I think I’ve mentioned before the different types of “days” we would have that caused kids to rejoice, parents to groan, and school to inevitably be cancelled. Last year, we had the typical Snow Day. That was followed in the spring with a Tsunami Day. In California, we had a Fire Day and occasionally kept the kids inside for recess due to bad air conditions. I thought that about capped off the tank of the types of “days” causing school closures; that is, until 8pm last night.
Our school district has a wonderfully effective automated alert system used for any type of information that masses of Coos Bay folk should need to know. However, when I saw “Coos Bay School District” pop up on my caller ID last night, my thought immediately went to what any normal person would feel when work was calling their house way past the 9-5; I’m half-way through dinner, and not enough sips of a drink in to honestly say I couldn’t drive back in to help out with whatever circumstance arose. But immediately when I answer I hear the familiar automated voice of our Business Director canceling school tomorrow due to, you ready for this, wind. Wind? Yes, wind.
Initially, the feeling of ecstatic yay-I-get-to-sleep-in-and-watch-the-Today-Show-!! jubilation came jumping out as I gloated to my husband (and replayed the message on speaker while dancing around the kitchen). I even called my mom to relay the fun news. A Wind Day! I think she even called me a “Lucky Duck.”
But then, as what seems to be happening more and more lately, and at an alarmingly rate, the adult in me kicks in. Wind? We live on the Southern Oregon Coast, where hurricane 50+ mph winds is just a stormy winter Tuesday for us. This was different. One of the worst storms in years was about to hit the Pacific Northwest, putting Seattle under a blizzard and giving Coastal towns the jolt of a lifetime: 90 mph winds and heavy rain were expected – enough to keep little Siglet from walking in a straight line outside, enough to make us prepare a safe room incase the windows blew out, and definitely enough to close schools.
I know wind – my family had the fortunate experiences of living in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas, all giving us their share of tornadoes – one even on our moving day. But for some reason, I didn’t feel prepared for this storm. I know how the Arctic winds howl off the ocean in these parts, and even on a “good” day it can knock you off your feet and chill you to the bone.
When Rob and I went to bed last night, we knew it wouldn’t be pretty. What neither of us expected was to feel the constant vibrations, shaking, and deafening jolts of winds and rains so harsh and angry that not even earthquakes can compare. The shaking of an earthquake stops, eventually. But these gusts of wind just kept on coming with a fast-ball-wind-up to smack our little house daring it to stand a chance. The neighbor’s forgotten trashcan made hollow noises on the street, like a kid smacking a plastic toy on the wood floor. The sound of the wind was completely anticipated, yet shocking, like violent waves of an ocean crashing into rocks. By the morning time, after a night of on-and-off-jolted-out-of-I-finally-relaxed-sleep shenanigans, the wind was more like waves of nausea.
Rob got up and went to work – it was another military realization (for me) that while my profession was put on hold for safety for a day, his was more than expected to perform. After a power outage that swept the Oregon Coast (Sig and I tried to take a nap in the daytime darkness, but it ended up being last night, round 2), I remembered the thing that Rob and I were so enjoying last night before our wind day preparations began: Dinner.
Our fishmonger had some beautiful Petrale Sole, and I splurged a bit to get some. Even Rob was excited. I thought about our usual Sole dishes – Sole Meuniere, Baked Sole, Stuffed Sole, or just plain pan seared with tarter sauce – they all sounded good. But one thing sounded better: Cioppino. It was a cold night, we knew a storm was coming, and the spicy warming fish soup just sounded perfect.
And it was. This might be in the top ten. I actually didn’t use any other fish that is usually called for in Cioppino because, 1) Rob won’t eat it, and 2) I wanted the subtle taste of the Sole to stand out. I even left the pieces whole when putting them into the soup to let them delicately break as they saw fit, leaving big fresh pieces the stars among the humble veg and slurpable broth. Topped with a simple but flavorful tarragon and caper aioli, the flavors were fantastic.
During a day like today, when turning off the outside and getting some sleep was not an option, I was so (so, so, so, so) glad there were leftovers. Even as I write, the rain is constant and the wind is relentless, but at least Sig is taking a nap by the fire (actually, he’s so exhausted that his head is literally hanging off the edge of the couch… poor guy). And I got my Cioppino. Talk about comfort food. Lucky me.
- ½ lb. Petrale or Dover Sole
- ½ red onion, diced
- 1 large fennel bulb, diced (save about 1 tbsp of the frawns)
- 1 large celery stalk, thinly sliced
- 1large garlic clove, minced
- 1 can whole tomatoes, roughly chopped or broken up with your hands (discard can juice)
- ½ c full bodied white wine (I used a buttery Chardonnay)
- 2 c water
- ½ a lemon
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tbsp butter
Tarragon Caper Aioli
(makes a large ½ c)
- 3 large tbsp good mayo
- zest of a whole lemon
- juice of ½ a lemon
- a couple dashes of Tabasco Sauce
- 3 tsp capers, roughly chopped
- 2 full sprigs of tarragon, chopped
- about 1 tbsp fennel frawns, chopped
First, make the aioli – combine all ingredients in a small bowl and taste for seasoning. Set aside (the longer this sits, the more married the flavors will become, which is a good thing).
For the Cioppino, heat the butter in a large shallow pot over med-high heat. Add the butter and a pinch of salt, and sauté until translucent. Then, add in the fennel and celery, a pinch of salt, and sauté until soft. Add the garlic and stir until it becomes fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in the wine, and let it simmer and reduce for about 2 minutes. Add in the red pepper flakes and bay leaves, as well as the juice of ½ a lemon, and pour in the water. Also, cut the half of the lemon just used into quarters. Add the lemon quarters to the pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cover for about 5 minutes (this is an important step – it really creates a light and flavorful broth).
After about 5 minutes, uncover the pot and add in the tomatoes, and simmer again, covered for another 5 minutes. The soup should be chunky, but still have the presence of broth. Taste for seasoning.
Add in the whole Sole pieces – really nestle them into the soup, and cover again for about 3 minutes, until the Sole is cooked through. Since Sole filets are very delicate and thin, they cook fast and will start to naturally break apart in the soup.
Ladle into big bowls, and top with a dollop of the aioli. Inhale the spicy, herby, sea-watery scent, and Enjoy!!