Every morning on my walk to work I pass the gardener for The Farnsboro condominium building. He is meticulous; raking every last leaf out from between the hydrangeas, pruning each plant to perfection, arranging mulch like Tibetan monks creating sand mandalas. Everyday we exchange pleasantries, and everyday I secretly wish I could stop and play in the dirt and soak up his green thumb secrets. Despite the summers I spent on the farm, I am not nearly the horticulturist I should be. It’s not that I kill every plant I touch, I just haven’t kept every plant alive.
My dad, on the other hand, was quite the natural. As a kid, he grew mail order roses in grandma’s backyard, testing different varietals and tracking their progress. And when I was very, very young – too young to remember – he kept a kitchen garden in the bed beside the driveway. He started the seeds under heat lamps in the basement, patiently monitoring them until they were ready to be transplanted outside. But by the time I was old enough to remember or care, the vegetable garden was replaced by a sand box and dad was relieved from yard duty.
I have a friend who has created a thriving urban garden on a cement parking pad. There are soft black bins filled with leafy greens, herbs, peppers, cucumbers, and squashes. A wooden frame holds asparagus and strawberries. It’s pretty magical, but not something I would dare to undertake. My windowsill herb garden has been enough of a challenge. My greatest botanical accomplishment is my office spider plant, grown from a clipping from a friend. It was terribly neglected for months at a time, pressed against a window and watered every few weeks. (I should note that spider plants are basically indestructible.) But in its current location, the plant is thriving. I water it regularly, shine a lamp on it in the winter time, and trim dead leaves and shoots. The plant was so happy, it spun out at least six baby spiders that I dutifully clipped and placed in a mug of water. And just when the baby plants started to grow roots and sprout new leaves, I left for vacation. With an eighth of an inch of water in the mug, those poor little buggers didn’t have a chance. Caring for green things takes planning and patience, of which I have none. No patience at all.
Except when it comes to cooking. I will happily spend an hour prepping vegetables, scrubbing, peeling, quarter-inch-dicing. Or twenty minutes pan searing meat before braising it to get that golden char on the outside. (If I had spent half the time in dad’s vegetable garden that I spent in his kitchen, who knows what gardening feats I might have achieved!) Still, some nights, I just want to eat. I want to use one knife and one pan and ten minutes of my time to create a meal for two. This recipe is for those nights. And for those people who approach cooking the way I approach the maintenance of house plants, with great trepidation and little patience.
Flounder and Vegetable Parcels from The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger
6 (5-ounce) frozen flounder fillets (or other white fish fillets)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 (12 by 20-inch) pieces aluminum foil
1 medium zucchini (about 1/2 pound, sliced into thin rounds)
2 small carrots, sliced into thin rounds
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced small (about 1 cup)
3 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup dry white wine or water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
3 cups brown rice, cooked (1 cup dry rice)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Season the fish fillets with the salt and pepper. Place 1 fish fillet at the center of each piece of foil. Evenly distribute the zucchini, carrot, bell pepper, and shallots among the 4 packets. Sprinkle each fillet with 2 tablespoons of the wine and 1/2 tablespoons of the oil. Top each fillet with 3 lemon slices. Seal the packets securely, leaving a little room to allow the fish to steam. Transfer the packets to a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
Stir the parsley into the cooked rice. Divide the rice evenly onto 4 serving plates. Remove the fish packets from the oven and carefully open them. Remove the lemon slices. Serve the fish topped with the vegetables and juices over the rice and garnish with fresh chives.