My good friend, Paul once created a series of bumper stickers that read things like: “Beliefs are the natural enemies of Truth”, “Pause to Wonder”, “Evolve or Die”, “Comfort the Afflicted, Afflict the Comfortable”, and my personal favorite, “Simplify.” This was all part of his message to spread as a co-creator of a tongue-in-cheek organization called the Seattle Institute of Higher Unlearning, or basically getting people to dump the garbage they had been taught all their lives and start using their own minds to think for themselves. Paul is an original to be sure. To this day, I think he still lives and breathes these truths. I recently had a chance to reconnect with him at his home in Allentown, Pennsylvania and while his hair and beard were a bit grayer, his wit and mind were still as sharp and stabbing as ever. Paul keeps a beautiful garden behind the house he grew up in. There is a Jack-in-the-beanstalk like trellis with dangling, fresh green beans, pokey vines with heavy garden cucumbers and an assortment of herbs, tomatoes and an entire rain barrel system he created to filter and clean water to feed his garden. Paul used to be an aeronautical engineer. These days, those tendencies come out in his eccentric, macgyveresque contraptions he fills his days futzing with and creating.
Having been spoiled by the likes of fresh, Alaska salmon here in Seattle, and the one poor dinner experience I had at a popular Chinese restaurant where I was served grit-filled tilapia, I can say I’ve never had much of an inclination to give tilapia a try. But while I was visiting Paul, one of the many delicious dinners he served me was a pan-seared tilapia with fresh steamed green beans from his garden and a side of plain white rice. The tilapia was flaky and tender and flavorful, not fishy and definitely not the least bit gritty. When I returned home to an empty refrigerator and saw inexpensive boneless, skinless tilapia filets in my grocery freezer case, I decided to try my hand at creating a dish. I should also add, that a week spent on an epic road trip from Seattle to Maryland eating car snacks like Swedish Fish, caramel corn and Doritos, made me long to get back to my diet of real food.
I find that being back now, left to my own devices, I’m more determined than ever to do just what that Paul bumper sticker suggested, “Simplify.” Maybe it’s the travel and the longing to be grounded and belong to a sense of place, or maybe it’s the wisdom that comes with turning a year older, but I’m feeling a shift in myself to focus, downsize, dedicate myself to the truly important things that really matter. My health, which sadly, I’ve neglected to a correctable degree, is first on the list. I’m not sure yet, if I’m a proud supporter of consuming chia seeds since my insides are singing a different story about that at the moment, but I can say that I am nourishing myself with simple, healthy meals, walks everyday, icing my aches and pains instead of ignoring them, and vowing to do everything I can to take care of this one body I’ve been given to walk around in for the rest of my life. Simplify may be the one mantra I can really get behind.
- 1/2 cup bulgur
- 1 cup vegetable stock or water
- 1 tsp, plus 2 TBS olive oil
- 1/4 cup finely diced yellow onion
- Pinch kosher salt
- 2 TBS olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups halved, mixed cherry tomatoes
- 2 tilapia filets, boneless, skinless, about 3-4 oz each
- 2 sprigs fresh basil
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 TBS unsalted butter
- 1 small lemon
- Place bulgur, vegatable stock, onions, 1 teaspoon olive oil and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Turn to low and cook for 9 minutes.
- Add remaining 2 TBS of olive oil to a saute pan over medium heat. Season tilapia filets with salt and pepper. Add cherry tomatoes to the pan and saute for 1 minute. Add fish and cook about 1-2 minutes per side or until slightly firm and no longer translucent.
- Add balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon chopped basil and butter. Cook until tomatoes have slightly softened.
- Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top. Season with additional salt and pepper and garnish with remaining basil leaves.
- Serve over bulgur.