On Conquering Fears

five spice calamari
I took one of those “How Well Do You Know Me?” quizzes on facebook a while back. They clearly are no indication of how well you know someone, but rather a way of showing how many (or how few) tidbits you can ‘guess’ right. I let out a huge guffaw when reading that most people think I would rather mingle at a party than people-watch. wtf? I’m one of the best people-watchers I know, and I cringe at making small talk unless it’s about a new all-clad pan or pasta roller attachment.

I also got a few chuckles out of the question about my fears. I used to think I didn’t have any of those. Spiders? No. Heights? Heck No. Snakes? Not really, but they do make me shiver when I see them on tv. I finally admitted it after years – I do have a fear…

The big ol’ ocean. Or rather, any large body of water, with waves and a ‘deep end’.

before scuba

Yep, I said it. I marry a swimmer and I’m afraid of the ocean. And can I swim? Does doggy paddling count?! You see, a long time ago, in grammar school, I got caught in the undertow. It probably wouldn’t have been a big deal, but this stupid wench I was with decided to stand on my shoulders so that she wouldn’t go under. Yes, wench. Wouldn’t you agree? It was traumatic at best. And needless to say, I only go into the water if I’m sweating bullets.

Or scubadiving.

scuba gear

I avoided the dreaded scuba in Fiji. I nodded every time Chris mentioned it for this past vacation, secretly hoping he’d change his mind. I was terrified. And not just at being in the middle of the Caribbean. Sure, it’s gorgeous, but there. is. nothing. under. my. feet. for feet. And to even think of, on top of that fear, of remembering to breathe, and remembering to equalize my ears.

during scuba
Equalize my ears. That’s another er, issue. A couple of years ago, my ears wouldn’t equalize for days after a flight. Days. I just knew I’d make it all the way into the big scary water and after it all, I wouldn’t be able to go past 5 feet because of my stupid ears.

Did I ever mention that I’m practically blind without my contacts? Thanks, Dad. My contacts are -6.5, if that means anything to you. That’s why I don’t wear glasses – I’m scurred that they’ll “fall off” and then I’d be lost, and blind, and then I’d run into stuff. And who knows what you might run into in Chicago. So on top of the ocean fear and the pressure fear, I also have the water-is-going-to-get-in-my-mask-and-then-my-contact-will-fall-out-and-then-I-can’t-see-anything fear.

I suppose that, when you love someone, you sometimes put your fears aside. You take one for the team, so to speak. I knew Chris, being a certified diver, was über-excited about the scuba venture. But I won’t pretend that I enjoyed every second of it. I won’t pretend I didn’t almost give up at least 10 different times (7 of those in the pool during ‘training’). I think I almost used my whole air tank by hyperventilating the second I got in the sea, just on the way down the rope. One time, my ears started making this crackling noise, and it took all my might to not shoot straight up to the surface. Another time, I thought I felt water creep into my mask, just a little, and again thought about bee-lining to the sun.

steamed calamari
But I did it. And after about 20 minutes of hyperventilating and dreading seeing even the prettiest fish of them all, I finally started to enjoy it. I started to realize that, underneath the big scary body of water, there is another world, completely separate from our own. It was amazing, and gorgeous and beautiful and all of those nice words. And afterwards, I felt accomplished. I felt like, if only for a few moments, I’d conquered three ‘fears’ in one. And I survived it.

So in light of said fear-conquering, I thought I’d cook up some water creatures that many might be afraid to even eat, much less prepare – squid, or more fancily, calamari. I myself, will admit that I was a little apprehensive about cooking the little buggers. Rightfully so – the first recipe I tried was a dud – and by dud I mean neither one of us could eat the leftovers. That’s bad, folks.

I should have known – the recipe used steamed calamari, the wicked stepsisters to the succulent little fried mollusks served alongside your sauce of choice. And while many people prefer the ‘rings’ or ‘bodies’ of the calamari, I’d take those tentacles, umm mmm, hands down.

fried calamari
With that being said, I set out to conquer calamari once and for all. The right way. I felt a little sad about the steamed calamari from last week, and figured why continue to mess around? I was in it to win it. I’d say I knocked it outta the park, this time. The fried squid are perfectly crispy with the flour and bread crumb crust, and the addition of spices adds a little kick – so good that I had a tough time not eating them as they drained. But try to wait for the sauce – it’s light which is a nice alternative to the usual aioli or creamy dip served in restaurants.

Cooking squid isn’t so scary after all. The jury is still out on the scuba …

Five-Spicy Calamari w/ Soy-Sesame Dipping Sauce
Serves 4 as an appetizer

canola oil (for frying)
1 c ap flour
1 c panko bread crumbs
1 T five-spice powder
1 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 c
1 lb cleaned calamari; tentacles whole; bodies cut into 1/2″ rings

dipping sauce
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c rice vinegar
1 t minced garlic
1 t minced ginger
1 t sesame oil
1 t honey or agave nectar

pour oil to about 3 inches in heavy bottom pot. heat to ~350-375 F. whisk flour through black pepper in large bowl. place buttermilk in another bowl. add calamari to milk, then into bowl with flour. toss to coat and fry in oil in batches, about 2 minutes for each batch. remove with slotted spoon and place on plate lined with paper towels to drain.

for dipping sauce, whisk all ingredients together and adjust ingredients as needed.

9 thoughts on “On Conquering Fears

  1. Anonymous says:

    ok see if this works.. when was this undertow thing? i don't remember..and you did learn to swim at grandma's, remember. you were a good swimmer…as for this recipe, you don't have to worry about fixing this for me, for sure..not really sure about your dad.see ya soon…mom

  2. Heather says:

    Hi mom! thanks for commenting! undertow – loooooong time ago. do you remember mary alyce? i was with her. and her stupid friend :)really? you count that as learning how to swim? when chris reads this he will laugh. he knows i can't swim – he's seen me try. but thanks for always being positive! ha hanoted. will NOT make you calamari🙂

  3. Jenn Sutherland says:

    I'm right there with you on preferring tentacles to rings of calamari! And also being afraid to scuba, though I do love to swim and snorkel. Friends are trying to convince me to get scuba certified for our trip to Tahiti next year…I'm not convinced. I'm happy paddling around close to the surface. I also have to confess to being afraid to cook calamari…they seem so easily overcooked. And yet, I can no longer order them in restauruants, due to my gluten issues. So, perhaps you will inspire me to conquer my fear of cooking wee squidies.

  4. Jennifer says:

    wow. I knew you were scared of the scuba diving, but not to that extent. Jon and I have been talking about getting certified so we can go on our next vacation….whenever that is.Calamari looks awesome! Tentacles are my favorite, too…mainly b/c they are always left over on the plate, so I'd eat them and get extra calamari that way!

  5. Heather says:

    @Jenn: at the end of the day, it's probably worth it to go scuba-ing, especially in tahiti. jealous! id love to make it back the the south pacific one day. also, i'm sure fried, g-free calamari would be just as good – that way you can have it at home!@simps: don't i hide my fears well?! i just don't talk about it, and hope that they go away. ha ha. and clearly we shouldn't eat calamari together – we both have the same method! ha ha

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