Friday, September 27, 2013

Love, Love, Love Oysters!

Love, love, love oysters and if you're an oyster lover you understand the pleasure of slurping down a sweet, briny, fresh, raw oyster.  The taste of the ocean in one slurp!  I eat them with a little horseradish and a squirt of lemon, other times a little cocktail sauce, or maybe just a dash of hot sauce. 

True a raw oyster might be a bit much for some (especially an oyster newby), but baked, grilled or fried -  they’re always delicious. A favorite of mine is to dredge them through a mixture of Panko and Italian bread crumbs - a quick sauté in melted butter mixed with olive oil, then a little lemon, tarter or cocktail sauce - but go easy on the extras, you don't want to ruin the purity of the flavor.

Now if you’ve never tried oysters, I recommend that you go out and enjoy some fresh oysters somewhere and if you don't like them, never eat them again. But don't worry about it for there are tons of people who consider them to be one of the most delicious foods on the face of the earth and they’ll be happy to enjoy your portion.

For the truth with oysters is  – you either love them or you hate them.

So if you love them and want to be an oyster aficionado here are a few things you need to know.

*  Never say "oyster juice", say "liquor".  This is the natural liquid inside the oyster - it is precious and should taste amazing when consumed with the oyster when eating them raw.  It's part of the oyster slurping experience.

*  Never say "salty", say "briny".  They mean the same thing except briny eludes to salty like sea water salty and it just sounds better.

*  Never say "water", say "terrior".  Terrior is a set of charactistics of a certain place, like climate, geology, and geography which impacts the flavor of what is produced there.  Just like wine or cheese, oysters reflect the characteristics of the area they are grown in - the terrior.

*   Nothing pairs better with oysters than a nice dry sparkling wine. Whether it's Champagne, Cava, or Proscecco - oysters and bubbly enjoyed together are one of life's most decadent pleasures. 

*   Oysters are aphrodisiacs and scientists agree!  Read this article from The Telegraph and you'll see what I mean.

*   Remember the r-month rule - especially with raw oysters.  It's true that now a days oysters are perfectly safe to eat anytime and if you're cooking them you probably won't notice the difference, but raw oysters really do taste best coming out of the cold waters of the r-months.

Aside from the market or in a restaurant, there’s no better place to enjoy these fabulous bivalves than directly from the farmers along the Oregon and Washington Coast.  Yaquina Bay on the Central Coast of Oregon is the most convenient for me, so when I take a trip to the coast I  try to make a stop at the Oregon Oyster Company located on the bay in Newport, but you could find them farmed at many bays and inlets up and down the coast.  If you want the freshest (and when it comes to oysters, that’s what you want), the brackish waters in the back bays are where you’ll find them.

A Little Bit of History 

Along time ago the West Coast was populated by the small, but succulent Olympia oyster – a species harvested to the brink of extinction more than a century ago.  The decline originally started with the 1949 gold rush in California. San Francisco was in it’s hay day and the Forty-niners devoured the delicious mollusks by the bushel.  At that time they were abundant and the only oyster species that populated the West Coast from San Francisco up through the Puget Sound. 

It is estimated to take about 1,500 Olympia oysters to fill a gallon jug so as San Francisco Bay’s supply ran out, the industry soon move northward to harvest hundreds of thousands of “Olys”  for shipment back on down the coast.  

It only took a few decades to wipe out these natives in along the West Coast and the industry foundered until the early 1900's with the importation of the Pacific oyster from northern Japan.  This and the delightfully delicious Kumanoto (also from Japan) are the two main species grown commercially on the West Coast today. 

The Pacific grows faster and larger than any other species, and has a sweet, mild taste (some say salty cucumber taste) while the Kumanoto’s grow agonizingly slow, but are praised for their sweet, clean taste with a hint of honeydew. YUM…

As far as the little Olympia oyster is concerned there has been recent interest and some success in re-establishing the species in several California and Oregon bays as well as in Washington's Puget Sound.

You can learn more about this amazing bivalve and it’s place in the history of the Pacific Northwest by visiting the Oregon Public Broadcasting website.  They did a great piece called “The Oysterman” as part of series of programs for the Oregon Experience.  It’s a great story with wonderful vintage film footage and photos.

*** Photo Curtesy of The Island Grill & Raw Bar
****Photo Curtesy of The Food Network, Cooking for Real

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Falling Slowly

Last Spring I attended a music recital at an academy for musically gifted young students in Denver.

The program offered everything from opera to jazz and culminated with a poignant rendition of a song called "Falling Slowly".

The piece was beautifully preformed as a duet by two of the academy's faculty members and was accompanied by the sweet sound of a tenor ukulele.
I was so impressed by the sound the came out of that ukulele that I promised myself I'd learn to play that music or die trying.  Well, it's been 5 months now and I'm dying trying.  Being a novice ukuleleist, this project has proven to be challenging to say the least.
But isn't it strangely unexplainable how there are certain songs which come along every so often and just blow your mind with their perfect combination of lyrics and melody? Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is one of those songs, along with several of Adele's creations, and I can't leave Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe" of my list.

So now I've included "Falling Slowly" to my list, for it is a song that has compelled me to joyfully work far beyond my abilities.
Of course - you may already know all this - but after I first heard the music in Denver, I did some research and found that the song came out of a low budget, foreign indie film called Once - a movie that took around 3 weeks to film on a $100,000 budget about an street musician working in Dublin, Ireland. Along the way the movie and the song have won myriad awards on the international scene and in particular, the song won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Achievement in Music Written for a Motion Picture, Original Song.

Wow, "Falling Slowly" came out of nowhere and won an Oscar!

Now recall this was a really low budget, small time, foreign, independent film. Basically one of hundreds produced and distributed every year.

But there was evidently something very special about this story for in 2012 it was transformed into a musical production on Broadway (yes-Broadway) and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, winning 8 of those nominations including Best Musical.

Now that's an amazing rags to riches story. Should I say "only in America"? (Although it was written and produced in Ireland)

Check out the video below of the song "Falling Slowly" written and preformed in harmonious collaboration by Glen Hasard and Marketa Irglova.  After hearing it you too may want to include it in your musical repertoire if you haven't already!

But for now - enjoy. . . . .

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tomatoes and Other Stuff (UPDATE!)

What again!  Not more tomato stuff!  

After washing, blanching, chopping, freezing and saucing what seemed like a bushel of tomatoes the other day, I still had a bunch of plum tomatoes sitting on the counter looking like they wouldn't last through the weekend.  I decided to oven roast (or dry) the few that remained - so, if you happen to have some Roma or Marzano (any plum variety) tomatoes sitting around, and you've made enough sauce or paste to last a millennium here's a way to use them up.

I'm really happy with the way these turned out - call them roasted or dried, they're worth fixing up this way.  I recommend you try at least one batch.   While it's true that there are many recipes on the internet to follow, I simply sliced my tomatoes length wise (3 slices per tomato making 4 pieces), and put them on a rack after I brushed them with olive oil and pressed garlic (a little salt and pepper helps too).  I prefer to finish them off with a slight drizzle of balsamic vinegar - although you can season them with many other herbs or spices depending on your taste. Again you will find many renditions of this process on the internet, and they all seem worth trying

Once they've been appropriately seasoned, put them in a 200 degree oven for about 4 hours (check every so often).  I like them fairly dry but a little gooey - slightly caramelized.  You can freeze them (will last for 3 months) or simply pop them in the frig (2-3 weeks).  Some cover them with olive oil put I don't know if that's necessary.

They are a delicious addition in sandwiches, any kind of pasta, dressings, pizza, scrambled eggs, etc., etc., etc.  They're fantastic to have around when you need a little extra something.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Cup Runneth Over - Tomatoes and Other Stuff

I woke up this morning and couldn’t even make it through the second half of that incredible designer granola I’ve been touting.

My stomach was so stuffed from yesterday - when I devoured homegrown tomatoes, stuffed with fresh  tuna salad, and accompanied by a warm baguette of French bread. I had to eat it all when it was still warm and fresh, right?  

Then a little later that day there was the caprese salad with, again, fresh homegrown tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic. This was, of course, the first course to a very delicious brined rosemary smoked chicken and then followed by blackberry pie ala mode.  I think the operative word to use here is “epic”! And it was. 

You may have notice a theme.  Fresh, fresh, and fresh – without a doubt September is the month when we are so overwhelmed with homegrown produce that we live in guilt ridden fear of watching it rot, knowing that we will never, never ever again, until next summer, eat homegrown tomatoes that taste this good or enjoy a warm fresh blackberry pie topped liberally with vanilla ice cream.  Which is true.

But there are other things to do with this stuff besides coming up with a new way to eat it now.  Especially the tomatoes.  They can be canned whole, made into sauce, paste, ketchup, conserve, salsa, pickled, dried, or frozen.  Did I overlook anything here? 

Having received a bounty of assorted tomatoes this week, I thought the easiest way to deal with my windfall was to blanch them, remove the skins, then dice and stuff them into plastic quart bags before popping them into the freezer.  

All of this, of course, took up much more time than I had thought when I started and requires many more bowls, pots, pans, and counter space.  Nevertheless - it’s all worth it – I put in a good days work, pacified my guilt and my glutinous tendencies, didn’t let them rot, and I have a freezer full of fresh tomatoes to use this Winter.
I still have some Roma's that I'll slice and dry in the oven, drizzled with garlic, olive oil and balsamic.  These guys are perfectly wonderful inside a panini or plan old grilled cheese sandwich, or incorporated in a salad, pasta and the list goes on and on.

But for tonight - it's pretty hot outside - the perfect evening for a salad with fresh flavorful tomatoes, a cool cucumber, colorful pungent red onion, kalamata olives and a little goat cheese.  Better enjoy them while their here!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Valley of Kings - Waipi´o (Y-P-O)

It’s been several months since I visited the big island of Hawaii.  But I often think about my last day there trekking through the Waipió Valley.  A sacred, and mystical place, steeped in Hawaiian history and culture, it was a fascinating time spent in a very special corner of the world. 

The valley is located on the Hamakau Coast, at the base of an ancient volcano in the Kohala Mountain Range, surrounded by two thousand foot cliffs and waterfalls up to 1,300 feet.  On the valley floor taro and other crops are grown by the locals. A black-sand beach about a mile in length fronts the valley, with Hi'ilawe Stream (aka, Waipió River) flowing from the back of the valley into the ocean midway down the beach.

Known as the Valley of Kings, it truly is a sacred place. For it was the home and burial grounds of Hawaiian royalty for generations, and was inhabited by thousands of Hawaiians at the time Captain Cook arrived at the islands. In the 1800s Chinese immigrants moved in along with White missionaries and traders who established schools, churches, restaurants, a hotel, post office and jail.  Today there is little left of this settlement or the structures that housed the population, as all were washed away by the powerful tsunami of 1946.

Since that time, it is sparsely inhabited by a small community of people who appreciate the simple life, the isolation of the area, and generally avoid tourists as much as possible.  You will see several no trespassing signs throughout the valley, so it is important to remember that we are hiking in someone else’s backyard  - a place that is still sacred in the Hawaiian culture.

On the day of my visit, I’m not sure what concerned me more; the strenuous hike down and back out of the valley, or the terrifying drive down and back out of the valley. For the only way into the valley is a narrow, steep road.  At a 25% average grade and sometimes steeper, it is considered the steepest road of its length in the US, allowing for only 4 wheel drive vehicles to make the trek.  The 3-mile hike, from the overlook to the center of the beach, would be considered an easy jaunt, if not for this knee-buckling, lung-busting grade. Opting for exhaustion over terror we took the hike.

Once in the valley you succumb to a subtle timelessness and serenity. The power of the place settles upon you as you walk down the shaded path to the beach. Then at the end of the path, the beach opens to a captivating view of the black-sand beach and the rushing tide. You're not alone on the beach for there are many surfers and campers nearby, also enjoying the beach and the waves - nevertheless it was still enchanting to walk along the shore in the hollow of the valley.

By the end of the day we began our accent back up the road, sometimes passing up others struggling to reach the overlook and sometimes being passed up ourselves.  When we finally reached the top we were weary, but sufficiently fit enough to hoist ourselves up into the truck and head for home.  The next mornng I took off for the airport and back to Oregon so grateful that I was able (literally able) to take the hike to Waipió Valley before I left.

For more information about the valley, check out the 3 minute video below.  As a professional production it's pretty slick and glossy and tells the story above and then some.  More importantly it is a beautifully done visual portrait which only enhances the story.  Enjoy!

Other posts of my trip to the Big Island of Hawaii include : My Dog Has Fleas, Kona Town, Aloha Kakou! (Greetings to All)