fear, inertia & whole fish

In Inspiration
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  • Learn how to cook a whole fish

I can not tell you how many times that line item, verbatim, has appeared on my random lists of things I want to do or try. I enjoy the unrestricted, pregnant-with-possibility mental state that gives birth to lists of this variety so I don’t limit the making of them to New Year’s. A birthday, a change of season, a new frame of mind, a fresh journal, a whim – pretty much any excuse to think about what I “might” do or what I’d “like” to do provides enough motivation for me to jot a list like this down. For years “learn how to cook whole fish” showed up on every single one.

If I’ve wanted to do something as easy and accessible as learning how to cook a whole fish for at least over a decade, and I have the lists to prove that I did, and doing so would not require full-scale acquisition of a whole new competency – I’m already a pretty capable cook, why did it take me years to try?

I chalk it up to my two traveling companions, fear and inertia. Their relentless inner dialog goes something like this:

“What if it’s terrible?”

“How will I know it’s done?”

“I don’t know how to bone a fish.”

“My kids will hate it  . . . and/or they will definitely complain about the bones.”

“It will be a waste of money”

“I don’t have the time or energy to figure out something new tonight . . . “

And so it goes and I choose to make something tried and true, or at least more adjacent to my familiar wheel house. No one is the wiser about my internal debate or my disappointment that, yet again, I’ve played it safe. “Cook whole fish”  continues to feature on my “someday” lists.

Until one day a few years ago I bit. Maybe it was the friendly conversation with my local fish-monger, or the fact that my kids were both old enough to avoid an errant bone or to figure out something else for themselves if they didn’t care for our meal.

It was tasty, it might have had to go back on the grill for more cooking, and it was definitely not elegant the first time. You can’t learn to bone a fish without getting your hands a little dirty, or making a bit of a mess. The more you do it, the better you get. We know this – I certainly know this – but I find it so easy to forget. I made it again, and again. I got better at it.

In time “cook whole fish” shifted from the “things I want to do or try list”  to my son’s special dinner request list, but it never would have happened had I not shut down both fear and inertia by accepting the possibility of a truly minor fail in the grand scheme and a bit of mess.

How many good things do we hold out of our own reach for similar, completely surmountable, reasons?

One night last winter I was prepping an easy weeknight meal, noticed the Branzino on the counter ready for the grill and thought to take a photo of them to lock in the memory of just how easy it can be to shift something from the Want-to-Do’s to the Done column.

What about you? What do you want to try? What’s holding you back?


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