“Some of the time, not all the time” says the Dylan song “Hanging Out the Clothes.” That’s how I feel about cooking. Sometimes I love thinking about cooking, perusing cookbooks, thinking about flavors. Sometimes I am inspired by a particular ingredient from the Farmers’ Market down in Berkeley or a glut of foraged blackberries. Sometimes I just want to put the closest thing in my mouth and be done with it.
There is a special pleasure in cooking for someone when you want to please them. Our most recent foray to Canned Foods Grocery Outlet fetched us some wild caught salmon from Washington State. Standing over the freezer case, eying the fish, I ask Mom, “Does Bryan eat salmon?”
“I think so,” she says. “Does Johnny eat salmon?”
It is rare for Mom to bring up Johnny in conversation. He’s only been over to the house in the past three weeks: although I’ve known him much longer than that, he never had reason to come up here before last month.
“I don’t know,”I said. “I’ll ask him when I see him.” In the meantime we bought the salmon filet, enough to feed at least four people.
Johnny and I schedule our visits in advance. We live a good distance away from one another and public transit schedules are not conducive to spontaneous trips to see one another, so, instead of dropping in on each other all of the time we schedule visits and try to spend a significant amount of time together when we get together.
We bought the salmon on Tuesday and Johnny was coming over on Thursday night. When he told me he liked salmon, I made a dinner plan: I would make the pear tart tatin that he once wanted to elope with (He’s mine, pear tart!), microwave some fresh green beans, bake some red potatoes and cook the salmon in foil topped with seasonal vegetables: cherry tomatoes, orange bell peppers, kalamata olives, basil, a little feta — basically a Greek salad without cucumber thrown on top of the fish. Everything except the green beans could cook in the same oven and, with a little prep work I could have an easy dinner that was festive and delicious.
In the morning I made pie crust for the tart and put it to chill. In the afternoon I took the salmon out to thaw, laid it on foil on baking sheet and oiled the skin-side with a little olive oil. Then I went to work on the pears, peeling, coring, slicing, putting them to soak in a little dark rum, sprinkling ground cardamom over them. I made the caramel in a cast iron skillet, arranged the pears on top, rolled out the top crust. I preheated the oven, adding a handful of potatoes on the side. Then I snapped beans and cut up half a basket of red cherry tomatoes, and a large orange bell pepper. I tore up a few basil leaves, plucked a handful of pitted olives from a jar, diced a small cube of feta and I was ready to go, scattering all that on top of the salmon. The minute Johnny arrived I put the tart and the salmon in the hot oven and told him we had a half hour to ourselves before I had to mess with food again.
I can’t remember what we did for that half hour. He might. He set table for me in the dining room because the breakfast room was a mess and I did not want to excavate the table. I had him test the fish a few times because I don’t cook salmon often. All told, we cooked the fish for perhaps 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Brother Bryan arrived home just as it came out and we all sat down to eat.
Johnny and I liked the salmon so much that I scrambled the leftovers for breakfast with eggs and we ate them with the last slices of the pear tart tatin — have to get rid of that stuff quickly since Johnny has threatened to run off with it.