I just got a lovely early Mother’s Day gift, the post below, from my son Liam. He is an actor, living in LA with his partner Oscar.
When he moved out of a dorm into an apartment, I despaired of how he was going to survive food-wise. He had always enjoyed our family meals, but often had his head buried in a book or a script while I stood at the kitchen counter hoping in vain for some help preparing dinner. Somehow he managed and even stayed within his budget without starving, though I did notice that he ate prodigious amounts whenever we treated him to a meal or he came home.
As a college student and recent grad, Liam would call me to ask random food questions at odd hours, like what type of meat should you use to make hamburgers and how do you cook cut-up chicken. I answered patiently, learning not to ask about school, jobs, boyfriends or anything else as a follow-up to his inquiry. This was supposed to be a one-way transfer of information and I wasn’t the designated recipient. Fast forward to five years post-college. Liam has turned into a fine home-cook and it turns out he was soaking up the most important cooking lesson I could have taught him.
Liam in the kitchen
One of the best lessons I have learned from my Mom is to cook with courage. I didn’t know life before her delicious breaded chicken cutlets, or her fragrant banana bread and I assumed that she had always known how to make them. Now that I’m grown and have to fend for myself when it comes to preparing food, I’ve been thinking a lot about the origins of my Mom’s dishes and how she learned to cook. Whether passed down to her from my Grandma or taken from her many cookbooks, there had to have been a first time my Mom made each dish, right? As a semi-novice cook, my supply of dependable dishes is limited. Many that come out of my kitchen are things I’m making for the first time. Although I know that they won’t all be huge hits at the table, my Mom has imbued me with the courage to constantly venture outside my comfort zone in the kitchen in order to expand my repertoire.
One of my favorite places online to find mouth-watering new meal ideas (besides this site, of course) is thekitchn. It is full of inspirational pictures of dishes that make my stomach growl, and the accompanying recipes are surprisingly simple. One post that caught my eye recently was for salt-cured lox, a bagel topping I used to love eating at family brunches and events at Temple.
It had never dawned on me that I could make it (affordably, no less!) at home. More than cooking skills, the recipe called for foresight and patience in letting the salmon “cure” (marinate) for five days. It looked do-able, so I decided to give it a try.
I bought the ingredients and set to work. I covered the salmon in the sugar, salt and pepper mixture and wrapped it on a Tuesday, refrigerating and turning it once daily so it would be ready for brunch the following Sunday. As I nervously unwrapped the salmon, rinsed it and began thinly slicing it, doubts suddenly raced through my head. Is it the right color? What if it tastes too fishy? Did I get the right cut of salmon?
I carefully laid the pieces out along with an array of other bagel toppings. (I could almost hear my Mom as if she were next to me, saying “presentation is key.”)
My guests and I constructed our bagels and dug in. The lox was delicious! In fact, I can’t remember ever having lox as flavorful and fresh tasting as what I made. I used a pound of salmon and had plenty for three people, as well as for leftovers Monday morning. I know I saved quite a bit or money over using store-bought lox on our bagels, but more importantly, I’ve filed away salt-cured lox as one of the growing list of tried-and-true dishes I can prepare when friends come over. I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t tried making it that first time.
And if you make it today, it’ll be ready just in time for Mother’s Day brunch!