Category Archives: shellfish

What We Don’t Eat

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It’s always been hard to judge Bromley’s misery properly, because she’s been a miserable, hateful sort of creature since the beginning. She’s almost never affectionate, and pouts constantly, and whines if she smells food but doesn’t get to eat it (which, in my line of work, happens often). She hates rain and children and men with beards, and feet without shoes on them, and people touching her feet, or her head. She’s the cranky neighbor and the crazy lady on the corner and the mean librarian, all rolled into an aging, stinky, always-hungry beast. As we talked about putting her down, my husband and I stared guiltily at each other, each thinking our own version of the times we’d wished aloud that she’d just hurry up and die already, so we didn’t have to clean up the remnants of the individually-packaged kids’ juice boxes she’d opened with her big maw and strewn across the living room rug, or wonder how she’d gotten to the shoulder-height bag of cat food. Thinking about how different she was from the dog we thought we were getting, almost 13 years ago.

Bromley comes from good eaters. When we arrived to pick her up for the very first time, her mother was counter surfing. We should have known then.

“SYRI,” bellowed Syringa’s owner, before Siri became a terrible name for a dog. The red bell pepper Syri had claimed from the cutting board dropped to the floor. Innocent eyes begged forgiveness.

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From the moment we got Bromley home, she was the same kind of scavenger, ripping open entire bags of sugar, stealing donuts off the counter, sneaking bites of steak directly from a hot grill, and generally failing to understand that the kitchen counters weren’t dog domain. She learned to stand in the center of the kitchen and not move, ever, interrupting the so-called kitchen triangle so effectively that we could never get from the refrigerator to the stove or the stove to the sink without running into her unmoving bulk. When we scolded her, she looked up at us with what we soon came to call “filet eyes.” She knew she was beautiful from a very young age, which didn’t help.

Outside the kitchen, she was cold and loveless. She refused to be petted. She hated being touched. She generally hated other dogs, too. No matter how much time and money we spent training her, she only paid attention to us if we had food in hand or if she was seated on some sort of couch. For years, we joked about giving her away.

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But about two months ago, our big Rhodesian Ridgeback plum stopped eating. We’d taken her in to have her various old lady lumps inspected, but until then, while she was partially deaf and blind and starting to lose her barking voice, there hadn’t been anything actually wrong with her. Not eating seemed like a giant red flag.

That same week, she fell up the stairs. She was ambling up them after eating her breakfast in the laundry room downstairs, and her back paws slipped out behind her on the polished wood, just a stair or two from the top. I heard a yelp and a thunk, as all 85 pounds of her hit the floor, and ran to find her stuck, chest and front paws prostrate on the top landing, with the back paws pads-up behind her. I had to lift up her backside so she could gain enough traction to finish the job. She was very embarrassed.

“I’d say 90 percent of our clients let their dogs live too long,” said the admin at Bromley’s vet, when I called to ask how one knows when it’s time to put her dog down. “We see a lot of dogs that suffer for way too long. And not eating is generally not a good sign.”

I dropped my phone, collapsed into the bed beside my snoring hound, and sobbed into her fur until she wiggled away, grossed out by my storm of affection. That afternoon, I brought her in for a check-up, but again, there wasn’t a single definable something wrong. The vet insisted it was our choice, but made sad little nods and pursed her lips a lot.

And so we went into discussions, round and around, trying to decide whether it’s better to wait until a dog shows definite signs of the end-of-life kind of aging before putting her out of her misery, or to have her anesthetized before anything tragic happens, and save her the pain. I bought her lovely hunks of beef leg bones to chew and thought about what we’d do, if we gave her a day of her favorite things before it was all over. We’d take her to the beach, of course. I started planning a steak dinner goodbye party in my head.

Because she’s the dog we got, we have loved her. And because we were heading out of town, and because a few days after seeing the vet she simply started eating again, we didn’t put her down.

Instead, we gave Bromley to my husband’s parents for two weeks, and left for our spring break road trip, hoping she’d be there when we returned, and that no one else would have to do what we hadn’t been ready to do ourselves. And the first day they had her, they wound up in the emergency room.

It was an abscess in her foot that had clearly been there for a long time, said the ER vet, and, later, our own vet. Weeks, maybe, or longer. It was likely the sign of bone cancer or a deep bone infection, they thought, but just in case, they’d treat it like a random foot infection. They cleaned it and drained it, and put in stitches, which fell out as the wound worsened, and put in staples, which fell out also, and put in more staples. My in-laws shepherded her through multiple rounds of pain medications and antibiotics, and Bromley became famous with all the vet techs. When we returned, my in-laws had had the patient in their home for two full weeks. They’d covered their rugs with puppy training pads to prevent the blood from Bromley’s wound from staining everything. The injured leg was wrapped in a big purple bandage more appropriate for a 12-year-old girl than a 12-year-old dog.

And when we came home, Bromley seemed upbeat. She was eating normally. She seemed happy to see us, even. We took her in to get her staples out, three weeks after the ER visit, and the vet leveled us with her steady, sweet gaze.

“There is a chance that it could just be a tissue infection,” she said defensively. “But honestly, I’d say I’m 99 percent certain it’s either a cancer or a deeper bone infection.” She recommended an X-ray, which would tell us which it was. The cancer could theoretically be treated with amputation, and a bone infection would require a month or so of IV antibiotics.

Jim and I looked at each other. We knew we couldn’t amputate one back leg of a dog who could no longer reliably stand on two. And since every vet visit left her shaking and bereft, sending her to a dog hospital for a month would be devastating to her. We told the vet we didn’t need the X-ray and left, chewing on her warning that sometimes, bone cancers can take over in a matter of weeks.

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At home, we spoiled her rotten. I bought fat, fresh spot prawns for grilling, and we ate them, but saved all the shells for her dinner bowl. I let her eat corn straight off the cob, in little bites. I fed her the crusts from Graham’s lunchtime sandwiches. We committed to buying canned dog food, which is outrageously expensive, and smells not unlike excellent pâté.

A few days later, my husband left on a business trip. I took Bromley in for her final foot check-up, and the vet declared it healed—healed better, in fact, than she had thought it might. Bromley wove her bumpy body between my legs as well as she could, like a toddler burying her head in her mother’s legs to hide. It was as if faced with her final moments, she’d decided she did actually have some love to share. As I was leaving, I suddenly decided I should ask to have the foot X-rayed. Off went Bromley, shaking terribly, with the perennially peppy vet, who seemed to pity me because I was about to learn the method nature had chosen for my dog’s execution.

But the vet came back with a funny look on her face.

“I’m happy to tell you that I think I was wrong,” she said. “I can’t find anything. Her foot looks completely normal.”

“Normal?” I asked, surprised and almost crestfallen. “Let me see.”

I couldn’t believe that there could still be nothing wrong, but as far as my amateur eyes could see, the dog’s injured paw looked the same as the normal paw, which the vet had X-rayed for reference. How many lives does this dog have? I thought to myself.

Bromley has never been easy to love, so with the good news came relief, but also an enormous wave of shame. I know my job is to love this animal as long as she lives, but part of me hoped—honestly, guiltily hoped—that something was finally really wrong with her.

And somehow, Bromley knew. When we got home, she became strangely sweet. She started following me around the house, like she had something interesting to say but kept forgetting. She sat next to me if I was sitting on the floor—close enough that I could pet her, which wasn’t something she let us (or anyone else) do regularly. She didn’t stop drooling or snoring or peeing in the wrong places at the wrong times, but instead of the mean, reclusive cat we’d likened her to her whole life, she finally became a dog.

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In return, we’ve started treating her like one. We’ve started petting her, because finally, she’ll let us. Last weekend, when Graham passed out in the middle of the living room floor, she took a nap next to him. And I actually cuddled with her. It took her five whole minutes to realize something unusual was happening and she stomped away.

And in the kitchen, we’ve simply kept spoiling her, because if a large dog can live almost 13 years eating all the human food dogs are supposed to avoid, a few more scraps on top of her pâté certainly won’t kill her.

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Last night, we had spot prawns again, heaping piles of messy garlic- and chili-studded creatures on a platter for our own dinner. We sucked the sweet meat out of their shells, and heaped the tails and legs into a big metal bowl, which we passed on to Bromley on the back porch. She looked up at us in lucky disbelief, as if wondering whether perhaps they might be poisoned. We nodded and pushed the bowl closer. My husband and I hugged each other, somehow deciding, after 12-plus years, that we’d simply love Bromley the way she wanted to be loved. Because sometimes the sweetest thing you make isn’t what you eat, but what you don’t.

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Spot Prawns with Garlic, Chilies, and Lemon

If you’re really going to do it right, eating spot prawns should be done with an apron on. That way, you can snap the tails off the creatures right as they come off the grill, slurp the juices off their legs (and out of their heads, if you’re so inclined), peel the shells off before dredging the tender, sweet meat in any lemony butter that remains on the plate, then wipe your hands on your front with reckless abandon.

In a pinch, whole fresh shrimp are a good substitute, but nothing beats the sweetness of spot prawns from the Pacific Northwest.

Serves 2 to 4.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes (or to taste)

1 medium lemon

1 pound fresh spot prawns

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill over medium-high heat (about 425 degrees F).

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. When the butter has melted completely, stir in the garlic and chili flakes. Zest the lemon and add that to the mixture, then slice what remains of the lemon into wedges and set aside.

Put the spot prawns in a large bowl and drizzle the butter mixture over the shellfish. Using your hands, scrape the leg side of the prawns against the bottom of the bowl, so each creature gathers up as much garlic as possible.

Grill the prawns for 1 minute per side, with the lid closed as much as possible, or until the prawns turn a deeper shade of pink and curl. (You want them cooked, but just barely.) Transfer the hot prawns to a platter, and serve piping hot, with the lemons for squeezing over them.

 

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Filed under Buddies, commentary, dog, gluten-free, husband, recipe, shellfish

Crab season

red rock crab

I wouldn’t call 4:30 a.m. a friendly time, but if you see it enough – say, growing up in a family dedicated to the first chairlift, or rowing crew in college – it becomes familiar. So when my alarm went off in the pre-dawn calm last Saturday, way before the hours I call human, I popped right out of bed. It was time to fish.

As a kid, we seasoned river trout in a paper bag. My father or brother would catch the fish – if I remember correctly, I never, ever caught one – and we’d pour flour into the bag, douse it with salt and pepper (or lemon pepper, if we had it), add the fish, and fold the top of the bag over twice. Dad set a cast iron pan over the open fire, glazed it with butter, and pan-fried the fish right there, next to the river. Or something like that. I think my father loved it because if we cooked by the water, my mother couldn’t complain about the house smelling of fish. I liked shaking the bag.

But river fishing, to me, always seemed like the easy way. (Don’t tell Dad, okay?) I romanticized deep sea fishing. Catching a fish in a river made you coordinated or perhaps just lucky; catching a fish in the ocean made you A Provider. So when my husband’s family arranged a salmon fishing trip for a group of curious relatives with All Washington Fishing, a local guide company with a slip about 2 miles from our house in Seattle, I was thrilled to join them.

I’d love to say it was a scintillating adventure. I’d love to say I caught three monster king salmon while battling rogue waves, each fish testing my strength to its limits. I’d love to say I came back with windburn, or sunburn, or both, or that I worked for my catch at least a little, but none of that really happened. The fact is, it was an easy, relaxing, calm, quiet morning. Like going to the farmers’ market, only less walking. We didn’t go out far – just across Puget Sound toward Bainbridge Island, where the kings and cohos were hungry and plentiful. The morning was almost absurdly pleasant. I drank coffee and ate Fritos. (It’s not a bad combo at 7:30 in the morning, if you’ve been up for a bit.) I learned how the fishing rods work, and reeled in the occasional fish, and drank in the shifting grays of the sky between our group’s successes. And in the end, perhaps because I was the only one who didn’t land one of the 7 keepers, or because I managed to pee off the bow because I was too proud to make the guide extract the women’s toilet from the hold, or because I’m the only one with a huge freezer, or because I have passable knife skills, I went home with 30 pounds of gorgeous salmon flesh. That, combined with my husband’s huge salmon-eating grin, was worth the wake-up call. I didn’t catch much myself, but my freezer is full.

A man and his fish

But then, on the way home, there was crab. The recreational season apparently opened July 1st here. The boat’s captain cruised by his pots with the same sense of idle convenience I use for getting gas or picking up a half gallon of milk. By then, I’ll admit I’d sort of stopped paying attention because I was focusing on the fish. But with each haul, he drew big tangles of sharp, angry legs out of his crab traps. About half were red rock crabs (pictured above), red-tinted, cranky things whose leg meat is apparently delicious but, besides the pinchers, quite difficult to retrieve. The other half were healthy full-size Dungeness. We took our Dungeness limit, 10 crabs, thinking the sweet, flaky meat could supplement our big family dinner.

What we didn’t realize, hauling in the crab, was that given a good labor force, two hours, and a few beers, the product of 10 pounds of crawlers is about 4 pounds of meat – enough to eat a bunch straight from the shell, stir some into crab salad, make a dozen jumbo crab cakes, pile crab curry over rice, and still have enough left for a hot, bubbling crab dip spiked with jalapeños two days after the catch.

Unlike waking up early, an overabundance of fresh-picked Dungeness crab meat is not a problem I’d call familiar. But if you should find yourself, like I did, with a healthy half pound of the stuff, and you can’t stand the thought of eating plain old crab salad for the third day in a row, and you’re longing for an indulgent appetizer that highlights the shellfish without scrimping on creaminess, this dip’s for you.

And guess what? You don’t even have to set the alarm.

Fishing photos by Adam Corcutt.

Crab Dip with Pickled Jalapeños and Goat Cheese 2

Hot Crab Dip with Pickled Jalapeños and Goat Cheese (PDF)
Active time: 10 minutes
Makes 6 servings

10 ounces fresh-picked Dungeness crabmeat
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapeño peppers
Juice of 1 large lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tortilla chips, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Gently squeeze the crabmeat in small handfuls over the sink to discard any excess liquid. Transfer the crab to a mixing bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and stir with a big fork until more or less blended. (This is a good time to think about something else; there’s nothing exact about this process.)

Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish just large enough to hold it all. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbling and browned on top. Serve hot, with the tortilla chips for scooping.

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Filed under appetizers, fish, gluten-free, husband, recipe, shellfish, side dish, snack

Parsley. In February.

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One of the things I really love about Seattle is having parsley in February. It spurts forth with a stubbornness even my two-year-old can’t muster, preening through the rain, ignoring our recent “snowstorm.” (The Idahoan in me still can’t call that a real storm.) I like to pick it right after 5 p.m., when people are walking home and watching, because it doesn’t feel as much like bragging when I don’t actually open my mouth. After I bring it inside, I peel off my socks, because I’m forever dreaming that somehow my socks won’t get wet if I run extra fast from the front door to the edge of the garden in the rain with a paring knife in my hand. Then I wash the parsley well, because I can’t seem to trust that someone hasn’t been fertilizing it with some magic chemical when I’m not looking. Finally, it sits on the drying rack, next to the Tupperware, and waits.

Seattle garden parsley

Last week, it waited for a clam and chorizo stew I made with Kathy Gunst, when she was visiting. Kathy is my cooking Yoda. She’s not short, and doesn’t have big ears, but since an internship with her ten years ago, it’s her voice I hear when I’m standing in front of the stove, wondering what comes next, or what flavors work together. Over the years, I’ve spent days and days cooking in her kitchen, in Maine, but we’d never really cooked together in mine. I’d forgotten what it’s like to have a real cooking partner. It’s especially convenient when there’s a kid in the house; it’s like having four hands, instead of two, only they really can be in two places at once.

I threw chorizo into a high-sided pan, where it sizzled until a certain someone demanded I play ice cream shop. Kathy floated in, and when I returned, pretend-bloated with ten pretend cones’ worth, the stew was bubbling, ready for clams. When I held the long, steel handle of the pan, just to give the tomatoes a quick shake before adding the wine, the handle was still warm—not from the heating element, but from human touch.

Here’s something you might not know about me: I don’t often cook with other people. I like it well enough, but with the exception of my younger sister, who’s turning into a pretty clutch cook herself, my Seattle tribe consist of people who eat, but who don’t necessarily cook. And so often for me, being in the kitchen means a frazzled dance of stirring and writing and timing and judging, rather than just plain cooking. That warm pan handle reminded me how much enjoying cooking, for me, revolves around touch, instead of just taste.

In the end, the stew was good not just because the chorizo, from Seattle’s Rain Shadow Meats, seemed to have exactly the right amount of pimenton, or because the little Manila clams were gorgeous, or because I added the right amount of parsley. It was good because it made me remember that more than any book, or my upbringing, or even culinary school, Kathy’s two hands—the ones that had picked up cooking just where I’d left off, so seamlessly, mid-stew—are the hands that taught me to cook.

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Clams with Chorizo, Chickpeas, and Parsley (PDF)
It’s a simple enough dish to make, but loaded into bowls and served with good, crusty bread, this meal has the ability to transport—to Spain, for starters, with that smoky pimentón flavor, and then to the sea, because when the clams cook in tomatoes and wine, they release their briny juices right into the dish’s liquid. If you want this to be more of a stew, add eight ounces of clam juice along with the wine.

Look for pimentón de la vera in the spice section of a large grocery store, or online. Do not substitute regular paprika.

Time: 30 minutes active time
Serves: 2, or 4 with a hearty salad

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo, casings removed, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 medium leek, chopped (white and light green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (high-quality smoky Spanish paprika)
1 cup dry white wine
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 pound clean Manila clams
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then the chorizo, and cook for about 7 minutes, stirring just once or twice, or until the chorizo is partly cooked but loose on the pan. Add the leek and garlic (and a swirl of additional olive oil, if the pan is still dry), and cook another 5 minutes, until the leek is soft. Stir in salt and pepper to taste and the pimentón de la vera. Add the tomatoes and wine, and simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.

Add the chickpeas and clams, cover the pan, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until all the clams have opened. (Discard any unopened clams.) Stir in the parsley, season to taste, and serve piping hot, with crusty bread for dipping or over soft polenta.

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Filed under egg-free, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, Lunch, pork, recipe, shellfish, soy-free

A new lobster chowder

Lobster Corn Chowder with Basil and Bacon

A few weeks ago, I had to test a lobster chowder recipe for a corporate client. I make lobster stews and shellfish soups occasionally when I’m back east, usually with my husband’s family, but I rarely traipse off to find lobster in Seattle. Everything about it felt wrong: calling eight stores to find pre-picked lobster meat, choosing lobsters over crabs at the fish market when that first approach failed, rifling through my pantry for just the right ingredients while my sister, bless her heart, helped me crack shells and pick, pick, pick. In the end, it tasted good, but it didn’t taste right. And more than anything, it simply wasn’t the lobster chowder I wanted to make.

Then I forgot about lobster chowder.

But last week, back in Maine, it resurfaced—first at my friend Kathy’s house, where when we walked in, at 10 a.m., there was a pot simmering on the stove, rich with cream and homemade lobster stock, bright with summer corn. Lobster, I thought. Wow. Then it showed up at Grace, Portland’s giant-church-turned-foodie-alter (the big open kitchen is literally where the alter once stood), doused with chanterelle mushrooms, corn, and local mussels. At 50 Local, the awesome new Kennebunk bistro that proves the locavore movement is capable of rooting itself into the tiniest communities, a lobster carbonara reminded me once again that few foods can simultaneously taste as rich and as simple as lobster does.

It’s funny how when we live in one place, we appreciate its delicacies, but we celebrate them best when we’ve lived without them for a while. Last week, in Maine, lobster chowder seemed worth celebrating. We made it the way it should be, with lobster from a pound in Cape Porpoise owned by a rickety-looking old woman who carries fresh blueberry pies six at a time. There was corn stock involved, made with cobs fresh from a local farmers’ market, and a whisp of fresh basil, because it was there, and the tiny Maine potatoes my son rolled around on the floor for an hour first. (Here’s the part I omitted from the recipe, but I’m sure it made a difference: Place the potatoes in a strainer on a wood floor. Take them out and put them back in approximately ten thousand times, licking them and rolling them around in any available dust before returning them to the strainer. Wash thoroughly.)

We ate the chowder as the sun exhaled, all of us exhausted from a long, bright day.

Between testing and tasting, my stomach has had an incredibly busy schedule these days. (Summer is the best time to feel sorry for a freelance food writer.) But sometime, before the days get short, I’ll make this incredibly light chowder again with corn and crab. And if a few mussels sneak their way in, I certainly won’t complain.

Lobster and Corn Chowder with Basil and Bacon (PDF)

Made light and summery with homemade corn stock and shards of fresh basil, this lobster concoction hardy qualifies as chowder. (There isn’t even any cream in it.) But it’s summer. Who wants something heavy?

Chop the lobster meat how you prefer to eat it – in small pieces or big chunks.

You west coasters could substitute crab for the lobster meat, if you’d like.

TIME: About 2 hours, start to finish

MAKES: 8 servings

8 cobs fresh corn, shucked
2 medium Vidalia onions, peeled
3 big sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 slices (about 1/4 pound) applewood-smoked bacon, chopped into 1/4” pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
2 pounds small red-skinned potatoes, skins left on, chopped into 1/2” pieces
1 pound lobster meat, chopped
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

First, make corn stock: Place a corn cob on a cutting board so it points away from you. Using a knife, cut three or four rows of kernels off the cob on the side closest to your knife hand. Roll the cob away from the knife and cut the next few rows off. Continue until all the corn has been cut off, then stand the empty corn cob on one end and use the back of the knife to scrape down the cut sides of the corn, pushing the milk and whatever’s left from each kernel onto the cutting board. Set the corn and mash aside in one big bowl, the cob in a big stock pot, and repeat with the remaining corn.

Add one onion, split down the middle, and the thyme and bay to the stock pot with the cobs. Cover with 8 cups cold water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered. Set aside. (You can do this up to a few days ahead, let cool completely, then strain and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.)

When the stock is done, heat a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the bacon, and cook until crisp, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. While the bacon cooks, finely chop the remaining onion. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the drippings in the pan, and set the bacon aside.

Add the chopped onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook and stir until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the flour, stir to coat all the onion pieces, and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add the clam juice, a little at a time, whisking until all the juice has been added and the mixture has thickened, about 2 minutes. Add the potatoes and 6 cups of the corn stock, bring to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the lobster, corn and corn mash, and milk, return the soup to a simmer, and remove from the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the reserved bacon and basil just before serving.

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Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, shellfish, soup

Back in the saddle

curried minted grilled shrimp 4>

It was so polite, the way she said it. You shouldn’t feel obligated to bring anything. But we’ll be putting out cheese and olives and such, and there’s always room for an appetizer. As if I thought I might be imposing, if I actually decided to bring something. Like I was afraid one more dish might cause the table’s legs to buckle, like some overburdened pack horse.

As soon as I realized we were actually going out—to an engagement party, at someone else’s house, with the express intent of talking to people whose conversations just might veer off the too-worn path of dirty diapers and breast milk—I knew I had to bring something that looked fancy. Not so much because I wanted to spend tons of energy in the kitchen, but because I felt ready to buzz again. Ready to spin from the sink to the cutting board to the stove and back without thinking about it.

The buzz happened, albeit slowly. I started with a square of banana leaf from the freezer, and little twirly bamboo skewers–the ones I’ve been hoarding in my kitchen drawer for probably the better part of a decade. These, I thought. I’ll put something on these.

curried minted grilled shrimp raw

It wasn’t the least bit complicated. I gave a couple pounds of shrimp a quick bath in curried coconut milk, then threaded them onto the skewers and grilled them. On a whim, instead of stirring together a separate dipping sauce, I plunked the marinade on the stove, where it simmered and bubbled and (surprise!) caramelized into a sticky, spicy, faintly sweet glaze for the shrimp. I brushed it on the shrimp, so I didn’t have to bother with transporting a dipping sauce, or watch people juggle baby kebabs and sauce and cheese and olives and champagne flutes all at once.

curried minted grilled shrimp brushing

And it was all really that simple. I made a great appetizer, and brought it to a party.

On the way there, I looked at my husband with a broad grin. We’re on time, I said. (We’re not typically late people, but we’re often late for these friends.) And we’re bringing food and a baby. I told Jim I felt like I was back in the saddle again.

So, okay, it took me five (wait, six) days to type this recipe. And thinking back, I remember I did realize, halfway through cooking, that my t-shirt was on inside-out and backward.

So what? The shrimp tasted really good.

Onward and upward.

curried minted grilled shrimp 2

Curried Minted Grilled Shrimp with Caramelized Coconut Glaze (PDF)

Here’s a two-for-the-price-of-one sort of recipe: the marinade, sharp and sweet with red curry and coconut milk, makes for tasty, mildly spicy grilled shrimp. Simmer the marinade down, though, and the coconut milk caramelizes, making a pleasingly sticky glaze that’s fancy and beautiful but not actually messy. This dish is great for a party; because you brush the sauce right onto the shellfish, it also travels quite well.

You’ll need about 3 dozen small (4” or 6”) skewers; be sure to soak them in water for about 30 minutes before threading the shrimp on, to avoid burning.

TIME: 45 minutes active time, plus marinating
MAKES: About 3 dozen skewers

2 tablespoons roasted red curry paste
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
2 pounds shrimp (16-20 per pound size), peeled and deveined, tails removed
6 kaffir lime leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped fresh mint, plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
3 dozen small (4” or 6”) skewers
Vegetable or olive oil, for the grill
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon honey

Place the curry paste in a large mixing bowl. Add about a quarter of the coconut milk, and whisk until blended. Add the remaining coconut milk, whisk again, then add the shrimp, lime leaves, cilantro, and 1/4 cup chopped mint. Stir to coat and refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours.

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat. While the grill heats, thread 2 shrimp on each skewer, so each skewer goes through each shrimp twice, reserving the marinade in the bowl as you work. Lightly oil the grill and cook the shrimp in batches for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until just pink and slightly charred.

While the shrimp cook, transfer the remaining marinade to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces to about a cup of liquid and darkens as the coconut milk caramelizes. Stir in a pinch of salt and the honey, then strain the sauce (through a fine mesh strainer) into a bowl. When the shrimp are done, brush the sauce onto the shrimp on both sides. Sprinkle the shrimp with the remaining tablespoon of mint, and serve warm or at room temperature, with extra sauce on the side, if desired.

curried minted grilled shrimp 1

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Filed under appetizers, gluten-free, recipe, shellfish, Thai

Mittens with buttons, and where I come from

Mittens with buttons

I didn’t buy the boots. I found some good ones, all right, tall snazzy black numbers with a chunky, tapered heel (40’s?) and buttons running up the sides, but I didn’t avoid buying them because I’d made strides in my personal struggle with consumerism and world hunger.

Nope, I just took the cowardly exit and kept my feet firmly planted in my ratty black Danskos.

Don’t you want to try them on?

My dad is king of the take-the-giftee-shopping-a-week-before-Christmas approach to holiday giving. (This man is a genius. When I was little, we used to hit the mall together on December 23rd or 24th, then I’d wrap my own gifts up and he’d come down to get them and put them under the tree.)

No thanks, Dad, they’re not quite what I had in mind.

But I did pounce on the mittens he picked out. They’re wooly black- and white-striped things, half-gloves, really, with a mitten top that folds back and secures with a button. Fabulous. And really, can you think of anything inedible that feels as good rolling around in the mouth as “mittens with buttons”? I’ve been rhyming it behind my front teeth all morning long. MiTTins with buTTins.

Anyway, we were quite successful shopping for other family members, and made good use of our time in downtown Seattle. We took Grandma June to Le Panier, where her eyebrows rose up beneath her bangs. We remembered eating croissants in Paris together, in – what was it? – 1991. I looked at her and wagged my own eyebrows up and down. “Looks good, doesn’t it?”

We made our way to the pastry counter. “Do you want to split something?” I asked her. She looked confused. My dad gave me an encouraging look that I interpreted as “I’ll split something with you if she doesn’t want to.” June window-shopped down the length of the counter, oblivious to the server’s impatience. Finally, she turned to me. “No,” she said. “I’ll be having my own.” I glanced at my dad, who immediately turned his back to me and ordered a pain au chocolat. Apparently my I’d gotten the wrong message.

“So this is where I come from,” I said, aloud. They agreed. “We’re Swiss, you know,” said June. “We don’t like to share our chocolate.” I ordered apricot.

We agreed to share bites, but right when I passed my pastry over to my father, and set his chocolate version at my place, a barista called out my coffee order. I came back no more than twenty seconds later to find he’d taken a bite of mine, and switched plates again, reclaiming his snack before I’d had a chance to taste it. Sneaky bastard! Yes, this is where I come from, I thought. If I’d chosen the chocolate one, I’d have done the same thing.

But I called him on it anyway. Grandma June chewed him out. He gave me a bite.

Then we bought scallops at Pike Place Market, along with spinach and a pink-striped lemon, which the lady at the fruit stand promised will be pink inside. I wanted to cook something special for dinner, something June would never make for herself but something not to restauranty, but I really, really didn’t want to spend the night concocting a complicated recipe, with my back to her. I didn’t want spend time letting the cooked food cool in the best light, next to the sink, while I snapped a million photos, waiting for the right one. I didn’t want to write with her in the room, and tinker with flavors until I got something mindblowing; I wanted to be with her. So I scribbled a few things down, threw a few of her favorite ingredients into a few pans on the stove, and tried to focus on dinner with Dad and Grandma instead of eighteen recipes left.

The soup was even more delicious the second day, which is a good rule for soup as far as I’m concerned. The scallops landed perfectly between the sauteed spinach and beans, not as nicely browned as I’d hoped, because I rushed and forgot to dry them off before searing them, but pretty enough to impress. June was thrilled, I think.

We forgot all about the pink lemon.

Oh, and the orange-honey bread pudding holds up quite nicely, by the way. I baked it Monday morning, and it made a delicious Tuesday night dessert, just reheated (with foil on top) in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes.

Seared Scallops with Spinach and White Beans

Pan-Seared Scallops with Sauteed Spinach and Mustardy White Beans
Recipe 346 of 365

Note: I used three pans for this. You can probably figure out how to do it in fewer, but this is how it went down last night.

TIME: About 20 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

Sautee a couple sliced shallots in olive oil until soft. Stir in a can of rinsed, drained white beans, 1/2 cup white wine, 1/2 cup stock, and a scoop of mustard, and season with salt and pepper. Move the beans to a back burner to simmer.

Heat another big pan over medium-high heat, and add a swirl of olive oil. (I would have added a good dose of garlic, but Grandma doesn’t like garlic.) Add a big bag of baby spinach. (I actually used a pound of untrimmed grown-up spinach, from two bunches, but trimmed all the tough stems off.) Season the spinach with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring or turning the spinach with tongs, until wilted.

Meanwhile, pat 8 big scallops dry and season them with salt and pepper. Heat pan #3 up good and hot, and sear the scallops for a few minutes on each side in a thin sheen of olive oil, until seared but still soft to the touch in the middle.

Add a splash of heavy cream to the beans, simmer them another minute or so, and divide them and the spinach between four bowls. Top with the scallops, and serve immediately.

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Filed under gluten-free, recipe, shellfish, vegetables

331: Pan-fried razor clams

Pan-Fried Razor Clams 2

If you search YouTube for videos of razor clamming, like my friend did when he wanted to show his family what we did on Sunday evening, you might find this one, which makes it look absurdly easy.

This is not razor clamming. This is a video of some guys who fitted razor clams with magnetic attractors of some sort, planted them in a bed of fine, pretty sand in their back yard, washed them over with water to make it look like the tide had run out, and dug them up using a clam gun (that big, heavy, metal tubey thing in the video) and some sort of X-ray sensing device to determine precisely where the clams were located.

But that’s not how it really works. Not for me, anyway.

When I learned that razor clams thrive up and down Washington’s eastern shore, my reaction was mixed. Sure, I’d love to forage for my own food, but truth be told, I’m not a huge clam fan. With regular clams – quahogs or cherrystones or even tiny Manila clams, or especially littlenecks, with their leathery little siphons – I get a little grossed out when my teeth find the barrier between the smooth, thin muscle and the viscera it protects, and when popping one in my mouth means finding a few grains of sand to grind between my molars, I cringe. It’s a texture thing, I guess.

But razor clams are different, I heard, at least the ones found around here. When you clean them, you take the stomach out entirely, and open them up in such a way that the sand gets washed away, so what’s left to cook is pure muscle. No guts, no sand. They’re the boneless, skinless chicken breasts of the clam family, as my friend Jill put it.

That’s why on Sunday, with the afternoon sun beating in through the windshield, I set myself adrift toward Twin Harbors beach in post-Thanksgiving traffic with a buddy, a dog, and a razor clamming license, determined to find a clam I could call a friend. Instead of that handy clam gun, we came armed with one shovel and our respective arsenals of waterproof winter clothing.

So here’s how it does work: You follow two small children around, depending on them to see the signs of life under the sand that you are somehow completely incapable of recognizing. They tell you to dig, and you dig, not down a foot or so, like in the video. Actually, that part’s true, you do dig a foot or so down with your shovel, first. Then you fall to the sand and start heaving sand out in messy handfuls, like you’re pawing through a giant vat of 34-degree Cream of Wheat, and you feel your dog staring at you. She’s got her head tilted to the side, wondering who the hell taught you to dig like that. But as soon you feel the tip of the clam, it digs down farther and slightly seaward, so you flatten your chest to the sand and get your whole arm involved, right up to the armpit. You have to make sure you have your watch on and the sleeves of your fleece a little bit open when you plunge your hand into the liquefied sand, so that millions of hard little particles dive directly up your sleeve, where they exfoliate your elbows, and down under your watch band and into your good biking gloves.

Then, and only then, do you bring the clam up. Sometimes, when the sand at the surface of the hole solidifies around your bicep and elbow, getting one’s arm out requires significant effort and considerable grunting. I’d guess I dug faster than the clam did about half the time, and of the twelve clams I did manage to finally drop in my square yellow bucket, almost half had shells I’d shattered with the shovel on the way in. Poor guys.

Then, when the children you’re with have caught their limit (I’m pretty sure the five-year-old beat my catch) , and you’re limping back to the car, filthy with sand and freezing and happy even though your clamming skills really do need some work, you have to sing a clam song. There’s no particular song; it’s not like sailing, where there’s a song for the mainsail going up, a song for the anchor, and a song for washing the deck. In our case, it was a variation of the Twelve Days of Christmas (again with the Christmas carols?). We started in the middle somewhere: Six buckets swinging, FIIIIIVE MANGLED CLAMS. Four clamming shovels, three cold butts, two new diggers, and a. . .

We never did figure out what could stand in for the partridge.

I have to save the nuts and bolts of cleaning and cooking clams for better-paying print, but here’s what they look like before you get those gorgeous shells off:

Granddaddy razor clam

Here’s the video I took (with my husband’s camera, which I will soon return to him, because my camera’s baaaaaack!) of someone showing me how to actually clean the things.

And here’s a clam without any clothes on:

Raw, cleaned razor clam

If you’re patient and good with scissors, you can clean them so that the digger (the part on the right) stays attached to the rest, and nestles into the little hole you see in the body on the left, but it will still flop around when you cook it, and the digger takes a bit longer to cook than the body, so why bother?

Oh, and on the eating part: They don’t taste like regular clams. They taste so much better.

But what does one do with them, you ask?

Not much.

Late on the night of the dig, we dredged them in flour and fried them up in olive oil. It was a good choice – the clams were still tender, and not at all leathery, like I hear they can get if you cook them too long – but I wanted more crunchy texture, and a little more flavor. Yesterday I dusted them in cornmeal and fried them up in butter. After all that clam killing, I felt somehow nicer breading them in something with a sandy texture. You know, remind ’em of home. Twisted? Maybe.

Frying razor clam

There’s not much to it, really. You just season a clean razor clam with salt and pepper, drop a good knob of butter into a pretty hot pan, dredge the clam in cornmeal, and sear it for a minute or so on each side. When they cook, the clams curl up a bit, like bacon in a hot pan, and if the razor clams weren’t so neatly cleaned (they weren’t all this pretty), the two halves of the clam splay out and bounce around in the hot pan like the legs of a very unfortunate frog. You can squeeze a bit of lemon over the top when you’re done, like I did, or just eat them, as fast as they come out of the pan.

Pan-Fried Razor Clams 1

It is so worth going.

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Filed under kitchen adventure, recipe, shellfish, travel