A little over 40 years ago, author and minister Robert Fulghum published his runaway bestseller “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” in which he wrote about life rules such as “share everything,” “say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody,” and “flush.”
I am the Robert Fulghum of the duodenum. All I really need to know I learned as a youngster drinking and eating in the company of my parents.
When I was small, on New Year’s Eve, my mother and father allowed me and my many brothers and sisters to drink and smoke whatever we wanted. We just had to do it in the house, while they watched. These days, a lot of people would disparage them for that, but my mother and father were wise.
We kids sipped Scotch whisky and pretended to like it. We pulled on Lucky Strikes, holding them as Bette Davis did, just so.
And our faces turned as green as the air in the den. So much for forbidden fruit.
On the year’s other days, my parents generally served wine at the dinner table. They didn’t make a big deal out of it. Wine was just “there.” I grew up with wine in that way, adorned from time to time by my father’s talk about it. Wine became a center in my life, something both delicious and wonderful. I delighted in sharing about it, as both a writer and teacher, with scores of people for decades.
We grew up as a large family. Nine children, no twins. One evening at dinner when I was in my mid-teens (and No. 9 was in diapers), my father told us that he had “a big surprise” for dessert. Now that’s a carrot, pal, to get your children to behave at the table and finish their plates. And it worked, but it also boiled the waters of suspense.
Came time, my dad pulled out a Snickers bar — one Snickers bar — and divided it with a knife into nine equal pieces and passed those around, each nugget on its own little plate.
Then he said: “I want you kids to know that, in my eyes, each of you is equal. That’s all.”
I stormed out of the dining room, enraged. How dare he? I deserved a bigger portion than the others. I was the oldest, the biggest, the hungriest.
Someone ate my piece.
A long time passed before I saw through to what my father did that dinnertime. In all the vicissitudes of our family, in all the crazy things that we kids did to our parents, my father did not blink away from that division of his love for his children.
Of us nine, three are gay. This development appeared more difficult for Mom than for Dad, due perhaps to her background. She had been raised in a small village in Belgium, by fairly conservative Roman Catholic parents, thus the foreign was layered atop the foreign. Her past had not provided her any tools to talk about being gay. And she did not talk about it.
On a visit to San Francisco in the late 1980s to visit one of her three gay children, she noticed a cookbook in my sister’s kitchen that had been published as a fundraiser by Project Open Hand, an organization for which my sister volunteered as it delivered what it called “meals with love” to people with HIV/AIDS.
My mother returned to Denver and unassumingly began work on her own cookbook, eventually called “Friends for Dinner” that brought $150,000 (around $290,000 in 2021 dollars) to the Denver coffers of Meals on Wheels for People with AIDS.
She and my father self-published the book, through a third printing, and took not a dime against any of its production costs. My mother flogged sales of that book by setting up a card table weekends outside the Tattered Cover bookstore, handing out homemade chocolate truffles if you bought a copy.
“Friends for Dinner” was how my mother talked about her gay children. It was loud.
I have learned so much about life — especially about caring and kindness — from sitting at my parents’ tables, from my father’s wisdom and insights there, and from the thousands of meals that my mother cooked for her family and wrote about in her cookbook.
The recipe here comes from La Bonne Cuisine, my mother’s cooking school that she ran out of her home kitchen. It is from a session that she called, using a word from her native French, “A Salut to Spring.” She loved to cook salmon.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Poached Salmon with Raspberry Beurre Blanc
From Madeleine St. John, La Bonne Cuisine, Denver. Serves 6.
- 4 cups dry white wine
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup sliced celery
- 10 peppercorns
- 4 small onions, sliced
- 4 small carrots, sliced
- 2 medium parsley sprigs
- 1 large bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 9- to 12-pound whole fresh salmon, cleaned and patted dry
- Watercress, lemon and lime slices, fresh raspberries, for garnish
For the raspberry beurre blanc:
- 1/2 cup raspberry vinegar
- 1/4 minced shallot
- 4 tablespoons (1/4 cups) whipping cream, warmed
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
- 2 tablespoons raspberry jam, strained of “seeds”
Combine first 9 ingredients in large stockpot or fish poacher and bring to simmer over moderate (or medium) heat. Add salmon and poach 45 minutes to 1 hour. DO NOT ALLOW POACHING LIQUID TO BOIL.
Transfer salmon to work surface to drain and firm. Remove head and discard. Using sharp knife, gently free salmon skin beginning at head, then peel off by hand, working toward tail. Remove thin layer of dark flesh. Transfer salmon to platter. (Salmon may be prepared several hours ahead and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before serving.)
Make the raspberry beurre blanc: Combine vinegar and shallot in small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until vinegar is reduced to 2 tablespoons. Add cream and continue cooking until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons. Remove from heat Whisk in 2 or 3 pieces of butter, 1 piece at a time.
Return saucepan to low heat and cook, whisking in remaining butter, until mixture is the consistency of light mayonnaise. Whisk in strained raspberry jam.
To serve, garnish salmon with watercress, lemon and lime slices and fresh raspberries. Serve with the sauce.
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