Kettle of Fish


Prior to writing I often engage in the ritual of distraction. This stems from my teaching days and writing report cards. I’d clean the house, do all the laundry, organize files, clean out closets, and empty the refrigerator. You get the idea. It was a mindless workout. Once I’d completed the ritual I was able to sit down and focus on the task at hand.

Although I am now retired, the ritual continues. The distraction however, is quite different. I no longer feel the urge to do the laundry, organize files, clean out closets and empty the refrigerator prior to writing. Instead, I distract myself in the kitchen, cooking as though there were a small army living in my house. It’s what I’d grown accustomed to after raising three active and seemingly always hungry boys. So it just feels natural to chop, dice and sauté prior to writing. What’s different from my army days is that I try to produce something I haven’t tried before, as I do when I write.

Just the other day I tackled seafood chowder for the very first time. I never order it in a restaurant. In fact, I’m not sure I even like it much. Still, once I’d decided to tap into my creative side and started cooking I found myself in the flow, as I often do when I write.

photo 2

After sautéing onions, celery, and carrots, I added vegetable broth leaving all the fishy bones and parts to simmer for a couple of hours. I wasn’t using a recipe, although I had scanned through a few, I knew that part of the creative process meant coming up with my own ideas. It’s not much different when I sit down to write. Something from my external environment may trigger a creative thought or idea but I always use my own story. It makes the writing personal and authentic, even if it isn’t something new.

Seafood chowder is far from original but I like to think that my version of it might bring something imaginative to the table. The same could be said for my writing. Writer’s often feel that all the original ideas have been taken. Weaving these ideas into something fresh and innovative is how writer’s own their story.

Once my fish stock is complete I strain it and let it sit and cool. This also allows me to remove the oily surface (fat). Fresh onions, celery, and carrots, all chopped and diced, then sautéed, made my mouth start to water. I could have added garlic but decided against it. Everyone adds garlic to everything. It’s like adding too many adjectives and over killing a good piece of writing. Instead, I added potatoes, mushrooms, corn and clams.

photo 3

Not unlike using unnecessary words in my writing, seasonings could make or break this soup. I am a firm believer that less is more as each seasoning offers a taste of its own.

I added Himalayan rock salt, freshly ground pepper, turmeric, and cayenne pepper to taste. Then came a big splash of cream. Allowing it to simmer for a while gave the soup a chance to flavour up. Near the end of the simmering process I added two halibut fillets chopped into bite size bits.

photo 4

Feeling quite proud of my seafood chowder I declared this creative endeavour a tasty success. In fact, I was so proud of myself that I sent one of my sons a text with a photo of the soup alongside the message, “Want me to freeze some for you?” Once a mom always a mom. However, I’d been so pleased with myself, I inadvertently sent the message to a friend I’d recently been texting with.

photo 2 copy

Fortunately, rather than think I was fishing for a compliment, my friend asked for my recipe! Trouble is, I didn’t measure anything. I suppose one could say the soup was like a piece of unedited writing—a fine kettle of fish.

For my friend, and anyone else interested in creating their own version of seafood chowder, these were the sites I scanned before diving in and creating my own.


Warm Regards,

Marla O’Brien

FYI: If I were to edit something out, it would have been the vegetable broth. I’m nowhere near vegetarian. Chicken stock would have added more flavour. If I were to edit something in, it would have been shrimp and scallops as I’m not big on salmon or calamari.

Do you have a favourite seafood chowder recipe? Please share!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s