Friday, March 29, 2013

Because It's Clam Season in Durham, North Carolina...

Stuffed Quahogs

The amounts in this recipe depend on the number of clams you have dug.  Or bought, if you are not so fortunate as to be able to dig your own clams.  So instead of giving you the exact amounts I have merely set out a formula that I find works well for me.   

This recipe can be used with fresh clams steamed for this purpose, but it is also an excellent use for clams and sausage left over from a clambake.  I prefer to use hard-shell clams (or quahogs, as they are known on New England shores) for “stuffies” because there is less liquid to deal with in the bellies, and because you then have the clamshells handy for stuffing.

(The part of Nashweena pond you do not want to go clamming in.)

For the stuffing:
for each cup of chopped clams, have on hand
 ¼ cup of breadcrumbs
one small yellow onion, diced
¼ cup diced celery
¼ cup diced red or green pepper (if desired)
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
¼ cup cooked sausage (chorizo is preferred but any spicy sausage will do)
salt, pepper, and garlic to taste

If the clams are fresh, steam them until they are just open.  You don’t want to overcook them, especially if they are hard shells, as that will make them chewy. 

If you are working with clams left over from a clam boil, simply pull them out of their shells and rinse with warm water to make sure all the sand is gone.  Soft-shell clams, also known as “squirters” have a sheath over the neck which should be removed. 

If you have steamed the clams just for this, reserved some of the liquid.  Chop the clams and set aside in a bowl.
Sauté the vegetables and chopped sausage until the vegetables are soft.
Place the vegetables and breadcrumbs in the bowl with the clams and mix thoroughly.  Your hands are the best utensils for this job. 

Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings, adding salt, pepper, and garlic as desired.  If the mixture is too dry, moisten with a bit of reserved steaming liquid or chicken stock.

 In a perfect world you will have exactly the number of properly sized clamshells that you need.

The best part of stuffies is not the making, though, or the eating. Not for me. For me the best part is the clamming itself.
And I’m not talking rake in the water off a skiff clamming, or digging on the beach for steamers clamming, but the Cuttyhunk way of clamming as taught to me by Mr. Talented Toes himself, Paul Lehner. He’s my very best clamming partner, and in summer we go most Wednesdays, which is the only legal day to go. 

With your permit, (bought from the Cuttyhunk or Nashweena shellfish warden) and 8 quart (the limit per permit per week) bucket in hand, you motor to Nashweena harbor at low tide and find your special secret place in the harbor. 

Jump over the side into the sandy eelgrass and walk around on your heels. When you think you feel a quahog (and after the first one you can almost always tell clams from rocks) you dig it out with the toes of one foot and try and flip it up onto the top of your other foot. 

Then, balancing on your digging foot you gracefully lift the other foot up to where you can grab the quahog  off the top of your foot with your fingers, thus avoiding dunking your face in the water, Yoga practice comes in handy here. 

Fill the pockets of your shorts and then wade back to said boat and empty them into the aforementioned 8 quart bucket. When your bucket is full, you are done. 

Motor lazily back to the dock and give away ¾ of the clams. 

You can’t possibly eat them all yourself.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The best of intentions…

Well, I had every intention of writing a book review of my friend Chris Grabenstein’s new middle grade novel collaboration with James Patterson, I Funny.  Because I liked it very much.  

 And I’ve always been interested in the collaborative process.  I’ve only had one successful poetry collaboration, although I tried it with a number of people.

I was very curious to see if I could tell which parts of the book were my friend Chris and which were Mr. Patterson, as I feel like I’ve read enough of Chris’s work to have a handle on his voice.  But it felt like a pretty seamless mesh of styles, and except for a few phrases that were definitely Chris’s, the voice seemed different from either of theirs alone.

But I digress.  
As I said, I was just getting ready to sit down and write a review when Chris posted a review from a young man who has his own blog.  And after reading his review I felt anyone who wanted a sense of the novel I Funny would be far better served to simply follow this link.

 This kid is amazing.  I can’t wait to read his first novel, which I’m sure he will complete before finishing high school.

So maybe instead of reading and reviewing middle readers and young adult books I’ll just stick to books about islands, the ocean, and things of that sort, where I’m less likely to be one upped by a thirteen-year-old.

And don’t worry folks, this will count as my book review post, and the next post will be a recipe.  Honest.

Here is a totally random picture that has nothing to do with middle school, really.  Except it's a school. The Cuttyhunk schoolhouse, to be exact.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The news you’ve been waiting for . . .

No, I’m not opening a food truck. And somehow I have been overlooked (again) for a MacArthur grant. But this news is almost as exciting. At least to me.

I have a book contract for my first middle-grade/tween adventure novel, tentatively titled Coyote Summer.   Aha! Now the middle grade book review makes sense, hmm?

Anyway, how exciting is this? You’ll be hearing much more about this as the months go by, as the first book is due out this fall.

Yep, I said first. I’m writing a series. Set, oddly enough on an island. An island very similar to Cuttyhunk. But it’s not Cuttyhunk, for obvious reasons. One of which is I had to add on some extra island to fit all the places in the books.

So for all of you who voted with your fingers (121 views for the recipe blog to 32 for the book review blog) I can only say –

I’m sorry. You knew I wrote books when you started reading this blog. I promise more recipes in the future. And anecdotes, and memories, and pictures. 

And a book plug now and then. Because everyone needs to read.  And not just because I write. Although that’s a good reason, I admit.

And also, WHOOOHOOO!!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mixing it up . . .

Well, the power was out again yesterday, but fortunately I had several hours of power left in my laptop, so you get a post earlier than you normally might have. 

I’m going to be switching things up a bit here in blog land, and along with remembrances and recipes, you’ll be getting the occasional book review.

Why? Well, for one thing, I write them. Books. Remember? In addition to my many other skills. And I read them. Voraciously. 

But mostly because it’s all about the story with me. Spoken, written, visual, it’s all story. And it’s all important. Because that’s how we learn, by story. We learn how to do concrete things, like cook. We learn how life was in a place we love, back before we could live it ourselves. And hopefully, we learn something about other people, and that way, about ourselves. 

And hey, if you are wondering why I am reviewing some of the books I’m reviewing, all I shall say for now is: patience. All will be revealed soon.

I love Juvenile and YA books. Always have. And now, with the Hunger Games, and the Twilight series, it’s become ok to admit it. Not that being slightly strange ever stopped me. 

Chris Grabenstein writes books, both adult and juvenile, that are great fun to read. And I’m not just saying that because I knew him in college. Honest.

Chris Grabenstein’s The Crossroads is his first YA/Juvenile novel, and I am almost as impressed with it as I am with his adult mysteries. 

Zack Jennings is a great character, an 11-year-old boy who’s a bit of a nerd and a loner. To make matters worse, he sees and hears things, things that are a lot like ghosts. His father’s remarriage and their move to his hometown bring Zack up against a variety of unsavory characters, both human and long-dead, and he is tapped to help right some long-ago wrongs. In the process he gains self-confidence, learns to trust himself, and takes us on a rollicking good ride in the process.

Read the book. 
Give it to your kids. 
They won’t even realize they’re learning something.

Monday, March 11, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different . . .

I thought I'd post a recipe every so often that's from the Allen House but not in the book; with an accompanying anecdote. Let me know if you like it and want to see more, ok?

Mussles Diablo

  • 40  high-quality mussels
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 baguette, sliced on the diagonal into eight ¼-inch-thick pieces
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 cups canned tomatoes with their juice, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine or dry sherry
  • ½ bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, stems removed and leaves slivered, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish

  • ·  Clean the mussels by scrubbing well under cold running water and removing any beards. Drain well, transfer to a large bowl, and refrigerate. 
  • ·  Pour 1/2 cup of the olive oil into a shallow baking dish. Lay the bread slices in the oil and turn once to coat both sides. Toast the bread for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once or twice, or until golden brown and crisp. Transfer the croutons to a plate to cool. 
  • ·  Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil into a large sauté pan and heat over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the mussels, tomatoes, and pepper flakes and season with salt to taste. Stir well and cook for about 15 minutes. 
  • ·  Add the wine and parsley, cover, and cook for about 3 minutes, or until all the mussels open. (Discard any that do not open.) 
  • ·  Pour the mussels and the sauce into a large serving bowl. Garnish with parsley and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Stud the bowl with the croutons and serve.

When we made this dish at the Allen House, we tried to use Cuttyhunk mussels as often as possible.  I discovered Cuttyhunk mussels the spring I first came out to the island.  

 After Hunter and I finished work for the day, I would spend the remaining daylight hours wandering, following every deer path and dirt road to its end.  One day at low tide, while exploring the tip end of the spit of land upon which Mel Dorr’s house stood, I stepped cautiously out onto some seaweed-slick rocks to examine a tide pool uncovered by the outgoing water and spied among the barnacles a bivalve I recognized.  

 The previous year in Boston I had taken a shortcut every day from the red line T stop at Central Square to my second job at Adams lighting company in Inman Square.  This shortcut took me up a side street with a small fish market on it.  Since my two jobs barely covered my expenses in Boston, I was always on the lookout for cheap food, and the fish market often carried a sign in the window advertising mussels, 3 pounds for a dollar.  I quickly became a mussel aficionado.  

 The shellfish clinging to the rocks among the barnacles might not look exactly like the cleaned and packaged mussels from my fish market, but they were familiar enough to recognize.  I gathered several dozen of the largest and carried them back to the Allen House in my T-shirt.  That night I had my first taste of what really fresh seafood could taste like, and I was hooked. 

 On later walks I discovered the huge beds of mussels exposed on the rocks of the West End at low tide.  These mussels carried the equivalent of a crackerjack prize inside their shells; a tiny crab that when steamed inside the mussels provided a burst of salty flavor that to me, and to many others, was a real delicacy.

Want more recipes? Let me know. Got one to share? Post it here. And stay tuned for more completely different things.