Spring Cleaning

When I was a kid, the beginning of spring meant several things. For one, the days were getting longer so streetlights came on later. To any kid living under the “you can stay out and play until the street lights come on” rule, this meant we all got a little longer to revel in a heated game of ringolevio. Spring also meant asparagus would venture onto my plate alongside a lamb shoulder chop, a meal I still have today to welcome the vernal equinox. All other signs of spring, like chocolate bunnies, new Sunday shoes and daffodils were welcomed with equal enthusiasm and glee. All but one. Spring-cleaning.

You’re nodding right now, aren’t you? You too know that time of year when mothers everywhere, who were taught by their mothers, (who I’m certain were taught by their mothers), were convinced that the spring couldn’t, well, spring until everything was cleaned to within an inch of its life. And when I say everything I mean EVERYTHING. Things you would never think needed cleaning, that no one would ever see (apart from a spider or two) were dusted, swept, spritzed and scrubbed until sparkling. Hutches happily living undisturbed suddenly moved away from cozy corners so dust that truly belonged behind could be eradicated. Backs of sofas never meant to see daylight were vacuumed and moved back to where no one would see them again. Every knic and knac washed clean, along with every square inch of window and floor. And if you were an able-bodied kid with any time on your hands (or just within mother-sightlines), you were sucked into the spring-cleaning vortex.

Futilely I’d try to get out of the chores assigned, but no whining, cajoling or feigning infirmity ever worked. Any clever attempts at explaining the logic that no one would ever know if the back of that dresser was clean were met with the all-final “I’LL know.” Case closed. My only consolation was the belief that when I was finally out on my own and the season rolled around, there was no way I was going to do this nonsense. And I didn’t…well, after a year or two of trying not to.

These days when the calendar hits that third week of March, I buy bunches of daffodils and asparagus. Then I whisper a little “you’re welcome” behind my sofa to the spiders. They’ll earn their springtime reprieve by munching mosquitoes in a few months.



One of the annual signs of spring happens in my freezer. More a winter purge than a spring thaw, I peruse the collection of dishes played with over a long winter in search of new combinations that will move them from freezer to plate. That’s exactly how this week’s recipe sprang forth from my freezer’s dormant yet fertile ground. The remaining stewed tomatoes made for New Year’s Day met two wild albacore filets and became Spring Cleaning Fish Stew.  It’s a little like cioppino, a bit like puttanesca but with a sauce more brothy and lighter. Which is perfect for the warmer yet not quite balmy weather of the first week of spring.

Spring Cleaning Fish Stew

Serves 4

I served this over a simple polenta, but it would be great over pasta or by itself in a bowl with some good crusty bread.

  • 3 cups stewed tomatoes (you could use my recipe, or your favorite canned variety)
  • 1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
  • 2 6oz. tuna filets, or any other flakey fish (swordfish or cod would work well), about ½ – ¾ inches thick
  • 1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 TBSP drained capers
  • 1 TBSP white balsamic vinegar or white champagne vinegar
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice, plus extra for squeezing on top
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper

Add everything but the fish into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Season the fish generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Nestle the filets into the sauce, making sure to spoon some over the tops of the filets. Reduce sauce to a simmer, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Turn the fish over and cook another 5 minutes or until the fish just begins to flake. Turn off heat.

If you are serving immediately, flake the fish and stir into the sauce. If you are not, remove the two filets whole to a plate. This will prevent the fish from overcooking. When ready to serve, warm up the sauce, flake the fish into it and serve. Calories: approximately 255 per serving.

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4 thoughts on “Spring Cleaning

  1. Well, … what Mark said! Yes, spring cleaning was an annual tradition which, now that we live in the world opposites, happens in the fall. I remember my mother saying it was, “because we can open the windows, now.” And after a long summer of all windows being shut tight as a drum, we open them… let in fresh air… and then do a wee bit of cleaning. (I admit that we have Pamela every two weeks for the big stuff…)

    Someone asked me the other night how I made the mushroom ragout for our polenta. I simply said, I took everything in the vegetable drawer of the fridge, sautéed it, added some wine and broth, and served it. Sounds like the refrigerator version of your yummy fish stew!

    • I have a lot of those kinds of recipes David – garbage can cookies (everything left over from holiday baking), hurricane pasta (everything in the fridge that will go bad because the power is out), river stew (my brother’s specialty – cooked on the last night of a river trip with everything left in the cooler). 😉

  2. Ah yes, spring cleaning! In our household it was the torment of Easter Eve, and much-disliked interval in the emotional roller-coaster of Holy Week (we were High Church Episcopalians in stark Calvinist New England). The triumph of Palm Sunday to the heartbreak of Maundy Thursday, and silent gloom of Good Friday, built anticipation of a joyful Easter — but then there was this dreaded turning the house inside out. My mother didn’t like to entertain, so Easter dinner with in-laws made her tense, which didn’t help on the spring cleaning front, as she covered the floor in the den with a clean white sheet, set the ironing board on in, and in clean white socks ironed the immense damask table cloth, with such care that its appearance on the Easter table under glittering glass and silver and the ancestral porcelain was rather more terrifying than celebratory.
    How few people have a sense of seasonality any more, when all foods are available all year round — ripe or not! — thanks to global shipping. My friends laughed when I said on a chilly autumn day that it felt like time for pork and saurkraut, or on snowy winter day there was an urgent need for a roast or a stew and home-made bread, or a fine spring day called for salmon and peas, or lamb and asparagus, and a hot summer day called for grilling and sweet corn on the cob and wedges of ripe tomato. Tangerines at Christmas, chocolate on Easter, were all part of the same seasonality. My friends’ laughing puzzlement told me right away that their parents weren’t gardeners, and they had grown up on canned and boxed and frozen food. Who knew, when we were kids, that our parents were giving us a gift we’d carry through life… along with a tinge of guilt about dust!

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