A pan-roasted branzino to help you survive "California"

A pan roasted-branzino to help you surivive "California" | www.paperplatesblog.com

When I started California, it had been months since I'd completed a book, or even particularly enjoyed one. There was a title I had to read for work in the fall that numbed my love of reading, and I was looking for something to reawaken me. California, in all its drama and disaster and, honestly, ease did that for me.

I was wound up, fascinated, by Cal and Frida, the young married couple that fled a crumbling Los Angeles tied up with hope and fear of a new life in the woods. They ran from what was left of civilization for the other half — by then, the wealthy had moved into private, controlled settlements called Communities — striving to survive but perhaps underestimating what it would mean to be so cut off from modernity.

As they faced new variables that promised to either upend or improve their lives, I followed the decisions they made with concern and some judgment. They often seemed immature, surprising given everything they'd been through. I've heard that a tough life makes a person grow up. Not always, apparently.

But when Frida and Cal eventually chose to approach a nearby settlement that appeared likely to reject them as outsiders, I urged them forward. There was strength in numbers, wasn't there? Over the days that the couple started to assimilate, they were faced with a number of surprises, including the return of a lost but not forgotten figure in both of their lives. And they tried to answer a key question:

What were they willing to sacrifice in terms of individual liberty in order to reap the benefits of joining a governed society?

It's a question I ponder in my own life, in a post-Snowden world in which we're often told that surveillance and restrictions are designed to keep us safe, warm and fed. But how many questionable dealings does our government hide in plain sight, and are they concerning enough to send me off the grid? Cal and Frida swallow their disgust when they see how things get done and so, it seems, do I.

At the end of California, I concluded that life in a not-too-distant dystopian future would require doing things I don't like to do not for personal growth, but for survival. To make it in that scenario, I'd have to face things that make me queasy. I'd have to confront the way things are done, details I often choose to ignore.

Roasting this whole fish was the perfect metaphor for that conclusion. It made me get over the intimidation I felt at handling an entire fish — head, eyeballs and all. And it forced me to acknowledge the animal providing me sustenance and to appreciate its sacrifice. I might have previously been nervous to do that, but not anymore.

A pan roasted-branzino to help you surivive "California" | www.paperplatesblog.com



  • 1 whole branzino or similar fish, scales removed and cleaned
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 lemon, with one half sliced into rounds, and the other half cut into wedges
  • 3-4 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 tablespoons butter


  1. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Place rack in the middle of the oven.
  2. Use paper towels to dry the fish inside and out. Using a sharp knife, score both side of the fish, then season heavily with salt and pepper, also inside and out. Stuff the cavity of the fish with lemon rounds and rosemary.
  3. Heat canola oil in a large cast iron or other ovenproof pan until very hot. Place the fish in the pan and cook for one minute without moving. Use a spoon to baste the fish with oil, making sure to coat the entire fish.
  4. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for about 10 minutes. If desired, move pan to a higher rack and broil for two minutes until skin crisps slightly.
  5. Remove pan from the oven and set on stove. Add butter to the pan. As the butter melts, use a spoon to again baste the fish all over. 
  6. Squeeze remaining lemon over the cooked fish and top with more rosemary, if desired. Serve immediately.

Recipe via Serious Eats.

Amina is the creator of PAPER/PLATES. Keep up with her by following PAPER/PLATES on Twitter and Instagram.

The TBR List: Jan. 8

Great news, everyone: I'm out of my reading rut! I guess it has something to do with the new year and having a fresh start. I just finished California by Edan Lepucki and will have a pairing post for you very soon. I'm excited to get back into the pairing game after a month of gift guides :)

I'm looking forward to a great year, full of interesting books and plenty of lipstick-marked coffee mugs. Here are some of the interesting things I read lately:

- This is what happens when sketch artists draw book characters.

- A short-ish history of the croissant. Dare you not to salivate.

- Fascinating. Did you know that food confiscated in airports is ground up and trashed?

- Heads up: new dietary guidelines. Bye bye, food pyramid.

- Homemade break-and-bake cookies. I need this for the occasional craving.

- I'm surprised by how much I hate the new two-tone Le Creuset line.

- All the ways Shakespeare killed his characters.

- Last but not least, these are the books The Millions' staff is most excited for in the first half of 2016.

Get more Amina by following PAPER/PLATES on Twitter and Instagram.

2015 Gift Guide: Last-minute edible gift ideas

Last-minute edible gift ideas | www.paperplatesblog.com

Well, well, well. Cutting it close, aren't we? To be honest, I don't celebrate Christmas so I don't feel much pressure at the moment, but I did want to offer some fun, affordable, do-it-yourself edible ideas for gifting now or anytime.

We've shared DIY ideas in the past as well. Here's one roundup, and here's another. You could also do some transportable pairings, such as this one for a cookie mix in a jar or this spicy herbed salt mix.

Here are some more fun ideas, for good measure:


Make a big batch of fudge — and for brownie points, try making chocolate, vanilla and peanut butter varieties like this author did. I love that this requires no baking (though you will need a candy thermometer and a large pot), and that you can mix and match the colors to make a beautiful checkerboard gift.


Whip up a slab of almond brittle. If your parents are anything like mine, they love nuts and crunchy, munchy snacks. This almond brittle is fairly indulgent (did someone say "butter and sugar"?), but lasts a long time so they won't feel obligated to eat it all at once. Hand it over in a sweet tin, wrapped in twine.


Create a spice starter kit. Grab some cute, empty spice bottles and fill each with your favorite spices. Skip the red pepper flakes and go for more interesting options such as cardamom, pink peppercorns or five spice powder. And don't forget dried Italian classics such as basil, thyme and oregano!


Stir up some homemade Nutella. Because your best friend deserves the best, choose his or her favorite milk chocolate and get to work grinding it up with hazelnuts and some other special ingredients. This delectable spread should last up to two weeks on the counter, but I bet it'll be gone before the holidays are.


Perk yourself up with some espresso-flavored sugar cubes. You know how fancy coffee shops use coffee ice cubes to cool your drink? Take it a step further with these four-ingredient sugar cubes. If you're feeling nice, you might even choose to share. Go on, you deserve it.

Get more Amina by following PAPER/PLATES on Twitter and Instagram.