A little more than 40 years ago, author and minister Robert Fulghum published his runaway bestseller “Everything I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten”, in which he talked about rules of life like “Share everything” and “Say it sorry if you hurt someone “and” blush.
I am the Robert Fulghum of the duodenum. Everything I really need to know, I learned as a teenager to drink and eat with my parents.
When I was little, my mother and father allowed me and my many brothers and sisters to drink and smoke whatever we wanted on New Year’s Eve. We just had to do it indoors while they watched. Nowadays a lot of people would belittle them for it, but my mother and father were wise.
We kids sipped scotch whiskey and pretended to like it. We put on and held Lucky Strikes, just like Bette Davis.
And our faces turned as green as the air in the cave. So much for forbidden fruits.
On the other days of the year, my parents usually served wine at the dining table. You didn’t make a big deal of it. Wine was just “there”. This is how I grew up with wine that was adorned from time to time through my father’s talk about it. Wine became a center in my life, something both delicious and wonderful. I was delighted to be able to speak to dozens of people about it for decades as a writer and teacher.
We grew up as a big family. Nine children, no twins. One evening over dinner when I was in my mid-teens (and # 9 was in diapers), my dad told me that he had “a big surprise” for dessert. That’s a carrot, mate, to get your kids to behave around the table and get their plates ready. And it worked, but it also boiled the waters of tension.
When the time came, my father pulled out a Snickers bar – a Snickers bar – and cut it into nine equal pieces with a knife and passed them around, each nugget on its own small plate.
Then he said, “I want you children to know that in my eyes each of you is the same. That’s all.”
I stormed out of the dining room angrily. How dare he I deserved a bigger serving than the others. I was the oldest, the biggest, the hungryest.
Somebody ate my piece.
It took me a long time to figure out what my father was doing during this mealtime. In all the vicissitudes of our family, in all the crazy things we children have done to our parents, my father has not turned away from this separation of his love for his children.
Of the nine of us, three are gay. This development seemed to be more difficult for mom than for dad, perhaps because of her background. She was raised in a small village in Belgium by rather conservative Roman Catholic parents, so the foreign was layered on top of the foreign. Her past hadn’t provided her with tools to talk about being gay. And she didn’t talk about it.
While visiting San Francisco in the late 1980s to visit one of her three gay children, she noticed a cookbook in my sister’s kitchen published as a fundraiser by Project Open Hand, an organization my sister volunteers for reported when she was delivering something People living with HIV / AIDS called it “meals with love”.
My mother returned to Denver and nondescriptively began work on her own cookbook, which ended up being called “Friends for Dinner,” and hitting $ 150,000 (about $ 290,000 in 2021) in the Denver Meals on Wheels coffers for Brought to people with AIDS.
You and my father published the book through a third print and did not pay a cent against the production costs. My mom whipped the sales of this book by setting up a card table outside the Tattered Cover bookstore over the weekend and handing out homemade chocolate truffles if you bought a copy.
“Friends for dinner” was how my mom talked about her gay kids. It was loud.
I’ve learned so much about life – especially caring and kindness – from sitting at my parents’ tables, the wisdom and insights of my father there, and the thousands of meals my mother cooked for her family and in her cookbook wrote.
The recipe here is from La Bonne Cuisine, my mother’s cooking school that she left from her home kitchen. It is from a meeting that called her with a word from her native language “A Salut to Spring”. She loved cooking salmon.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Poached salmon with raspberry beurre blanc
From Madeleine St. John, La Bonne Cuisine, Denver. Served 6.
- 4 cups of dry white wine
- 2 cups of water
- 1 cup sliced celery
- 10 peppercorns
- 4 small onions, sliced
- 4 small carrots, sliced
- 2 medium-sized sprigs of parsley
- 1 large bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 9 to 12 pounds whole fresh salmon, cleaned and patted dry
- Watercress, lemon and lime slices, fresh raspberries for garnish
For the raspberry white butter:
- 1/2 cup of raspberry vinegar
- 1/4 chopped shallot
- 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) whipped cream, warmed
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
- 2 tablespoons of raspberry jam, sieved from “seeds”
Mix the first 9 ingredients in a large stock pot or fish poacher and bring to a boil over moderate (or medium) heat. Add salmon and poach for 45 minutes to 1 hour. DO NOT ALLOW POACHING LIQUID to boil.
Place the salmon on the work surface, drain and let set. Remove the head and discard. Use a sharp knife to gently peel the salmon skin off the head, then peel it off by hand, working towards the tail. Remove the thin layer of dark meat. Put the salmon on the plate. (Salmon can be cooked and refrigerated several hours in advance; bring to room temperature before serving.)
Prepare the raspberry beurre blanc: Mix the vinegar and shallot in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the vinegar is reduced to 2 tablespoons. Add heavy cream and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons. Take off the stove. Stir in 1 piece of 2 or 3 pieces of butter.
Put the pan back on low heat and stir in the remaining butter until the mixture has the consistency of light mayonnaise. Stir in raspberry jam.
To serve, garnish salmon with watercress, lemon and lime slices and fresh raspberries. Serve with the sauce.