perfect baked salmon

I’m going to wish you a happy mother’s day today. Because it’s Monday, and maybe no one brought your breakfast in bed this morning. I appreciate you, especially on this day after mother’s day.

This is my mother.

Beautiful, isn’t she?
There she is, 23, after an excessively long homebirthing labor. Her midwife, Elizabeth Davis, long legged with straight hair in a perfect 1978-part, was soon to become something of a star in her field, and my 19-year-old uncle photographed the whole thing so that she could use the images for her book. Homebirthing was a new/old thing then, and Elizabeth was writing the book on it. He caught the moment right as I came in to the world, and the photo of my emerging head and my mother (in all her glory) ended up on the cover of the book and on the wall of every friend of my grandparents in suburban New Jersey. Embarrassing as I found it as a child, I am now thrilled that the photo actually inspired people to put a vagina on their wall. But I like this photo better. I like the look on her face and the way her long fingers just touch the top of my head.

My mother and I were on our own for a long time. She waited tables and taught exercise classes and found safe places for us to be. Every summer I would go to sleepover camp for long stretches, and she would make calendars for me to take with me. They were on watercolor paper, filled in with thick black ink and tiny details in her style, watercolored leaves with perfect veins and suns with fiery rays expanding through the graph of days. I would go, and she would stay home, and in those times she could be young and go on dates and work and not have to be mom. I would come home expanded and full of stories, and she would be ready to parent again.

Years later, my mother got married and had another daughter, and soon after, I got married and gave birth to Sadie. Over just a few years, we went from 2 to 7, and now that we’re all under one roof we are, as she puts it, one family.

Now, we are friends.
I cook on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. She cooks on Sundays and Mondays. Joey and my stepfather take the other days. The girls like grandma’s dinner nights best. She is calm and patient in the kitchen, and she makes just what they want. Soup and popovers. Chicken or salmon baked in tamari and olive oil. Steamed greens.
Some mornings we sit together before the day starts. She drinks her green tea and I drink my coffee and we talk about the day.

I was talking to a friend today and I asked about her mother’s day. “Was it good?” “Yes… well, you know, it is complicated to be with your mother for a whole day.” She paused for a minute. “Or, for most of us, it is.”

My mother is a nurse now. She works harder than she ever did when I was little. She is inspired, and dedicated, and she is all grown up. In the fifteen years that we lived apart, we learned to do things differently from each other. She makes her rice in a pressure cooker. I make mine in a rice cooker. Her beans are on the stove top and mine are in the oven. I like spicy, she likes salt. It’s hard to remember a time when our tastes led us in the same direction. It is complicated, of course. It is always complicated.

But I love living with my mother again. I am all grown up, too, but sometimes this is all too much. And the little rhythms of moving around my mother in the kitchen again, they calm me and make me feel safe. There is just more love. There is history to ground us.

My mother makes the most perfect salmon. People rave and sing about it, and they don’t believe her when she tells them how easy it is. No magic. No tricks.

A while back, I finally asked my mother how to do it. Now people ask me, and I tell them that my mother taught me how to make perfect baked salmon. No magic. No tricks. Just my mother’s universal rule. Are you ready for it?

Everything is better with tamari and olive oil. Everything. Any thing else is wild experimentation, but tamari and olive oil will never fail you.

I thank my mother for all that love and history, for weaving such a glowing web of calm safety in the midst of so much else. She worked all day yesterday, but when she came home, I had salmon waiting.

Perfect Baked Salmon
serves 6

2 pounds salmon fillets, 1 to 2 inches thick
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon tamari
salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay the fish, unwashed, skin side down on the parchment.
Squeeze the lemon over the fish. Then drizzle the olive oil, then the tamari. Sprinkle the whole thing with a very light snow of salt. Bake for 25 minutes.


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