Salmon Bahn Mi, Just for You

20 01 2012

A framed photo sits above my writing space. Three fishermen in their late-20’s crouch on deck, wearing hoodies, rainpants, and matching end-of-a-long-day grins. Team ’77:  friends born within several months of each other, together on a troller that shared our birth year.

My gaze drifts up to this photo often. One of my treasures, proof of the enduring nature of friendships forged on the docks. At an early age, boat kids understand the impermanence of seasonal living, the ease with which people can be washed into memories. We grabbed onto each other more than 25 years ago and refused to give in to life’s opposing tides. We still haven’t let go.

One of my beloveds is celebrating his birthday today. Always a trailblazer, he’s the first of us to hit 35. I’m trying to recall two awkward, competitive nine year olds meeting for the first time, but am caught in images from more recent years. Like when I had an ugly break-up, he tucked me into his couch and resisted saying I told you so. Or the full day he spent with a rented rototiller, churning up my yard for a garden I briefly fantasized about but never planted. I don’t call him unless I’ve got a full hour to spare – he’s a chatty one – and no one else’s emails can make me laugh so hard. Time with him and his partner constitutes one of my winter’s highlights.

I’ve been snowbound all week, and didn’t get to the post office to ship off the usual birthday box of mint brownies. But he’s been asking for this recipe for the past month, and today seems like a good day to share it here.  What better way to celebrate a lifelong friendship than with a delicious sandwich? So, for you, sweetie, and for you, sweet readers: the Salmon Bahn Mi.

Making Salmon Bahn Mi

Precision-minded chefs will cringe at my throw-it-all-together approach, and bahn mi purists will have their own criticisms.  Nope, this isn’t especially authentic, but it’s tasty and works with the limitations of boat life, as inspired by the Vietnamese Shrimp Sandwiches in the fabulous Fishes and Dishes. (If you’re a seafood fan, the Marsh sisters’ fantastic recipes, photos and storytelling make this cookbook a must-have.)

Gather together: wild salmon, soy sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, lemongrass, garlic, a lime, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, ginger root, white sugar, rice vinegar, a carrot, a daikon, mayonnaise, chili paste, red onion, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, hoagie rolls.

At least a few hours before dinner, marinate the fish and pickle the veggies.

How much salmon? Oh, enough to fit the rolls. A tail piece of frozen-at-sea coho is perfect for 2. Fool around with skinning it if you must; I’m happy to cook it skin side down and peel the finished product off.

For the marinade, mix 2-3 tablespoons each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and olive oil, with a little squeeze of lime. Chop a couple stalks of lemongrass; add these in along with a spoonful of minced garlic. Grate in some fresh ginger and lime zest, and throw in a few shakes of salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Pour it all over the defrosted fish and stick it in the fridge for a few hours.

To pickle the veggies, mix ¼ cup of water, ¼ cup of white sugar, and ¼ cup of rice vinegar. Peel the daikon and carrot, slice them into thin matchsticks, and soak them in the vinegar mix in the fridge.

At dinnertime, place the rolls in the oven, wrapped in tin foil, to warm.  Put a cast iron pan on medium heat, with a teaspoon of sesame oil. When the pan is hot, the salmon goes in, skin side down, with a little marinade spooned in and a lid on top. These are pretty thin pieces of fish, and won’t require much more than 5 minutes.

As the fish cooks, make a plate full of toppings: sliced red onion and jalapeno, peeled/matchsticked cucumber, fresh cilantro leaves. The spread is simple: mix a few dollops of mayonnaise with some chili garlic paste, amount dependent on your spice preference.

The salmon’s done when there’s only a slight bit of translucence left in the middle. Place the fish in your dressed rolls (see how easily the skin peeled off?) and layer with the pickled veggies and all those fresh toppings. Enjoy with a good friend, and afterwards, take a moment to tell me what you did differently to make this even more delicious.

Happy birthday, AB – I love you.


The Long Memory of Silence

17 01 2012

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies,

but the silence of our friends.”

                                                         – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Snow’s coming down hard at our house today. Flocks of varied thrush have moved down from the mountains to swarm our feeders. Bear the Boat Cat appears content in her off-season role of house cat; she hasn’t left the comfy chair by the fire all day. I have 10 pages to write for tomorrow’s memoir class, but am distracted by thoughts as heavy as the snowfall.

Martin Luther King Day has long been a powerful day of recognition for me, but January’s third Monday gained heavier baggage some years back. I’d taken a winter job at a blue collar business that definitely did not commemorate Dr. King’s legacy. We worked that day. And all day, I heard white men mock “N***** Day.”

I’m ashamed to tell you that I didn’t turn in my coveralls on the spot, when the first n-word hit the air. I didn’t even speak up. I worked in a back room, avoided my coworkers, and wondered who the despicable coward wearing my flesh was.

That night, I stuffed a check into an envelope, written for the amount I’d made that day. You didn’t earn this, I sneered, and scribbled a note to Seattle Education Access, asking that they direct my donation to an African American male student. This didn’t make me feel better. Exoneration isn’t available for purchase, after implicitly condoning a great man’s denigration. The envelope glue tasted unusually bitter.

That job included other gems, for sure. At one crowded morning meeting, my boss seethed about a woman demonstrating on a street corner: “Fuckin’ anti-war cunt!” The room suddenly airless, six pairs of men’s eyes immediately swung to me, the only person in the room with the genitalia inspiring our employer’s wrath. But I sat in the corner, face down, and didn’t meet their stares.

I usually made it home before crying.

This isn’t to say that my workplace sucked. It didn’t. As if I was a zebra among a field of horses – of the same genus, yet clearly Other – my coworkers treated me with indulgent bemusement. Being hard-working, amiable, and white helped.

Neither did that job present uniquely offensive experiences. Before signing on with Cap’n J, I worked for captains who taught me what a really challenging work environment looked like. Discovering 40 miles off-shore that your core beliefs are diametrically opposed to those of your companions, people you’ll work, eat, and sleep next to for weeks, months, without reprieve. Mentally mining every conversation for safety, only to find that the truly devoted will imprint hate on even the most benign topics. Becoming intimately aware of that burning knot in your throat, the one twined out of every Why do you say that? that you swallow, each What do you mean by that? that never makes it past your lips. Knowing that you’ve cashed in your values for the comfort of getting along.

Every Martin Luther King Day, the weight of these encounters settles over me again. Over time, all but the most outrageous comments have faded from my memory. And just as Dr. King warned, among all the offenses, my own silence rings the loudest.

In the time I’ve taken to write this, Bear doesn’t seem to have batted a whisker, while the birds – chickadees, nuthatches, and juncos – swirl into a feathered tornado around the sunflower seeds. Outside, the snow continues to fall.

Welcome, 2012! *waves wildly*

1 01 2012

Happy New Year, sweeties!

Here’s to 2012 including blue skies, festive seas, and joyful companions.

(Might turn down/mute the volume if you’re in public; we were rocking out this lovely July afternoon and I’m not tech-savvy enough to edit the sound.)

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