Monday, May 31, 2010

A sea pickle by any other name.

Ok, I should probably be schlepping my book, which comes out tomorrow, in fact. But instead, I’d like to talk about sea pickles, sea beans or samphires, as they are evidently called.

This weekend I took the boat* for an inaugural spin around the Town Cove. On my way down to the mooring, I saw several beds of what I’ve always called sea pickles. Sometimes on a long walk with the dog, I’ll see a patch at the water’s edge, break off a slender tube and gnaw on it, enjoying the burst of sea salty freshness that fills your mouth when you crunch down on a succulent blade, almost like a half sour pickle. While I knew they were harmless to ingest, I never realized they were considered a delicacy until I saw them in the Whole Foods market in Cambridge. Even then, I had no idea how one might use them in cooking.

Then, just last week, this simple recipe showed up on a blog that I’ve recently started following. It seems we Cape Codders are among the .01 percent of people in the world who have access to these little darlings. Who knew?

So, thus inspired, I went down to the beach at the end of my street yesterday and harvested a handful. I sautéed them in a little herb butter, then chopped them up and tossed them on top of my salad. They were great, like tiny green bacon bits, not at all fishy tasting as I’ve read they can be, perhaps because these were still pretty small.

PS. In the spirit of foraging, I also stumbled upon this recipe for locust fritters. Yesterday I noticed the trees were in bloom, such a heavenly scent. Now where did I put that ladder?

*For the record, a 12-foot row boat. Wouldn’t want you to think I don’t need you to buy my books.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The 40-Something-Year-Old Beachcomber Opening Night Virgin

This week, I ran another book giveaway contest asking people to share their Memorial Day weekend rituals. One of the biggest around here is opening night at the Wellfleet Beachcomber, always the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend. Locals who show up and pay the $10 cover get a beach parking pass good for the entire season.

So it’s kind of ridiculous that in all of my life as a Cape Codder, I had never actually made it up to an opening night. Until last night.

For those who aren’t familiar, the "Comah," once a US Lifesaving Station, is located on top of a dune overlooking Cahoon Hollow Beach. It’s a legendary open air bar serving fresh shellfish and fried seafood, and offering live music. It’s a great pit stop on the way up to or back from P’town. It’s also a repository of memories for locals, a place synonymous with summer and all that’s good about it:  sand, sun, surf, seafood, cocktails, friends, music.  People arrive at the parking lot early in the day, head down the steep dune path to the beach with all their gear, then in the late afternoon, peel themselves off the sand and plant their sunburned selves on a barstool for the remainder of daylight, sucking down fresh shucked oysters and ice cold beers.

I was excited to attend opening night, not really knowing what to expect. I’d heard so much about it. Until this year, I lived elsewhere and a with kid in school, heading to the Cape on a weeknight in May was not an option.

So from the point of view of a 40-something-year-old Beachcomber opening night virgin, here’s what last night was. It was a high school reunion for three generations. It was people from all walks of life, from bearded fishermen to professionals to college kids to construction workers and everything in between, just happy to be through another New England winter. It was a room full of people who were accepting of one another, and who had one thing in common, the love of all that is summer on Cape Cod which, on this night, manifested as a little bar perched on a dune overlooking the ocean, moonlight silvering the edges of the clouds and reflecting on the wave caps below.

As I stood out on the deck, flanked by my own high school friends, inches away from a group of girls in sundresses, girls young enough to be our kids, and a group of weathered locals looking old enough to be our parents, this warm feeling of belonging washed over me. And really, it wasn’t just the Patron.

Before I had left the house, I’d said to my 18-year-old son, “in a few more years, you’ll be able to go too.” He rolled his eyes and said, in the nicest way possible, that he was okay with not going to a place where people my age hang out. But he’s wrong. He would have loved last night. It was one giant asterisk in the ageist nightclub world, one culture-straddling exception, one beautiful, ineffable moonlit anomaly. All on one night. All in one bar. In a few years, he’ll see for himself.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Living the dream...

I wrote this the day I was interviewed by Cape Cod Magazine. The June issue is on newsstands now and I’m featured in the “Last Word” column on the last page.

Come on, people. Cape Cod Magazine. It’s a staple in every guest bathroom from Sandwich to Ptown. Lord knows I have my obligatory stack dating back to the mid 90s. Before I moved to the Cape year round, the magazine served as a lifeline. Each summer here, I’d pick one up, take it home, then spend the winter daydreaming, perusing the real estate in the back, and the Cape-y things advertisers were selling. I used to envy the local artists, craftsmen and business owners who were featured, people who had found a way to live the dream.

Newsflash. It appears that I’m living the dream. Though the dream is probably never as dreamy as one might imagine. There are still bills to pay, weeds to be pulled and stuff that needs to be carted off to the dump.

Still, sometimes it takes seeing your life in glossy pages to gain some perspective. Years ago, I envisioned myself living and writing here and now I am. This afternoon I took Kiele for a walk through the woods to the end of Weeset. There was a layer of fog over the water so that you couldn’t see the horizon or even the backside of Nauset Beach. The inlet was still and the sea melted into the sky. As I stood there, the sun broke through the clouds and the light was indescribable, like mercury. I stood there a minute more. Because I could.

I guess I’m living the dream.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I’m definitely a “bag” person.

A while back, I came across this cookbook written by Amy Littlefield Handy, originally published in 1916, that had been scanned into the Google archives. It consists of 80-some-odd pages of recipes not just for seafood but also meats, salads, breads, cakes, preserves, etc. A collaborative effort, different versions of the same dish are attributed to different cooks. The recipes are written in short paragraphs, and there’s definitely an assumption that one knows his or her way around a kitchen.

As a writer, what I find interesting is the language. In a recipe for clam chowder, the cook talks about separating the “bags” of the clams from the “shoulders,” or strips from bellies as we say. And in a recipe for lobster soup, we’re instructed to put “the bones of the lobster on to boil.” Well, I suppose it is an exoskeleton. And in the recipe of Great-Grandma’s Red Fish (below) we’re told to “heat in a spider.” Who knew?

When I read these recipes, there’s a part of me that longs to live in this world, where food was simply prepared and came straight from the source. In one recipe for “Sali’s Polish Soup,” we’re directed to “go into the garden and gather all kinds of young vegetables.” Of course. Doesn’t everyone have a garden? And isn’t it always spring on Cape Cod?

Here are a few recipes from What we Cook on Cape Cod. There are plenty more where these came from so let me know if you like them. (I’m all over the Curried Oysters and Halibut Salad. Will let you know they turn out.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lynn's Bucket List

Last week I held a drawing on Facebook for a signed, pre-release copy of Summer Shift. (Congratulations, Lynne and Leigh!) Given that the book is about a woman who owns a clam bar, I asked people to share with me their favorite food haunts anywhere in the world. The list of entries that came back were fantastic, and I imaged what it might be like to embark on a spiritual/culinary journey a la Eat, Pray, Love that would take me around the world to visit each one. Something about the serendipitous origins of this endeavor, the range of establishments, and the appeal of the destinations themselves made it seem like a great idea. And if I win the lottery, I’ll send you all postcards. (Except the friends who chose Burger King, Bertuccis and The Olive Garden. They’re coming with me.)
In the meantime, thanks to all who participated. Here's the list.

Cape & Islands
Abba, Orleans, MA
Saltwater Grille, Orleans, MA
The Lost Dog Pub (formerly Adam’s Rib), Orleans, MA
Pisces Restaurant, Chatham, MA
Sesuit Harbor Café, Dennis, MA
Thompson’s Clam Bar, Harwich Port, MA (RIP)
Napi’s, Provincetown, MA
Mac’s Shack, Wellfleet, MA
The Beachcomber, Wellfleet, MA
The Dockside, Martha’s Vineyard, MA

Boston & Burbs
Number 9 Park, Boston, MA
Scutra, Arlington, MA
Il Casale, Belmont, MA
Taberna de Haro, Brookline, MA 
Zaftig’s Deli, Brookline, MA
The Lafayette House, Foxboro, MA

Around New England
Harry’s Mount Holly Café, Mount Holly, VT
XYZ, Manset, ME 
The Cookhouse, New Milford, CT
Shannon Door Pub, Jackson, NH
Bangkok City, Middletown, RI 

Other States
Mill Pond Inn, Centerport, NY
Carolina Road House, Myrtle Beach, SC 
Commander’s Palace, New Orleans, LA
Southport Raw Bar, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 
Taverna Opa, Hollywood, FL
Monty’s, Coconut Grove, FL 
The Dock Cafe, Stillwater MN
Lost Pericos, Oklahoma City, OK
Lo Lo’s, South Phoenix, AZ

Balthazar Restaurant, Soho, London, UK  
Zushi, Cardiff, UK
Els Quatre Gats, Barcelona, Spain
Chez Andre, Paris, France

Burger King (Ok, know the person who entered that one and I think it was a joke.)

PS. My favorite restaurant is Michael's Genuine, Miami, FL

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The not so fine (with me) art of public speaking.

Having hailed from the ad world, I know writers who can sell ice cubes to Eskimos, talented public speakers that keep their audiences hanging on their every word. I experienced this in grad school too, as I witnessed authors who spoke to packed houses as if they were chatting with best friends.

And then there are some of us who probably gravitated toward the solitude of writing in the first place because of our general lack of confidence in our ability to work a room. Yes, we saw that yawn, that not so discreet glance at the watch, and read your minds as you wondered what was for dinner. (Liver, hopefully.) And, yes, we actually thought that joke about the funny thing that happened to us on the way here was, well…funny.

And yet, any author who achieves even a modicum of success is expected to step out of her private world and speak in front of large groups of people. Oh, the irony.

The truth is, for years I sucked at public speaking, lips catching on dry teeth, voice wavering two octaves above sea level, hands shaking like a Chihuahua on meth. I practiced. I meditated. I took classes. I even took martinis. But nothing really helped, until the day I magically found my mojo.

It was toward the end of the season of promoting my first novel. I was invited to speak at a literary tea to benefit a local library along with some pretty big name authors. Naturally, I was nervous. I can’t explain precisely what happened to me on that day except that by watching the other presenters, how at ease and authentic they were, I relaxed. They had set the tenor for the event and I followed their lead. That day, I put down the well-rehearsed script, stopped “speaking” and started talking from the heart. Rather than rush through with the assumption that no one cared what I had to say, I slowed down and, guess what? They did care. After the event, I actually had people congratulate me on my presentation. I had broken the code. And while I would never be Jennifer Weiner, who can use the c-word in a room awash in Lily Pulitzer and still elicit adoration, I had finally found the value in just being me.

And so now, facing into a season of promoting my new book, I carry that experience with me. (Along with a jar of Vasoline to lube my teeth, just in case.)

Here are two upcoming events. For a complete up-to-date list, click here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Recipe for “Hopkins Haddock”

With less than a month till its release, I though I’d share another recipe from Summer Shift, my forthcoming novel. It’s the story of Mary Hopkins, a local middle-aged woman who runs a clam bar, and her struggle to move forward by forgiving the past. 

Once again, thanks to Lisa and Scott Moss, owners of the Saltwater Grille in Orleans, MA, for divulging their culinary secrets.

4 fresh haddock fillets (about 8 oz. each)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
½ cup pecans, finely minced
2 Tbs. olive oil
splash of white wine
8 oz. homemade or store-bought pesto
4 lemon slices

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly season the haddock fillets with salt and pepper. Dust with flour and dip in milk. Press skinless side of each fillet firmly into the pecans so they stick. Place the fillets skin-side down on a clean plate.

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Place the haddock fillets pecan-crusted side down in the hot pan. Lightly brown the pecans. Remove the fillets and place them on a baking sheet or oven-safe dish, crust side up. Add a few splashes of white wine to keep the fish moist. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes until fish is cooked through.

Drizzle serving platter or individual plates with pesto and place fish on top. Garnish with the lemon slices. Serve with rice and fresh steamed vegetables or green salad.

Serves 4. Bon appetite!