While not a foodie book, per se, I was inspired to create a dish after finishing Monterey Bay by Lindsay Hatton.* First a little background: I call the Monterey Peninsula home...and have, almost continuously, since I was ten years old. Minus five years in Berkeley for college, one year in Italy when I was working Rome (and letting my LSATs expire without telling my parents I no longer wanted to go to law school), and one year in Oklahoma (which we try not to mention).
So when a bunch of friends from high school started a virtual reading group - to read and discuss Monterey Bay - I was in. We gathered copies and dug in.
On the Page...
Perhaps it's my familiarity with the area and the characters - the historical ones anyway - that set my level of expectation too high. I wanted to adore this book. But Hatton's historical fiction is more fiction than history. And, unfortunately, the book did not convey a sense of the Bay, the Aquarium, or the historical figures of Cannery Row. It had potential and her prose is compelling at times, but I craved more.
Temporally, the book jumps back and forth between 1940 and 1998. While it's easy enough to follow, I found myself wondering, "What happened during those fifty-eight years in the middle?" And though Margot went from fifteen to seventy-three, I felt that she didn't emotionally progress beyond her brooding, awkward teenage self.
I longed to enjoy the tidepools and creatures that she drew for Doc. But even those descriptions weren't mesmerizing. They lacked passion and color. Maybe that was intentional and mirrored Margot's dreary disposition. Remember: brooding, awkward teenager.
I was hoping to learn more about the history, actual events, and relationship between John Steinbeck and 'Doc' Ricketts. I wanted to be dazzled. I wanted to fall in love with the area even more deeply than I already am. None of those expectations were met. Sadly. It wasn't bad...but it wasn't great either.
On the Plate...
There were several passages that had me thinking about food - from steak and eggs to calamari rings and anything Italian for the families on Spaghetti Hill. But this passage made me think I should have peeked inside the formaldehyde jug when the kids and I took a tour of Doc Ricketts' lab several years ago!
"I changed my mind about the beer."
"Oh, It's too late, I'm afraid. The last bottle was dispensed with hours ago. But I can certainly offer you some of this."
He brandished the formaldehyde. She took it from him and put it to her lips. The liquid hissed down her throat like a snake.
"What's in there?" she sputtered, wiping her eyes.
"Very expensive tequila. I keep it in the formaldehyde jug to fool the others."
Inspired by that exchange and a bottle of very expensive tequila friends gave my husband for his 40th birthday, I decided to make a tequila-kissed ceviche with the Monterey Bay halibut from our CSF (community-supported fishery) share from Real Good Fish.
- 1 lb halibut, cut into 1" cubes
- 6-8 fresh lemons, juiced (I used Meyer lemons from a tree in my parents' yard)
- 2 to 3 T fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1/2 C fresh tomatoes, cubed
- freshly ground salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 2 T olive oil
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- tortilla chips, for serving
- tequila, for serving to the adults
Place the raw seafood pieces in a glass dish and cover them with lemon juice. The seafood should be completely covered by juice.
Stir in the tomatoes, cilantro, and olive oil. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Serve with chips. For the adults, add a splash of tequila!
Here's what everyone else read in August 2016: here.