“A functional drunk is a precious thing,” reported my husband with an air of experience and knowledge. Comparing his current state to that of a belligerent drunk, which he assured me he was most certainly not, the man I’ll spend the rest of my life with announced he’d make me dinner.
The day leading up to this moment had been memorable: we went to the U District farmer’s market and bought the largest, plumpest mussels I’ve ever seen from Taylor Shellfish, took a walk (clear day!) in Discovery Park, and lazed the afternoon away at Hale’s Ales’ beer tasting. Or beer drinking, as it transpired.
The guy likes to cook for me every once in a while, so who am I to complain? I got out a notepad and decided to write down his recipe for mussels steamed in garlic and beer.
He learned to cook mussels aboard the Nathaniel Bowditch, a traditional passenger schooner that cruises up and down the Maine coast in the summer providing A True Sailing Experience. The captain, Gibb, was “a very obvious and painful child of the depression,” as eloquently described by the drunk, meaning he did things the most effective way the first time, for the smallest cost possible. Each week, Gibb sent my then-seventeen-year-old husband ashore to dive for mussels (“’Always pull the ones at least a foot below the low tide mark,’ Gibb said”), build a fire pit on the shore, and steam them open in garlic, onions, and PBR.
The most curious part about the steaming process was how the captain determined when the mussels were done. They were put in big pot to boil, and the liquid had to boil over three times – once for the cooks, once for the red tide (presumably to kill any unwanted bacteria), and once for the passengers. Although the man at my stove admitted that the logic of this had never occurred to him (“I guess it’s about as scientific as our reasons to go to war”), he insisted that it was the only way to go. True to form, my husband allowed the mussel pot to boil over onto our white cooktop three times.
Despite the faint bitter taste owed to a little burned garlic, the mussels were delicious. I recommend you cook them with the lid on to avoid the mess that ensued in our kitchen, and I also recommend you enlist a sober helper to cap the olive oil bottle carefully, so you don’t end up waxing the floor with its contents, as we did.