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Recreating food memories, and pain
Liberty Foodie
Patty Leon

During a recent grocery store spree I came across a seafood item that quickly brought back a delightful, yet painful, memory.

I have many fond childhood memories of going out fishing with my dad.

There was one fishing spot we frequented – Card Sound Road Bridge near Homestead, Fla. This road is one of only two thoroughfares that connects the mainland to the Florida Keys, the other being U.S. 1.

When it was first constructed Card Sound Road had a wooden drawbridge. It is in the middle of Biscayne National Park and bay.

The original drawbridge was destroyed by fire in the mid-1940s. For several years, the road was closed. In 1969, construction was completed on a new, high-span bridge and the road re-opened. The older section of the bridge, directly under the new span, was set up for public fishing.

There were many times my dad, uncle and I would fish there at night. It was well lit and packed with other anglers, especially on weekends. My dad and uncle lugged out all the gear and would find a spot. They would prep their fancy poles, bait the hooks and cast their lines.

I was too young to use a fancy rod. Dad always brought out a Cuban yo-yo hand reel for me. (Not sure what that is? Google it, they even have fancy ones now). I would sit on a five-gallon bucket that had a cushion on top. Dad would cast out my line and hand me the yo-yo. If I felt a nibble or something, I was supposed to call out for him and he would show me what to do.

Alas, I had yet to catch a fish.

This evening my dad brought a second yo-yo to teach my uncle how to cast the line. I turned around to watch. My dad was a pro at it. During one of his demos he twirled the line above his head, the hook and sinker swinging round in a blur. I watched in awe and moved in a little closer to see … a little too close.

OUCH! (I was just a child, otherwise it would have been a litany of cuss words.)

The hook went through the fleshy part of my hand, between the thumb and index finger (scientifically called the Thenar Space. Who knew?). I squealed and my dad froze (Luckily for me or he would have tossed the line, thereby pulling the hook).

Every angler looked our way (Some mad that I was making too much noise. Others wondering if dad was trying to use me as shark bait).

Quick to quiet his squealing daughter and heal the hurt, dad rushed over with a tool, cut the barbed hook and pulled it out. He ran to his tackle box, got hydrogen peroxide, aspirin, a soda from the cooler and bandages, and made it “all well.” Meaning, “please don’t tell mom.”

I whimpered, sipped my soda, looked down at my hand and whimpered again. I looked up at my dad, batted my watery eyes and looked at his fishing rod.

I had him hook, line and sinker!

That night I got to use the big rod. Learned to cast the line out myself AND caught my first fish EVER. It was the ONLY fish caught that night, an eight-pound Florida pompano.

The next morning dad showed mom the fish I caught (leaving out the other details, of course). Mom was so thrilled she didn’t ask what happened to my hand (which was now slightly swollen and bruised…but I’m willing to bet she didn’t ask because she knew she wouldn’t like the answer).

That night, we had baked pompano with plantains and rice. Mom made it with a citrus sauce drizzled on top.

Sadly the fishing catwalk at Card Sound Road is gone after years of hurricanes and neglect.

Finding the pompano at the grocery store brought that memory back. I bought the filets and headed home to re-create the dish minus the hand injury. Or so I thought.

I started the rice and sliced the plantains to make fried plantains (tostones). I lightly salt and peppered the fish, drizzled it with olive oil, placed in a pan and added just a little water. I baked it at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

For the sauce I melted 1 tablespoon of butter and added a little flour. Once the roux thickened slightly, I added 2 cups of white wine, 1 tablespoon of butter, the juice of 1 orange and lemon zest. I stirred, set to medium-low and let the flavors blend and simmer.

I put the rice on a serving dish, added the baked pompano on top and began to pour the sauce over both. The pan was heavy and without thinking I grabbed it with my other hand for support — burning two of my fingers!

Holy poop, frickity frack, son of a gun…ouch…OK memory recreated.

After a few minutes, I got back to business plating my tostones and sat down with a friend to give it a try.

It wasn’t exactly my mom’s but it was darn near close and delicious.

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