Sun all day, Rain all night. A short guide to happiness and saving money, and something to eat, too.
Pamela Osborne

Sun all day, Rain all night. A short guide to happiness and saving money, and something to eat, too.

If you’ve been thinking that you have a constitutional right to happiness, you would be wrong about that. All the Constitution says is that if you are alive and free (and that is apparently enough for many, or no one would be crossing our borders), you do also have a right to take a shot at finding happiness. The actual pursuit of that is up to you, though.

But how do you get there? On a less elevated platform than that provided by the founding fathers I read, years ago, an interview with Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics. Her company, based on Avon and Tupperware models, was very successful. But to be happy, she offered,, you need three things: 1) someone to love; 2) work you enjoy; and 3) something to look forward to.

Like a lot of advice — to lose weight, for example, eat less and exercise, that’s one I’ve heard a few times — this is deceptively and falsely simple. It’s pretty hard, really, to be lucky enough to enjoy your work day in/day out. And given divorce rates, it seems that someone to love can be a bit scarce on the ground, too, and so this category may need to be expanded to include whatever else you might be able to love. The last condition — something pleasing on the horizon— is, perhaps the one most able to be made to happen. Vacations on the high end, looking out the window or a good night’s sleep on the low.

What Mary Kay failed to mention is how very difficult it is to have all three of these things working for you at the same time. It’s tough. So best not to think about that too much, but instead just close our eyes and focus on what might be possible. Small small, that’s the ticket.

Based on what makes some days better for me, and on what is realistic, here’s a suggestion for a low key approach to adding an attainable, achievable something to look forward to to your life. If there’s one thing I don’t look forward to, it’s having to face an evening of standing at the sink and the stove at the end of a long day. Fast food and take-out fortunes have been made by people who figured out how to capitalize on this, to the detriment of neighborhood bank accounts everywhere. Much better to plan ahead, bothering in advance to fix something that’s good and ready to eat at the end of the day, so that all that’s needed is a quick heating up. Look at it as one step taken on the road to a happier few moments as shadows lengthen at the end of the afternoon. Works for me. Well, along with a toast to those who are with us, and to those who are not.

This recipe can be put together from items you may already have on hand. You might want to give it a try, it’s simple and good.

This stew, though served hot, is light, and fine for this still between-seasons time of year.

And, happily, you will find it to be easy and economical. If you are feeling pinched these days, you can leave out the fish and add more beans. In that case, you might want to add fish stock cubes instead of the vegetable stock cubes specified, for a bit of extra flavor. You can, of course, use fresh fish instead of frozen, but that defeats the convenience of having a pantry-available meal. Regardless, and by the way, this is more than good enough to serve to a table of friends, if you choose to do that, and no one, including the cook, will feel hard done by. Or, if it’s just you or a few at the table, make a potful, dip out what you need for a meal, and heat it in the microwave for a few minutes. Keep the rest for an easy tomorrow, it keeps well.

Fish, Bean, and Tomato Stew

8-10 servings

2 or 3 TB olive oil. A neutral oil is fine. I use Berio.

2 TB unsalted butter

2 sticks celery, halved lengthwise and very finely sliced, just a bit more than paper thin

Some celery leaves from the center of the bunch, rinsed and dried

4 medium shallots, peeled and quartered, OR 1 medium onion—red or yellow—roughly chopped

4 or 5 garlic cloves (small to medium), peeled and very finely sliced. And no, it won’t taste too garlicky: it isn’t smashed or pressed, which intensifies that.

1 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds

A bunch of parsley, washed and dried. You will use the stems for the stew, the leaves for garnish. You want about 3/4 cup finely chopped parsley leaves. Medium chop the stems, 1/4” to 1/3” long.

1/2 c. dry white wine. I used what remained of a bottle; it may have been a bit more than half a cup, and had been sitting in the fridge for several weeks.

2 28-oz.cans of peeled plum tomatoes. I use Cento, and you needn’t buy the more expensive San Marzanos. With my washed hands, I take the tomatoes out of the can one by one and put them in a bowl, having removed the stem end and any stringy bits hanging from it, and any overlooked pieces of skin. Check the remaining tomato liquid for random bits of skin, too, before adding it to the bowl. All of these are indigestible, basically, and removing them improves the end product. But if you don’t care about that, just dump in the can as is. The tomatoes will need to be broken up a bit as you stir, with a wooden or silicone spatula.

One 15.5-oz. can of small white beans, rinsed and drained; Roman, flageolet, navy. I buy Goya.

One 15.5-oz. can of larger white beans, rinsed and drained. Butter beans are good, cannellini would do, too. Again, Goya.

2 cubes of vegetable stock. Mince these into small pieces before adding, they’ll dissolve more quickly.

Two pounds of frozen fish, thawed, rinsed, and cut into largish pieces, as they will break apart when cooking. Use a flaky fish, not a meaty one. I used one package of cod, and one of bay scallops, both bought on sale, which were in my freezer. The scallops (and by the way, in the past bay scallops were considered a delicacy compared to sea scallops, and were much more expensive; the reverse is true now, go figure) were very good, but all cod would be fine, too. If you’re not using fish, rinse and drain another can of beans, add that, see if one additional can is enough. This is not a thick stew, it should be a somewhat thinner, soupyish one. Add another can if you think it might be a good idea. The beans will swell as they cook, and will thicken the broth a bit; so if you’re uncertain, be conservative. You can always add more beans later.

Lemon wedges to serve, with Maldon salt and freshly ground pepper, and hot pepper flakes or oil

Melt the oil and butter in a large pan (a six or seven-quart Dutch oven, for example) over low heat. Add the celery, shallots, fennel seeds, and chopped parsley stems, with a pinch of salt. Cook slowly, stirring frequently, until the shallots and celery are very soft, but not browned at all. When they are nearly soft, add the garlic slices, being careful not to let them burn, and cook to soften. Raise the heat to medium, add the wine and let it simmer for 3 or 4 minutes, and then add the tomatoes, beans, and chopped vegetable stock cubes, which will dissolve. Add a cup of water, if things look too thick. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for about half an hour, stirring periodically.

Add the fish pieces, nestled into the top of the stew. Reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and let this cook for about ten minutes, no more, until the fish is opaque and flaking. If you are using bay scallops, add them later, cook only 3 to 4 minutes. Once the fish is cooked, you can stir it in.

This should be prepared several hours ahead, so that the beans have mellowed and the seeds have softened. If serving the same day, I leave the base on the stove, covered, and reheat it slowly at dinner time. In that case, don’t add the fish until the base is hot, shortly before you’re serving it. If you have leftovers, keep the casserole in the refrigerator, and dip out and reheat only what you will need at that time.

Wrap the chopped parsley and celery leaves in waxed paper, wrap that in a damp paper towel, and wrap that loosely in plastic wrap. This will keep for several days in the refrigerator, and should be sprinkled over the stew. Serve with lemon wedges, etc., as above, along with some good bread. If you aren’t serving this to a crowd, you will have some easy evenings ahead, with very little to clean up. Cheers!

Sun all day, Rain all night? A friend once told me he’d had a perfect childhood, and this evocative short description of it was the only one offered. So peaceful and simple, and a guide.

Pamela Osborne lives in Salisbury.

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