when salmon cakes aren’t really salmon cakes

For our recent three-generation Behrisch backyard potluck, my dad waited to make the salmon cakes so that I could help him. I’d had a full day of cooking: I’d already made a mushroom quiche, a mango salad, and a “spiked rosemary bread” from a recipe in my new favourite cookbook, Displaced Dishes, a collection of recipes from the residents of a makeshift refugee camp on Samos Island. Everyone was hungry. My nephew had to rush off to a soccer game. People were picking at my mom’s salad. The olives were already gone.

Dad wouldn’t be rushed. In his own time, he got it all ready to go: the frying pans became slick with melted butter, the patty mixture was fluffed in a bowl. We got our aprons on. We made some patties.

Dad takes the same time and care over cooking as he does over his scrabble tiles, and as much as it has driven us all to our books, to the gardening, to a nap, to a bike ride, to general random screaming as he considers (and rejects) all possible options, making those patties with him was the best part of that wonderful evening for me. Dad was smiling, happy, focused, chatty, and as much himself as I’ve seen him in the last 15 months, since our collective journey with his pancreatic cancer started.

I work with my students to read beneath the surface of things, encouraging them always to pick at the ragged edge of a story to see what lies beneath. This constant awareness of other narratives lurking in the shadows can occasionally weigh heavily, but it also has the power to illuminate simple gestures that might otherwise pass unnoticed. On Friday, it worked in my favour: those salmon cakes weren’t really salmon cakes; they were a celebration of life, a gift, a meal for much more than our stomachs.

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