On Feminism and Fish Tacos

by Ashley Van Buren
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cookingbarefootMy sister and I were raised in a house with two working parents. When we were younger, our father worked nights while our mother worked days. This schedule left our dad on dinner duty. Luckily, having been raised by a working mother himself, our father already had cooking skills in place. My mother, who didn’t know the difference between olive oil and Karo syrup, wrote a note to my dad’s mom thanking her for teaching him how to cook. My mother claims it was Gloria Steinem’s influence that led her to delegate my dad to kitchen duty, but really it was because he was the only one who knew how to “wear the apron” in the house.

Despite our mother’s feminist take on women in the kitchen, my sister and I happily cook at our stoves, bare-feet and all. I’ll whip up lunches and dinners for friends and family, but Alexandra goes beyond, preparing dinner for her new husband nearly every night. I recently had the opportunity to witness this firsthand when I invited myself (last minute) to their Upper West Side apartment for dinner. When I entered, Alexandra called out from her galley kitchen, “I’m making fish tacos. Go sit down at the table.” I went into the dining room and saw their new table was set with their brand new “everyday” dishware I had purchased for them off their wedding registry. My brother-in-law entered a few moments later and, in between work calls, began to pour a buttery, slightly sweet white wine to accompany the spicy fish tacos.

My sister plated our first course, a crunchy cabbage salad topped with chicken teriyaki and we caught up while her husband excused himself to take a call. “So,” I asked, between bites of her excellent salad, “do you cook for Michael every night?” “Pretty much.” “What do you do the rest of the day?” “I take the dog out, go to the gym, figure out what I’m going to make for dinner, go to Fairway to get the ingredients, prep, cook, and then clean up.” “What does Michael say about this?” “He thinks it’s awesome.” “What do you think about it?” “I like it. What else am I going to do until grad school starts up again?”

fish-tacos-300x199Alexandra was working towards her master’s degree in elementary education. My 26-year-old sister, product of a mother who always told us to “make our own money” and “don’t marry a doctor, BE a doctor” instead found her socio political education in the pages of Food & Wine magazine. Naturally, I judged. That would never happen in my kitchen; equal work, equal pay(off).

But then I tasted the fish tacos.

They were delicious. The perfect balance of flakey white fish that had been dry-rubbed with spices, bursts of citrus flavor, crunchiness from another variation on the cabbage salad, juicy diced tomatoes from a Hamptons farm stand, and enveloped in a warm corn tortilla.

We ate till we were full. And then we ate more. It was at that moment I realized despite my mother’s early protest against the kitchen, my sister is our father’s daughter. And, if she was ok with that, so was I.

“What are you making tomorrow night,” I asked.

“Flank steak with coffee-peppercorn marinade and stuffed peppers. Would you like to join us? ”

How could I say no? She had me by the apron strings.

Grilled Fish Tacos
 (from Eating Well)

•    4 teaspoons chili powder, preferably made with New Mexico or anchochiles
•    2 tablespoons lime juice
•    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
•    1 teaspoon ground cumin
•    1 teaspoon onion powder
•    1 teaspoon garlic powder
•    1 teaspoon salt
•    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
•    2 pounds mahi-mahi or Pacific halibut, 1/2-3/4 inch thick, skinned and cut into 4 portions

•    1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
•    1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
•    2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
•    1 teaspoon lime zest
•    2 tablespoons lime juice -- Alexandra triples this amount
•    1 teaspoon sugar
•    1/8 teaspoon salt
•    Freshly ground pepper to taste
•    3 cups finely shredded red or green cabbage
•    12 corn tortillas, warmed

1.    To prepare fish: Combine chili powder, lime juice, oil, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub adobo rub all over fish. Let stand 20 to 30 minutes for the fish to absorb the flavor.
2.    To prepare coleslaw: Combine sour cream, mayonnaise, cilantro, lime zest, lime juice, sugar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl; mix until smooth and creamy. Add cabbage and toss to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use.
3.    Preheat grill to medium-high.
4.    Oil the grill rack or use a grilling basket. Grill the fish until it is cooked through and easily flakes with a fork, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the fish to a platter and separate into large chunks.

Serves six


Ashley Van Buren is the U.S. Editor for JamieOliver.com and contributes writing to several other .coms.  If you read quickly, you can catch her name in the credits of seven feature films. She also blogs sporadically at thebrow.org."

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