REPRINT: Smelting!

Yet another reprint. It is hard to believe that cute, multi-colored pup is actually Piper. This reprint is from 2 Mar 2010.


Smelts: sweet and succulent Osmeridae that gaily don their egg-and-flour bathing suits before easing into a Jacuzzi of hot oil; in the hands of a Greek or Southern person, they are utterly orgasmic to the palate.

What is smelt? They are popular little fish found in the Great Lakes region and a staple here.

Of course, they are best when they are served at festivals: This is Piper when she was eight weeks old, in my small camera bag. The smelts are in the container next to her.

Fish does not last long in this house. Jeff (my fearless Better Half) had them dipped, cooked and patted dry in record time tonight; the Fish Prowler of Pembroke, made short work of them. (Okay, not all of them. A huge container beckons to me from the refrigerator but I am ignoring it.)

Getting onto a new (yet smelt-related) tangent:

Jeff and I worked in animal husbandry at the Colorado Ocean Journey Aquarium years ago (before they were taken over and reorganized into the Downtown Aquarium – and before they went wickedly commercial with Landry’s.) Smelts were a staple for the otters.

There is nothing quite like hauling yourself down the back passageways of an aquarium at 4 AM, the heavy smell of fish mixing with Clorox bleach (kitchen cleaning) as you shuffle towards your department. We had a variety of shore and tropical birds, reptiles and amphibians, two tigers and two different species of otter.

Squid and smelts are otter food, as I said. I can not eat a smelt without thinking of Gunny (my favorite northern river otter) and Gracie (the sea otter.) The tigers preferred horse meat, which has a distinctly pungent smell. I always brought in coffee and sipped it throughout the morning, and so I still associate the beverage with horseflesh and Sumatran tigers.

The animals learned to distinguish our polo shirts from those of the tour guides and tourists. We’d stroll down the paths (the aquarium was divided up differently back then) and the animals would see us and surmise that a meal was on the way (which is was not!) They became lively, which pleased the visitors. (They were fed away from public view, using a target method that allowed for routine examination and behavior reinforcement. Small bits of food were placed in their enclosures as enrichment.)

Blah blah, yadda blah. The snow outside had coupled with the smelts, spawning a senseless desire to reminisce.

Meanwhile, this poor woman contemplates the empty plate in front of her. What a pity that she arrived late to dinner. Had she but known that I was ravenous after rearranging my living room (new couches arrive on Monday), she would have come early and avoided the carnage.