French Friday: Friday Fish

When my son was a newborn and his oldest sister six I became friend with a woman who had also four young children. Our husbands worked long hours and traveled for business, sometimes even abroad. We both shared happy crazy busy shifts with babies in diapers, toddlers in preschool for a few meager weekly hours, and kindergartners alternating between morning and afternoon sessions.

On my side of the neighborhood, I was hungry for anything that could help me unload my plate. Including feeding my family.

Any ideas to skip a few trips to Market Basket? Any tip to bring healthy food to the table between playground time and bathtime? Proofless quick recipes, anyone?

Bring them on!

I thought I had won the jackpot when I noticed the From Monday to Sunday Menu posted on my friend’s fridge.

Bingo!

What a relief to know ahead of time when and what to feed a family! Now, let’s see if this clever plan could work at home…

Monday Hot Dog, Tuesday Pizza, Wednesday Macaroni and Cheese, Thursday Hamburgers, Friday Tuna Casserole, Saturday Chicken Wings, Sunday Church Potluck.

My husband favored merguez to hot dogs, but I could save the idea for when he wasn’t home. Pizza was always a hit with my kids. Even the baby drooled, when I opened the Bertucci’s box. I already served pasta and chicken pretty much every day. Hamburgers were fine as long as I wasn’t asked to order one on my own. I had learned that casseroles, despite their name, weren’t French at all. Definitely I would have to find something for Sunday. But that was a start.

No need to learn my friend’s From Monday to Sunday Menu by heart or make a copy. Needless to say I would take liberties with her staples. And I would never have her discipline.

Steak Haché would be served once a week, not necessary on Thursday. Crepes would land on the table when I felt like it. Pizza would remain a favorite for years with these school night talent shows, concerts, and plays. Chez les Holingues Pasta in many forms would be Special du Jour until their newborn son left for college and switched to Ramen. And then there was Evelyne’s husband who decided to explore the American BBQ terrain whenever he was home. Which excluded casseroles once and for all. With less business trips taking him away from the kitchen, he even turned into a creative chef and I stopped agonizing about menu ideas. Phew. That will be for a future post on Monday Miam-Miam 🙂

On that night, however, when I considered mimicking my friend’s menu, it occurred to me that she never served fish. Unless you counted the weekly Friday tuna casserole.

Which happened to be also the only predictable day in my maman’s French kitchen.

Friday was Fish Day.

Fish from Maine.

 

At my catholic school cantine, cantoche in French school parlance, too. Food there was below mediocre French standards, yet we had to clean our plates before going to recess. No wonder so many of us questioned religious faith while studying there.

Even as a young child I was an adventurous eater. Besides I was hungry all the time when I was in middle and high school. So even if the food at the cantine sucked, I sucked it up. I ate everything. Including the bloody beets, the watery pasta, and the pebble-like lentils. On any given day.

Friday was an exception. That day we were neither presented my mother’s baked sole nor slightly battered cod, or still these tiny, briny French shrimps. No real fish arrived on our plates.

 

Our religion is fish and release.

 

But bâtonnets de poisson panés surgelés or frozen breaded fish sticks in plain American English.

The fresh-fish fed teen knew her turf. No way this chewy tasteless thing had been a swimming fish in its past life.

Evelyne’s Husband’s Catch of the Day.

Even worst was the rice. Unlike Chinese fried rice, Japanese sushi rice, and Thai sticky rice my school served glue rice. Preferably unsalted.

Although I suffered the humiliation to stay behind more than a few times to finir mon assiette, I couldn’t see the bottom of my Friday plate. The fish sticks and the rice formed such a tight, dry ball I was sure the combo would strangle me.

A nun was dispatched to my table to make sure I could be released. Millions of people would do anything to eat, she said. Think of the poor hungry children in the world! Exactly. Maybe I didn’t need to eat so much when so many had so little.

Naturally I never met the cook, like we meet a chef in a restaurant. That cook knew better and never showed up, fishing for compliments.

I knew early on why we ate fish on Friday. Jesus died for our sins on a Friday. That day we remembered him and ate fish, leaner than meat. Honestly? I found Jesus extraordinary and with the typical idealism of my young age I even dreamed to meet him. I had tons of questions to ask. For example, I would have liked to know his real opinion about Friday Fish. Did he like to be remembered with bâtonnets de poisson panés surgelés?

Not a bâtonnet de poisson pané surgelé.

Years later I discovered the American expression “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” What happens in school cafeterias, however, rarely stay there. Even decades later and thousands of miles between my school cantine and me, I’ve never eaten frozen breaded fish sticks again.

Never served them to my kids either.

Friday or not Friday.

 

One of my son’s favorite books when he was a child.

 

Now, your turn. Do you eat a certain food on a certain day? What about Friday Fish?

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. When the kids were little, I would make out a weekly menu, so they could arrange to eat elsewhere if they couldn’t stand what we were having. Or so they could talk me into something they liked better. I don’t recall that we had set dishes on set days. Oh — and my kids LOVED frozen breaded fish sticks! They preferred them to real fish. They preferred bottled mayonnaise to my home-made. They preferred predictable fast food to a-little-bit-different-every-time mom dishes. They grew out of all that. 🙂

    • That’s so funny!
      My kids favored some of their friends’ school lunches and traded my French sandwiches for their American version. I had no idea until a mom told me how much her son liked my son’s brown bag:)

  2. My wife is not a fan of seafood, so I look forward to fish on Friday’s during Lent. We joke that it isn’t a sacrifice if I enjoy it, but it’s also my family history. Where we grew up, there was a small hotel (The Ritz Hotel) that made delicious fish sandwiches every Friday (before the changes in the Catholic church). My mom and us two boys were Methodist. My dad was Orthodox Catholic, but he loved those fish sandwiches, so we had them almost every week. So good!

    These days, I take whatever is served. We toss a pizza in the mix every now and then. I can’t remember the last time I had fish sticks.

    • Love your fish sandwich story! When I was finished with my post I remembered how much I liked fish and chips in London when I ate them for the first time.
      The problem with school cafeteria food is that it’s industrialized. Cooking for a large crowd rarely provides tasty food. It’s possible that the quality of these frozen fish sticks improved over the years. You can find excellent frozen products in France. Hope they serve them in schools 🙂

  3. I like fish sticks, but most of my kids don’t.
    I tend to do something easy on Thursdays. It’s often cheese night, or goat cheese pizza from a box night, or sometimes cold sammiches. We are all so tired on Thursdays.
    I made my children pack their lunches until they were 10. They still pack(ed) sometimes after I stopped making them. I’ve seen the lunches at school, and that ain’t food. Apparently the youth of today exist only on lunches of fried chicken pieces, pizza, and fries. Ugh. When I was a child, there were many tasty hot lunches, and when there weren’t, when we didn’t care for what was served at school, we could opt for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a piece of fruit with our milk. Now everyone’s allergic to peanuts. Or milk. LOL
    I dunno. I’m glad my kids are older, cause I’m old enough to only think it’s getting worse!

    • Now you’ve got to tell me what Thursday sammiches are 🙂
      My kids also packed their own lunch but unlike yours when they were older than 10. Family traditions are funny, no?
      Although seeing my kids getting older means I am too, I’m also glad. So many food regulations apply to schools. The only one that affected my kids was when California decided that no homemade cookies should pass the school gates. Meaning that for birthdays or any school event, only storebought cookies and pastries were allowed. No need to specify that many moms/mamans/mamas/mums disapproved.

  4. I enjoyed this journey through some of your food history Evelyne. I do like fish fingers, as we call them here and in fact we had some just this week 🙂 Fish and chips is a tradition on Good Friday and many people do still have it on a Friday generally. The only meal we tend to have on a particular day is Sunday dinner – meat, potatoes, vegetables and Yorkshire puddings.

    • I thought of fish and chips when I was finished with this post 🙂
      I like them when they are well prepared, like British people do! I have some great memories of eating delicious fish and chips in London, for example.
      Schools are not often (unfortunately) the best places to experience great food. My school forte was the piece of baguette and dark chocolate bar that we each received at 5:00 p.m. before going home. That was great!
      At my home we like traditions and some rituals. But we are quite flexible for food and follow our daily inspiration.
      See you soon, Andrea and thank you for reading me.

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