Thursday, March 12, 2009

No Frosting needed for these Cakes

When I bicycle home, I pass a sign informing of Lewis and Clark's sojourn along the Clark Fork River. This sign, with dramatic language, sites their trial and tribulation of leaving Missoula and crossing the Bitterroot Mountains in the winter of 1806. But when the sun shines in this valley, I like to think of them before their mountain passage, sitting in the late sun soaking up the goods of the river. No one writes of their times of idle joy. Other days when this valley is cold, windy and grey, I imagine I am like Lewis and Clark, taking the river as far west as I can--to the convergence in town with the Blackfoot and Bitterroot, following the Bitterroot along into Idaho and then joining the Snake River onwards to the great Columbia and finally resting on the Pacific shores. As if I consult my inner salmon, what can I say, I am a water girl. I miss the sounds of water wide and moving more with the moon than the mountain's spring melt. 

My first trip to the Pacific Northwest was in late spring when my father, brother and family friends followed the path of the Hoh River trail all the way up into the Olympic Mountains where the goats, glaciers and a small spring merged. There we sat eating Nutella sandwiches and apples laughing at the eagerness of the goats for spring flowered greens. It was a lasting impression on all of us, especially my brother, who after this trip quit his job in Detroit and headed West with a windsurfer on top of his Honda CR-X. Like a salmon himself, he found his place along the Columbia surfing a warm fall and later snowboarding at Hood River that winter until he went to the city in the late spring where he later lived in for six years.

I have so many fond memories of visiting him in Portland, twice by taking the train across country, and even living with him for a few months in that city in the mid-90s which felt like it was still budding to be something, yet. Then, Portland was not as quite hip or hindered by anything other than the mass of young midWesterners looking for a new place to call their own. Portland still seemed all Forrest Park and Powells. Rain and Rodadendrums. And of course, filled with flavors and food I couldn't find in the midwest, not even in Ann Arbor. 

But despite all the good food in that city, there is still one meal that I covet more in my mind than mac and cheese from Montage or Saint Honore's chocolate crossiants.  It was back on our first night hiking the Hoh river trail. My brother had secretly put in his backpack a flank of salmon that we cooked along the sandy banks of the swelled spring flow. I think we all ate it with our fingers off of the aluminum foil with roasted garlic and salt. Simple. It was slowly getting dark and I remember climbing into my sleeping bag that night, hearing the rush of water, smelling cold coming into the tent and thinking why salmon are sacred. Somehow not just their bodies, but their travels and tribulations are like an explorer we reverie as a hero. As if salmon taught us the trick of wandering, but to always return home. 

This past week I cannot stop eating salmon. As if I have come out of hibernation myself and I am hungry for nothing but fleshy red sockeye or even the smoked goodness someone gave me from their guiding in Alaska. Last week, I made salmon cakes at work and every person who stopped by to taste told me how their grandma used to make them or their mother, as if only the ones who remember the depression or who came from some Midwest state cook canned salmon. Sure, it might be true. But if you add enough fresh ginger and basil, you won't be thinking canned anything. Brown rice is a good addition for an even healthier meal. Also, I made these as a sandwich with fresh tomatoes and cheddar on rosemary focaccia for lunch with left over celery soup. I also like to eat them on fresh greens with sliced avocado and a balsamic, mustard, gingered dressing with fresh bread for a weekday dinner.

Salmon Cakes

One can of red-sockeye salmon, drained 
Juice from one lime
One tablespoon of dijon mustard
1/2 cup of brown rice, cooked
3 scallions, use both the white and green parts
Six springs of basil, finely chopped
One egg
One piece of toast, crumbled or use bread crumbs (I prefer toasted bread)
2 tablespoons of ginger, fresh, grated or finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
One tablespoon of olive oil

1. After you drain the salmon, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl, minus the olive oil.
2. (I tend to taste the mixture before I cook it to see if I needs more salt, tang or flavor. Canned salmon varies in saltiness, so I prefer to actually buy alaskan red-sockeye that has salt already added)
3. Add the olive oil to a skillet, don't let it get too hot. 
4. Make cakes by forming a ball first and then flatten with your hands before you put into the oiled skillet.
5. Cook the cakes for about five minutes on each side and serve warm.

If you have any left over, be sure to put some more lime juice in the mixture before you put it in the fridge, this will help it from becoming too dry.

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