Steinbeck’s Eden

fish tacos with herbed plum salsa

Steinbeck’s Eden is dry and dusty
The windrows grown of greener days
The well-pump handle is long since rusty
Windfall, rain and valley haze …
Just keep going wild honey
Somewhere northward of Monterey
Up above the fog it’s sunny
One more wonderful summer day.

~ From California Way by Tim Bluhm of The Mother Hips

Driving on Highway 1 – that is, riding along the edge of the continent with the spectacular expanse of the Pacific to the west and the tumbling California coastline to the east – never gets old for me. I drive on the storied highway almost weekly, but each time I feel like I’m seeing with new eyes. It is the only driving I do where my own enthusiasm mirrors that of my guys in their car seats. My heart soars along with theirs as they call out each new thing they see; the cliffs, the waves, the kite-surfers, and the cement mixers.

fish tacos with herbed plum salsa

Okay maybe not so much at the cement mixers. 

On Monday we made the trip down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Leaving our house at 7am, with a pit stop in Santa Cruz to refill my coffee and pick up Uncle Ben, would get us to the former fish cannery just as the doors were opening.

fish tacos with herbed plum salsa

But as we sailed along the coastal highway and smack through “the salad bowl of the world” I was peppered with commentary of a different variety than I’m used to. Instead of “Pelicans Mommy! Look LOOK LOOOOK!” I heard “Mommy who are those people by the tractor?”

“Well. They’re workers.” (Thinking how maybe I don’t really work so much for my food after all.)

herbed plum salsa

“Are they farmers?”

“No – well. Um. Some of them are maybe – they drive tractors.” (Tractors being the critical piece of Farmer identification in the three year old mind.)

jacob's tacos and salsa

“Are they outside because they are having summer camp?”

“Uh, no. That is their job, to be outside. They pick vegetables. And summer is when a lot of vegetables are ready so, they have to keep working in the summer.” (Actually, around here we have pretty much year-round growing seasons … maybe beyond his grasp of time? How to explain why they are working when we are not?)

“Are their kids having summer?”

“Yes!” (Relief – one simple answer.)

fish tacos with herbed plum salsa

“Will they be at the aquarium?”

The beloved aquarium. Arguably Jacob’s spiritual home. And where ticket prices have sky rocketed in response to funding cuts and it now costs upwards of $100 to get a family of four in the door.

No, most likely the children of the seasonal workers won’t be there. Not today.

But before I can fathom how to explain our own good fortune, we pass another bevy of workers.

“Why are they wearing masks like that?”

I stumble over pesticides, and chemical exposure, and air quality – and then a huge red truck rumbles past us, heading north, no doubt full of cartons that are bursting with vegetables.

“TRACTOR TRAILER! Look Mommy look LOOK LOOOOK!”

On July 24th, I’ll be part of a group of food bloggers joining together to support migrant workers and their fight for food justice in U.S. tomato fields. If you have a food blog, I hope you’ll consider participating. The event was created by The Giving Table to support the International Justice Mission’s summer campaign, Recipe for Change. IJM has partnered with The Coalition of Immokalee Workers and The Fair Food Standards Council to raise awareness about injustices in U.S. tomato fields and ask major supermarket chains to ensure that all tomatoes are slave-free.

herbed plum salsa

Fish Tacos with Herbed Plum Salsa

Fish tacos after a trip to the aquarium might seem a little strange, but the aquarium’s Seafood Watch is actually the best place to get information about which fish are the best to eat. Their Super Green List tells you which seafood choices offer the best mix of human health and ocean health benefits – check it out here. We eat a lot of fish tacos, because they marry one of my favorites (fresh fish) with one of Kyle’s (tacos).

I like my fish for tacos grilled, but I am the minority opinion – the rest of my family likes it breaded and pan-fried. So, whatever fish we are using (here it was MSC-certified Pacific Cod) gets dipped in an egg whisked with a splash of buttermilk, and then into panko-style breadcrumbs seasoned with salt and a little pepper. We pan fry it on cast iron, in about a teaspoon of canola oil – flipping carefully to preserve the coating. Corn tortillas, chopped frisée, some greek yogurt spiked with a little garlic, a couple lemon wedges – and we are in business. (Regarding the beans on Jacob’s plate: “we” usually cook them with some onion, because Jacob thinks all tacos need beans. But all tacos really do not need beans. Kyle.).

A fresh fruit salsa is our summertime taco topping of choice. This is one of our favorites. I use an Italian vinegar that is infused with wild fennel, but regular white balsamic would also work well (there are lots of herbs already in the mix). That said, this is also a fun place to play with infused vinegars, if you happen to have been gifted with one recently :)

To make the salsa:

3 medium plums, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups total pieces)
3 tablespoons wild fennel vinegar (or white balsamic vinegar, or other vinegar of choice)
1/2 a small, uncured red onion, chopped small (we get these from our CSA, but regular red onion or shallots would also work – you want about 4 – 5 tablespoons total pieces)
~ 8 basil leaves, finely ribboned
1 – 2 tablespoons chopped fresh fennel leaves (the feathery parts that come attached to the bulb and have a mild licorice flavor – or, use stronger-tasting anise leaves if you can get them)
Pinch of salt

Optional: finely chopped serrano chile (wear gloves!)

Mix all ingredients together and let sit together for twenty minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. If you are serving some people who don’t like as much heat, you can mix everything together and let sit for ten minutes, then divide the mixture and add the chile to half of it.

Serve with fish tacos, or whatever your summer favorites are.

You might also like:

Bay scallops

Herbed fish

Tartines

monterey bay aquarium

monterey bay aquarium

monterey bay aquarium

monterey bay aquarium

monterey bay aquarium

monterey bay aquarium

14 thoughts on “Steinbeck’s Eden

    • It was surprisingly nice with the plums. I can be careless with my fresh herbs (that is, I tend to want to add lots and lots of them to everything, always!) but this was a combination that caught my attention. I think fresh anise would have been bolder and maybe even better … but I love those feathery fennel leaves, too.

  1. This was DIVINE! So fresh and summery. Since we had yellow plums and champagne vinegar on hand we used those and they worked beautifully. I also ran out of panko halfway through the breading, so some fish received the cornmeal treatment (it was fun to compare textures–Rinji preferred the panko). And instead of frisee we went with cabbage and lime. But this salsa, THIS SALSA, is so good, I don’t think it matters how I mess with the taco.

    Conan requested jars of the salsa. Seriously delicious.

  2. Thanks for joining the movement for slave free tomatoes.
    Grateful for the opportunity to have encountered this blog. I love the layout – mouth-watering images nestled in between morsels of good storytelling. Definitely subscribed to this one!

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