Monday, June 15, 2009

//Sometimes Father Knows Best


It was on my 21st birthday that my dad gave me a copper saute pan. The cooking equipment I owned at that point in my life was a pitiful assortment of whatever cheap-o knives, pots, pans, and dishes could be harvested out of the clearance bin at TJ Maxx, plus the hand-me-downs my parents dutifully offloaded on me before I left for college. The possessions ended up being more for show and less for actual use, by which I mean: to show I could/would make a good faith effort at some sort of culinary feat other than adding packages of pre-fried noodles to boiling cups of water. I think I spent more on Windex during college to keep the dust off the pots and pans than on actual food to go in them. I mean, I fancied the idea of being able to cook all the time, much like I fancied the idea of not having to get up at 6:30 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to attend my statistics class. But in both of these cases, in was the omnipresent tension that came from needing to finish undergrad, and, oh yeah, get into graduate school immediately thereafter, that kept me from acquiring domestic skills or forgoing sleep deprivation.

From my perspective, receiving an expensive piece of gourmet cookware seemed like my dad was gently trying to nudge me toward domesticity, a path I wasn't ready to go down yet. I didn't see how this pot would fit into my life, nor how it could be of any use to me. Gifts I'd use on a daily basis (e.g., clothing and shoes) were what I needed! Not kitchen equipment that was only going to sit around and therefore add to my list of things to dust! Dad wouldn't budge and get me shoes.

The entry of this saute pan into my life opened the kitchen store retail door to future cooking-related gifts. In the years following my dad would give me a cast iron tea kettle, kitchen sheers that all but sheered the skin of my very clumsy fingers, a wok big enough to stir-fry a turducken, Oneida china, baking pans, a food processor... etc. With every gift, I'd kindly ask him "Why?" This question came from a place of guilt, the guilt I felt because I knew it'd be a long time before I'd ever — if I ever — got to use my increasingly impressive array of gadgetry, doodads and pans. I just felt bad, is all. Each time Dad would reply with "Cooking brings people together. You're gonna be cooking full meals soon enough, and they're going to require everything you've acquired. You'll be glad you didn't have to go out and buy these things on your own. Trust me on this." Uh huh. Right, dad.

I was wrong. He was right.

It started slowly, with my "accidentally" discovering Muffin Day toward the latter half of senior year of college. Then on occasion a friend would ask for an appetizer or dessert to be brought to a group game night. A surprise birthday party or two, and a whole party thrown in honor of the salty-fatty-sumptuousness that is bacon later, and I was out of graduate school and had nothing but free time on my hands and a kitchen cabinet full of "stuff." Not being in school any longer also offered me some mental space to realize that I really enjoyed chef's artistry a whole lot more than I had previously thought. So much more than I was willing to put psychology on the back burner for a little while and take a deeper look at cooking. Now I'm doing as my dad said I would: using food to bring people together by whipping up whole meals... on Sunday evenings.

Since Father's Day is this coming weekend, I'm going to take the time to say thanks to my dad for (knowingly? unknowingly?) setting up the ideal kind of environment for me so I could thrive doing something I love.

The following smoked salmon recipe was featured as a first course opener at last night's dinner. It's simplicity need not be mistaken for blandness: the combination of savory salmon with very succulent melon, topped off with honey and palette refreshing mint, is meant to wake up the taste buds at the end of the day and prepare them for the food that is to follow.

Second Wind Salmon

8 oz of smoke salmon, preferably Sockeye
1 whole Casaba melon (or Crenshaw, or whatever variety is in season), about 3 lbs.
5 tsp honey
5 mint leaves

Before serving: Put individual serving plates in you refrigerator to chill.

Remove the smoked salmon from its package and separate each of the slices. Using a sharp knife, cut the melon in half and remove the pulp and seeds. Using a melon baller, scoop out as many melon balls as you can get from the fruit without breaking through its skin. (For a 3 lb melon, I got about 35 balls using the large side of the scoop.) Arrange the melon on each individual serving plate, and top 3-4 slices of salmon. Drizzle honey over the top of the fish and adorn with a mint leave. This is a dish best served cold.


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