A habit of seafood

I wonder why scallops deserted my shopping lists years ago.

In a kitchen drawer lie waiting a set of large shells I used to serve them in.  Bought ’em, gotta use ’em, otherwise waste drawer space, as well as whatever they cost me.  Of course, just seeing them now is pleasant and brings back memories.

There was a time when tiny scallops from Long Island competed in price with the larger ones from New England. But then I read that the little ones were merely the chopped-up big ones brought in at sea. That is, a scallop is actually a tiny piece of the Real Thing. So, maybe the Long Island scallops were the result of a cleaver gone wild? Anyway, the column reminded me that I should buy a few scallops and check my memory.

Growing up in Houlton, I never ate seafood, as opposed to fish, except for shrimp. We had the tiny canned ones with peas in cream sauce on toast. I recall serving that dish to company when I lived on Court Street. Some called it Shrimp Wiggle, which now strikes me funny — they were never going to wiggle again.

In Bangor my future mother-in-law said we would have green shrimp for a traditional New Year’s Eve meal. So I awaited green-colored shrimp, which were pink, of course. Green meant fresh, before they were cooked.

The fish at home had always been haddock fillets, which Ina called fish sticks. She did not cut them into little sticks, however. She did dip them in corn meal before pan frying. Oh, yes, not to forget smelts, the little tiny fish. In 1982, I dipped and cooked them for my friend who was visiting from Paris and he liked them.

It never occurred to me that, left alone in the ocean, they would grow to be big fish. For some time now, on Monday I have eaten a can of the smallest sardines I can buy. Planning meals for the week saves daily decisions, but starting with Sunday I never make it past Wednesday. Sunday is organic chicken from a woman who comes to our farmer’s market. Of course, Saturday tells me baked beans. Even without hot dogs, baked beans for supper mean that God’s in his Heaven and all’s right with the world. I let Friday mean fish and I may count the little smoked oysters as fish. That leaves only Thursday up for grabs, pizza perhaps.

Catholics used to eat fish on Friday and, during Lent at least, on Wednesday as well. I understood it to be part of their religion, but it made sense as being merely convenient. Without ever considering converting, I made it habit. Habits save making decisions and habit tells me to end this here.

Byrna Porter Weir was born and grew up in Houlton, where her parents, Ina and Porter, were portrait photographers. She now lives in Rochester, N.Y.

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