York two summers ago, and the more infrequent my visits, the more I realize I am no longer at home there. I don’t know the places to go or remember how to get there anymore, and each trip finds me with fewer people I need to see. It feels sad, but at the same time, it leaves me with more time for the people with whom the ties remain strong, even though it’s been fifteen years since we saw each other on a regular basis. One such dinner – with a restauranteur friend – lingers for hours over small plates at Buvette.
I only remember one of those plates, partly because my friend did most of the ordering, but partly because I was so enthralled with it I kept wishing I could have it again. It was a strange sort of fish paste, with a sharp bite and smooth texture that went perfectly with some simple grilled bread and a glass of wine. It was the sort of thing I never would have ordered for myself; it was a revelation.
I was thrilled when the cookbook – Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food – was published, and even more thrilled to discover it included the recipe for this miraculous fish paste.
As if that wasn’t enough, the dish had a name, and it wasn’t fish paste.
Brandade de Morue. Elegant, no?
This is one of those things that you have to plan ahead: Although salt cod was once a dietary staple, these days, it’s pretty hard to find, and comes at a price when you do. (I found it in the freezer section of our local organic supermarket.) The good news is that the recipe doesn’t actually use that much, and salt cod keeps for quite a long time in the freezer.
You will have to soak the fish for three days before you make the recipe, so you need to allow time for that, too.
After that, though, there is nothing hard or fussy about it: chop, simmer, and blend. The recipe instructions said to beat the fish and potato mixture until smooth with a wooden spoon, which sounds very authentic but didn’t actually work for me, but an immersion blender did the job.
It tasted exactly as I remembered, fishy and garlicky and smooth and sensual. The Child wanted no part of it, but the moms seemed to enjoy it very much, especially with a topping of capers – which gives a very different but also very delightful effect.
- ¼ lb salt cod, skin removed
- ½ cup milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 large Idaho potato, peeled and chopped
- ½ cup olive oil
- Toasted bread or crackers for serving
- Soak the salt cod in a bowl of water in the refrigerator for three days, changing water several times. Drain and dry the fish and cut into small pieces.
- Combine the milk, cream, garlic and potato in a pot and simmer over medium heat until the potato is tender, about 15 minutes. Add the fish and continue cooking until it too is tender, about 15 minutes more.
- Remove and reserve liquid, up to a cup. (You may not have much liquid, so simply remove the excess with a spoon and set it aside). Stir the potato, garlic, and fish with a spoon, adding the olive oil in a thin stream, until the mixture is almost smooth. If mixture seems too thick, add back some of the cooking liquid as needed. (If you are having difficulty breaking up the pieces of fish, use an immersion blender to complete this step.)
- Serve warm with toasted bread or crackers; a dish of capers alongside are a wonderful twist.