Fish Cheeks, and Other New Year’s Resolutions

by Emily Kemme

Growing up, I had an irrational fear of fish. Live fish that swam, whether in rivers, lakes or oceans, because, unless they jumped, I couldn’t see them, or know what they were doing. Recently caught, slippery fish, because, as rigor mortis set in upon their still forms, there was the possibility that the fish would continue to wiggle. Fish on my plate for dinner, because they were riddled with tiny bones which could get stuck in my throat if I talked while eating, raising the stakes on the predicted certainty I would choke, and die, right there at the table. Fish in large, glass tanks, particularly the ones at Chinese restaurants, first of all, because I worried that if I were to broaden the spectrum, and order a fish selection off the menu, the chef might pluck my meal out of the tank when I wasn’t looking, and second, I’ve always felt leery about sitting in public, eating saltily-sauced tidbits of sometimes unidentifiable foods, while fish swim around and stare dolefully out at me. What were they thinking about the world on the other side of the glass?

There was always unearthly silence (other than the sounds of vigorous chewing and processing, to make sure there were no bones before the bite was swallowed) whenever my family braved the waters, and ate the occasional fish for dinner. Just in case. My grandmother was the exception; she relished a German dish, forelle blau, so called because the trout, prepared in vinegar, retained its bluish, recently-yanked-out-of-the-river color. Our family spent much of the summertime in Estes Park, Colorado, hiking and looking at wildflowers, and whenever I dined at a particular restaurant there with my grandmother, she gleefully ordered this trout. The pièce de résistance, according to her, were the fish cheeks.

Forelle blau is a German delicacy, featuring the freshest trout available. Photo credit: Spreewaldeck Restaurant, Spreewald Hotel

Grandma repeatedly encouraged me to give these specimens a taste, which I repeatedly refused. While I loved spending time with her, I didn’t want to die from the experience.

I’ve come to believe that certain fears in life are unwarranted.

Since 634 BCE, beginning with the Romans, the world has been exposed to upwards of 200 End-of-the-World predictions. This is only a handful, over time; prophecies of doom and destruction have proliferated for as long as humans have walked on Earth, as a sort of morbidly obsessive hobby. Theories range from being religious-based (all major mainstream religions plus wacky cults included), stemming from the predicting sect’s predominant ontological way of thinking; a perfect storm in the sense of either planetary alignment, or Mother Nature; the Black Death in the Middle Ages; and a plethora of wars.

The most recent prediction for the world becoming extinct was actually made 5,125 years ago, according to scholars of the ancient Mayan civilization. My feeling is that the Mayans didn’t like making New Year’s resolutions, and kept putting it off. Day, after day.

Chances of wiping out the populace from the Black Death were a distinct possibility, before antibiotics, so what with modern medicine, I think we’ve decimated that likelihood. There is always potential for planetary malfunction; after all, isn’t the Big Bang how we’re all here on Earth? Nevertheless, I don’t know how much control we exercise over the Universe. Wars and weather are the greatest hazards for doing us all in, and yet, here we are. The world burning up due to the coming of the Apocalypse, Book of Revelation-style, is problematic, since there have been so many creeds that have predicted it. This makes me believe we’re safe. If we can’t get Americans in Congress to agree on how to prevent the end of the world (fiscally-speaking), it’s unlikely that one religion would agree with another as to when we’re all going to become immortally challenged.

All of these monumental considerations of how we may eat it gives rise to the looming question of why are we worrying about the small stuff?

If we can’t agree on the End of the World (be it the date, who gets to predict it, or whether it will even materialize), is it necessary to keep churning up my stomach (and popping Tums) with concerns about whether there is a Boogeyman hiding under my bed; or whether I’ve breached the prohibition of discussing religion, sex, or politics; or what might happen if I mix liquors? I’ve decided there is a greater likelihood that the Boogeyman is doing me an immense favor, hiding under there; hopefully he’ll munch on the dust bunnies first, and then, satisfied, he’ll nod off to sleep. The big three of Religion-Sex-Politics is discussed ad nauseum, Internet style, so I believe that taboo has been gnawed to death. As far as mixing liquors, there are worse things in life, as long as I’m not behind the wheel.

I’m beginning to think that pragmatism is the operating system we should be going on.

End-of-days fears are popular when there is widespread corruption and unsolvable problems. It’s an easy fix. There’s no need to make a New Year’s Resolution, or be good for Santa this year, because the world is going to end tomorrow. And then, when  it doesn’t, you can blame someone else.

I’ve thought a lot about fish cheeks lately. Maybe, they’re not such a scary thing. Maybe, I could venture into a new world, and give them a try.

I’m more comfortable with fish these days. Is it a matter of trust? Or education. Photo courtesy of J. Harrison Kemme.

“Grandma always said the fish cheeks were the best morsels of the entire fish,” I suggested to Dr. K, over a beautiful sea bass we shared for a meal in Canterbury, England recently.

He wanted to know if fish had cheeks.

As of today, it doesn’t appear that the world is ending. We just need to become more reasonable people. While it’s easier to make a New Year’s resolution, and then provide excuses as to why we weren’t able to achieve it, maybe if we take daily steps towards a matter-of-fact lifestyle, we can improve. Little steps, so it’s not terribly scary.

Except for the question about fish cheeks. Shouldn’t some things be left to mystery?


To All my Readers:  May you find contentment in the New Year!

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judy December 30, 2012 - 7:57 pm

I resolve to look for Fish Cheeks on my very next visit to Dirty Al’s. They would be fried, of course!
Wishing you a lovely New Year!

AK December 29, 2012 - 10:39 am

We always call it the chewy muscle.
Happy New Year.

Emily Kemme December 30, 2012 - 1:23 pm

Is it very tasty? Is it worth looking for??

AK December 30, 2012 - 1:25 pm

I love it, but have only had it from trout.


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