We've gone, and come back. We're mostly unpacked. Almost through the laundry. Nearly recovered from end-of-the-trip ailments. It was a good trip. It always is.
While they're still fresh, before I forget them, I wanted to remember here two things recently on my mind.
The first is fresh eyeballs. Apparently, whenever I do this do-si-do between states, I get all Proustian, noodling over new landscapes and eyes. It happened last summer, over wooded walks and long hikes. Happened again last month, in other ways, big and small. I'm thinking that as long as we summer in Seattle, it's due to become tradition, right in line with raspberry popsicles. Not a bad fate, if you ask me.
Anyway, I hope you'll forgive the redundancy. It's just that, from where I sit, on this July Ohio Monday, everything looks rawther Mary Poppins. We woke to sticky, blinding 95° skies. By two, I probably could've feigned bedtime. The heat hit the fan, the windows went charcoal, little could be heard save wild rumbles and limbs snapping. One hour, two inches of rain, easy. (Glad I didn't water.) Did I mention the twenty-three degree mercury freefall? I adore thunderstorms. And I'm reminded of why, when I land at SeaTac, I'm a bit of a Martian, surveying my old stomping grounds.
It's not that I didn't see the Northwest, those first thirty-five years I knew nothing else. Like everyone, I knew the damp drizzle, the serrated skyline, the perpetual green. I knew the (sweet, ridiculous) routine of spontaneously shouting, Hey! The Mountain is out! I knew the weird, trapped contradiction of drinking in the spectacle while idling on I-5. Of feeling that the entire story of the city was tucked between one discreet, majestic clause. (Olympics, Cascades. Paren, end paren.)
I knew all this. Academically, anyway.
But I was also a little looked out. It was my familiar, my over and over, my everyday ordinary 365.
This didn't breed much in the way of contempt. I adored gray skies, steady rain, jeans in June; I still do. But I was a bit complacent. Maybe a bit blind. My actual eyesight is blessedly 20/20. My interior eyesight's more quarter-inch lens territory. It's to be expected, I suppose.
Rhodendrons somehow look less like landscape blather, more like kind, gentle, reliable friends. Sword ferns, dime a dozen in any backyard, catch me off guard with their ancient demeanor. The dandelions. I had no idea. They're downright epic. Seriously, locals, carp away about weeding. Those things are Godzillas. You've got my sympathetic ear.
Instead of Tall Grass, I spy a half-dozen individual grasses, one wheaty, one green-tipped, one soda pop purple. I find, accidentally, again, that unnamed grass that pulls thrillingly free from its stem. It's an unremarkable grass, with unremarkable seeds, otherwise not worth noticing, but for this one trick. I must have pulled apart two thousand as a child; the firm tug, doubtful pause, decisive whoosh-whoop! release. Comes back to me like breathing. I show Zoë, ASAP.
And, from the time we step off the plane, I inhale with gusto. I must sound nearly-drowned.
The air. Holy cow. It's outrageous stuff, damp, rich, briny, completely addictive. I'm not sure how I missed this my first three-plus decades, and technically, I guess this is new nose territory, but forget all that. Just, if you go, you know, inhale. And notice. And repeat. It's pretty impeccable.
I realize that my children might need re-assimilation. This has been one of my biggest concerns all along, that they'll forget their origins, their ocean, their tidepools. Mostly, my concerns have been unfounded: they're fine little dual citizens. But there are a few gaps in their memories and education, which I try to address during each return. Dick's cheeseburgers are the best, this side of anywhere. Besalu makes Parisian croissants look like frauds. This is not actually a roller coaster, just the counterbalance. Hey! The Mountain is out today!
This trip, I re-acquainted them with the local flora and fauna. We talked salmon berries, and maple trees, moss and seaweed, the sneaky trick of a second strawberry season. Max had forgotten sea anemones. Henry had no recollection of spit bugs. Zoë had dibs on the biggest jaw-dropper. We were winding down a trip to our old haunt, St. Edward's, walking through one of the thickly forested trails. Just ahead, on the path, sat a long, lone, black slug. I casually asked whether she remembered its name. There was no flicker of name. No flicker of recognition. No nothing. She stared up at me, all blank face and curiosity.
Dear Reader, my daughter did not know from slugs.
Not to worry. We had ample opportunity to brush up.
The other item on my mind of late is poached salmon. (Surely, the worst segue. Anywhere. Ever.) I poached some, while in town. I poach some every few months. I've probably, over the course of the past decade, poached the population of a small tributary. Occasionally, I'll slow roast, or sear spice-crusted slices over blistering heat. As should you, if it's looks your after. Poaching is not the prettiest preparation; there's no burnished crust, no handsome cross-section. But when it comes to salmon, I find I return to this same addictive method, over and over.
Method's probably too strong a word for a recipe that runs something like this: dump two tablespoons of salt in a bunch of water, slide in your salmon, and bring to a boil. Clamp on a lid, set the timer for ten, play a few hands of Uno, *ding ding*, dinner's done. Actually, that's exactly the recipe. Well, minus the Uno; that part's optional.
You can complicate it, if you wish, if you prefer extra work and unnecessary mess. Plenty of poaching recipes out there call for chardonnay or court bouillion or bouquet garni or all of the above. Be my guest. I've tried gussied. Not one beats this one, in my book, anyway.
Get past the cover, and poached salmon's wild on content, foolproof, versatile, fast, easy, do-ahead and delicious. The method's so gentle—you don't even hold the simmer—that you cannot wind up with dry if you try. It's wonderful warm, fresh from the broth, and excellent cold, especially the next day. I think this is because the texture relaxes, and the salt settles in with a good night's sleep. I'll allow, though, that it might just be the thrill of throwing open the fridge and finding such splendor. It's weeknight-quick (or vacation-quick, quicker still), and involves neither splattering oil nor supervision. It always puts me in the mind of a batch of hard-boiled eggs. Only when you're done, you've an entire gorgeous platter of salmon.
So yes, it does redeem itself a bit there. Poached salmon may be pink all over, but an entire poached side—no harder than a slice—necessitates a platter, and platters all but guarantee oohs and ahs. (Transitive Property of Serving Dishes. Look it up.) Throw some hydrangea leaves under, scatter dill over all, and you've suddenly got an awfully nice affair. I've served this to company (main course done the day prior? oh, hello), brought it to potlucks, whipped up a half-fish just to have on hand for nibbling. It's like that, high/low, fancy/everyday fare, a neat trick if you can swing it. Salmon can. Lucky us.
What's that? What does one do with three pounds of poached salmon, if, say, it's just you and yours? Well, well. Tender chunks are what I use for these fish cakes, or scatter over green leaves, or sub in for tuna in Niçoise. But for the first serving, and often the last, what I love it with best is this lemon-dill sauce. The sauce, like the fish, is classic Mark Bittman, a triumph of his minimalist best. He tossed off a few words about yogurt and lemon; I fine-tuned it slightly, into what you find below. It's fantastically creamy from the Greek Yogurt, sharp with fresh lemon, fragrant with dill. I think it was intended to be a condiment. I, as you can see, eat it more like a side. More often than not, I'll intend to spin the bounty into two or three different meals. More often than not, I can't get past this duo, returning over and over until the whole platter's empty. Not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all.
adapted from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything
You don't need any specialized pans, here. Use a large, deep, lidded skillet for a center-cut slice, or a roasting pan (with foil to cover) for a full side. Alternatively, cut the side to fit a skillet. If you wish to get fancy, IKEA does (did?) stock a fantastic fish poacher for just $20.
If your salmon is more than an inch at its thickest point, allow a few additional minutes to cook through.
1 salmon filet, full side or large center-cut slice (2-3 pounds), skinned and cleaned
2 rounded tablespoons kosher salt
Fill your pan half-full with cold water, set on stove, add 2 tablespoons salt, stir, and lay salmon in water. Add additional cold water to just cover salmon, if needed. If you have a full side, fold tail end under itself to approximate center thickness. Turn heat to high, and bring just to the boil, then cover, turn off heat, and set timer for ten minutes.
Test for doneness by inserting a thin knife into the thickest point. Salmon should flake easily, and be just barely opaque to the center. If still translucent, cover and let poach a few minutes longer.
Carefully remove salmon from pan to platter. Drain excess water by gently tilting plate over sink, while holding firm to the fish. I'll often take a paper towel or two to the plate after draining, just to soak up the last lingering bits of liquid.
Eat warm, immediately, or eat cold, straight from the fridge. Salmon keeps beautifully up to three days.
Lemon Dill Yogurt Sauce
adapted from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything
Neither traditional yogurt nor non-fat Greek is any good here. I've tried. This sauce is also shockingly good as a dip for steamed broccoli.
1 16-ounch tub Greek Yogurt, 2% or whole
1 bunch fresh dill, chopped (1/2-1 cup chopped, to your taste)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 lemons, organic if possible
Wash lemons, zest lemons, then juice lemons. Tip yogurt into a medium bowl, and stir briefly to loosen. Add juice of 2 lemons, zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 cup dill, and salt. Stir well to combine and dissolve salt. Taste, adjust as desired (more zest, dill, and/or salt), and serve alongside salmon.