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the art of surrender

It’s not as I expected…but just as I expected.

I expected hordes of people passing through our house. I knew the messes were inevitable. I knew that clouds of dust would find their way into small hidden spaces and loud noises would ring throughout the day. I knew that keeping our dogs smiling would require extra love. I knew too that without a kitchen, life would be interesting. I was ready for all that, and even my husband would attest that I’ve been quite the good sport through all most of it. But I imagined  that I could cook and I could then post what we ate for dinner. How hard could that be?


As you’ve noticed, I’ve gone silent.

It’s not from lack of intention or interest. Life – moving throughout the day – just takes far more of me during this remodel than I ever imagined. It’s been good, but it’s been complicated. It’s been fun, but it’s been challenging. It’s been exhilarating and occasionally it’s been exhausting.

I used to read in the mornings, but reading has stopped. I exercised often. That was then. I corresponded with friends and family. Now it’s howdy waves in passing or texts with lots of code talk. Leaving all rhythms behind can be frustrating, and all the more so the tighter we hold.

I knew that no matter what I expected, I would be surprised. Expecting to be surprised makes surrendering to the inevitable far easier though, don’t you think?

We’re about half way through…or so we imagine. But of course we don’t know. We humans think we know a great deal and frequently we’re mistaken about that. There will be more surprises for us. (And for you.) May we find our way to be graceful through them.

Our kitchen is nearly done. Dribs and drabs remain. But we have water now, and heat to cook with. Our food is now within reach, and pots are bubbling on the stove. Spree is stirring. And though it’s Wednesday, and you might have expected vegetables (because I did lead you to that belief didn’t I?) ~ here is the smallest of offerings.

~ ~ ~

Halibut Fillets & Ribbons of Vegetables

in little paper packages

~ ~ ~

(And already another surprise…I just this very moment, we’re talking real time here, went to locate the images I’d shot of this sweet little dinner. It appears that I’ve erased them from my card …before uploading them to my computer. So – I’ll be back to fill in the images as it looks like our house may be enjoying this dish again on Saturday. 🙂 What are you gonna do? So in the meantime, would you be so kind as to imagine a light and very tender piece of halibut nestled in a parchment package, overlaid with colorful ribbons of zucchini & carrot & fennel & red pepper & peas, all brightened by wheels of lemon, bits of ginger & sprigs of cilantro? You’re a dear!)

Days later – OK friends – even though you’ve gone to all the trouble to conjure  this dish, we’ve enjoyed the dinner again and I’ve now got the photos for you. 

You might like this with a loaf of crusty bread, wrapped in aluminum foil and put in the same oven for about 10 minutes. Or maybe boiled or roasted new potatoes, or maybe basmati rice (or that delicious Forbidden Rice, as we did.) 

 Halibut & Ribbons of Vegetables in Papillote

for 4 servings

  • 1 zucchini, sliced into ribbons or shoestrings
  • 1 carrot, again, as with your zucchini
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 handful fresh snow peas or sugar peas in their pods, thinly sliced
  • 1 small fennel bulb (tough outer layer removed) sliced thinly
  • fresh ginger root – the thickness of your thumb x 1-inch, cut into very thin matchsticks
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt & freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • 2 Meyer lemons, 1 grated & juiced, the other cut into thin wheels
  • 4 halibut fillets, about 6 to 8 ounces each (170 – 225 g) (or another mild fish of your choice)
  • Olive oil for drizzling

Preheat the oven (or toaster oven if you’re camping out indoors or feeding only 2) to 420°F (215°C).  Cut parchment paper into 14 to 16-inch square pieces.

In a large bowl mix the vegetables along with spices and herbs, and salt and paper. Remove the zest from one lemon, and cut the other into thin rounds. Set these aside as you prepare the fish.

Rinse the halibut quickly in cold water then pat dry with paper towels. Place one of the parchment paper squares on your work surface and brush with olive oil. Make a bed of approximately one-eighth of the vegetables in the center of the paper, then place the fish skin-side up into the middle of the nest of vegetables. Drizzle with lemon juice & sprinkle with zest. Lay another layer of vegetables on top, add 2 or 3 rounds of lemon, salt & pepper, a sprig each of parsley and cilantro if you like, and then drizzle with olive oil. Create a little package – draw 2 sides up to meet each other, fold them down several times being sure allow enough room in the papillote for fish and vegetables to “breathe” and for steam to puff up the package. Tie the ends with kitchen string or create a tight couple folds to seal the ends. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and repeat with the other papillotes. Place in preheated oven.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the fish is firm to the touch. When done, place the packages as they are on a plate (or, if you prefer, unpack them.)

For a printer-friendly version, click here.

43 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kelly Loggan #

    Hi Ani Love!

    What a lovely way to write about “absolute chaos”! Well done and I love the photo of the tool belt hanging there in the wall, I presume. Nice!

    Getting ready to go to La Grande next week for Karmy’s graduation ceremony…whew…she made it to the top of her personal “Everest” and we’re all gonna put the flag in the ground on the summit with her! YEAH!

    Much love to you and much to do for me per usual…Lots going on but wanted to send you some love.



    June 6, 2012
    • Kelly, I gotta say, tools hold quite an allure for me. Somethin’ about those tool belts! Such a big congratulations to Karmyn! Wahoo!! Best of luck for all that lies ahead Kell! xoxo

      June 6, 2012
  2. Even amid the dismantling of your human rhythms, there is still (at least) one constant: Your photos depict the tranquil beauty of everyday objects. So, while I can imagine all the hubbub, your pics still convince me that there is stillness around any corner…EXQUISITE soapstone!!…The halibut pouches look delectable! I think you found an adequate disguise to make us eat our vegetables. 🙂

    June 6, 2012
    • There always IS peace around the corner, isn’t there C? And yes, soapstone IS pretty dreamy! I can barely keep my hands off it. 🙂

      June 6, 2012
  3. Darlyn #

    The addition of 3 feet to our deck is still in progress. Waiting for dry weather and “being in town” on the weekend. Hmmm, well we won’t be remodeling our kitchen soon. I can hardly imagine what it is like to be without a kitchen for so long, but have noticed and missed
    your absence.

    June 6, 2012
    • I had a make-shift kitchen – it was very much like camping – and not at all bad, just more complicated without water and refrigerator nearby. Good luck with finding good weather for those 3 extra feet on your deck! Won’t it be nice!

      June 6, 2012
  4. Mama, how I loved this post, your photos and your observations about expecting not to know what to expect. You’ve braved this season with aplomb (that may be the first time I’ve ever typed that word, but it seems fitting), honesty and grace. It was lovely to view in person the progress and the gorgeous kitchen very nearly finished afters. xoxo

    June 6, 2012
    • ahh, thank you so much Ashley! Haven’t handled it with quite the ‘aplomb’ I’d hoped but the whole experience is teaching me quite a lot! And I’ve had many mini lessons through this process on expecting to be surprised by the unexpected! It seems we can always count on getting precisely the “opportunities” we need to learn what we need to learn, eh? 🙂 xo

      June 7, 2012
  5. This sounds like a delightful spring dinner. I’ll look forward to the photos.

    June 6, 2012
    • Has a very carefree Springtime feel about it! Photos by the week’s end. 🙂

      June 7, 2012
  6. Delicious recipe. Food en papillote looks and tastes good. It’s also very photogenic:)

    June 7, 2012
    • I love food that knows how to strike a pose for the camera, don’t you? 🙂

      June 7, 2012
  7. It is easy to imagine this dish as you described it lovely. Love the antique teapot by the way.

    June 7, 2012
    • Isn’t the teapot a pretty thing? Comes from the mother of a very dear friend of mine, so it’s doubly dear to me!

      June 7, 2012
  8. I can totally imagine how beautiful your picture is with the ingredients in this dish. You have been a busy girl. Take Care, BAM

    June 7, 2012
    • YOU are being a busy girl, gallivanting about the Italian countryside, eating your way through Tuscany, and still managing to keep up with your blog! Buono ventura! (I think they might say it something like that.) 🙂

      June 7, 2012
  9. I hope you post a few pics of your new cucina when complete. 😉 sounds amazing!

    June 7, 2012
    • Well, Lesley, naturally “I” love it and think it’s a wondrous place to play with food. You’ll probably see glimpses of it here and there 🙂 and thank you so much for asking to! xo

      June 7, 2012
  10. Sounds like you are coping amazingly well despite the cahos all around. And I´m imagining this beautiful dish and it´s making me feel very hungry!

    June 7, 2012
    • I set my mind to trying to view this as an adventure with a beautiful destination – trying not to see it so much as my home being invaded & deconstructed as a place where exciting things are happening all the time. A goal I’ve fallen short of, collapsing in a puddle of tears a couple times – but mostly, honestly, it’s been pretty fun! Glad to have made you hungry! 🙂

      June 7, 2012
      • Well done you for your approach, and when it´s all over you´ll be so happy!

        June 8, 2012
  11. Cooking fish en papillote is a great way to create a flavorful meal. Sounds like you’ll be returning to La Cucina di Spree relatively quickly. YAY! We’ve missed you.

    June 7, 2012
    • I agree! Such an easy way to infuse good flavors into fish in a short time – and the fish always is always left succulent! Thank you for your kind words John. I SURE have missed all of you!!

      June 7, 2012
  12. Yummy!! (I just imagined it 😉 )

    June 7, 2012
  13. Val #

    I can imagine it, Spree. As well as being a great photographer, you paint a pretty good picture too!

    June 7, 2012
    • I just gave you the paints Val – YOU painted the picture! Good job! 🙂

      June 7, 2012
  14. Don #

    Knowing you Spree, I imagine that some more than just passable treats have come out of your, “make-shift kitchen” and I look forward to more deliciousness from this era- perhaps something to do with a Dutch oven?
    May you look back upon this time as one of the most special times in your life!

    June 7, 2012
    • Kind of you, Don, thank you!! We actually Haven’t eaten badly, but never did once employ our Dutch oven – it was neatly packed away. The grill came in handy though, and there were lots of good salads – and smoothies – for many a breakfast the blender saved the day!
      As for your lovely wish – may it be so – it’s been a real adventure and it’s been so wonderful seeing things dreamed of take form! Thanks again! xo

      June 7, 2012
  15. winsomebella #

    I recently experienced that very dark moment in life known as the beginning of the reno but finally made it to the far side, that very beautiful moment called “it’s done!”. Here’s to brighter days ahead 🙂

    June 7, 2012
    • That “very dark moment in life” – you caught me smiling. 🙂 Thanks for that!

      June 12, 2012
  16. I’m really looking forward to see your photos 🙂

    June 7, 2012
  17. I can imagine the meal, the bonus is that you get to eat it so soon.
    Spree, I know what life during renovation works is like, and I think you are doing marvellously, I really do.
    One last thing I ADORE the tea pot 🙂

    June 8, 2012
    • I kid you not Claire, your words did brighten my day! 🙂 (And the teapot, I adore it too!)

      June 12, 2012
  18. I can picture it. All of it. And the view is perfectly lovely…

    June 8, 2012
    • You sweet Movita you! Merci!

      June 12, 2012
  19. You must be in the sprint to the finish line now? This gets to be the fun part (spoken with some experience here) where the pretty stuff starts coming in and getting assembled! Cooking fish in parchment was one of my favorite discoveries.. no mess to clean up:) I can’t wait to try this one, we’re big fans of halibut here! So glad to be back xoxoxo Smidge
    ps that belt.. makes me wonder about the guy wearing it?? I think you should post those pictures too;)

    June 9, 2012
    • Smidge – well, though I’d love to call it a sprint to the finish line, I can’t (if I must be honest and not just sunny-good-natured.) We’re nearly done with our kitchen though – and I do love it! – but two bathrooms are in progress so there’s still quite a bit of foot traffic, lots of dust in the air plastic hanging from ceilings, and brown paper pathways. Another 3 weeks or so and we’ll be there I think!
      ps – that belt – handsome isn’t it? our dear Melissa owns it. 🙂

      June 12, 2012
  20. ‘Glad to have you back. I’ve been thinking of you and your wonderful recipes that I have adopted and shared. Your name is probably circling the globe by now!

    Good luck with the reconstruction. I hope everyone comes when they are supposed to, does good work and leaves your home immaculate.

    June 10, 2012
    • Ronnie – You’re very kind! Thank you SO much for your sweet words and wishes!

      June 12, 2012
  21. Nice recipe. I’d like to try it with Arctic Char…

    June 11, 2012
    • Well, I think you should, and then I think you should let me know if you loved it! 🙂

      June 12, 2012

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