Fatherly lesson: Savor the rockfish if not the football


It was an all-guy evening. The plan was that I would cook supper for my sons, 12 and 8 years old, and then we would watch TV reports telling us whether Baltimore was going to get an invitation to re-enter the National Football League.

In case the news from the Chicago meeting of NFL owners was bad, supper had to be good. Geography appeared to be working against Baltimore at the negotiating table. Reports said the owners wanted a Midwestern city. I figured it was time to make geography work for us at the supper table. It was time to buck up the regional pride, to eat something that nobody in St. Louis, or Memphis, or Charlotte, or Jacksonville could get their hands on -- a fresh, wild rockfish.

I went over to Faidley's seafood stand in the Lexington Market and bought a big, "God-made" rockfish. It was called that to distinguish it from the "man-made" version of the fish that is raised year-round on fish farms. "God-made" rockfish, or striped bass, is caught in the Chesapeake Bay only a few times of the year, and now is one of them.

I bought a whopper. When I got home and the 12-year-old saw me toting a big sack with "Lexington Market" on it, he got excited. "Great!" the kid said. "Did you get fried chicken from the market?"

"This is rockfish," I told him, "a treat they can't get in St. Louis or any of those other cities that want a football team."

"I would rather have a football team," he said, and snapped on the small counter-top television, to listen to a report on how things were going on the football front.

Undeterred, I began to prepare the rockfish, rubbing it with a mixture of a quarter cup of olive oil, two tablespoons of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. The big fish would be more than enough food for the kids and me.

My wife was away on a business trip. That was another reason I wanted to make this good, home-cooked meal. It would be a counterbalance to the kind of meals the kids and I had been eating on the previous nights. On the first night Mom was out of town, we ate cheeseburgers and played pool. The guys liked that so much, the next night they wanted to go back to the neighborhood eatery, the Irish Pub, for more burgers and pool. I said no. I wanted my kids to eat a varied diet. So the next night, we ate pizza.

The third night was rockfish night. I covered the fish with bread crumbs and put it under the oven broiler for 15 or so minutes until the meat was flaky, then I summoned the tribe to the table.

The 8-year-old reported he liked catching fish, but not eating them. After a few bites of rockfish he requested his old standbys, Rice Krispies and raw carrots. The 12-year-old liked the fish, especially the skin. But he said it needed more "more umph."

"This fish is famous all over the world for its delicate flavor," I told him. "People run over each other in powerboats chasing after this fish."

"It needs umph," he repeated. So I gave him some soy sauce to try on the rockfish. He tasted the combination and rejected it. Then I gave him some salsa to try on rockfish. He didn't like that, either. Then I pointed him toward the naked fish, and told him the experiments were over because I wanted to sit down and eat.

And eat I did, savoring the rockfish's crisp skin and delicate lump meat. I ate about half the 3-pound fish. As I feasted, the kids bounced out of their chairs, snapping on the television, to check "the situation."

The television was snapped on and off all night long. It went on after the math homework was finished, and when nothing promising was heard, it went off. It went back on after a mock science quiz on the parts of the tree was completed. There was not much news in the TV reports, but there was lots of emotion. And the mood swings, from elation at the possibility of being accepted to anger at the possibility of being rejected, were easy to latch onto.

For dessert, I demonstrated the art of milkshake making. "The mark of a properly made milkshake," I told the kids, "is that it should be thick enough to support a straw."

We downed our shakes, more comfort food on an uncomfortable night, and headed up to bed. I was telling the 8-year-old a bedtime story when his big brother came in with a report that Baltimore had not been given a football franchise but that another meeting of the NFL owners was going to be held next month.

It was bitter news, and the 12-year-old thought it was very unfair. But that is life, I told him. You gotta roll with the punches, and savor the rockfish.

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