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Freddy the Hitchhiker

22 Jul

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Considering the world is on Royal Baby Watch (and I am, too), the daily doldrums of putting a house together is nothing news worthy.  Yesterday, for example, Rob and I didn’t see each other until dinnertime, even though we never left the house (he constructed wood shelving in the garage, I made drapes for the dining room).  After a trip to Ikea, I put together two large bookcases, ALL BY MYSELF, finishing only a little worse for wear (a sore hand, a premature blister on my thumb, and a small cut on my forehead – not sure how that happened).  Our conversations have danced around topics of bookshelves, overhead lighting, paint colors, and hanging pictures.  Not exactly the tête-à-têtes of romance.

However, there is one thing – one sound, I should say – that brings us together with a smile, and helps us forget for a moment about our task at hand.  And that’s Freddy.

Before the boxes, before the enthralling home improvement conversations, Rob, my mom, and I basically camped in our house for a few days.  We ate meals off of our green, plastic camping plates, drank wine out of plastic wine glasses, and slept on air mattresses.  We used folding chairs in the living room and would get up, walk around to the back of the chair, put a hand on each folding side, 1-2-3 lift, and carry the chair to the kitchen for dinner, or the backyard for some time on the patio.  Musical folding chairs became quite standard.

One evening when sitting on the patio, we heard a noise.  It was loud.  Too loud to be far away which meant, whatever it was, its proximity to us was unnerving.  It sounded like a combination between a squeezy dog toy and a sheep in labor, and it literally halted conversation.  Finally, I got up – yes, me, not the boy who sees anything slippery and slimy and runs away like a little girl (sorry, Rob, but you know it’s true).  Perfectly smushed between the upper corner tracks of the sliding glass door was the smallest, greenest, frankly coolest looking frog I’ve ever seen.  Such a loud noise out of such a little being, but that little green tree frog was making his presence known, and clearly wanted to be a part of the party.  Mom put a rock in the door tracks to prevent any accidental casualties (imagine the noise then!).

Almost immediately he was named Freddy, which then started a debate with my dad about whether he should actually be named Teddy, as he was probably a toad.  I do think he’s a Florida tree frog, Dad.  Google told me so.

Freddy has been making appearances on our glass door, hopping and jumping and leaving little froggy foot prints as a reminder of his presence (as if the croak wasn’t enough).  Freddy must have liked us, as he called over some friends and started a little frog fraternity on our outdoor ceiling.  He found his way to work with Rob one day, clinging on to the side mirror long enough to give a little frog thanks-for-the-ride “thumbs up” when he decided to jump off.  Freddy has clearly become a household name.

So, as Rob and I have been spending our days getting all of our honey-dos done, trying to make specific efforts to enjoy this beautiful summertime, and truthfully just get accustomed to Florida’s flora and fauna, we needed to take a trip.  To Ikea.  Why is going to Ikea a trip, you ask?  Well, it’s actually a step up in the Rob ‘N’ Jill Travel World, as when we lived in Oregon, it was a 4-hour trip to Ikea and a 2-hour trip to Target.  Now in Florida, we’ve upgraded to a 2 ½ -hour trip to Ikea (and yes, we would drive to these places, because Target and Ikea are just that awesome).

Like most of our driving trips, I slept most of the ride, and woke up just in time to exit the freeway.  As I yawned and stretched and took a sip of my lukewarm tea, Rob generally stated that it wasn’t that bad of a drive.  We had made it to the-land-with-Ikea (aka Orlando) with no problems whatsoever.  Until we stopped.

Rob made a noise unlike any noise I’ve ever heard come out of his mouth.  Generally, Rob has a pretty deep voice, very masculine, and a surprisingly nice bass intonation when singing.  That is, until Freddy arrived.

I guess if it were between hitchhiking while clinging for life on the side mirror, or hitchhiking in the comfort of the Explorer, I’d choose the Explorer as well; plush seats, air-conditioned, Sirius radio.  But I definitely would not like the driver screaming at me in a high-pitched voice, and I’m sure Freddy was just as putout.  After all, we make a nice home for this little guy, let him bring over his friends, encouraged him to make loud noises way late into the night, and obviously he was comfortable with us.  So comfortable, in fact, that he silently drove all the way to Orlando with us, and then at his stop he rang the bell to get off the bus – doing so by jumping onto Rob’s arm, then his leg (and as the uncontrollable shaking and dog-hearing-only-pitched noises started out of Rob), then onto the window.  Rob rolled down the window (still making noises) and Freddy hopped directly onto his original hitchhiking spot on the side mirror (probably thinking that may have been the better option in the first place), and off to his new digs in Orlando.

Ah, I’ll miss that little guy.

On the way home, then the rest of the night, and a few times yesterday, Rob would randomly get heebie-jeebie shivers and mention Freddy.  Of course, I’ve joked about making frog-legs for dinner and such, but it just doesn’t seem to be as funny to Rob as it is to me.  Oh well.

However, we have been eating some comfort foods that can only satisfy one while they are working hard and building things, namely pizza.  Is there anything better than pizza and a cold beer after a day of home improvements (and frog attacks)?  For a moment – just a moment – we deliberated over which pizza place to call, but then I remembered I had some of my favorite ingredients in the fridge, ready to make a pizza almost anyone would love.  We indulged that night on a BLT pizza, giving all the bacony, tomatoey, mayo-y goodness of a BLT sandwich, but the comfort that only a pizza can bring.  Rob brought up Freddy.  I laughed.

Hitchhiking frog or not, you must try this pizza – it’s a winner.  On to the next improvement, and maybe even more pizza!

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BLT Pizza

  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced into rounds
  • 4 slices thick-cut applewood smoked (my favorite) bacon, diced
  • 2 loose cups roughly chopped lettuce – we use a tender red oak lettuce, but whatever you like will work
  • 3 tbsp good mayo
  • zest and juice of 1 small lemon
  • ¼ c shredded parmesan cheese
  • pizza dough – make your own or store bought
  • cracked pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

First make the sauce – mix the mayo, lemon zest and juice, and cheese until smooth.  Set aside.

In a saucepan, render the diced bacon until just before crispy.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and place on a plate lined with a towel, to soak up the extra grease.  Set aside.

To assemble the pizza, stretch out the dough to your favorite size (I like the traditional round), and use flour or cornmeal on your sheet tray or stone so the dough does not stick.  Lather the top of the dough with the mayo mixture.  Lay the tomato slices on top of the mayo, and sprinkle the bacon on top.  At this point, crack some good black pepper on top, to taste (the mayo, cheese, and bacon has quite a bit of salt, so I did not add extra salt).  Place in the oven, and remove when the dough is super crusty and the house smells like fresh pizza, about 12-15 minutes. 

Let cool for just a minute, and then sprinkle with the fresh cold lettuce on top. 

Slice, serve, and enjoy!

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Food for the Sole

18 Jan

I think I’ve mentioned before the different types of “days” we would have that caused kids to rejoice, parents to groan, and school to inevitably be cancelled.  Last year, we had the typical Snow Day.  That was followed in the spring with a Tsunami Day.  In California, we had a Fire Day and occasionally kept the kids inside for recess due to bad air conditions.  I thought that about capped off the tank of the types of “days” causing school closures; that is, until 8pm last night.

Our school district has a wonderfully effective automated alert system used for any type of information that masses of Coos Bay folk should need to know.  However, when I saw “Coos Bay School District” pop up on my caller ID last night, my thought immediately went to what any normal person would feel when work was calling their house way past the 9-5; I’m half-way through dinner, and not enough sips of a drink in to honestly say I couldn’t drive back in to help out with whatever circumstance arose.  But immediately when I answer I hear the familiar automated voice of our Business Director canceling school tomorrow due to, you ready for this, wind.  Wind?  Yes, wind.

Initially, the feeling of ecstatic yay-I-get-to-sleep-in-and-watch-the-Today-Show-!! jubilation came jumping out as I gloated to my husband (and replayed the message on speaker while dancing around the kitchen).  I even called my mom to relay the fun news.  A Wind Day!  I think she even called me a “Lucky Duck.”

But then, as what seems to be happening more and more lately, and at an alarmingly rate, the adult in me kicks in.  Wind?  We live on the Southern Oregon Coast, where hurricane 50+ mph winds is just a stormy winter Tuesday for us.  This was different.  One of the worst storms in years was about to hit the Pacific Northwest, putting Seattle under a blizzard and giving Coastal towns the jolt of a lifetime: 90 mph winds and heavy rain were expected – enough to keep little Siglet from walking in a straight line outside, enough to make us prepare a safe room incase the windows blew out, and definitely enough to close schools.

I know wind – my family had the fortunate experiences of living in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas, all giving us their share of tornadoes – one even on our moving day.  But for some reason, I didn’t feel prepared for this storm.  I know how the Arctic winds howl off the ocean in these parts, and even on a “good” day it can knock you off your feet and chill you to the bone.

When Rob and I went to bed last night, we knew it wouldn’t be pretty.  What neither of us expected was to feel the constant vibrations, shaking, and deafening jolts of winds and rains so harsh and angry that not even earthquakes can compare.  The shaking of an earthquake stops, eventually.  But these gusts of wind just kept on coming with a fast-ball-wind-up to smack our little house daring it to stand a chance.  The neighbor’s forgotten trashcan made hollow noises on the street, like a kid smacking a plastic toy on the wood floor.  The sound of the wind was completely anticipated, yet shocking, like violent waves of an ocean crashing into rocks.  By the morning time, after a night of on-and-off-jolted-out-of-I-finally-relaxed-sleep shenanigans, the wind was more like waves of nausea.

Rob got up and went to work – it was another military realization (for me) that while my profession was put on hold for safety for a day, his was more than expected to perform.  After a power outage that swept the Oregon Coast (Sig and I tried to take a nap in the daytime darkness, but it ended up being last night, round 2), I remembered the thing that Rob and I were so enjoying last night before our wind day preparations began: Dinner.

Our fishmonger had some beautiful Petrale Sole, and I splurged a bit to get some.  Even Rob was excited.  I thought about our usual Sole dishes – Sole Meuniere, Baked Sole, Stuffed Sole, or just plain pan seared with tarter sauce – they all sounded good.  But one thing sounded better: Cioppino.  It was a cold night, we knew a storm was coming, and the spicy warming fish soup just sounded perfect.

And it was.  This might be in the top ten.  I actually didn’t use any other fish that is usually called for in Cioppino because, 1) Rob won’t eat it, and 2) I wanted the subtle taste of the Sole to stand out.  I even left the pieces whole when putting them into the soup to let them delicately break as they saw fit, leaving big fresh pieces the stars among the humble veg and slurpable broth.  Topped with a simple but flavorful tarragon and caper aioli, the flavors were fantastic.

During a day like today, when turning off the outside and getting some sleep was not an option, I was so (so, so, so, so) glad there were leftovers.  Even as I write, the rain is constant and the wind is relentless, but at least Sig is taking a nap by the fire (actually, he’s so exhausted that his head is literally hanging off the edge of the couch… poor guy).  And I got my Cioppino.  Talk about comfort food.  Lucky me.

Sole Cioppino with Tarragon Caper Aioli
(serves 4)

  • ½ lb. Petrale or Dover Sole
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 1 large fennel bulb, diced (save about 1 tbsp of the frawns)
  • 1 large celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 1large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 can whole tomatoes, roughly chopped or broken up with your hands (discard can juice)
  • ½ c full bodied white wine (I used a buttery Chardonnay)
  • 2 c water
  • ½ a lemon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • s&p

 Tarragon Caper Aioli
(makes a large ½ c)

  • 3 large tbsp good mayo
  • zest of a whole lemon
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • a couple dashes of Tabasco Sauce
  • 3 tsp capers, roughly chopped
  • 2 full sprigs of tarragon, chopped
  • about 1 tbsp fennel frawns, chopped
  • s&p

 First, make the aioli – combine all ingredients in a small bowl and taste for seasoning.  Set aside (the longer this sits, the more married the flavors will become, which is a good thing). 

For the Cioppino, heat the butter in a large shallow pot over med-high heat.  Add the butter and a pinch of salt, and sauté until translucent.  Then, add in the fennel and celery, a pinch of salt, and sauté until soft.  Add the garlic and stir until it becomes fragrant, about 1 minute.  Pour in the wine, and let it simmer and reduce for about 2 minutes.  Add in the red pepper flakes and bay leaves, as well as the juice of ½ a lemon, and pour in the water.  Also, cut the half of the lemon just used into quarters.  Add the lemon quarters to the pot.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cover for about 5 minutes (this is an important step – it really creates a light and flavorful broth). 

After about 5 minutes, uncover the pot and add in the tomatoes, and simmer again, covered for another 5 minutes.  The soup should be chunky, but still have the presence of broth.  Taste for seasoning. 

Add in the whole Sole pieces – really nestle them into the soup, and cover again for about 3 minutes, until the Sole is cooked through.  Since Sole filets are very delicate and thin, they cook fast and will start to naturally break apart in the soup. 

Ladle into big bowls, and top with a dollop of the aioli.  Inhale the spicy, herby, sea-watery scent, and Enjoy!! 

Smells Anything but Fishy

14 Apr

When my husband and I first started dating, within one of our first conversations, he told me that he didn’t eat fish.  Period.  I would be lying if I said a this-is-never-going-to-work thought didn’t cross my mind.  After all, fish is the main protein in my diet!  And I’m a cook!  What are we going to eat at dinnertime?!  But that thought quickly vanished within the same conversation hearing about what he did like to eat and realizing he had a pretty good palette.  Plus, he’s really cute.

Since then and many, many meals later, Rob’s taste for food has drastically grown and he’s even asking for things he originally hated (i.e. beets).  He’s taken a liking to fish (yay!) but he’s still pretty adamant about not eating shellfish (being a Marine Science major, he says he knows too much about them to eat them.  I absolutely love shellfish, so I don’t ask what he knows).  So as seen in past posts, whenever I decide to indulge in Oregon’s finest shellfish, I usually do so when Rob is out flying that little orange helicopter over volatile seas.

As mentioned in my past posting, I passed on cooking my Cioppino last Friday due to the prior crazy work week.  But knowing this week was going to be another hectic ride (we just finished parent conferences), I knew I couldn’t put off my Cioppino yet again.

So on Saturday, after locking ourselves out of the house, waiting for the locksmith (at least it was sunny out!), visiting the pet adoption agency to see if we could add a 4-legged member to our little family (sadly, our doggie bed still lays cold in the garage), Rob and I made our way to Charleston to buy some of Oregon Coast’s finest: fish.

While our fish monger piled pounds of steamer clams and medium-sized tiger shrimp onto the scales, I could sense Rob’s jaw start to tense.  Shellfish.  Eww.  Because I was making a “white” Cioppino with veal and pork sausage rather than the standard chorizo, I opted out of the muscles – not that it made Rob feel any better about the meal he was about to endure.  The only white fish available that day was some beautiful Dover Sole, which happens to be Rob’s favorite, so despite its delicateness we dared it to stand up to the bold flavors, and planned for its accompanying role in the stew.

Then it was on to cooking.  Cioppino is not a hard dish to make, it just has a lot of ingredients which can make it seem overwhelming.  I am usually pretty good with my mise en place, so after the chopping and set up, bringing everything together as a piece of cake (or a bowl of stew!)

We shared the Cioppino with some close friends, and with a dollop of Lemon Aioli and a chunk of artisan crusty bread, we communed with gobbling and slurping and clanking clam shells into the shell bowl.  Except for the occasional shrimp sneaking its way over to my dish, Rob ate, and thoroughly enjoyed the light, fresh, homey, and slightly spicy fish stew.  The dinner smelled amazing while cooking, tasted amazing while eating, and we were all truly amazed at anti-shellfish boy scarfing it down.

Please don’t be intimidated by the ingredients here; Cioppino really is as easy (if not easier!) to make as most meat stews, and so, so satisfying.  If you can’t find veal and pork sausage, use whatever hot, medium, or mild meat combination you love.  Just adjust your salt and pepper flake seasoning.  If I can get Rob to eat fish stew, then I’m sure you’ll love it!

Cioppino (serves about 6 with leftovers) 

  • 2 lbs fresh shrimp 
  • 1 1/2 lbs steamer or razor clams
  • 2 lbs any mild white fish (Dover Sole, Halibut, Rockfish, even Tilapia will work here) 
  • 4 c fish stock (low sodium) 
  • 2 c dry white wine (Pinot Gris works well) 
  • 1 lb veal and pork sausage (or any sausage of your choice) 
  • 2 c whole tomatoes, strained and hand-crushed 
  • 1/2 large white onion, finely diced
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, finely diced
  • 5 large stalks celery, sliced 
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or more or less depending on how spicy you like it) 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p 
  • chopped Italian parsley, for garnish
  • Lemon Aioli, recipe follows 

Lemon Aioli (makes about 2 cups) 

  • 2 c good quality mayo (or make it yourself!) 
  • zest and juice of one large lemon
  • 5ish drops of Tabasco sauce
  • a pinch of s&p 

Start browning the sliced, or unencased sausage in the olive oil in a large dutch oven over med-high heat.  Once browned, remove from pot and set aside.  Add the onion, leek, fennel, and celery, some s&p , and saute until soft and translucent.  Add the garlic, and then deglaze with the white wine, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  After about 3-5 minutes, add in the tomatoes, the browned sausage, and fish stock.  Let come to a boil.  Once boiling, add the crushed red pepper and bay leaves, and bring down to a simmer.  Simmer covered for about 30-45 minutes.  

While stew is simmering, clean the shellfish – peel and devein the shrimp, and gently scrub the clams.  If any clams are broken or open, discard (unless it is just slightly open – then hold the clam firmly between your thumb and first and middle finger and tap the clam on the counter top.  If the clam closes, it is still alive and able to be cooked and eaten.  If it does not close, then discard).   Also, cut the white fish of choice into large chunks, similar to the size you would use to make fish and chips.  

Add the fish and shellfish to the pot, cover, and check after 5 minutes.  NOTE: if using a heartier white fish, like Halibut, add the white fish first to cook for a few minutes before adding the shellfish.  When the clams have opened and the shrimp are pink and opaque, the stew is ready to serve.  

Serve in big soup bowls, garnish with parsley, and a large dollop of Lemon Aioli.  

Enjoy! 

(Sorry about the lack of pictures; we got carried away with the cooking… and the eating!)

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