Gray skies, droplets lingering, snails gliding. I find comfort on misty mornings when browning petals drop from the dogwood, covering our nearly dormant grass with the semblance of autumn. Does this seem odd since artichokes await harvest, blueberries deepen their purplish hues, the smell of peaches fills my kitchen? The clouds, the spent flowers. They console me. Grief is almost always present, even when surrounded by blossoms. Sometimes it’s a forgotten seed, buried for years, germinating after disruption. Often is arrives overnight, weighing down petals, penetrating layers.
WE PULLED IT OFF! My sister and I successfully threw a surprise party for my parents’ 50th anniversary! We delayed it a day because of their trip to the mountains, which really worried me initially because we had already bought our plane tickets and started planning the party (ack!), but probably helped keep them in the dark. The party was attended by many of their dear friends, some of whom they’ve known four decades or longer. Most of the couples they raised kids with were present. Even my dad’s best man was there. We celebrated them well.
My sister and I were so nervous that someone was going to spill the beans. I wouldn’t let my boys talk to my parents on the phone in the weeks prior because I was worried they might tell them we were visiting Colorado before school ended. I didn’t even let the boys in on the secret until we were on the plane. Everyone acted the part, lying as necessary, and my parents’ socks were sufficiently knocked off. Their response ranks high among my absolute favorite memories of them. Shocked expressions, followed by tears of joy shared with each new person they noticed and hugged.
I arrived at a new level of ridiculous while planning food for this party. I actually flew with little jars containing various types of salt and other spices, as well as two pounds of smoked salmon. If we had driven, I probably would’ve packed chives from my garden and some of my favorite flours. I didn’t want to spend gobs of money to purchase the relatively small amounts of seasoning I needed and was reasonably doubtful I’d find a bulk section at the local store in Loveland, Colorado. I might need a spice travel belt.
I thoroughly enjoyed making food for friends who had nurtured me through the years. Many of them have known me since birth, changed my diapers, babysat me, fed me generously at countless celebrations and holidays, hosted me for sleepovers, etc… One taught me piano for a decade, another coached my basketball team. It was such an gift to be alongside so many special adults from my childhood while celebrating my parents.
My sister and I made a lot of finger-friendly food, my parents’ friends brought lovely appetizers as well. There were Beluga Lentil Crostinis, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, bacon wrapped dates, delicious cheeses, salamis, pickled grapes, pickled carrots, minty spinach dip, caprese kebab bites, marinated herbed olives, and many more nibbles. For dessert I made Deb Perelman’s amazing update to the rice crispy treat (I don’t like the classic version, but these make me swoon) and Dorie Greenspan’s White Chocolate Raspberry Brownies. I just might have to share that recipe here next, because they were phenomenal. It’s raspberry season, and you want to eat them.
My attempt to bring a little Seattle to the party, and the reason I packed salmon and Maldon in my suitcase, were these amazingly creamy, crunchy, briney, tangy toasts with smoked salmon. I actually added these to the menu in the week prior to the party, after discovering the recipe in Bon Appétit while waiting my turn at the hair salon. (If you don’t know this by now, I am pretty much always thinking about food. Even when I should be thinking about intentions for my very rare once-every-three-to-six-months haircut, I’m thinking about food.) This delicious bite is courtesy of Renee Erickson, the owner of The Walrus and the Carpenter, one of my favorite Seattle restaurants. Following her recommendation, I bought Loki hot-smoked salmon at the Ballard Farmers market a few days before we left. I nestled it in my suitcase between shorts and socks.
I did a few things differently than called for because of the number of people we were feeding and limitations on time. The recipe I’m sharing reflects those changes, making these more friendly for a big party. Renee’s original recipe calls for country-style bread slices, as well as frying the capers. I’m sure fried capers as exceptionally delicious, but these remain seriously tasty without that step.
PS- If the only pickle you’ve had came from a cucumber, you should remedy that. Stat. The aforementioned grapes are a great place to begin, as are these onions, which contribute nicely to hamburgers, salads, and countless other dishes. (Plus, aren’t they’re pretty in pink?)
Smoked Salmon Crostinis with Pickled Onion and Capers
Slightly adapted from Renee Erickson’s recipe in Bon Appétit, yields about 16 crostinis
- 1 baguette, thinly sliced (approximately 1/6 inch thick)
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
- 2/3 cup Champagne or white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 1 cup crème fraÎche*
- 1 pound hot-smoked wild salmon, flaked**
- 1 tablespoon fresh chives
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Toss the onion and vinegar in a small bowl and let it pickle at least one hour. (This step can also happen a day or two ahead of time, just keep them covered and chilled in the refrigerator.)
Preheat the oven to 350℉. Toss the sliced baguette rounds in a bowl with the olive oil and sea salt to coat (or brush the oil on with a pastry brush). Place the rounds in a single layer on baking sheets. Let them bake about ten minutes, until crisp and golden. Let cool to room temperature.
Spread each toast with a dollop of crème fraÎche. Season with a tiny sprinkle of salt and pepper. Top with flakes of smoked salmon, drained pickled red onion, several capers and a few snippets of chives. If you love to gild the lily like I may have a propensity to do on occasion, drizzle these with tiny bit of high quality olive oil and place a flake or two of Maldon salt on top. Totally unnecessary, but never regretted.
These are best served room temperature (which is also great for parties). You can set them out an hour in advance and they’ll be perfect.
*If you don’t have crème fraÎche at your store or you’d prefer to try homemade, this is a reliable recipe. You could also substitute plain full fat greek yogurt, full fat sour cream mixed with a bit of heavy cream, or just sour cream.
**If you aren’t lucky enough to have wild salmon at your markets, or can’t find hot-smoked salmon at all, use whatever smoked salmon you can get your mitts on. Just taste it prior to placing it on the toasts. Depending on the brand (and especially if it’s canned), you may want to toss the salmon with a little kosher salt and pepper. You may even consider mixing it with a tiny amount of brown sugar or maple syrup, or a squeeze of lemon juice. (Just a smidge! Taste and adjust as necessary.)
Bright eyes twinkling, an engineer and a schoolteacher who met at Purdue tied the knot fifty years ago. If one could hitch a ride with Doc Brown in the DeLorean and fill them in, I’m certain their young selves could not fathom what their lives would encounter. The beauty and joy they would relish. The tragedies and loss they would grieve. All they knew at that moment was that they were choosing to walk hand in hand. I bet they envisioned something simple and beautiful. While their journey hasn’t been straightforward, they intentionally surrounded themselves with beauty, and I believe that has made all the difference. Fifty years later, they remain side by side.
As you enter Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll see my parents faces on the Visitor Center wall because a few years ago some park rangers decided they might as well be permanent fixtures. Sometimes they drive up the canyon roads to the park just to view the peaks and wildlife from the car. More commonly he fishes while she reads by a river or hikes. He ties flies on his line and reels in a rainbow, she admires columbine, talks to the chipmunks and scans for deer.
At Yellowstone, there’s an entire wall of the Old Faithful Inn highlighting my parent’s patronage. They’re the honorary second and third Old Faithfuls. My dad also earned an official Bison Disappointer medal, responsible for saving countless naive tourists from certain mauling. “This isn’t a zoo, folks. Don’t try to feed the buffalo. Get back in your car.” The frustrated bison always direct a deep snort Dad’s way.
I don’t think a year of my childhood passed without a trip to Yellowstone. If one did, they probably made up for it the next year by visiting twice! I easily averaged once a month to Rocky Mountain National Park. My brother, sister and I can spot wildlife like a doctor spots measles. Mom’s persistent, “Keep your eyes peeled, kids!” embedded deep urges to look for animals wherever we went. It’s now buried in our subconscious, with us forever.
When I reflect on what my parents have experienced during their shared five decades (the parts I’m aware of, at least), I am struck by their resilience. While their foundation of steady employment and stable finances rarely cracked, the winds certainly blew hard at their home. Sometimes at hurricane force. There have been tragic losses, and the gut-wrenching pain of watching parents get ill and pass. The loss of siblings, friends, friends’ children, children’s friends. Such forces either take a house down or the residents keep nailing up plywood, protecting themselves in the basement, storing up food. My parents are bad-ASS*. Their house might as well be a bomb shelter. (*My mom really loves that I wrote that even though she may not admit it.)
Thankfully, there have been countless celebratory, playful moments, too. Two times they received the amazing phone call that they were going to be adoptive parents and finally got to bring home the babies they’d desired for years. I remember a house filled with (what now I imagine was drunken) laughter and goofy lobster hats on my mom’s 40th birthday, especially as the lobsters were placed into the pot. I’m pretty certain there was head-banging at their 25th anniversary party from a certain Member-of-the-Pair-Who-Refuses-to-Dance. There were decades of holidays filled with uninhibited merriment coming from the mysterious Adult Table beyond the wall, while the kids sat at the Kids’ Table hanging spoons off their noses and shooting peas out of their noses (well, that part didn’t last decades). There were birthday dinners overflowing with The Broker shrimp, orders of fill-ette mig-non, fettucini alfredo and cherries jubilee.
Ultimately, though, my parents aren’t lavish. They are quite content with simplicity. They live quietly, with integrity, and are quick to lend a hand. Dad loves to woodwork, building beautiful furniture. Mom loves to garden, creating gorgeous flower beds. They take walks together to visit the owls that live in a nearby park. They hike. They vacation at national parks, eating sandwiches from their cooler along the way. The rhythm of their life lends to a different kind of celebration, one that I fully respect. Today they are together in the mountains and I think it’s a perfect fit.
Some build marriages around roses and chocolates. My parents built theirs around wildflowers and rivers. In so many ways, the mountains hold them together. They wander and admire together. They know the secluded paths of the parks, the most stunning waterfalls, the favorite animal hangouts, the prime fishing holes, the wildflowers by name. I am thankful they have Rocky Mountain refuges, places that have allowed them both to escape the winds and to nourish their friendship.
Happy 50th Anniversary, Mom and Dad! May your remaining years together continue to be filled with browns, rainbows, elephants ears, lupine, elk, moose and bison. And a hearty dose of silly rabbits ears, too.