Yes, this is a blog about the summer solstice and I’m posting it in August.
Admit it, the summer’s gotten away from you too. The earth goes round the sun in its wonky tilt, setting the meter by which we measure time slipping by, and every year, it seems the meter ticks faster. This year’s summer solstice whizzed by, followed up immediately by a Supermoon, when the full moon is at the closest point of its orbit to the earth, making it appear huge and bright and just darn pretty.
We create rituals to ground us and provide a way to deal with the forces these astronomical occurrences exert on us — or maybe we just want to glorify the infinite. Either way, it’s a great excuse to eat and drink and celebrate our lunacy.
This year I wanted to embrace my solitude on the solstice (or maybe comfort myself because I was alone), and use it to cast off some bad juju — sort of a mid-year resolution. My fella, 900 miles away in the thick of his summer retail season, suggested a burning ritual. Yes, I would burn things. I would make a list of all the crap I wanted to let go of and vaporize it, and try to do it without setting the canyon on fire.
(Next time have water handy)
Oysterman elevated my ritual by further suggesting I make a list of where I saw myself on next year’s solstice. I should find a bottle of something I like to drink (hmmmm, that Chandon Extra Dry Riche is eyeing me seductively), somehow empty that bottle, then seal my list inside and open it up next June 21st. Read, write, repeat.
I needed to accompany this burning and bottle-emptying with a fitting meal. Mine would, of course, have to include oysters. Since I’m fairly spoiled for the fresh ones and I didn’t happen to be in Oysterville, I decided to buy a couple jars of shucked meats and try a fried oyster recipe from Bon Appetit that I’ve had in my stash, Grandma Flaxel’s Crispy Fried Oysters. I did make sure the oysters were from my favorite oyster terroir, Willapa Bay.
I like to rinse jarred oysters well after draining them — it freshens them up and removes any bits of shell that might be in there. The recipe is a basic breading technique using eggs and crushed saltines. I jazzed it up a bit by adding some hot sauce to the egg dip, and a tablespoon of Willabay’s Seafood and Poultry seasoning to the crackers.
The recipe calls for chilling the oysters in their crumby bed for a few hours. Also, you need to be sure to fry only a few oysters at a time and make sure your oil comes back up to temperature between batches — this will ensure they get nice and crispy.
Adapted from Bon Appetit
24 shucked medium oysters
3 large eggs
2 sleeves saltine crackers, pulsed to coarse meal in a food processor
1 tablespoon Willabay Seafood & Poultry spice
1 teaspoon hot sauce (preferably Frank’s)
Corn or vegetable oil for frying
Drain, rinse, and drain again oysters. Beat eggs with hot sauce; add oysters and coat completely.
Mix Willabay Seafood & Poultry spice with saltine crumbs; Pour half of the crumbs into a 13x9x2-inch baking dish.
Working in batches, lift oysters with a slotted spoon, allowing excess egg to drain back into bowl; transfer to baking dish. Scatter remaining crumbs over oysters and toss to coat. Cover dish and chill for 2-3 hours.
Line a plate with paper towels. Pour oil into a medium heavy skillet to a depth of 1/2 inch and clip a deep fry thermometer on the side. Heat oil over medium heat to 375°.
Working in batches, fry oysters, turning once, until coating is crisp and golden brown, about 1 minute per batch. Transfer to paper towels and season with salt.
I really did not plan to drink an entire bottle of anything in one evening, but through the course of preparing the meal, observing the rituals, eating the meal, well, over several hours, it’s really not that hard to consume a bottle of champagne by yourself. I don’t recommend doing this on a regular or even occasional basis. It will be interesting to see what I think of my list when I read it next year. Probably “Why does this look like it was written by a four year-old?” But I will never forget the meal.
A day earlier, I’d learned that the brother of one of my oldest, dearest friends had unexpectedly passed away while on a vacation. I hadn’t seen my friend for years, and while it’s a shame that we often only reconnect with people in times of tragedy, the point really is re-connectiong.
Rather than a memorial, Carolyn and her family decided to have a barbecue — everyone agreed it’s what John would have wanted. While the occasion was sad, it truly was a celebration of John’s love of living. The cousins grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, and we dangled our feet in the pool and remembered John, Carolyn’s Mom, my Michael, everyone who’d gone on to see the stars before us.
My contribution to the barbecue had to be comfort food — pasta. I chose my go-to summer picnic dish, which I’m now going to think of as my “Memorial” Day pasta salad. It’s easy and variable and you can use any combo of the add-ins (or come up with some of your own). I’m sure John would have loved it.
2 packages fresh cheese tortellini
About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Lots of shredded fresh basil (at least 1/2 cup)
ADD-INS (ANY OR ALL):
Cubed cooked chicken breast (grilled is best)
Julienned oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (1/3 cup or so)
Chopped Roma tomatoes (about 6)
Sliced roasted red peppers (from a jar is fine, about 1 cup, or roast your own)
Cook the tortellini according to package directions in plenty of salted boiling water; drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again very well. Toss with olive oil to taste.
Mix in basil and add-ins and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve at room temperature.
The weekend wrapped up with rising of the big ol’ Supermoon. While there was nothing to commemorate other than the giant orb in the sky and the fact that I was alive to see it, I had a beautiful piece of salmon and wanted to make another perfectly summer meal.
The crispy-skinned salmon I decided on is adapted from a much more complex Russ Parson’s recipe — I used the cooking technique and kept the preparation simple. The trick is just to squeegee as much moisture from the salmon as you can with the back of a knife, which allows the skin to crisp up and seems to concentrate the oil and therefore flavor of the fish.
My hairdresser had just told me that the only way she could get her son to eat green beans (myfavoritevegetable) was to make Ina Garten’s Green Beans Gremolata — and in fact, she couldn’t get him to STOP eating them. I’ve made it several times now (using regular green beans in place of haricots vert — just blanch them a bit longer) and it also works well with chopped toasted walnuts if you don’t have any $25/lb. pine nuts in the house.
Serve this with a nice, cold rosé. Maybe you could make a list of where you see yourself on June 23rd of next year and seal it up in the bottle.
It was a weekend of looking deeply inside but also gazing into the infinite. Everything we are, everything we eat, came from “out there,” so maybe that’s why we’re so fascinated with the heavens — the source of our microbial building blocks. Reaching for the stars is like trying to go home.
In just a few days, we’ll have the opportunity to witness another astronomical event, that annual blaze of stardust glory, the Perseid meteor shower. What shall I make? Meteor Margaritas? Shooting Star Seafood Stew? I don’t know yet, but you can be sure you’ll read about it sometime in November.