Mouths to Feed: Mama May I

Crab Salad with Asparagus 
Ribbons on Toast

Crab Salad with Asparagus 
Ribbons on Toast

With the kids off at college, I found myself wondering how to celebrate Mother’s Day this year, so I called my mom and asked if there were any foods she had a particular hankering for. 

“I’d like an avocado,” she said. “The sweet, creamy kind.” 

I told her that particular variety might be out of season, but that I would do my best to find her a nice one. I didn’t bother filling in the missing Mother’s Day context to my question — didn’t explain that I’d been contemplating a pretty get-together with flowers from the garden, hors d’oeuvres of some kind, bubbly, maybe cake, while she was thinking about gaps in her daily diet.

Mothers and children misread, misunderstand and miscommunicate with each other in countless ways, from pretty much our first interactions to our last. How could we not? We want and need so much from each other, from avocados to unconditional love and gratitude, and the trivial things often become stand-ins for the momentous ones. 

I suppose it’s fitting, then, that Mother’s Day is such a mobius strip of a holiday. One part of the conundrum is that a mother is often the person who teaches a kid how to behave during important moments and on special days. “Don’t forget to call your grandmother,” “Did you get a present for your brother?” “Teacher’s Day is tomorrow. Shall we bake him some cookies?” 

Yet it’s awkward to have to remind our children to celebrate us; to tutor them in the day’s rituals and protocols, then feign surprise when they march into the bedroom proudly bearing a plate of French toast and a mug of lukewarm coffee, sweet as that little parade always is. I remember one Mother’s Day when my three showed up with a breakfast tray several hours after I normally ate breakfast, then snuggled in around me like puppies and — “Can I have a bite, Mommy?” “Me too?” “Another?” — carefully helped themselves to three-quarters of my meal.

I brought my mother an avocado. We sat at her table, drinking tea and talking about this and that: her neighbors, her houseplants. At some point, I asked her how she had celebrated Mother’s Day growing up. “We would bring her a rose,” she said. 

“From the garden?”

“No, we would buy them.” She paused, and looked off into the distance. “Red ones.”

After a minute, I stood and cleared our cups. Who was I kidding? I know perfectly well what my mother wants: An expression of my gratitude and love. Ideally, something fresh, delicious and surprising, with leftovers she can take home and stash in her fridge, to eat for lunch in the days that follow, with a slice of avocado alongside.

Crab Salad with Asparagus Ribbons on Toast

This combination also makes a great melt. Use steamed or grilled asparagus in place of the ribbons and top with Swiss cheese, then place under the broiler until bubbly. 

For the asparagus ribbons:

  • 4 to 5 thick asparagus spears, woody ends trimmed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Pinch sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Peel the tough skin from the bottom of the asparagus spears, if desired. Cut off the tips and cut lengthwise into quarters. Using a swivel vegetable peeler, slice along the asparagus spears to create ribbons. Transfer to a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, toss to coat and set aside to marinate while you make the crab. 

For the crab salad sandwiches:

  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup crème fraiche
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons minced spring onion (or substitute shallots)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno, or to taste
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
  • 8 ounces lump crabmeat, picked over for shells, rinsed and drained
  • 4 slices crusty white or sourdough bread, lightly toasted

Combine everything but the crab and bread in a medium bowl and mix until well blended. Add the crab meat and toss to combine. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the sandwiches, scoop about ¼ cup of the crab salad onto each slice of bread. Using tongs, lift the asparagus ribbons from the marinating liquid and allow to drain a few seconds before piling on top of the crab.

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