3.11.2013

Building a Fort


There has been a lot of stuff going on in the world of Fred and me. We are great, don't you worry. But the world around us has been a bit, shall we say, dicey. We have both been moving very fast, doing a lot of things, a lot of busy. Yet we have been ships in the night, hardly had a moment to really spend quality time with one another. In our house, the books and magazines have been piling up to resemble colorful totem poles, the garden is more like a graveyard, and as of last Friday, you could hear an echo in our refrigerator.

And so we decided to STOP. We decided to spend our weekend together, focused on the things we love to do together and the things we love about each other. We decided we were going to shut off the world, and concentrate on what home means to us. We decided to have vacation. Go camping. At home.

On Friday, while Fred was at work, I took off and stocked up on all of the provisions. Groceries, firewood, dog bones, you know, the usual stuff. Once I got home and put all of the groceries away (one of my very favorite things to do), I did laundry, so all of our cozies were clean and warm, cleaned the house and set some of our favorite old movies to record (and a Lakers game for Sunday). I then called Fred and told him we were ready: the house was clean and sparkly, and the kitchen stocked. Let the staycation commence.

Once Fred got home, we both changed into our cozies, put on some Otis Redding and poked and prodded about our stocked-for-the-apocalypse kitchen for a guiding light. Parsnips, savory, carrots, burrata, walnuts, blood oranges, Littleneck clams, duck breasts, Anson Mills grits, rapini, hominy, salted capers, bacon, okra(!), leeks, pasilla pepper, Pacific cod, a whole chicken, potatoes, fresh cream, and more – I was paralyzed with options. So I turned to Fred and asked him to just pick a protein, and I would run with it from there. Clams.

I can do that.

While in Inverness recently, we stopped at a little spot on Tomales Bay and had a bowl of clam chowder. It inspired me, which is why I had purchased the clams in the first place. I liked this direction. And as Fred built a fire in the fireplace, my plan evolved even more. On that brisk, drizzly evening, while in our cozies, we decided to cook the soup on the open fire. We were camping, after all.

And so we brought all of our provisions, our mise en place, into the living room, dimmed the lights and lit candles. And as Otis crooned in our ears, and the fire warmed our faces, and the dogs curled up close to us with their bones, I got started steaming the clams while Fred chopped potatoes, celery, onions and garlic on the cutting board by the hearth.

Though, admittedly, it was a challenge for the OCD part of me to relinquish control of the mess that was inevitable for this indoor camping night to be successful, it was so, so beautiful. So warm and intimate, so still. As we slurped our steamy chowder and messily brought dunked, torn chunks of baguette, dripping with creamy stew and pieces of potato and clam up to our faces, we hardly said a word. Instead we stared around the room, at the pups, at the fire, at each other, and smiled and giggled.

When we were full of clam chowder and bread, we left everything as it was. As the fire continued to flicker, and the music played on, we stayed and languished on the floor and did the crossword until the light was completely gone, but our smiles remained.

Sometimes it's important to close the door to the rest of the world and take stock on what's really important; love, warmth, smiles, giggles, and home – wherever you make it.


Classic New England Clam Chowder

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

4 pounds cherrystone clams, scrubbed
1/2 cup vermouth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 ounces bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 celery stalk, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Yukon Gold potato, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh chives
Oyster crackers or Fresh Baguette

Directions

Bring clams, vermouth and 2 cups water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Cook until clams just open, 8-10 minutes (discard any that do not open). Using a large slotted spoon, transfer clams to a large rimmed baking sheet; set broth aside. Let clams cool slightly, then pull meat from shells; discard shells.

Chop clams into bite-size pieces. Strain broth through a fine-mesh sieve set over a large bowl. Add water if needed to measure 4 cups. 

DO AHEAD Clams and broth can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and chill.

Melt butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon begins to brown, about 8 minutes. Add celery, onion, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. 

Add reserved broth (or 6 cups bottled clam juice), potatoes, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring chowder base to a simmer; cook until potatoes are tender, 20-25 minutes. 

Stir cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl to form a slurry. Stir slurry into chowder base; return to a boil to thicken. 

DO AHEAD Base can be made 1 day ahead. Let cool; cover and chill. Keep clams chilled. Bring base to a simmer before continuing.

Remove base from heat. Discard bay leaf. Stir in reserved clams and cream. Season with salt, if needed (clams' brininess varies), and pepper.

Divide chowder among bowls. Garnish with chives, and serve with bread or crackers.




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