Sunday, July 1, 2012

Back in Culinary Commission

Between those magnificent February Thai enchiladas and this evening, I have been writing like crazy. My memoir thesis, food articles and book reviews, and some speeches. Unfortunately I've been away from my kitchen and my little foodie home online. Until graduation we were getting by on quesadillas, grilled chicken with a box of Zataran's rice, and take-out Chinese. I hate to admit to this sort of cooking slackery, let along blog about it.

Last weekend was graduation at Pacific University, where two years of reading, writing, editing, trashing terrible ideas, questioning the validity of my dreams versus talent, and meeting some of the most incredible humans in existence culminated in a ceremony--with hats and Harry Potter hoods!, some fantastic photo ops and a buffet dinner with all-you-can-eat shrimp skewers. When I came home Eats of Eden crossed my mind: am I going to bring back my blog? But I was feeling guilty about letting it go, like my yard right now with dandelions creeping in on my tomatoes. And while I ran out and rooted out those weeds as soon as I got home from the ten-day residency, I wasn't sure how to fix my writing hiatus. Was anyone going to come back and read? Should I really be blogging instead of writing the Next Great American Memoir Essay Incorporating the History of Food Preservation? So I kept quiet, and pretended the site didn't exist.

This weekend I got back into food. Between a business trip for Matt and my school stay, we hadn't been home together for almost a month. Whole Foods! Costco! Trader Joe's! Bags and bunches of card swipes later we had a pantry full of staples, a freezer full of protein, and a cache of homemade recipes we'd been craving. Last night, to combat last day of June cloudy gloominess, I made a big pot of scratch spaghetti sauce (in the gorgeous chicken-topped Staub pan that Matt got me for graduation!). Was it good? Oh god yes! After two weeks of restaurant and cafeteria food, even a jar of Ragu served in my own home would've been heaven. But really, it was yummy. But to blog? Again, the anxiety of opening up something I'd cruelly let die creeped in, and I kept my meal (and the leftovers) to myself.

This morning Matt woke up before me and once I was done sleeping in, I found him in the living room absorbed in a Good Eats seafood marathon. "We should have seafood," he said, the Alton Brown brainwashing complete. He suggested clam chowder, a treat we hadn't had aside from coastal town restaurant cups in ages.

"But we could do, like, a seafood medley!" I said, my wheels spinning like crazy, cooking ambition and creativity finally to spare. After ten billion pre-grad paninis, I felt like I was in a serious food rut.

We went to the Whole Foods fish counter, the best fish market I've found in Oregon. As we are not, unfortunately, in Seattle. I digress away from a seafood availability rant, however. Sweet baby scallops, wild dungeoness crab, fresh shrimp and clams: we spared no expense (literally; stupid-expensive checkout shock). I glanced at a Bon Appetit standards chowder recipe, but mostly just chose ingredients that sounded the right notes in my head: leeks, sweet corn, tarragon from the garden. I let the aromatics simmer for a few hours in fish stock, and in the last few minutes of cooking stirred in the cream and seafood. We sat down and raved at each other for our genius idea and execution.

"Have you taken a picture?" Matt asked.


"Aren't you going to blog about it?"

I could almost feel a blush coming on. "No, I don't think so."

"I don't know why. It's amazing."

Why wasn't I blogging? I began Eats of Eden over two years ago before starting the MFA program to work writing into a prominent place in my life. Now that I'm out of the program's structure, I need something to keep me motivated and engaged, and a nice break from the slog a long-form project (turning my thesis into a manuscript) can become. Not to mention a little justification for getting out the fancy dishes, the elaborate recipes, for slipping those special ingredient treats into my cart.

"I'll get the camera," I said.

Crustacean Nation Chowder--with clams!
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, thoroughly cleaned and chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
4 slices thick-cut bacon
1 can clams, juice reserved
3 cups fish stock
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1/3 cup potato flakes
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 pound baby scallops
1/2 pound shrimp, deveined and peeled
1/3 pound fresh crabmeat (or as much as you can afford! At $39.99 a pound at Whole Foods, we had to go a little light)
Tabasco to taste
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, then remove and reserve, keeping the rendered bacon fat in the pan. Add aromatics: onion, leek, celery and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and saute until onions are translucent, 5-6 minutes. Stir in the juice from the canned clams and the fish stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat down to a low simmer and add bay leaf, thyme, cayenne pepper, corn and tarragon, seasoning again with salt and pepper. Cover and allow to mesh together for at least an hour. About 20 minutes before serving time, raise the temperature to medium and slowly incorporate the cream. Add the potato flakes and stir, adding another dose of salt and pepper. Bring to a slow boil, then reduce back down to medium-low. Add baby scallops, bacon (crumbled), shrimp, crabmeat and clams. Stir and cook until heated through, about 5-7 minutes. Taste and add salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce to taste. Serve in bowls topped with green onions alongside Saltine or oyster crackers and crusty bread.


  1. Will you make this the next time we're down? Looks fabulous! Its great to read your blog again too.

  2. I'd love to! Reason #3,843 I wish we were closer: so I could stick a Tupperware container of leftovers in my bike basket and take it down your way! I'm glad I've got one reader back too :)