Although I’ve lived in Southern California for almost 30 years, the Pacific Northwest — particularly Seattle and more specifically, Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula — has a hold on me I can’t explain. I think it tugs at my native Pennsylvanian sense memory — it’s verdant with cedar, fir, rhododendron; brisk from breaking water and crisp winter air. It gives me a reason to wear wool and eat soups. It’s a climate that breeds characters that I feel at home with — people that work hard and play hard, who hike, fish and forage and then cook, eat and laugh. It’s all food for a starving soul, so it felt right to ring in this newest year here.
Crab season is a nebulous (!) time, when the locals wait with a hushed expectancy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to declare the males of the crab population large enough to be harvestable. Normally open in early December, as of my arrival, it was still not a “go.”
New Year’s Eve morning found me and my partner in crime (and writing), Hilary, starting our two-plus hour drive south from Olympia in an uncommon but not unheard-of snowstorm. We were both well-swaddled in Smart Wool base layers and Columbia everything else. The quiet and uneventful drive through frosty fog through smaller and smaller towns led us to the view that shimmers often in my mind’s eye, Willapa Bay.
Each morning the sun rises above the Willapa Hills, the fog softening it to a diffuse glow through my bedroom window. Squadrons of geese honk south, ducks gather in the tide ponds, Stellars jays flash blue in the blackberry thickets, and the salty soil colors the hydrangeas an aquatic teal.
We planned to ring out 2012 with a party at a local restaurant, but as with most New Year’s Eve celebrations, there is a pre-game warmup. After a quick catchup over homemade wild blackberry vodka with our companion for the evening, Oysterman Dan from Oysterville Sea Farms (everyone should be friends with an oyster farmer) we headed to the weekend cabin of his friends Lynn & Bill. Lynn & Bill clam, hunt, fish, forage and most importantly, cook. We arrived to a pitcher of margaritas and a platter of hot, honey-dipped fried razor clams.
Pacific Northwesterners are rightfully picky about their fresh seafood, and are particularly passionate about their razor clams, turning out in ungodly conditions to plunge shovels and clam guns into wet, frigid sand to retrieve their daily limits of sweet, buttery bivalves. I tried clamming once and had to throw away my shoes and pants (not to mention that I didn’t actually find any clams). I’m perfectly satisfied to let others shower their bounty on me. The appetizers were rounded out with a plate of Bill’s smoked sturgeon, teriyaki duck and duck jerky.
Slaked and sated, we headed south to the party proper, at the Pickled Fish, a freshly-christened local eatery that’s part of the Adrift Hotel in Long Beach. The owners and chef have thoughtfully conceived of a locavore menu in a fresh, modern nautical setting. There was a blues band, Mason jars of vodka and cranberry juice, trays of champagne and plates of freshly shucked oysters with a bloody mary granita.
NEW YEAR’S DAY
I’ve long-dreamed of waking to this view – even if it was after only a few hours of champagne-soaked sleep.
Post my post-lunch nap (it was a late night!), it was time again for food prep — New Year’s Dinner — a “lucky” cider-braised pork loin with fennel and black-eyed peas with Swiss chard and bacon.
Eggs of the sea
Ole (pronounced Oh-lee) Bob’s Seafood Market. But although crab season was open, Ole Bob’s is closed on Wednesdays. They still sold us a pound of shelled for our crab cakes, and we ventured up-river to Chinook, Bell & Buoy in our sights. It was looking promising.
Commercial only. Back up the road four blocks to, yes:
As Hilary assembled crab cakes and I tossed together a simple tomato-potato-cheese soup (our friend Julia Johnson’s recipe), the Olympia crew arrived with more coolers, bowls, tins and bottles — a week’s worth of food and drink to be consumed within the next two days.
The ringleader, Lisa, was formerly a professional pastry chef, and in addition to her Vidalia onion dip, puff-pastry mushroom turnovers and more of her husband Dave’s homemade wild blackberry vodka, there was sweet-potato pecan pie, oatmeal Gianduja sandwich cookies, and her specialty, vanilla cheesecake. Dan arrived with pickled herring and habanero smoked oysters, which we set out to accompany out a platter of crab legs with butter, cocktail sauce, and a roasted red-pepper aioli. Beers were opened, shells flew, manners were forgotten.
After a brief rest *moreblackberryvodka*, we sat down to a dinner of crab cakes and tomato-potato cheese soup. Oh yeah, salad. Whatever.
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 TB. Butter
1 medium russet potato, peeled & diced
1 can chicken broth
1 16 oz. can chopped, peeled tomatoes
1 pint whipping cream
4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
Salt & white pepper to taste
In a large stockpot, saute celery and onion in butter until soft. Add diced potato with can of broth. Simmer over low flame 10 minutes or so, until potatoes are soft.
Add the can of tomatoes with their juice, and cream, and bring to just a simmer. When hot, remove from heat and add cheese, a handful at a time, stiffing until melted and blended. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
Lisa. She’s a nice girl, but she’s Italian, and apparently that means she can’t stop feeding people.
The next morning, she was feeling a bit under it, but she sent Dave and Dirk with fixings for Pannetone Baked French Toast — a crispy, eggy bread pudding studded with candied fruits and topped with cinnamon sugar.
I diced up some Aidell’s Habanero sausages and boiled potatoes and fried them up with some green onions and Hilary scrambled eggs and cheese with a sprinkling of fresh dill. Renee’s simple platter of cantaloupe and grapes rounded out the feast.
We realized our mealtime conversations had all eventually turned to planning our next meals, and over breakfast we planned our Farewell Dinner — Cioppino with razor clams and Dave’s fresh-caught Halibut. Hilary went out later that afternoon to Jimella and Nanci’s Market Cafe for supplemental seafood — plump scallops and meaty prawns. Renee brought loaves of Jalapeño Cheese bread from The Cottage Bakery, Dan brought more fresh oysters, Sandy brought a salad and her homemade blackberry cobbler and ice cream, we finally sliced into the cheesecake and we finished off the blackberry vodka, this time splashed with Prosecco. It was hard to top any of our previous meals, but this one came pretty close.
My first week of 2013 has been about resting and nesting, allowing myself to nurture and be nurtured. My brain is less foggy but I still can’t hear much other than the sound of my own voice in my clogged head. Not good if, as a friend suggested, the voice in your head is annoying. But thus far, my inner voice hasn’t steered me wrong. I’m resolving not to resolve, and sticking with my routine of allowing myself to enjoy being. Even if I have to size up my jeans AGAIN, my life will go on.
The gustatory gang
This week I will actually “work” — a night’s stay at the the beachy chic Inn at Discovery Coast, and a visit to the spa at Astoria’s Cannery Pier Hotel. Eventually the fridge will be emptied and we’ll have to buy more food, and it will probably be salads and oatmeal. But today, it’s onion dip and cold crab cakes for breakfast, and the last of the cheesecake topped with the last of the blackberry cobbler for dinner.
If there’s any resolution to be made, it’s to continue as I’ve begun this year — with no bottle unopened, no glass unbroken — and no shells uncracked.
NEW YEAR’S EVE
Fried razor clams with honey
Smoked sturgeon, teriyaki duck breast, duck jerky
Fresh oysters with bloody mary granita
Wild Blackberry vodka
NEW YEAR’S LUNCH
Ina Garten’s Lentil-Sausage stew
Bev’s homemade rye bread
NEW YEAR’S DINNER
Raw oysters with lemon & hot sauce
Cider-braised pork loin with fennel
Black-eyed peas with Swiss Chard and bacon
Fresh Dungeness crab legs with butter and cocktail sauce
Smoked and Habanero oysters and Pickled Herring
Vidalia Onion Dip
Hilary’s crab cakes with roasted red pepper aioli
Tomato-potato cheese soup
Puff-pastry mushroom turnovers
Sweet-potato pecan pie
Oatmeal Gianduja sandwich cookies
Panettone baked French Toast
Home fried potatoes with green onions
Sauteed Habanero sausages
Scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese & dill
Canteloupe & grapes
Cioppino with halibut, razor clams, prawns and scallops
Jalapeño cheese bread
Sandy’s Blackberry cobbler
Blackberry Prosecco MMMMimosas