Feeling Lucky

by Maryjane Mojer
Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm

“The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

And I’m feeling pretty lucky these days.

I come from a family of workers. My Dad, a mechanic, felt his value was directly linked to what he could accomplish in a day. Retirement was not something he gracefully embraced. Waking up, getting dressed, filling his pockets with change, his favorite knife, a 20 mm open end box wrench, and a pair of ignition pliers meant he was ready to help. After working a full day, he would come home, head to his garage and wait for someone to pull up who might need something fixed or looked at.

In 1974, Mom, who was an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) and a waitress, decided that she would run for Town Clerk. A few years before this, she realized that she wanted her driver’s license, so she started making phone calls and was able to get an Adult Education Driver’s Ed class going. She didn’t know how to type, so she contacted the typing teacher at NHS and an Adult Ed typing class was underway. She then took out papers, and, driving her old, tan station wagon, went door to door, introducing herself to people who may not have known her (it was the mid 1970s; there were few people, if any, that did not know one another.)

She always ran unopposed, and the last year she ran received 98% of the vote. Talk about a vote of confidence. She loved her job, and truly took the phrase “public servant” to heart.

When I think of my folks, it is no wonder that I am a lifelong learner. I get such satisfaction from trying something new, whether I excel at it or fall flat on my face…sometimes quite literally…and from helping people achieve their goals.

I work hard because I enjoy it. The sense of accomplishment (thanks, Dad!)… the joy of a new skill and making a difference (thanks, Mom!)… and the thrill of supporting and watching others realize their own success and grow in their own way fill me up.

In Dad’s day, you chose a profession and stuck with it from the first paycheck to the last. I did not follow that path. In high school, I was certain that becoming a DJ and having a radio show was the right path for me. I was accepted into a program in Boston, but Mom would have none of it. On to Plan B, which was Mass Bay for Horticulture and Landscape design, with a certificate in Floral Design. I used all of my knowledge and skills and worked as a designer and landscaper before starting a family. Once my kids were here, I followed in Mom’s footsteps started waitressing, which I loved. Mom truly enjoyed it as well, and told the greatest stories about the food, the characters and, at times, the customers, including a well known mobster who got a little handsy.

My first and favorite waitressing job was at EJ Harvey’s on Pleasant Street. After one of the night cooks didn’t show up for the second or third time, EJ asked if I wanted to learn how to cook. Even now, remembering my first nights on the line, my tentative cuts with a real knife, the batch of fried clams that I dropped into the sizzling fryolator, I get goosebumps. This was the start of years in restaurants: learning, making huge mistakes, trying again. Branding my arms with “kitchen tattoos” or burns and cuts. My Uncle Jack took a look at my arms many years ago and said to my Mom, “her arms look just like Mother’s use to, don’t they?” Highest compliment ever.

Baptismal by fire indeed.

I am not a classically trained chef, have not graduated from Culinary School, and Michelin Stars are the furthest thing from my mind. Even so, I have earned every one of my service stripes and scars treading the mats and making myself at home on the range in many kitchens.

Though I no longer slice and dice professionally, I get to work with people who are committed to excellence, striving to improve every day, and committed to their chosen profession.

Most Chef’s that I know go for the simple and sublime on their days off. Eating out is a great option when possible, and this time of year is the best time to relax and savor the fruits of someone else’s labor.

If staying home, great fresh ingredients are what they reach for when they’re hungry. In-season, most kitchen staff rarely get time to stop and eat a meal. Though many places do a family meal, someone still has to cook it. At the end of a seventy hour week, it’s not unusual to realize that you haven’t actually sat down to eat a meal all week, let alone had anything that required a utensil. While we all don’t work in kitchens, we are so driven by dates, trying to squeeze that last beach bash or dinner, or sail (or sale!) before the clock strikes Labor Day that it’s easy to get into a rut and not eat as well as we can and should. A green salad, quick pasta, or simple grilled fish can recharge your batteries, especially when sitting at a table and taking your time. Remember how that feels? Conversation? Actual plates? Maybe a glass of sparkling cider or wine?

Nantucket is full of best kept secrets in September. The beaches are secluded, dinner reservations accessible, you can hear each other at the Cisco Brewery, and these are all great things.

Yet, even though summer residents and visitors have left the island, fishermen are still fishing, farmers still farming, and markets are still stocking their shelves. Take some time, go out and talk to the local vendors. Find out what’s fresh, what’s good, and ask advice on how to cook something you may not be familiar with. If fresh herbs are more of an idea than an experience, ask how to use them.

SIMPLE GRILLED FISH WITH HERB BUTTER

Soften a stick of unsalted butter. Add about a quarter cup of chopped fresh herbs. Don’t be picky, don’t get tied down with what goes with what. Really. It’s been a long, hot summer, cut, chop, savor the aroma and mix. Add a grind or two of salt and cracked black pepper, and a pinch of crushed red if you feel like it.

Maybe it’s the rebel in me, but I do love to use my cast iron pans on my grill. Sure, if I want to stand at the grill, gingerly turning my striped bass so that I don’t drop a single delicious morsel into the flames, I can, but I prefer to simply use my grandmother’s 10” skillet.

I leave the pan on the grill and close the lid so it heats up as the grill heats up. Let it go for a good fifteen or twenty minutes, and don’t keep opening it to check. Have all of your prep done before you open the grill to put the fish in. Start your vegetables on the grill first, so they’ll be done when the fish is.

This will work for any tender filets such as salmon, bass, halibut, and cod. Swordfish and tuna just really should be directly on the grill. If it ain’t broke…

Pour a glug of olive oil into your pistol hot skillet, and add a small knob of herb of butter. When the butter stops foaming, add your fish filets, and season with salt and pepper. (On the side with no skillet, your asparagus or grilled vegetables should be almost done.) Keep the top open, and after about four minutes, check to see if the bottom is nicely browned. If so, flip the fish, close the lid, move the vegetables to the top rack of the grill (or wrap in foil and keep on the flame) and walk away for about 9 minutes.

Toss the salad, pour the wine, tell your dining partner that dinner is ready and have a seat. Nope. Not in front of the tv. On the deck, or at the table or on the porch. Simple fish, simply enjoyed.

Raising a glass to you all, with hope for a happy, healthy, easy fall.