Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Venus Basile & Fish En Papillote

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.

xxoo YM

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.



Molly said...

Poor Venus. I forget sometimes how good I had it in high school. I was hopelessly uncool, but I went to a big enough school that I was able to fly under the radar with much success almost all the time.

I was so good at it, in fact, that when I joined Facebook and started getting Friend invitations from people I went to high school with, I'm usually surprised that these people have any idea who I am at all.

SaintTigerlily said...

This made me cry in my mouth a little. I hate cruel people, especially cruel girls. Especially cruel girl children. I think you and the girls do Venus a great honor.

ntsc said...

I was the little kid in junior confirmation class and regularily got beaten up by the senior class. Often enough, and with the pastor not believing his little angels would do that, that I droped religion for ever.

What stopped it was that between 7 and 9 grades, I became the second biggest kid in the class.

auntjone said...

I hope Venus somehow finds your post and the two of you can reminisce about the bathroom beatings and maybe, just maybe, extract some revenge on the evil bitches.

And did you know there is also a dish called "fish en papillion"? It was a special at our favorite bar a week or so ago. I ordered it and fervently prayed that I wouldn't get a small, furry dog with a piece of fish stuffed up its ass. Or Steve McQueen as a quick Yahoo search reveals he was in the movie with the same name...

Kitchen Kid said...

I think middle school is a rough place anywhere. I don't think I was ever beat-up like you or poor Venus, but each time I raised my hand in class, or dared to match my neon tube sox (yup... tucked into my pegged jeans) to my GAP headband (which I did plenty often), I was hit with plenty of verbal fists and emotional assaults. Perhaps why I never spoke to any of those mean girls after 8th grade...

But about your fish! This is one of my favorite ways to get kids excited about fish in our cooking classes! Kids love to pick out their veggies and make intricate layers inside the paper package. (Some which will certainly resemble the leaning tower of Pisa.) They love wrapping up the fish in its delicate package, tucked away with wonderful veggies, and watching the steam escape when it hits the table. They literally ooh and ahh.

R ita said...

I remember Marlene Shippee well - she even looked mean, but I don't remember Venus Basile. I can relate though. I was in about the 5th grade when I moved from the Bronx to Corinth. You can imagine what a misfit I was with a big, broad Bronx accent. One girl in particular named Elma Centerbar punched me in the face one day - I ran all the way home with a bloody nose. I was scared to death of her! Those were among the most miserable years of my life. I should have stayed in the Bronx, but didn't have much choice then.

lisa said...

Oh my God! I went on vacation to Corinth every year for like a zillion years of my childhood. My family stayed up on a mountain road right outside of town at a beautiful cabin on a lake. My sister actually married a guy there (for awhile). We would go to Stewarts for make your own sundaes and shop at Pearls. My family actually moved to Clifton park from Long Island because my parents loved upstate NY. As a child I loved Corinth and all the Adirondacks had to offer in the summer but I remember a tough local girl who lived across from the cabin we rented who scared the shit out of me. I can see why you escaped--living there year round could not have been easy. Bravo to your parents for exposing you to whatever it was that sparked your love for Broadway and the arts and all that. Not so easy to do in a town like Corinth.

The Yummy Mummy said...

Lisa -

You did NOT shop at Pearls! OMG! I bought a cute little navy blue cardigan from there, but I made my mother swear she would tell everybody we bought it at Barbara Moss at the mall in Glens Falls. And she did!

OMG! It is hilarious to meet someone who recognizes the town. No one recognizes that town. You totally made my day!

You know, that area - in the Adirondacks - is really lovely and we had a camp a little further up North - but I don't think I ever appreciated that I grew up surrounded by these beautiful mountains and wild life.

I went to the butterfly exhibit recently at The Natural History Museum with the girls for like the umpteenth time and I remembered that I use to catch my own catepillars, put them in jars with stalks of milkweed and wait until they became butterflies. My kids can't do that so easily here (Although I hope we can grow some butterflies this spring, but I'll have to order catepillars) Anyway, thanks for reminding me of that.

But yeah, I'm glad I got out...


lisa said...

I thought shopping at Pearls was a huge treat. I still remember a little shorts set I got there. For the most part I am happy with city life for my kids but when my son referred to the diner we stopped at in Elizabeth, NJ on our way to Ikea as "that cute country restaurant" I just about choked. My mother used to give my cousins and I a nickel for each different wild flower we picked while on vacation in Corinth. We would we spend hours in the open fields rolling around, eating berries, and picking flowers. The wonderful thing about Corinth was it was such not a tourist trap--our vacations were full of all this delicious empty time. Great memories!!

Rita said...

Pearls!! Wow - I'd almost forgotten about that store. I don't remember when it closed.

I'm glad you mentioned the beauty of Upstate NY. I've done my share of traveling both in & out of the U.S. & have yet to see anything that surpasses the scenic beauty of this area.
I've met quite a few native New Yorkers who have moved to Corinth and usually see a lot of them who vacation here in the office. (yes Kim, Dr. Pitkin is still going strong & still makes housecalls - can you believe it?) The surprising thing is, when I ask them if they've seen a Broadway show lately, the majority of them state they've never seen a Broadway show!!
I appreciate this area, but at the same time love the fact that I live a mere 3 hr. drive from NYC, which, in my opinion is the greatest city in the world. I go there as often as possible, the last time being in Oct., thanks to you & David for getting us tickets to "Jersey Boys". It was awesome. I also have taken my grandkids numerous times. They now inform me which show they'd like to see next.

Maybe it's not location as much as it is desire and determination???

The Yummy Mummy said...

Rita -

Any way you cut it - you are a city girl at heart. I think you should give it all up and move down here, maybe live in an artist's flat in the Village and see Broadway shows every night of the week.

David's a Tony voter you know, he needs someone to go with him to see shows!

Always great fun to hear from you! Say Hi to Mary!


Anonymous said...

I think that living well is the best revenge. I'm familiar now with some of the more popular girls I knew from my HS class and I tell you, those women- the ones who peaked early and felt like they had the world at their feet- they are some of the most miserable, witchiest women. Those of us- and I include me in those awkward, clumsy memories- have the blessing of finding ourselves later in life where the rewards are sweeter and the view finer. I so can relate to this post.

And the fish looks delicious!!!