There is a school of thought that says we cannot change our basic selves, that who we are intrinsically is who we have to be, give or take a few small choices, that someone like me will always be someone like me, maybe with different circumstances or friends or hairstyles, but always the same me deep down. Do you think that?
I’m not sure. To be totally honest with you, I don’t want to think that. I want to believe I can change—or rather, that I can be changed—and I want to believe that about you.
Thing is, change is hard to measure. Take asparagus. When you trim a bunch of fresh white asparagus and lay it on a baking sheet, rolling the stalks in lemon olive oil and sprinkling them with salt and pepper before you roast it all in the white-hot oven, you can watch it transform before you from hard and cold to bruised and limp, with spots of darkness from the heat all over its thin stalks, and you can know there’s change there, no question. But would some say it’s not much of a change? Though softened and broken, it is, after all, still asparagus?
Or take potatoes.
You can boil baby golds, the way you’ve done before, cooking them until they’re soft, then smashing them and coating their soft skins with olive oil and salt and pepper like you did the asparagus, and you can roast them, too, until they’re crispy and golden, wonderful to pop in your mouth one by one but, at the end, bettered by heat and seasoning and time. Are they changed? Are they essentially the same?
And then there’s fish. Tilapia.
And while making the tilapia we had for lunch on Superbowl Sunday was fairly simple, just a few minutes of covering the fillets with lemon zest and fresh-ground black pepper:
placing them in a cast-iron skillet, covering with lemon juice and topping with hunks of butter:
and baking until golden and covered with a pool of buttery juices:
it was proof of change in not just the fish, but in us, who cooked in my brother’s apartment, a place that is a good 40 minutes away from me, where he has an entire life and responsibilities that are completely different than the ones he had a few years ago.
The very fact that we were making fish starkly contrasts a former me who hated, hated, hated fish for at least 20 years of my life, with occasional exception for those frozen and breaded sticks made of cod, and yet now here I am, genuinely liking how light and not-heavy fish feels on my stomach. Is that not change?
So here is what I think: we are always us, but we are always being changed, so who we are is changing, too. It’s like how the New Testament Saul who persecuted Christians could become the apostle who wrote more than a dozen books of the Bible. Or how the me who was deathly afraid of dogs became someone who loves one. Or how you, who used to do or think or love something in one way, now do it differently. You know?
Change is always happening, though sometimes imperceptibly, in our lives, in our kitchens, in us. For this I am glad.
Adapted from Bobby Deen
Butter cooking spray
2 (6 to 8-ounce) tilapia fillets
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 lemon finely grated zest and juice
3 Tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a large cast iron pan with a nonstick butter spray (or with butter).
Rinse fish and pat dry; place on the prepared pan. Season each fillet with salt, cracked pepper and the zest and juice of a lemon. Add fish to the pan. Place a generous pat of butter on each fillet and cook in the oven for 8 to 12 minutes.