What We Carry, What We Keep, What We Give Away

My friend Gwen is moving to Venezuela.  I don’t usually mention people by name in my blog, but I feel like writing a little ‘ode to Gwen’.  Gwen has been a safe and supportive friend to me for three years and she is really funny, which I think is the most attractive thing a person can be.  Gwen had a bunch of us to her place one last time last night under the pretense of drinking all of the rest of her booze, of which she had a classy collection.  It was actually an entirely restrained and enjoyable party with lots of homemade food and the right number of people in the room so that you could connect with every one of them.

Gwen packed up her house last weekend, so what she had left was all stuff she isn’t taking along with her.  As I have done myself when I have been moving, she had a table set out with things to give away.  These are usually odds and ends that have some use to someone, but don’t have enough value to warrant putting a price on them to try and sell, as moving expats commonly do.  I spotted this unopened package of cedar grilling planks and knew that was for me.

Cedar Grilling Planks

Now, it’s not that I don’t already have cedar grilling planks.  I also brought some back to Tunis last summer or even possibly the summer before, and seeing that Gwen hadn’t used her planks either got me thinking about the things that expats horde away and why.

I don’t really think I had any intention of cooking on the grilling planks when I bought them.  I am certain that I bought them at Costco during one of our final shopping trips to buy stuff to take back with us.  At that point, usually during the last week of July, we are saying a premature goodbye to summer in the Northwest.  We have finally gotten our farm back to a state of harmonious functioning, and we have had a few weeks of living large on the island: crabbing, and cooking over wood fires, staying up late with the extended daylight hours, and visiting with lots and lots of friends.  We are drenched in the scent of smoke and salt and fish, a life brine that numbs us with contentedness.  In that mixed state of bliss and resignation that the end was near, I spotted cedar grilling planks, and they held all of those sensory ideas:  the wood, the fish, the fire.  Also, they didn’t weigh much and they were unbreakable.  These were a no-brainer purchase; these would make me happy.  I never used them because then I wouldn’t have them anymore.  Ironically, I also don’t get them out and smell them very often because they make me unbearably homesick and I try to live in the present when I’m overseas, not spend my days on the Mediterranean pining for the Northwest.   I know that beautiful life is still there and that I will, hopefully, have my days there again, just not quite yet.

The giveaway.  Moving on to another location slaps one in the face  to the little shrines you have created for various emotional reasons.  You had ideas about how you were going to live your life in this place and maybe that is how you lived and maybe it isn’t.  The fantasy you created was for here, not for the next place.  You are already creating a new mental plan for that life.  Little items that held some joy, that represented an idea you had say of hosting some little party where you grilled Mediterranean fish on cedar planks and treated your friends to a Northwest experience, have vanished.  These little dream-holders become worthless and you can suddenly, easily give them away and are glad to see them go.

I am probably way over signifying Gwen’s grilling planks.  That was all about me there, not necessarily Gwen, but she gave me a little freebie to use them and still not use my own.  I can have my planks and grill on them, too.    When I do,  I am going to think about Gwen and her hopes for Tunis and her continuing ability to hope nice moments for her life ahead and share them with her new friends.

If you are also hording grilling planks in your kitchen, you could break them out and cook this fish dish, pretty much the world around.

Asian-Style Grilled Whole Red Snapper with Radish Salad

Adapted from Food and Wine, June 2013


  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon jarred pickled ginger, chopped, plus 2 teaspoons brine from the jar
  • 1 teaspoon brown miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 9 radishes- 8 thinly sliced, 1 chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Two 2 1/2-pound whole red snappers, cleaned and scaled
  • 1 poblano chile, quartered lengthwise and seeded
  • 20 thyme sprigs
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 cup lightly packed radish sprouts

4-12 hours ahead, soak planks in warm water, and weigh them down with with heavy objects.  This will keep them from burning during grilling.  For added flavor, add wine or herbs to the soaking liquid.


In a blender, combine the soy sauce, red wine vinegar, pickled ginger and brine, miso paste, sherry vinegar and chopped radish and puree until smooth.  With the blender on, drizzle in the 1/4 cup of olive oil.  Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper and transfer to a small bowl.


Light a grill or start charcoal or wood.  Season the snapper cavities with salt and pepper and fill with the poblano, thyme sprigs and lemon slices.  Tie the fish with kitchen string at 2-inch intervals.  Generously brush the fish with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Alternatively, use filets, and layer the vinaigrette, chili, thyme, and lemon.  If cooking filets, you will not need to flip the fish.

Set the fish on the plank and cook until the flesh just flakes with a fork, about 20 minutes.  If flames flare up, spray them with water.  Pull the fish before it is entirely done and let it rest on the planks for a few minutes before serving, where it will continue to cook.    The planks will warp and char a little or a lot.  That is OK, but keep an eye on what’s happening to the fish.



In a medium bowl, toss the sliced radishes with the sprouts and 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette.  Top the fish fillets with the radishes.  Drizzle a little of the remaining vinaigrette around the fish and serve.

Improvise!  Radishes were not readily accessible to me, but I had mustard greens in the garden and mustard and arugula flowers to use instead of radish sprouts.


5 thoughts on “What We Carry, What We Keep, What We Give Away

  1. Dang Julie, if I thought you would prepare this dish (and invite me) I would have handed over those planks earlier! Thanks for the kind words. The joy of overseas teaching is in the friends you make and the memories you take with you. You have given many memories I shall cherish.

  2. Hi Julie, I often read your blog and love how you so elegantly put into words almost exactly how I’m feeling too. This one made me cry…I too brought cedar planks back from Oregon for the same reasons, only I used them (several times) because I couldn’t throw them away. The NW is calling and we’ll be home in a few days to family, friends, and cedar planks. Enjoy your summers.
    Dawn Betts

    1. Thank you, Dawn. We hang by a pretty thin emotional string out here, sometimes. Enjoy marinating in all of the beautiful sensory pleasures of your heart’s home this summer. Blessings to your family.

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