Pan-Fried Petrale Sole with Fennel & Capers Cream Sauce

2020 was a helluva year, good riddance. When we look back at this year, I wonder just how clear its lessons will be. The pandemic shook up a lot of our preconceived notions. It exposed us to our frailties. The year underscored the eternal truth that nature always wins.

And while it felt like the longest year to date, we are only 10 months in!

Time remains a paradox. It stands still, akin to those slow lazy days I recall in the summer growing up. Only these days are not lazy, they pack a punch. Over the past months I spent the lengthy days and endless nights fluctuating between working, riding my stationary bike, cooking, moving our furniture around the house and — mostly — writing. Like everyone else, as I started the year I planned to be here, there, and everywhere. Instead, the only direction I traveled was inwards. As someone who was in perpetual motion and going to different places and meeting other people all the time, I adapted to quickly embracing my inner hermit. I was forced to reflect and consider society from a distance. And to be honest, what I saw was not the best of humanity, but that’s another discussion string to pull at another time.

The quarantine has made me ask the two questions that I should have been asking all along: What do I value? And what is worth my time?

As a result, I have a better understanding of who I am not. I know what and who doesn’t matter.

As the pandemic ravages our social fabric, we are seeing businesses take on their digital transformations in a compressed time frame. (We managed to time travel from 2020 to 2025.) Whether we like it or not, we are addicted to it now. I do believe that the change will be lasting. Whether it is ordering groceries online, getting food delivered, contactless commerce, or simply working from home. How much of the change will be permanent? No one knows for sure, but all seem to agree on: the “new normal” shouldn’t be called ‘normal’ at all! We should just call it ‘change’.

Yet, there are those moments, when I walk outside, away from my computer, that the world looks the same. The sun is sharing its light and warmth. It seems like the world I remember. And yet it’s like waking up in a dream to realize that ‘this normal’ is just a figment of my imagination.

As I take stock in this new year, I know that the only way forward is to acknowledge this reality and assess what has changed so far …

The work perspective:

• Zoom is now part of the cultural zeitgeist. It has trained us to think in terms of work on video, which has fundamentally altered our work habits and expectations. I now go to work, on camera for 6-8 hours a day in meetings, and I’ve had to adjust my dislike of being on video.

• If you are like me, always on the go, then the stillness can prove stifling. The days seem longer. It is nearly impossible to tell a Tuesday from Friday, yet Monday remains loud and clear!

• I try not to make every work call, about work, because my mind stagnates if that is all I focus on. I know that instead of the ambitious and often ambiguous idea of productivity, I need to embrace efficiency — especially when it comes to my work. It’s becoming clear that I need to find time to focus on self-care and figure out how to take vacation.

Daily Life

• On my weekends I tend to feel so much more connected when I call someone on the phone, for there is no video to distract, just an expression and sharing of feelings through simple intonations of voice and hearing.

• When I venture out of the house on Saturday to grocery shop, I am shocked as I witness pandemic driving maneuvers. More cars are rushing along the roads, speeding faster, almost as if they could outpace the virus.

• The silence of the lockdown is slowly becoming a distant memory. The isolation has become loud and clear.

In retrospect, we come into 2021 changed in many ways. Perhaps most significantly, the distinctions between our physical and digital worlds have largely disintegrated. We now work and we live online. We may have always been heading this way, but this year, significantly and irreversibly accelerated our pace.

For me (and I hope for you) the year also offered opportunities to pause and reflect on which aspects of that offline world we are willing to fight to preserve. For example, how the environment has benefited from environmental lower impacts. I have learned that the biggest lesson of standing in place (especially during this pandemic) is the importance of listening to the heart’s rhythm, and letting that define what time and life are.

Amidst my deep thoughts and reflections, I continue to enjoy recipe development. I am not blogging as often as I would like in a perfect world because my ‘work’ computer screen time has increased 400% during this pandemic. The need to distance myself from the computer is blocking my hobby.

This is a special recipe that I created a few days after the new year. It was a feat, like assembling pieces of a giant jigsaw, in that I somehow magically had these ingredients that I would have never assembled together and yet together they worked beautifully. Fish and lemon are a great match and when fennel, capers and cream are added it becomes sublime! Serve over slices of crisp pan-fried potatoes for an added texture and flavor treat.

Pan-Fried Fish with Fennel & Capers Cream Sauce

Ingredients

6 small size potatoes sliced thin, lengthwise

1 1/2 pounds fresh petrale sole (a Pacific Flounder) fillets or firm white fish

Salt, to taste

2 TBS extra virgin olive oil

4 green onions, whole (or 3 TBS minced shallots)

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, fronds reserved

2 cloves garlic, crushed or 1 tsp garlic salt

¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted (or 3 TBS capers)

1 lemon, zested

3 TBS lemon juice

½ cup whipping cream

2 TBS, cut into 4 pieces, cold, unsalted butter

small handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

Add oil to a pan and cook potatoes until very crispy and then remove and set aside.

Pat the fish fillets dry with paper towels. There is a lot of moisture in Petrale sole, so you might have to pat them dry twice.

Lightly salt the fillets on both sides.

To brown the fillets on both sides, heat oil and butter in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Once this mixture is bubbling, carefully add the fillets to the pan. Brown the fillets gently on both sides.

Fish is cooked when it flakes easily and is no longer translucent. Sole fillets will cook very quickly, no more than a few minutes on each side. Once done, remove the fillets from pan and place on a warm plate.

In the same pan, cook the green onions, and sauté until soft.

To make the sauce, add white wine to the pan with the onions to deglaze the pan, and scrape up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Add the fennel to the pan and cook until tender. Add the garlic, olives, lemon zest and juice and let it bubble up for 1 minute. Add butter and gently swirl to make a sauce. Add the cream, season and simmer until the sauce has reduced and thickened a little. Add herbs, and squeeze a little lemon juice into the sauce.

Garnish the plate with the reserved fennel fronds and crispy potatoes. Top with the fish and spoon the sauce over the top.

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