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.
WHOLE PAN-ROASTED BRANZINO WITH ROSEMARY AND LEMON
- 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
- Preheat oven to 425ºF. Place rack in the middle of the oven.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Squeeze remaining lemon over the cooked fish and top with more rosemary, if desired. Serve immediately.
Recipe via Serious Eats.