Foodie Tuesday: Must be the Mermaid in Me

 

photoWhen I was growing up, I didn’t really have a sense of what a treat it was to eat fish. Mom prepared it beautifully, and it was special that most of our trout and salmon dinners were thanks to her father’s fishing skill and generosity, but the very fact that we got it for free must have seemed to my childish way of thinking simply an indicator that some money was being saved in the household grocery budget, surely a good thing but not a culinary indicator of quality per se. It didn’t take me awfully long, however, to realize that fish, especially salmon, was actually extremely tasty, versatile as an ingredient, and so enjoyable that its flavor significantly outweighed its (still unknown to me) mighty nutritional profile in making me seek it out for dinner, lunch, breakfast, snacks and more. Before I was in school I was a confirmed fan of salmon, that beautiful blushing fish, and had discovered a little something of how bountiful and lovely in general the larder of the sea really was.photoNowadays, I happily eat vast quantities of many kinds of seafood whenever I can lay hands and teeth on a fresh supply. Grilled salmon with (of course!) lashings of rich Hollandaise, salmon burgers, smoked salmon and cream cheese on thinly sliced pumpernickel, kulebiaka, hearty yet delicate salmon bouillabaisse, salmon and avocado salad: heaven. Crab quiche, grilled Tillamook cheddar sandwiches crammed with Dungeness crab, crab Louis, crab tacos, crab fried rice, fried soft-shell crabs? Divine. I moved up; I moved on. I never moved away again from loving rivers full, lakes full, an ocean-full, of good food. Calamari and 42nd Street Cafe’s clam chowder and chilled giant prawns with simple horseradish sauce (or just a squeeze of lemon). Slabs of roasted halibut, exquisitely artful sushi, sole Amandine, trout in browned butter, seared rare tuna, shrimp Toast Skagen, simple yet elegant sushi, and lobster bisque with cream and cognac.photoYou may think there’s something fishy about my obsession with all of this, but the truth is I just love good seafood. It doesn’t take a whale of an imagination to understand why.photo

Foodie Tuesday: I Travel on My Stomach

photoYes, I travel tummy-forward. But then, you knew that, didn’t you. Of course food is the center of my travel adventures. It’s pretty much the center of my daily life, as you have seen. So one of the central joys of going on any expedition is guaranteed to be eating related. I am somewhat inclined to plan any trip around the potential dining and snacking involved in the destination of choice. The choice of destination, if I have any, is certainly influenced as well by the quantity and quality of delicious items available in said locale.

photoAs it happens, the point of this journey was determined in advance by the lovely necessity of the Berkeley Early Music Festival and Collegium‘s participation there. It was mere marvelous luck that sent us off to Berkeley, and San Francisco was of course a truly logical pit stop on the way to see our family up north, then, no? As it happens, there’s no end to the glorious eating and drinking you can do in the magnificent Golden Gate city. There are the icons of foodie worship all around that range from the Buena Vista, where Irish Coffee is purported to have been born (and is aging very gracefully indeed, I can tell you) and the venerable eateries of Fisherman’s Wharf (yes, we did pop in to Alioto’s last night and the Dungeness crab Louie was loaded with sweet crustacean dreaminess) to a nearly endless parade of newer delicacies and delicatessens.

photophotoOne thing that could hardly steer you wrong on any expedition, from road trip to round-the-world, is keeping a sharp lookout for good food and drink at every turn. The most logical place to start is any farmer’s market, food hall, CSA, allotment or other magnificent foodie emporium. Say, perhaps, the Ferry Terminal, where just by crossing the cable car line at the Embarcadero you enter into a haven of artisanal glories that will transport you to another plane. There are charcuteries boasting all sorts of exquisite hand-crafted organic meat treats, a creamery or two filled with cheeses ranging from creamy goat cheese or a fromage triple-crème smoothness to the wildest of the contemporary cultured creations and back again to the most scintillating classics like the weirdly beautiful Mimolette (not, as it appears, an alien cantaloupe but a deep orange hearted beauty of a nutty salty cheese) and of course the most glamorous hunks of lovingly aged Parmigiano-Reggiano looking ever so much like a cheesy lunar landscape inviting exploration by hungry adventurers.photoThere are the vegetable stands full of produce and forage unspeakably pristine and desirable in its purity and freshness. Sea beans, anyone? Mushrooms picked from their carefully hidden home turf this morning? Artichokes still small and tender and almost as delicate as to be able to self-destruct in a puff of fairy sparkles? Oh, my darlings, you can see that I’m bound to instantaneous loss of–well, okay, I would lose my composure and maturity if I had any to start. When I get around this stuff it just happens. And I think you do know what I mean. Be nice.photoMeanwhile, I shall be dashing hither and yon to hunt along those pretty, pretty piers of San Francisco, where the fishermen bring in their catch of the moment, just to see what tempts my hungry soul. I love fish. I love shrimp, prawns, scallops, calamari, all sorts of goodies. But what I’m most often and most likely to want any time I can possibly get hold of it is fresh, sweet, insanely delicious Dungeness crab. I will certainly eat it as many times as I get the chance on this visit to the coast. I had it at both lunch and dinner yesterday and it was barely enough to whet my appetite further. Don’t get me wrong: the crab Louis was excellent and the macaroni and cheese with D-crab in it was a dish of smooth, melting yumminess. But life is short and Dungeness far, far away from Texan turf, so I’ve a great need to fill up my innards with as much of this joy-inducing treat as I possibly can. So much work to do. I’ll get back to you later on this.photoWhat are you waiting for? You should be rushing out in search of, at the very least, a good grocery store or picnic ice chest. Get yourself moving. There’s very little time until the next meal, and who knows when it’ll be the last one, really? Hungry, I tell you, hungry and sure that time is seldom better spent in pursuit of grand food and drink than in nearly any other work known to humankind. Be reasonable. It would be quite a pity to let any such fine things go unappreciated, now wouldn’t it.photophoto

Foodie Tuesday: My Crustacean Crush

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Who are *you* calling a Shrimp??? These here critters are Prawns, ma’am!

Living in north Texas, I realize we’re only a day’s drive away from the Gulf Coast, and stores and eateries here have generally plentiful provisions of Gulf Coast shrimp, catfish, stone crabs and other delicacies of the region to be sure. But I will admit to occasional bouts of longing for the profligate availability, in our former stomping grounds on the West coast, of those indigenous oceanic treats and northwest native water denizens with whom I grew up. The salmon and steelhead Gramps would bring us fresh from the Skykomish; the Dungeness crab caught that morning in the icy water of Puget Sound or sweet clams dug from the rocky coarse sand beaches of the Pacific Ocean, all right at our doorstep. The Alaskan runs of halibut and Copper River salmon being dashed down the coast from boat to table in a matter of hours. These are the delicacies on which I was weaned and cut my kitchen choppers, so to speak. Gulf Coast treats are a delight of their own kind, but neither should ever, could ever, supplant the other in anyone’s heart and mind and tastebuds.

So I indulge a little when I come across any of that home-reminiscent bounty of the sea and shore when I’m able. But I’m also working my way around the places in my newer home region that seem to proffer the authentic and fresh and well-crafted seafood known and loved by Texans and lake-landers and southerners, to learn more of what’s so great about what’s right here and what can be brought in that brings the oceans with it. Today needed to be a seafood day; either my heart or, at the very least, my tastebuds told me so.

On an ordinary Tuesday, I’m out grocery shopping in the afternoon, because my zookeeper husband, having a short turn-around time between when he gets home from Tuesday morning staff meetings and work at the church in Dallas and when he needs to be back at the university to do his final preparations for choir rehearsal there, has me drive him over and that gives me a convenient time with access to the car for the grocery expedition. Today wasn’t ordinary, though–having sung an extra-rigorous schedule  of rehearsals and performances of Theodora, the Collegium singers had earned a break from today’s usual rehearsal time. Since his schedule today included useful and necessary meetings with at least three or four different parties during the day and a significant reception event in the evening, all in Dallas, and since most of my partner’s administrative and score-study work can be done at or from any of his three current office spaces (school, church and home all having library materials, keyboards, computers and telephones), it’s an all-day Dallas day.

While we could, of course, have brought our lunch, it offered an opportunity for us to go to a place known for its seafood and indulge the whim a bit. So that’s what we did. Truluck’s–where I confess we’ve not yet tried anything not particularly aquatic to eat other than a little salad–seems to me to treat their seafood with respect, and not try to disguise anything second-rate with overworked or over-complicated distractions. So the fresh prawns in the first shot, their “Shrimp Cocktail“, is nothing but five massive prawns cooked, chilled, and served in their own stainless cauldron over billowing dry ice (that looks remarkably like the dish was shipped straight from Cawdor) with a couple of wedges of lemon and a hearty spoonful of brain-clearing horseradish cocktail sauce. It’s entirely possible that anyone wishing to do so could eat this supposed cocktail with some of the house bread and butter and leave fully replete and contented. But one has, after all, passed the display tank in the entrance on the way to one’s table, and the crustaceans there waved their antennae and claws ever so coyly and winsomely . . .

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…with a friendly ‘Howdy Do’ to all and sundry…

. . . so, clearly it would be rude to ignore the invitation and bypass a further dish. The dish of choice: a bowl of the house Lobster Bisque, as creamy and unfussy and redolent of the rosy lobster as one could like, and studded with a few very nice hunks of mild and tender lobster meat lazily rafting around in the foamy pool. The soup is poured into the bowls tableside, over a good dollop of goat cheese, and having that nice bit of mild zing gradually melting into the soup so that it intermittently brightens the mellow, cayenne-tinted warmth of the broth and balances the lovely bit of cognac (or is it sherry?) just barely sweetening the pot–well, it’s all finally melded into a slurry that goes down a treat on top of those recumbent prawns now nestled neatly in one’s happy stomach.

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Creamy and dreamy.

I’m still looking forward to the next time out on the coast and eating Cheri’s inimitable clam chowder (no one else’s anywhere has come close yet) at the 42nd Street Cafe, or wild-caught King salmon straight off its cedar roasting plank, or taking ridiculously big forkfuls of Dungeness crab drenched in melted butter and washing them down with a glass of some nice, crisp, dry Washington Riesling . . .

Of course, there’s all of that seafood beckoning to me from the vast array of countries and cities and restaurants and home kitchens full of good sushi and curries, gravlax and dishes alla Pescatore and, oh, oh, ohhhhh . . . .