On Love, Independence Day and Salmon Burgers

July 3, 2009


Dinner, Fish, Holidays, Side Dishes, TASTE Archives

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A Patty

Once upon a time in 2006, I attended a summer financial program in Hanover, New Hampshire. In three weeks—nearly the most miserable twenty-one days of my twenty-one years—I learned little more than that I had no business at business camp. I had enrolled right after college graduation, hoping to postpone the inevitable job-market—or at least make myself more marketable.

Graduation came and went in a soggy flourish, but as soon as I got out of a rainy Philadelphia, I was back at school again, studying spreadsheets in the glorious green mountains. Although I endured the program for a full month, it took less than a single lecture for me to come upon a pretty simple formula: Isabel + Spreadsheets = Tears.


Indeed, I spent most of that sun-shining June wearing wet misery upon my face. I woke up in the night, febrile, tearing, tossing and terrified, like a little dinghy on fire out in a stormy sea. The workload was horrible—intended to mimic life as a banker—and most of my peers were econ or accounting majors. Yes, I was definitely out to sea. Nothing in my arsenal of literary theory had prepared me for this. I was in a cellular Hell, surrounded by McKinsey-courting, money-crazed madmen. All I wanted was to be a writer, I lamented, slinking away into the woods, wishing some sylvan hero would rescue me, a worn “Walden”tucked in his back pocket.

Which brings me to this tidbit: my frustration was also born from a certain sideways glancing boy I' d noticed in the lecture hall. He had dirty blond hair, the kind that curls a bit at the nape of the neck, and wrinkles around his smile…the kind that make me weak at the knees. On the first day of spreadsheet modeling class, I watched him unwrap a Bartlett pear from a brown paper bundle and eat it slowly, half chewing, half sucking, all while cradling its bulbous bottom as juice slinked down his fingers and dripped into his lap. It was quite a show.


Naturally, images of this impish fellow kept me up at night, and I was torn between wanting the days to pass so I could get out of my office-dormitory, and wanting them to last a bit longer, so that he and I might get a chance to speak. Well, one day we did—the 26th of June, when he sent a note that challenged me to a race up the fire tower. Not knowing what that was, I accepted, on the condition that he fetch me at 5am. After a very sleepless night, we were off. I lost. But the view up there was spectacular, and afterward, we had croissants and coffee by the river and took a very nude-ish dip before our accounting lecture at 8am.

July 4th soon followed, and by then we had traded accounting class for trips up trees with bagfuls of cherries. We spit pits at each other from our perches—highly romantic, indeed. We celebrated our Independence by drinking Moonshine he' d made (those Dartmouth boys are like grown-up scouts) and eating salted Edamame pods, knee-deep in a creek. We walked to the nearest grocery store as the sun started to soften, and bought ourselves a picnic of feta cheese, an aged baguette, green peppers, (which I later admitted I find too bitter) a gigantic tomato and fresh basil to eat in a field while the fireworks boomed for us.


As I limn this three years later, he' s sitting by my side, reading the Financial Times. He finally got a day off! He made the trip to my parent’s house in Connecticut late last night! And while I' m still grumbling about Thoreau and feta cheese, he' s gone off and become a banker. But, in his spare time, he has helped me make this one of our favorite summer recipes. Try it with somebody you love, and if you can get your hands on some homemade lemonade and Moonshine, you' ll love them even more.

Salmon Burgers with Zucchini and Fennel Slaw

Adapted from Gourmet

Serves Two (easily halved if your dining partner is busy with a spreadsheet)

6 Tbsp Mayonnaise
4 tsp fresh lemon juice, divided
6 Tbsp chopped chives
2 tsp grainy mustard
¼ tsp cayenne
½ pound skinless salmon filet, chopped
8 saltine crackers, crumbled
2 medium zucchini, grated (or 3 cups)
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced thin
s & p
Olive Oil
Dijon mustard


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together mayo, 2 tsp lemon juice, chives, mustard, cayenne and salt and pepper (about ½ tsp of each).

Stir together salmon, crackers, 1 ½ cup zucchini, and half of mayonnaise mixture in another bowl.

Add fennel and remaining zucchini and leftover lemon juice to mayo mixture in medium bowl and toss to combine slaw.

Form salmon mixture into 4 patties and place on a baking rack for 12-15 minutes, until fish turns lighter in color. Serve with slaw and a dab of Dijon mustard.

Alternatively, you can cook salmon cakes in a skillet over medium heat, which takes about 6 minutes.

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