5.22.2012

Lip-Face, Mr. California & The Shad Roe.



I’ve never had a cavity. Never until a couple of weeks ago, that is. I only go to one dentist and that’s my dentist back in Richmond. Other than Dr. Fitzugh, who passed away when I was a little girl, Dr. Wade has been my only dentist. And Dr. Wade actually took over Dr. Fitzhugh’s practice. Everything stayed the same. Even the mobiles hanging from the ceiling. And Myrtle, the receptionist. I love Myrtle.

Okay, so I have tried other dentists here in LA. I have tried exactly two and it has been a mess each time. The two dentists wanted to sell and sell and sell. Like used car salesmen. And though nothing has been wrong with my teeth, they have made me feel like I have a mouthful of disaster. The first guy suggested bleaching and veneers. I was only going for a cleaning. The last guy I tried noticed the little chip in my front tooth caused by an over excited dog that was eager to get leashed for a walk. She accidentally made the metal part of the leash flip up and whack me in the tooth. TINY chip. Dr. LA decided to bond it. Within less than two weeks the bonding came off. And, as it turned out, my insurance didn’t cover any of it anyway.

So on my very recent visit back home I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Wade for a cleaning. I discovered he had moved his practice a few blocks west and Myrtle has retired.

I also discovered I had a cavity.

Dr. Wade told me he thought it best we deal with it right then and there. Then Dr. Wade showed me the needle that was about to go into my mouth. Then I cried. I rarely cry, and I cried like a little kid. He even had to play a little kid game with me to distract me from the actual moment the syringe was to make contact. And, Dr. Wade had to administer two injections to fully numb the area.

The Needle.

And so, with my hands clenched into little fists so tight my knuckles were stark white, I got my first filling. That whole part only took about fifteen minutes but it seemed like hours.

As I was leaving the office Dr. Wade told me to use caution when eating as the left side of my face was numb. I felt as though we had been through so much together that I gave him a big, emotional hug. As though we just survived a battle, shoulder to shoulder.

Then I drove back to the house to meet up with Dad and Fred. We were going bike riding along the James River. But not before we stopped off at Coppola’s Deli to pick up a bunch of Italian subs and chips and stuff: lunch. Coppola’s was actually was my first job from back in high school. Really great sandwiches.

We parked at Pony Pasture (a spot on the river where we all spent a good deal of time at when we were kids: also known as The Redneck Riviera), unloaded the bikes and settled onto a huge rock to eat lunch. I was famished and really excited about my sandwich – it was the same one always ordered: The Honey Turkey (honey roasted turkey breast, grilled with onions, sweet and hot peppers, smothered with Swiss cheese on a freshly baked French Roll with leaf lettuce, tomatoes and Dijon).

About halfway through my enthusiastic romp through Sandwich Town, my dad looked up at me with a perplexed expression and said, “Elliott, um… you have blood running down your chin.”

Now, I have bitten my lip before – we all have. But what I did that day was kind of amazing. Without realizing it I was eating my face. It was so gross that it was comical. It was very extreme looking. It took over a week to heal completely.

But at least it didn’t hurt. Yet.

This was right after. It continued to grow throughout the day.
That and the bike helmet made me look like a viable short bus candidate.

We went on with our bike ride, which was beautiful save for the comments from the Peanut Gallery about my lip-face.

The remainder of the day was very relaxing as the pain began to set in. A pain that perfectly illustrated the gravity of what I had done to myself. We wandered around the Virginia Museum, which lives right across the street from my house, and then, while Dad took a nap, Fred and I went on an early evening walk to collect ingredients for dinner.


By the time we got back I was pretty worn out. I assembled a cheese plate with white anchovies in olive oil and Billy Bread that we picked up at the Belmont Butchery and joined Dad out on the back deck. We sipped some wine while Fred got to flexing in the kitchen. He wanted to play with this stuff Dad had in the fridge that he had never heard of before: shad roe.

It was a ridiculously perfect late-Spring, Richmond evening: warm, humid, almost sultry but for the light breeze coming through the 2834658 year old tree that shelters the yard, fireflies, cicadas, orange-y, warm, waning light. Jazz. Cheese. Wine. Dad.


And right as the sun was almost gone completely, Fred came out with our dinner, all plated and everything. And what did this Native Californian, who had never set foot in the South before, much less cooked there, feed us all for dinner that night? All on his own, armed with his smart phone for help, Fred prepared us a decidedly Southern and very much in-season-right-now delicacy; shad roe. And, Dad and I agreed wholeheartedly, he did a damn fine job.

Perhaps Fred is a Southern boy at heart. Heck, you should have see how happy he was to encounter his first honeysuckle and his first firefly in the same night!

My lip was still massive, but the comedy of it all, the absurdity, made it an instant cult hit in the antectdotal department. I had a new story. And I know I will tell it often.

What an incredible day.


* It’s hard to go wrong with roe. Sturgeon eggs make delicious black caviar. Salmon eggs, meanwhile, make sumptuous red caviar. Cod roe is the stuff of excellent taramosalata and tuna roe of fantastic botarga.

Shad roe, however, is especially savory — if for no other reason than because it’s so rare. While one can usually enjoy caviar or cod roe year-round, the shad roe season is short. Really short, in fact, as it typically lasts just a few months, from March until May, while the shad are making their run as far south as the Chesapeake Bay and as far north as southern New England.

Shad are one fish where the eggs are valued more than the fish itself. Shad roe is vaguely fishy, but not overpoweringly so, and the texture is similar to a good meatball -- soft yet meaty. Shad roe cooked in bacon fat, served with lemon and a fresh spring herb is the classic way to cook this delicacy, which only comes around in late spring. The keys to this dish are very fresh roe, very good bacon and a zingy herb to accompany it.


 Classic Shad Roe with Bacon & Fresh Herbs
(recipe adapted from Hank Shaw)

Ingredients
4-6 lobes of shad roe
1 tablespoon. salt
2 cups cold water
6-10 pieces of smoky, thick-cut bacon
Flour for dusting
1 lemon, quartered
Fresh herbs such as chervil, fennel or parsley to garnish

Directions
Mix the salt and water until it's dissolved. Submerge the roe in the brine in refrigerator overnight.

Cook the bacon in skillet until crispy, then set aside to drain. Keep skillet.

Meanwhile, flour, salt & pepper the roe and set aside while bacon cooks.

In the same skillet, turn the heat to medium-high and cook the shad roe for 1 minute. Turn the heat down to medium, then cook for another 2-3 minutes, until golden. Turn and cook the other side for 2-3 minutes. Careful not to overcook as the roe can become quite chalky.

To serve, arrange the roe on a plate, place the fresh herbs on the crumbles of bacon on top. Serve with a lemon wedge.


NOTE: If possible, begin dish a day ahead to brine the roe.





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