Oklahoma: the twins and their shad roe
My entrance was less grand than I’d hoped, but the birthday cake and I made it home intact. It is virtually impossible to fly directly to Oklahoma from any West or East Coast city, and I had the grave misfortune of passing through Dallas-Fort Worth on Tuesday afternoon and finding my one-hour layover stretched out into seven as a riot of nasty weather cavorted around the Great Plains. But I passed the time with a very chatty 83-year-old Manhattanite named Edith who sat down next to me and, among other things, told me where to find the best steaks and the wealthiest men in the Big Apple. Edith had beautiful deep-set blue eyes, red lipsticked lips, and shiny crimson nails, and I nearly squeezed her when she told me, “I’m a walker. For a short girl, I’ve got a long stride.” Oh Edith, me too. I want to be Edith when I grow up.
Speaking of growing up, there are few things more awe-inspiring than a pair of adult identical twins—specifically, a vivacious pair of 58-year-old identical twins named Tina and Toni, the latter being my mother. I was lucky enough to have dinner with this pair last night, along with their vivacious mother, my grandmother. Together we were (of course) vivacious, three generations of Mack women. What better cause for a toast?
It was a belated birthday celebration for the twins, a feast of shad roe. The American shad is a member of the herring family and one of the boniest fish around, but we don’t waste time with the flesh: we go straight for the roe. Shad are usually caught in the springtime, when they are migrating from the sea to freshwater to spawn. Their roe is highly prized in the Chesapeake Bay region, where spring is essentially synonymous with shad roe. When the twins were growing up in Maryland, my grandmother (whom I call Nan, Nanny, or Nanzer) would occasionally treat her family of nine to this sautéed delicacy during the brief months of its annual season. They’ve been hooked from early on.
This spring, an “inside source” of Mom’s had a hefty package of shad roe shipped to her, direct from the fishermen in Maryland, as a surprise. She generously shared some with this inside source, and then she tucked the rest away in the freezer for safekeeping. So last night, with a pan of bacon snapping and popping in the background, Tina, Nanny, and I watched eagerly as Mom carefully washed and dried the slender, slightly wrinkled, and horrifyingly ugly egg sacs. “It’s like caviar in spring,” Tina told me. “Like saltwater,” Mom chimed in. She cooked the roe in bacon fat and foamy butter, then served it with a hearty squeeze of lemon and a strip of crisp bacon. We ate it with roasted asparagus and warmish Yukon Gold potatoes, boiled and tossed with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, and fresh dill. Alongside, we guzzled a very tasty Chehalem Chardonnay from Oregon. The twins moaned. And then, after candles and song, we dug into the far-from-disaster cake, imported from Seattle and only slightly misshapen. There was more moaning all around, punctuated by the high-pitched scream of forks scraping ceramic plates. Even Nanny, whose appetite has waned over the years, managed to finish her slice. For the occasion, I wore dirty hair and an oversized Act Up “SILENCE=DEATH” sweatshirt I found in a drawer in my old bedroom, a remnant of my early teens grunge-and-politics wardrobe.
Happy birthday, twins.