Where did the past few weeks go? As soon as Memorial Day hit, the days just shifted into one big blur.
First there was our town's biggest annual race, Ski to Sea, a seven-leg, multi-sport journey from Mt. Baker, with its ten-thousand-foot altitude start line to Marine Park at sea level for the finish. It's been going on since 1973 and is an event that celebrates our area's easy access to mountain, river, ocean and many other spectacular spots in between. This year, Marc raced the road bike leg for Tony's Coffee, our favorite local roaster, so we got out and did some cheering for them.
Then, there were the birthdays! Three in one week, including mine, which meant eating a lot of cake. Something, if I am being perfectly honest, I don't mind doing, especially when I am offered a Pure Bliss cupcake.
We've also been experiencing the lowest tides of the year, so Kingston and I have been out with friends exploring the beaches and tide pools here in Bellingham as well as around the county. We've been seeing so many wondrous things! Dungeoness crabs mating, saddleback gunnels squiggling through the tide pools, banks of sand dollars seemingly multiplying before our eyes, purple starfish glinting in the light, squishy anemones that shrink at the touch.
When you walk through the shallows, it's a completely different experience from just gazing out at a body of water from a distance, the dark blue vastness of it stretching out as if one entity. You see life teeming at your feet, even in a few inches of water and muck. Then there's all the stuff that can't be seen by the naked eye. It's all in there. I've often thought of the ocean as Mother Nature's womb -- the original starting point, a container for life that is so rich and varied that most of us can recite only a handful or two of its inhabitants' names.
The beaches here are completely different from what I grew up with in Southern California. Washington beaches tend to be narrow, disappearing with the rising tide, then rocky with its waning. Coastal forest often abuts these types of beaches. To me, they are moody places full of hidden mysteries meant to be uncovered with careful attention and a spirit of awe, as we step lightly through them wearing of course, the proper foot gear.
The other day, Marc, Kingston and I headed up to just such a place, the Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve, about 25 minutes north of us on the Georgia Strait. It's such a special place, with 54 acres of mature, wetland forest.
At the trailhead, you start along a path that meanders through the forest and takes you over wooden footbridges until you arrive at the stone and rock-covered beach. There are over two miles of public access beach to explore. That day, as we emerged from the forest, I gazed out at the ocean and thought about all that is sacred and worth protecting, like the woods, the waters that surround it and everything that lives here.
When we got home, I wanted to make something that would embody the beauty of both the Pacific Ocean and our local forests. We've been out foraging a lot this spring and the light green tips of the Douglas Fir tips have been really inspiring me in the kitchen. They have a lemony flavor and if you stuff a bunch of them into your mouth and chew, first you get a hit of citrus then a hint of the tree's pine aroma, which lingers. I've been experimenting with the tips in all sorts of concoctions, including here in this version of cured salmon which is citrusy and smoky, woodsy and briny.
Sockeye. Chinook. Coho. Pink. King. Chum. Steelhead. Salmon are synonymous with the Pacific Northwest, and are sacred to the Salish Coast people. But these creatures have so much stacked against them, from loss of habitat and pollution to inhospitably warm waters due to hydroeclectric dams and global warming. This makes them all the more worth valuing, protecting and celebrating.
Douglas Fir and Smoked Tea-Cured Salmon
I used wild sockeye, but other varieties will work as well. Just opt for wild over ocean-farmed, which contributes to concentrated areas of pollution. Learn more about best choices available to you from Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Lapsang souchong is a type of Chinese black tea traditionally finished through smoking over pine needles. As far as tree tips go, you can use other types such as those from spruce trees, though I find spruce to be a bit resinous for my taste.
Adapted from Tasting Table.
Makes enough to feed six to eight.
One 1 1/4 lb. piece salmon, skin-on and preferably center-cut
1 1/2 tablespoons lapsang souchong tea
1 cup Douglas Fir tips
1/4 cup kosher salt
3 tablespoons natural cane sugar
In a mortar and pestle or spice mill finely grind the tea. Finely mince the fir tips. Place both in a small bowl and add salt and sugar. Combine well.
On a tray large enough to hold the fish, spread out half the curing mixture. On top of this, place the salmon skin side down. Spread the remaining mixture on top of the fish, making sure it is evenly coated. Tightly wrap and place in the refrigerator for 8-10 hours.
When cured, remove salmon from tray and rinse under running water without rinsing the little bits of rub that remain on the fish. Pat dry with paper towels. To serve, slice very thinly against the bias. This is great served on a good bread, such as pumpernickel.