Saturday, April 7, 2012


White camellias from my front yard tree

I've had a craving of late for a Basque Squid Stew. It's a recipe from Rick Stein from his two-volume collection on fish cookery:  Fruits of the Sea and Taste of the Sea.  While Portland is very close to the Pacific Ocean, the city has a land-locked mentality when it comes to seafood other than salmon and Dungeness crab.  It's very difficult to find fresh (not previously frozen) seafood of any kind in the local markets here. This stew is a snap to make and has only a few ingredients:  olive oil, squid, onions, garlic, red wine, tomatoes, water, thyme, salt and pepper. You brown the squid rings and tentacles in olive oil first and then add our onion and garlic.  One the onions take on color, you add everything else and turn down the flame to low, cover and simmer gently for two hours until the squid becomes meltingly tender. I serve this over steamed red potatoes. My first stop for fresh fish is Pacific, a fish monger with a good reputation in my own neighborhood. They sell only frozen squid, but recommended that I try ABC, a shop 30 block uptown.  I'm glad I did.  This Asian-owned fish store specializes in crab and they have tanks full of fresh Dungeness crab, all live and very well priced.  They have a reasonable, if limited supply of fish and focus primarily on seasonal fish. They had fresh squid, but they were sold whole. The price per pound was a whoppingly low $2.29! This meant my stew would be dirt cheap, as the original recipe intended, but I would have to clean and prepare it.  I ordered two and a half pounds figuring I'd net out at the needed one and a half pounds. Later, I saw prepared squid at New Seasons, a fine if over-priced local supermarket chain here that specializes in organic and non-organic food, sells previously frozen prepared squid. It's more than $5.00 a pound. But squid, which is cheap and sustainable and is good for you (that is if you don't limit yourself to the popular fried calamari), shrinks when it is cooked, and if frozen, shrinks even more.

I had never prepared cleaned before. A quick look on YouTube gave me a fast if slimy education on the task at hand. I had to cut off the tentacles right in front of the eyes, then squeeze out the mouth (or beak), which was easy enough to do.  The next step was to gently pull the head out of the body sac with all the gruesome entrails attached, then squeeze out the sack to remove all the other disgusting bits. A final removal of the skin (easy) was the final step. It's dreary work, messy and a little stomach-churning. It took an hour, and Bev--my roommate--came into the kitchen while I was elbows-deep in squid entrails and fled in grossed-out terror. I felt a bit squeamish at first, but in the end was proud that I didn't wuss out and the final stew made a great centerpiece to a Friday-night dinner with my friends Trish and David Hamilton, who brought a superb merlot from Owen Roe.

Dirttless daffodils

The endless rain has been a constant companion as we get down to the final elements of THE OREGONIAN COOKBOOK.  So when the sun does peek out, Beau gets restless for the outdoors, and usually find one of the steps with the most sun an ideal place to stretch out for a warm nap. The grass is still squishy wet, but everything is leafing and this week the white Camellia began to bloom in earnest.  I think it's more beautiful than red or pink variations, and I've finally begun to cut some and put them in vases in the house. They are quite beautiful. The daffodil bulbs in the plastic pot that I neglected to plant, have begun to bloom this morning.  My mother absolutely cannot believe I've been able to get them to bloom this way, but I have.  If you look at the pot from overhead, you can see any dirt. Don't know why it worked, but it has.

My new resident squirrel, sunbathing

Since Cooper, my back yard squirrel died last year, I haven't seen too many squirrels until about a week ago, when I found a red Fox squirrel sunbathing on the railing of my bedroom balcony.  He was very accommodating while I went to grab my camera and seemed not to be bothered in the least that I was snapping his photo  Then last Saturday, I discovered he has taken up residence in my cedar tree. He's quite bold an unafraid of me, in fact these photos make him look downright curious. I hope he survives. Too many squirrels in this city end up under the wheels of cars. This new tenant is quite handsome with a luxurious tail.

I moved a chair next to one of the windows in the living room. In that window is an "elephant foot" plant, one of my favorites because it sports a bountiful show girl headdress of long leaves which are now reaching below the stand it sits on.  This fascinates Bit, and I caught him trying to chew some of the long tendrils as he played with it the other day.

Bit is enjoying playing with the Elephant plant

The Ornamental Dwarf Cheery Tree in full bloom 

This delicate Fritalaria had me worried it might not come back, but here it is in full bloom, it's purple 
lantern-shaped heads showing off a lizard-like pattern. 

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