I went to a very rough school.
It was in a small town in upstate New York, called Corinth. It was home to one traffic light, a paper mill, two gas stations, two markets, a bunch of dive bars and a funeral home. If it was fall, there was always deer hanging in garages all over town and apparently someone gave us the title of "Snowshoe Capitol of the World", which basically meant we got a lot of snow.
There were 86 kids in my class. It was a small school, but a tough one. There weren't a lot of places to hide. I used to get the crap kicked out of me on a regular basis at my school - Marlene Shippie hit me in the face while wearing her boyfriend's class ring and gave me a black eye and my parents had her arrested. (Having a classmate arrested really ups your cool factor.) The "Let's Beat Up Kim Game" was on. Marlene and her gang of giant girls did things like stand outside my bedroom window and taunt me and threaten to dismember me and then, they'd wait for me while I was walking home and follow me home, talking about me like I wasn't there.
Marlene wasn't the only one. Carol Plummer, Thawn Baker, they all kicked my butt. Carol also had the distinction of dating the boy I was madly in love with, so she had a special place in my heart. She could beat me up and then, smile at me sweetly while she heavy-petted the love of my life in the hallway.
I was beaten up mostly in gym class, where I spent most of my time wishing I would get my period and then, when I had my period, wishing people couldn't see my big thick super maxi pads hanging out of my orange gym shorts. Needless to say, the gym was a place I was very vulnerable. I hated gym the most.
But I was not the only kid who got beat up. In fact, I was just a fun diversion. There were other girls who were the main attraction. Venus Basile was one. Venus, who had the terrible distinction of having a name that wasn't Mary or Margaret or Maxine or anything even remotely familiar to us, was also not pretty or tall or well-dressed or coordinated or smart or charismatic or thin or pale white or even without glasses. And her voice was sort of nasally and high-pitched.
As I remember her in 5th grade, she was unique and a mess and everything we hoped we wouldn't be. And she paid the price for it. She got cornered in bathrooms by girl giants and called cruel names until she cried or a teacher rescued her, but sometimes she would fight. It wasn't pretty - she would do this crazy, flapping thing with her hands, like a dog paddling wildly in the deep end as it was drowning. The giant girls found it so funny. They loved getting her worked up so she would do it over and over again. Then, they would sit back and watch her flail around the bathroom trying to connect her fists to a person.
I can still smell the bathroom, industrial soap and urine cakes.
I had forgotten all of this. Until the other day, Lucy and Edie were tumbling around and laughing and kind of flapping their hands at each other, play fighting and I said, "OMG! That's just like Venus Basile!" It came out of some old, dusty fold in my brain.
Well, they loved this Venus Basile thing. I'm not sure what it was about her name , how it is nearly like poetry, but now, everyday they say, "Let's do Venus Basile" and then they flap their hands at each other and fall down laughing. Lucy asked me yesterday if Venus could come to our house. She thinks she might be a princess. Apparently, she likes to wear pink and crowns. David told me tonight they made up a song about Venus.
"Who is Venus Basile?" He had no idea what they were talking about.
Here's what I hope - that somewhere in the world, Venus Basile had the last laugh. I hope she has a really happy life. I hope she has kids and a great partner and a career that fulfills her and that she is loved and healthy and feels cherished everyday of her life. I hope she has gotten the ultimate retribution. God knows, I have.
What I know is that I don't remember the giant girls, but I do remember Venus. Still to this day. Some 30 odd years after the fact, I could still pull her image right out of my head. And that's sayin' something.
I'm going to think of her every time my kids do a Venus Basile. I think she might actually be a princess.
So, I give you a recipe that is gentle and kind and simple and I dedicate it to Venus Basile...It is Fish En Papillote.
Sounds exotic, like Venus, but really this is just fish and vegetables tightly sealed in either parchment paper or foil. The fish and the vegetables gently steam in the little pouches and come out succulent, moist and without a spot of mess. This is a great week night meal, especially if you can make the pouches ahead, pop them in the fridge and then get them in the oven 20 minutes before you sit down for dinner.
My favorite thing about this dish is that the kid's love opening their own pouches and seeing what's inside, like a little gift. They always eat all their fish and most of the vegetables when we serve these. I like that there is almost no mess. I did this one in aluminum foil, which is as good as paper (although not as sexy), and you can use many different kinds of white, flaky fish - cod, halibut, flounder, catfish, haddock, snapper and sea bass are all fine. I use basically whatever vegetables I have in the hopper.
Venus Basile's Fish Baked in Foil With Vegetables
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 medium leeks, cut into matchsticks
A handful of broccoli, cut into florets
12 small cherry tomatoes
2 medium stalks of celery, cut into matchsticks
4 tbsp. olive oil
4 tbsp dry white wine
4 skinless fish fillets
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 lemon cut into wedges
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press
1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
Table salt and ground black pepper
2 tbsp minced fresh parsley leaves
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Cut four large sheets of foil. Divide vegetable mixture among foil sheets, mounding in center. Pour wine and a drizzle of oil over mound of vegetables. Season with salt and pepper.
Pat fish dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper and place one fillet on top of each vegetable mound. Squirt a little lemon juice over the fish and vegetables, season with thyme and put pat of butter on top of fillet. Throw a few of the lemon wedges right on top of the fillet and crimp edges of foil together to form a tight seal and forming a pouch. Place pouches on rimmed baking sheet.
Bake pouches 15 minutes. When done, open them carefully as the steam will escape. Use a thin metal spatula and gently slide fish and vegetables onto plate with any accumulated juices and sprinkle with parsley. Or serve the pouches closed and let the kids open them, squeeze their own lemons and sprinkle parsley over the top. Serves 4.