Archive for May 2012

Mussel Mania

May 25, 2012

Mmmmm, mussel season is here. Although mussels will be getting even larger and plumper over the next couple of months, last night marked my celebration of the first really good mussels of the season. I’d been saving a recipe for Spicy Coconut Mussels with Lemon Grass, just waiting for the mussels to go with it, and a flying visit to Taylor Shellfish put them into my pot. The original recipe as written here is indeed very good, and you can make it just as is for a delicate rendition of Thai-style mussels. I’ve amped it up and adjusted the proportions and flavor balance a bit, because I love Thai flavors, and, in all modesty, I think you should try it my way first.

It’s delicious with an aromatic, dry Riesling. And for me, if I’m only eating mussels, 1 1/2 pounds per person is the right amount. If you’re having something else with the mussels one pound per person is normally considered to be a portion.

Abra’s Adapted Spicy Coconut Mussels

2 T coconut oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks lemon grass, trimmed and finely chopped
2 serrano peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup coconut milk
3 pounds mussels, debearded and rinsed
zest of 1 lime
2 tsp lime juice
1 T fish sauce
3/4 cup whole cilantro leaves

Heat the oil in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Sauté the shallot, garlic, lemon grass, and serrano pepper until soft, 3-4 minutes. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Gently add mussels. Cover and cook over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes, or until all of the mussels are opened. Scoop the mussels into two shallow bowls, leaving liquid in the pan. Add lime juice, lime zest, fish sauce, and cilantro to the pan and stir until the cilantro is just wilted. Pour the hot sauce over the mussels and serve.

The original recipe has you serve this with toasted croissants, which seems bizarre to me. I suggest that if you do eat carbs, you serve this with jasmine rice. Me, when all the mussels have been eaten, I just drink the remaining sauce right from the bowl like the mussel-loving heathen that I am.

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Heavenly Hakurei Hash

May 20, 2012

Suddenly Hakurei turnips are everywhere, and I’m in love. Probably I’m the last cook in America to discover them, since Internet references to them abound, but I don’t care, I’ve got them now and I’m never letting go. Tender and sweet, pure white, small and perfectly round with appetizing greens, they’re everything a turnip should be. Here’s my way with them.

Cut the turnips into pretty half-moons, chop the greens, and dice up the best pancetta you can find. This one comes from the Hitchcock Deli here on the island and it’s fabulously savory.

Crisp the pancetta and sweat the turnips in the rendered fat with no added liquid.

Toss in the chopped greens and cook just to wilt them. Relish.

Heavenly Hakurei Hash

2 bunches Hakurei turnips, 5 to a bunch, sliced in half-moons
3-4 ounces excellent pancetta, diced
greens from the two bunches of turnips, chopped
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a small pan (I use a 7″ skillet, you want the turnips to be crowded so that they’ll steam in their own juices) then add the pancetta and toss and stir over medium heat to render some of the fat and lightly crisp the meat. Add the sliced turnips, a pinch of salt, toss to cover the turnips with the fat, and cover the pan. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring halfway through. You want the turnips to be tender but not mushy. Add the greens, stir to combine, cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Add another pinch of salt and a grind or two of fresh pepper. And that’s all she wrote, because that’s all you need to do.

Personally I think this makes two servings, and it’s just as good left over the next day as it is at first bite.

Mother’s Day Wingding

May 14, 2012

A passing flock of cedar waxwings graced my day, the first I’ve ever seen here. Sitting out on the deck on a gorgeous summery evening we noticed that the neighbor’s tree was alive with little birds. The telephoto lens revealed them to be cedar waxwings, a name so poetic that I was thrilled to have them help me celebrate the day.

Graceful in flight, they proved the point that you should always have a camera within reach, as half an hour later they had all flown away. And for once, the disappearance of birds had nothing to do with

petite Zazou, a mighty hunter who is herself normally quite camera-shy. Maybe I’ll try tele-photoing her from now on, since she seems more at ease that way.

It’s interesting to turn a long lens on nearby objects,

like this glass of celebratory Champagne,

or this Lewisia, so splendid in springtime.  But of course what the lens really wants to do is look far afield, which in the case of our deck means out towards Puget Sound

where sailboats caroused and tugboats plied their trade against the backdrop of the Cascades, the tug working even on Mother’s Day

hauling barges into Seattle.

And then, after a couple of additional glasses of Champagne (because when you celebrate you might as well Celebrate) and the Lighting of the Grill to herald approaching summer and the outdoor cooking season, the doorbell rang and our neighbor brought us these beautiful fragrant yellow azaleas to join the Lily of the Valley that had bloomed just in time for Mother’s Day. A wingding of a day, I’d say, all brought to you by the magic of telephoto, instead of Teleflora.

Heads Or Tails?

May 8, 2012

Sometimes it’s so hard to know what to do. When completely flummoxed, I might have an extra glass of wine. Shel might play an extra game of Solitaire. Beppo likes to bury himself in a pile of clean laundry. Never dirty laundry, although heaven knows he has the opportunity to choose the well-used over the freshly-laundered. But no, the sweet, comforting softness of stuff right out of the dryer appeals to him, and I understand why. I’m blissed out myself when I get to put on fuzzy fleece clothes still dryer-warm, a hangover from my childhood days of popping into warm jammies at bedtime. Snuggle in, zone out, and whatever thorny problems you’re facing recede into the background.

In our case, we’ve been grappling for what seems like eons with the question of when and whether to go back to France. France or America? Somewhere else? We’ve buried our heads in the sands of daily life, thought of everything but this choice, obsessed over the French elections, planted the spring garden, until finally the answer came to us.

And although we were almost ready to just flip a coin, the plan ended up staring me in the face in the dark of a sleepless night, one of many that I passed trying to sort out our future whereabouts. And here it is. Yes, we will go back to France, how could we not? But no, we won’t do it right away.

First, in July and August, we’ll take a fantastical, frozen voyage up to Greenland, Iceland, and other exotic locales that I really never imagined we’d get to see. I’ll spend my birthday in Qaqortoq, Greenland, undoubtedly my most obscure and amazing birthday spot ever. You’ll come too, satellite Internet willing.

Then we’ll spend the rest of the year here on the island, have the holidays here, which we’ve seldom done these last five or six years. And then, back to our beloved France in the new year. Best of all worlds, I’d say. And as soon as Beppo gets out of that pile of laundry heaped on the futon, we’ll plop ourselves down in front of the only TV show we ever watch, a French current affairs debate program, and find out what the rest of the world has been up to whilst we had our heads tucked into our cozy little bubble. World, here we come.