. . . With Grilled Salmon and Apricots
I have a thing about recipe names that are too long. You know, titles that try to include every ingredient and how they’re all prepared. My rule is that if I breathe more than once while reading it, it’s too long.
But first, I must apologize for a few days’ absence. Last week was one of those that just wouldn’t end. It began and ended in fears, tears and heartbreak.
Just over a week ago, my precious Parsley (I stack ridiculous alliterative additions on top of all of the animals’ names) had what I thought was a seizure. On a weekend, of course. By the time I realized there was something seriously wrong, and got her to her wonderful veterinarian, it was already beginning to be too late. To make a long, sad story short, after two long and anxious days, by Wednesday morning it became evident that she was in congestive heart failure. It was time to let her go.
I had no idea how old she was, but thought she was relatively young. I adopted her about 3 years ago from a rescue organization. She’d been abandoned outside its offices one night in a box along with a litter of kittens. Eventually all were adopted but one. I adopted her and her son, and they became Parsley and Basil. When I got her, the group thought she was about 2 or 3 years old, which would make her about 6 or so now. The veterinarian suspected she was older, quite a bit older. For one thing, she (Parsley, not the vet) had recently been diagnosed as hyperthyroid, which is typically not a young cat’s disease. And what I thought had been a seizure? The veterinarian explained that “cardiac events” in cats often present with seizure-like symptoms. Which made perfect sense when I saw the x-ray film of her body cavity; even I could tell that her heart was abnormally enlarged on one side. She’d probably had several “events;” I happened to observe just one.
With all the animals I’ve had over many, many years, the times to let them go have not been unanticipated. They’ve to a one ranged from old to extremely old. With Parsley, though, I felt like I’d been hit with a brick. She had responded fantastically to her thyroid medication, and had even gained almost 2 pounds. Her little face had filled out, and she actually slept through the night, right next to me. In retrospect, I realized that for about the past month, though, she’d been seeming a bit slowed, but still thought it was the result of her metabolism being dialed down. But likely not. It is probably the case that her cardiac condition was masked by her hyperthyroidism. Poor baby. I feel we failed her on several levels, though in truth, the end would have been the same.
Of the three cats, she was my constant companion, even curling up on the kitchen counter right next to the little vent fan of my computer as I developed and grew The Solitary Cook. Years ago my sister observed, having walked into my house to see one of the cats stroll along the kitchen counter, leapfrog to the island, then jump to the top of the refrigerator, “These cats walk all over you!” “No,” I replied, “they walk all over the counters.” Basil and I are both feeling a little solitary right now.
As objects do when moving downhill, the week turned into one which only gained momentum. Life has its disappointments, which any other week would merely have been rolled with; last week, though, they rolled themselves right into the downward spiral of events. By Thursday I was starting to think: OK, what’s next, knowing that the chances it wouldn’t be good were great.
Friday morning I awoke to news of the horror in Aurora, Colorado. The daughter lives in Boulder, and while I knew she hadn’t been anywhere near the theatre, I spent much of the day responding to the many people who kindly called, emailed, texted, and tweeted wanting to know if she was alright. Yes, she was, and profound thanks to all who kindly got in touch. Even her brother was verging on frantic when he called me; he’d been phoning and texting her with no response. She’d gone to work, then to rehearsal. Life goes on. But two of her friends would have been in that theatre that night if not for work-related delays. She and I, and her brother and I talked for a long time about how sobering it is to live so near a huge, horrible event. The shattering aspect of it is not that it occurred so near to one of my children. Rather, it’s that such events can happen anywhere. Any time. To anyone. The people who died in that theater are a perfect cross-section of all of us. The son lives in Reno where terrifying events from that horrific air show accident to wildfires to random shootings have rattled the community for the past year. And I recently learned that my youngest nephew has a brand new tumor in his good ear; subsequent surgeries in this and his other ear pretty much guarantee that, natural brilliance cast aside, he’ll have lost his hearing before he turns 30. Their and others’ lives go on. They’ve matured into young adults under the need to be able to do so, no matter what. I think that is what both saddens, gladdens, and frightens me on a very fundamental level.
Being pulled in several directions at once is deeply uncomfortable. Does attempting to hold flying thoughts inside one’s head become easier or harder with age? I have no idea. On this day last year, the daughter and I were on the Champs Elysées, together among millions for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of the conclusion of the Tour de France. This week, I barely had a moment to pay attention to it. One more sight of the that deeply creepy, smiling photo of the murderer, and I swear I will start screaming. The contrast between a year ago and today finally overcame me in the shower this morning, and I was able to just stand there and cry. Alone. Which, given that I was in the shower is probably a good thing. Still, solitariness can have a dull edge. But tomorrow will be a new day.
In the meantime, I seriously needed a decent dinner tonight. I love Asian rice noodles. I mean seriously love them. Give them to me hot or cold, underneath anything, in chilled spring rolls. Among their many wonderful qualities is the fact that they don’t need to be boiled like other noodles; they simply soak in hot water for about 15 minutes. Imagine how lucky I felt when I discovered 3 1/2 packages of them when cleaning out a cupboard recently. And I always have some sort of fish in the freezer.
The heat wave gripping us continues to squeeze me out of the kitchen; 102 in the shade is not an exaggeration. When I grill fish, I like to use my perforated grill pan, the same one I’ve used to grill vegetables. That is because fish is delicate. While I don’t lament losing a curl or two of onion to the fire when grilling them, a lovely piece of fish and some sweet fruit are an entirely different matter. The fish will take on lots of flavor from the grill, yet run no risk of breaking apart and tumbling into the fire.
CHILLED ASIAN NOODLE SALAD
Serves 2 as an entrée, or 4 as a side
Leftovers keep very well
Sweet, smoky fruit combines with silken, tender rice noodles in a spicy-fragrant dressing with gently grilled salmon nestled in their midst – just what a doctor might order for a warm night in need of some tender comforts.
FOR THE DRESSING
2 ounces rice vinegar
2 ounces fish sauce
2 ounces soy sauce
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon sugar
4 ounces sesame oil
1 teaspoon minced or grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, peeled and grated or smashed and minced
1/2 teaspoon Sambal Olek or Sriracha
FOR THE SALAD
1 package rice noodles (Maifun)
1 wedge of red cabbage, finely shredded
Greens of 4 scallions, 1/4″ slices
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 salmon fillets
1 or 2 apricots, or other stone fruit, halved, pit removed, 1/2″ dice
Sea or kosher salt and grinds of pepper
Wedges of lime
- Build your charcoal fire or light a propane grill.
- While the fire is burning down or heating up, set the noodles to soak. Place them in a large, heatproof bowl. Fill to cover with boiling water. Cover with a plate or baking sheet to retain the heat. The noodles need to soak for about 15-20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking together the rice vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce, lime, and sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, whisk in the sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and Sambal Olek. When the noodles are ready, drain through a colander. Don’t rinse them; rather, transfer them to the bowl in which they soaked and toss with the dressing while they’re still warm. While the fire is burning down or heating up, respectively, toss the noodles every few minutes so that they season and absorb the dressing well. They will cool while resting.
- Before grilling the salmon, brush both sides with some sesame oil and season with salt and pepper. When the fire is ready, set the grill pan on the grate and allow it to heat just as you would a skillet on the stove. If you add the fish, or anything else for that matter, to a cold pan, it’s a sure bet that it will stick. Use a spatula to transfer the fish to the grill pan. For fillets about 3/4″ thick, grill for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, depending on how hot your fire is. Resist the urge to flip them over again and again. One turn from the first side to the second is just fine. When done, remove fish to a clean plate and take inside to rest and cool while you grill the fruit. Add fruit to the grill pan. Grill, moving around gently, for about 5 minutes.
- You can leave the noodles intact, but they tend to be very long. I mean really, really long. Pour them into a colander to drain, and use scissors to snip them up a bit, making them much easier to eat. Transfer them to a large bowl and add the cabbage, scallions, and fruit. Toss to blend. Allow to sit for 10 minutes for flavors to blend. Divide the noodles among plates or bowls, and nestle a piece of salmon atop each. Set a wedge of lime on each plate. You’ll want to eat outside, of course.
- This salad is also a wonderful way to use leftovers of grilled meats or other fish. With grilled vegetables, it makes a lovely Meatless Monday dinner.
And how lovely to actually be looking forward to a Monday.