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Posted by on Jul 28, 2014 in Blogh, Food | 4 comments

STEAMERS

A Summer  Dinner

Yesterday was a summer day out of the movies. High blue sky, hot, sunny, and nothing much to do. I ran six miles in the morning, before the sun had topped the trees, so I could cling to the shadows. Later I picked my boys up from an afternoon baseball game and we walked down to a meandering creek with a swimming hole the size of a large pool, over hung with basswood, sycamore and swamp oak. We swam for an hour and walked back and I started to prepare dinner: salmon, steamer clams, corn, cucumber salad and potatoes. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I knew I wanted to grill, but I also knew that earlier I had planned on making Chinese food. Because of the tornado in Virginia Littleneck clams were unavailable, hence the steamers.

A Brief Digression

Steamers. I love steamer clams. They are haunted by images of a past so far gone it is remarkable to me it ever existed. For two years I went to a sleep away camp in Maine, in 1970 and 1971. It was pretty much an archetypical Maine summer camp, a training ground for upper middle class sadists. Military in feel, we lived spread out in cabins, with a basic humiliating toilet situation (two commodes in a rough-hewn wooden stall, facing each other, a real nightmare, if you were, or they thought you were, “a fucking faggot”). We didn’t have bunk beds, but mattresses (pancake thin) on metal mesh cots with striped sheets. Each day was filled from beginning to end with sports: softball, soccer, tennis, canoeing, sailing, rifle shooting, archery, swimming. The long road leading into the camp was dirt, and once a year an oil tanker would come in to spray waste oil on the dirt to keep dust down (and subsequent cancer cases up). Food was served in a giant mess hall that smelled of lacquered pine and pancakes. The lake was bone chilling when we arrived in late June. By the end of August, when (incredibly) we were still there, it was warm, even though the nights were cold. I hated every minute of it. I used to pray for rain, because then we could sit in our cabins all day playing cards and Battle Ship. The only sport I distinguished myself in was swimming. I was a fast swimmer, in freestyle and the butterfly, and was the star of the swim team. This was the only thing that stood between me and death. That and the eventual friendship of each of my counselors. These two men (in years one and two) did not start out liking me at all, but for some reason came to treat kindly. Besides swimming I liked to fish, so I would fish with them. I was a pretty good angler, and good on a boat, so they liked that I guess. Both men were Vietnam vets, recently done with tours of duty. This was in 1970 and 1971. They regaled (!) us with stories of rice paddies, leeches, and slaughtered peasants.

I wasn’t friendless. I had a best friend there named Gary. Gary was as gay as can be. He also prayed for rain. Because of his big ears he suffered even more than I did. One of our favorite events was the annual trip to Booth Bay for lobsters and steamers. How Gary and I could eat lobsters and steamers! Plump, sweet, delicious bowls of steamer clams, their fat bellies connected to their strange, penile hoses. I knew steamers from home. We called them piss clams because when you walked on the wet sand at low tide they would piss water through that tube and the stream would shot up out of the sand. I also knew them because my parents loved to eat steamers, OUT OF A CAN. It was one of those 60’s things, clams in big cans. It was weekend lunch food. Understand, my family was wealthy. We had a huge house, a pool, and fancy kitchen. But we ate food out of cans and the freezer.  My father and mother and I (my siblings would have nothing to do with bivalves, canned or otherwise) would sit on a Sunday afternoon with a bowl of steamers, dumped from a can into a pot and boiled, dipping them into melted lemon butter (margarine, actually, with bottled lemon juice, the same concoction we used with artichokes). The ritual was, dip them in the clam broth, then the butter. They were delicious. (My parents had many food rituals, and I assume they were typical for the time, and they seem so bizarre to me now, the giant green avocadoes with cottage cheese and French dressing, the artichokes, boiled for 45 minutes and served on an artichoke plate, Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, another Sunday favorite, with tartar sauce, and jarred Borscht! With sour cream…I can hear my father say ‘borscht’ and see him eating it, the lurid red soup turning pink as it melded with the sour cream, and canned vichyssoise and gazpacho….)

So I love a bowl full of piss clams, what can I say.

Back to the Future

Anyway, I decided to make a slightly Asian version of the clams, and grill the salmon. The potatoes and corn I would boil. The cucumbers I salted, and dressed simply with garlic. The garlic is fantastic now. New garlic is juicy and mild. I sliced it paper thin and then shredded the slices, tossing them with the salted, drained, cucumbers, a little sesame oil, a splash of safflower oil and some vinegar. Salting cucumbers for an hour and draining them makes them soft. The potatoes I dressed with parsley, red and green basil, minced garlic, chopped scallion, pepper, olive oil and red wine vinegar. For the salmon, I salted it and let it marinate in rice wine with a little sesame oil and safflower oil. The clams I prepared like this:

2 lbs steamers

1 small onion chopped

2 cloves garlic chopped

1 T sliced ginger with the skin on

Pinch of salt

Black pepper

4 cups water

½ cup rice wine

2 T light soy sauce

Bring this mixture to a boil in a pot large enough to accommodate clams when they open. Let it simmer for 20 minutes. Add the clams and cover. Cook until done, 5 minutes or so. Serve in a bowl with the broth and a dip sauce. I made my dip sauce this way:

2T rice wine

2T light soy sauce

1T rice vinegar

1T sugar

1T sesame oil

2T chopped scallions

1 minced clove of garlic

1T grated ginger

The salmon I grilled over a very hot fire, 5 minutes a side. The dip sauce was good with the salmon, but not necessary. Cilantro could have been added to any of these things, dip sauce and salmon especially. We ate out on the porch, pulling the ahem off the clam tubes and dipping them merrily. I washed it down with a French rose, and the kids drank Ithaca Brewery Ginger Beer.  

4 Comments

  1. I LOVE this! Quintessential joie de vivre Jon!

  2. This is lovely, Jon. I just picked Roman up from sleep-away camp last week, but fortunately for him, it was of the “everyone gets a trophy” variety. And the toilets had stalls.

  3. Last night I sauteed spinach from my garden in olive oil and shallots and nothing ever tasted better…

  4. Thank you food friends. The world is, in some of details, more civilized than it used to be…especially the treatment of children. Except of course for all the ways in which we have sunk into total barbarity. And even that thought is offensive to barbarians, who are a lot kinder than we are, and less hypocritcal. But where’s that joi de vivre? On the page!

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