Friday, November 9, 2012

Gratitude, #LetsLunch

Seafood Chowder. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 This year, my teen daughter started high school and is taking an American Government class. For this news junkie mom, morning rides to school have become all about prepping her for class discussions on the hot topics of the day. With prompts from NPR's Morning Edition hosts Steve and Renee, we've covered the presidential election, the Libyan consulate attack, assorted economic indicators, you name it, all in the 15 minute drive from home to school. By the time we get in the car, I've had two cups of coffee and I find myself going on a bit, so much so that when we pull up at the school I want to tell her to stay in the car, I have one more thing I need to tell her before class. (Not that I get chance - she's already slinging her book bag over her shoulder and telling me "goodbye.")

When we talk about the news, I try to bring it home in some way that relates to her life. Some events are easier than others. Last week, as Hurricane Sandy tore up the Eastern Seaboard, leaving destruction and mayhem in its path, we listened to the news reports of the impact of the storms - on the election and the economy, and I asked her if she could predict what the residents of New York, New Jersey and other northeastern states will face as the area recovers.

She knew the answer because we've experienced the same thing. In 2009, our area experienced devastating flooding, when what was called a 500-year flood event shut down the interstate that cuts through the county, wiping out bridges and roads, flooding homes and businesses. Seven people lost their lives in the floods, several by having the bad fortune of being on the roads in the early morning hours when the storms were at their worst.

As we listened to the morning news reports about Hurricane Sandy, we recounted what we knew about recovery from flooding - food, clean water and electricity will be needed. Roads and bridges will be cleared or closed and will take up to several years to repair. Schools will be closed, then reopened. Trees removed, houses and businesses pumped out, and slowly, slowly, slowly life will return to the ins and outs, ups and downs of everyday. Recovery isn't easy and it's certainly not as fast as everyone wants it to be.

As my family gathers around our Thanksgiving table in a couple weeks, and celebrates the American eucharist, we will take turns giving thanks and then say grace. This year, I'll be grateful for the family around the table, the roof over our heads, the comfort of the fire in the fireplace, and the feast on the table.

And morning drives to school.

Seafood Chowder. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

It's still a bit early for T-Day food, if you ask me, so until Thanksgiving arrives, I'll share a bit of New England with my seafood chowder recipe. (I know, I know, it's not a Manhattan style chowder, that would have been perfect.) When the rain clouds roll in and the winter winds start blowing, it's hard for me to take my mind off of soups and chowders. Like this seafood chowder, a hearty chill-chaser that will warm you from the inside out. The seafood can vary, but I always use a white fish like flounder as the base, the clams, and bay scallops when they're cheap. Shrimp are good, too, but it does change the character of the soup - shrimp can be the Bossy Pants of the soup bowl, delicious, of course, but not exactly a team player, if you know what I mean.

Seafood Chowder

5 slices bacon
2 medium onions
salt and pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, chopped into 1/2 inch dice
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch dice
1 (15 oz.) can chicken broth
1 (8 oz.) bottle clam juice
3 (6 oz.) cans chopped clams
3 bay leaves
2 stems of fresh thyme
3 potatoes, peeled and diced 1/2 inch
1/2 to 1 pound of light, white fish, such as flounder, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound bay scallops
3-4 cups half and half

This is how I make it:

1. Start with a good size Dutch oven. I use my All-Clad stainless and put it on a medium heat. Take five or six slices of bacon, stacked and sliced in 1/4 inch lengths. Fry the bacon until crispy and the drain in paper towels, reserving the grease. Pour the grease into a separate metal container and measure out two tablespoonfuls back into the pan, still on medium heat.

2. Chop two medium-size onions and sizzle those in the bacon grease with the barest pinch of salt, if you must. Everything in this chowder has salt in it, so go easy. You can always adjust the seasonings at the end. After the onions are soft and bacony, add 3 minced cloves of garlic, and stir for just a minute. Chop one stalk of celery and 2 carrots and add to pot, cooking until soft.

3. Add one 15 oz. can of low sodium chicken broth, or water, plus one small bottle of clam juice. Open three cans of chopped clams (I prefer the chopped to minced, those remind me of cat food), and add to the soup, juice and all. Toss in three bay leaves and a bit of freshly ground pepper, perhaps a few thyme stems if the plant is near the kitchen door.

4. Peel three medium all-purpose potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Put these into the pot and let simmer away. When the potatoes are soft, add one pound of  flounder, chopped into 1-inch squares. You may also want to add sea scallops, if you have those, too. Shelled shrimp are nice. Let the seafood cook through, perhaps five minutes or so.

5.  Just before serving, add a staggering amount of half-n-half, perhaps three or four cups, warm up the soup, then adjust the seasoning. Be sure to remove the thyme stems and bay leaves. Serve this chowder with warm cheesy garlic bread, or just the little hexagonal soup crackers. This will restore your soul on a lousy day.

This post is part of #LetsLunch, a Twitter party on a different foodie topic each month. November's topic is gratitude. To follow along or become a part of the party, just follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or check out the #LetsLunch Facebook page. Here are the November #LetsLunch posts:

'Plumb’ cake from Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Pain au Levain from Rebecca at Grongar Blog
Seafood Chowder from Lucy at A Cook and Her Books
Cracked Black Pepper and Blue Cheese Crackers from Charissa at Zest Bakery
Gratitude Fried Rice from Linda at Spicebox Travels
A Thanksgiving tablecloth tradition from Lucy at In a Southern Kitche
Gratitude Soup from Rashda at Hot Curries and Cold Beer
Pumpkin Muffins with Cinnamon Sugar (gluten free) from Linda at Free Range Cookies
5 Minute Wonder Soup from Eleanor at Wokstar

 Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer.


Rebecca said...

Beautiful post! I love seafood chowder. So soothing and full of love.

TeaLady said...

I really need to make this. Love seafood chowder but have never made it. Thanks for looks like a great recipe.

Good luck to your daughter in HS.

charissa (zest bakery) said...

Haha. I agree: those shrimp can be bossy pants. So funny.

Thanks for sharing this soup recipe. I'm always on the lookout for good chowder recipes!

Rashda Khan said...

Mmm, I love chowder...thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...


Renee said...

I miss driving to school with my daughter. Enjoy those talks while you can! Love this post and that chowder looks like just the thing for lunch. *hungry*

Unknown said...

A good chowder -- what's not to be thankful for? Thanks!