40. Substantiating Salmon

Bagels-and-loxThe sun was rising earlier and setting later, making it easier to develop a running routine, but nudging Marty to hit the pavement as hard as I needed him to was still my biggest challenge.
Marty would retreat at any signs of aggressive spring chills and sudden wet explosions unleashed from the celestial sphere, but I was not deterred. Eventually, Marty submitted to my rigorous training program: two runs during the week and a long run on the weekend.

Though it was clear that we were running partners, it wasn’t clear what our relationship was off the concrete. Sometimes I’d stay at his house late. Sometimes I’d spend the night. Most of the time we had sex, but affection outside of the bedroom was non-existent. I was surprised when I got a proposal.

“What are you doing for Easter?” He asked.

“Nothing,” I said. I was not religious, so I hadn’t done anything to mark the holiday since the 1990s.

“Do you want to come to Peoria with me?” he asked. “You don’t have to, but I’d like you to.”

“I’d love to,” I answered, though it added a layer of mystery to our relationship. But I was interested in seeing where he came from and what his parents were like.

“I should warn you, though, I have an assignment,” he said ominously. “I’m in charge of making hard boiled eggs and decorating them.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve decorated eggs, but I can help.”

Bagels-and-lox

Because he was an artist and people expected creativity from him, he took on the task with serious enthusiasm. He researched how to do plaid on eggs and had polka dots as a backup strategy.

We went to Joann’s Fabric to find egg-decorating supplies. The store hadn’t changed in at least 30 years: row after row of ill-colored fabrics, yarn made of synthetic fibers, quilting supplies, enough crafts to do anything yourself, all shining under the rays of the fluorescent lights. I think every kid raised in the 1970’s has memories of tagging along with mom to pick out patterns and textiles when DIY was a way of life, not a hobby.

We got dye in bright colors, tape to cut up to make plaid, but the perfect sized stickers in the form of dots eluded us. As we scoured the wedding aisle, Marty stopped me and said, “Thank you for doing this with me. It means a lot.” Then he kissed me. It was nice and unexpected. It made me smile.

Bagels-and-lox

We looked for about an hour before we gave up and got a sheet of adhesive paper with a hole punch to make our own dots. We also got little plaid cups and tissue paper that we would rest the finished eggs in.

As we walked toward the cash register, we stopped to look at some of the junk Joann was peddling.

“Would you look at this?” Marty asked as he picked up a tin animal that looked like a cross between a duck and frog holding an umbrella.

“There is a buyer who handpicked this to put on the shelf,” he said and mimicked a make-believe buyer. “Can you imagine ‘Hmmm.. yeah, I think I can sell a hundred of these.’”

He made me laugh and that made my heart swell.

When we got back to his house, we dyed the eggs, but neither the plaid nor the dots worked out. We dyed them solid pink and blue and Marty drew the names of each of the guests attending Easter dinner on the eggs. They were adorable.

The next day we did our first long run. Six miles down Halsted, through University Village, Pilsen, and back up to the West Loop. It was hard and my bladder was at full capacity for about four of the six miles. It also annoyed me that six miles used to be easy for me and I had let myself get out of practice. But we made it.

When we got back to Marty’s apartment we sat on the curb and panted for a while.

“That was good,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without you.” And then he kissed me. I didn’t know what that meant, but I wasn’t going to question it.

Bagels-and-lox

I went home and made prototypes of the things I was going to serve for Brenda’s fundraiser.
I put together cucumber shrimp cups and ricotta with smoked salmon on crackers to take to Ryan’s house to taste. His parents were in town to visit with his 18-month-old girl and his wife, Amy.

Ryan was a friend from high school and his parents knew my parents, so I knew they’d give me objective criticism. And we could gossip. The family was gathered in the kitchen when I arrived.

We reacquainted ourselves and I offered my practice fare over the latest news to blow through Colorado Springs. Of course, Marty Casey died, Freddie P. was released from prison, Ali F. was getting divorced and my contribution: Carly G. got fat.

Ryan used to date Carly and his parents knew her well. I showed them the picture I took of us when I ran into her in San Francisco.

“How did you recognize her?” Ryan’s mother snarled.

“I have no idea,” I said, incredulous of my own ability to pick out a familiar face in a foreign body.

“She was a weird girl,” she said. “I never understood why Ryan liked her.”

“What was it that you didn’t like?” I asked, afraid of what I might be facing at Easter dinner. I was terrified of what Marty’s parents might think of me.

“I don’t know,” she said. “She just rubbed me the wrong way.”

That did little to make me feel better. I needed something definitive, like she didn’t wash her hands after using the toilet or she had frizzy hair or she liked reality TV. But she didn’t have a solid reason: she just didn’t like her.

I told them about Easter.

“We spend a lot of time together and we make-out sometimes. Do you think that means he likes me?”

“You’re meeting his parents?” asked Ryan.

“Yes.”

Bagels-and-lox

“Yeah, I think he likes you.” I knew the answer, I just needed some validation.

“What should I bring? I can’t bring wine,” I said. “I need to make a good impression.”

“Bring them a plant,” Ryan’s mom suggested.

“What about lilies from that nice shop around the corner?” offered Amy.

“That’s not a bad idea. I guess I’ll see what’s open.. and whatever they have, I’ll take.”

The salmon was the big winner for the day. I just had to figure out a way to stand out to Marty’s parents the way the salmon stood out to Ryan’s family. I hoped lilies would rub them the right way.

***

“Bagels ‘n’ Lox”

  • 1/4 cup cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup smoked salmon
  • 2 TB lemon juice

Dump the ricotta, salmon and cayenne into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse just until combined. Refrigerate for one hour to let the flavors bloom. Serve on crackers or toast. Garnish with capers, red onions and grape tomatoes.

While bagels and lox are elements of the American brunch, its history is steeped in the immigrant experience and, broken down by the elements that make it up make it as American as a hamburger and hot dog. According to the now defunct publication, Meatpaper, the tough, chewiness of the bagel dough acted as a preservative when refrigeration wasn’t available on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (New York). Similarly, the cured salmon that’s transformed by a brine to preserve the fish and thinly sliced for serving, a process borrowed from Scandinavians as well as Native Americans. The capers hale from Greece or Italy while the cream cheese was the English contribution. My favorite part of bagels and lox is that while it is widely consumed as a breakfast food, it can be eaten any time of day without throwing off your body clock, unlock pancakes and cereal.

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