Ash Wednesday has come and gone and today is the first Friday of the Lenten season. This is the roughly forty day period where we Catholics are to re-orient ourselves through a focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Part of the observance of Lent is the Friday abstinence from meat. Worthy things all. But I have this recurring problem. I. Don’t. Like. Fish.
I have never liked fish. Why? I have no idea. Except that here in the heart of the Midwestern US, is there any reason to like fish?
Perhaps if I lived in Boston or Ft. Lauderdale or Honolulu I would have been raised on delicious fresh-caught seafood that would tickle me with delight. But I did not. I grew up in Indiana, where fresh, life-giving pork tenderloins and sirloin steaks are only as far away as the nearest butcher shop or farmer’s market. Which we should call Landfood shops, by the way.
Seafood, on the other hand, has to come from somewhere with, you know, a sea. Which means that it gets caught, then brought ashore in some east or west or gulf or Alaskan coast harbor. Then it gets cut up, boxed up and loaded in cold trucks and driven out here to the middle of the continent. Which takes, what, three days before it even makes it into a retail display case? Which is coincidentally about the same interval of time at which I begin to suspiciously eye the leftovers in my own refrigerator.
And does anyone really believe that the folks who live where the fish are caught take the crummy ones, leaving the really prime examples for those of us in the hinterlands? Didn’t think so. Besides, why would I want to eat something sold by someone who is called a monger. I think those guys handle hate too, which should never be mixed in with your food.
But none of this seems to matter to my Catholic family and friends. The Friday Night Fish Fry is a staple at every local parish basement or K of C hall and fish dinner specials are on the menu of every restaurant. Yum.
Then there are the home-cooked meals. I would really like to think that we as a society have progressed beyond the need to consume tuna casseroles. I am no stranger to eating things from boxes and cans, but the line must be drawn somewhere. I will concede that canned tuna is at least one way for me to get fish that is just as fresh as in the dusty cans on the shelf in San Diego.
So, you ask, how do I manage to survive Lent? The answer is – cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. Cheese pizza, cheese sticks, cheese quesadillas, macaroni & cheese and the good old grilled cheese sandwich. I suspect that the good dairy farmers of Wisconsin get a little fiscal bump from Yours Truly every time about this year. You’re welcome.
There is also the humble tomato. Spaghetti with tomato sauce and tomato soup are the time-tested ways to keep from over-cheesing myself. Gourmet dining it is not, but Lenten beggars cannot be choosers.
I will also say that I can deal with shrimp which has been my last resort many a time. Have you ever thought about what a wonderful gift Heinz Cocktail Sauce is to humanity? Or better yet, the stuff from a local steakhouse that has enough horseradish in it to make you forget anything that might be under it.
I can just hear the occasional vegan reader snorting with disgust at my inability to do meatless in the proper way with tofu and sprouts and various healthful legumes. I am not against the occasional bean or vegetable (though they are always better with bacon) but tofu is simply . . . well . . . if you can’t say anything nice, . . . .
The one bright spot to my meat-free Friday dilemma is that Easter rates a much bigger celebration in my book than it gets from most of my mackerel-snapping co-religionists. The traditional trappings of Easter Sunday make for a great day (not to mention the religious angle, which is itself no small thing.) But for me, the following Friday is when things really hit home. You can have your chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps for Easter. I will relish a Friday evening with the choice of every edible thing that dry land has to offer.