It must be that time of year. I can’t stop thinking about steelhead and rain-forest rivers. Of course, with a schedule packed with a film project, book commitments, kid basketball and volleyball tournaments and the usual post-holiday glut of “real” work, it’ll probably be at least a month before I can make it out to the coast. But that’s where tying flies comes to the rescue. I can take a little break from the daily grind, twist some feathers and dream. As you can see from the critters above, I’m currently dreaming of high water, light tips and shallow lies. And big chrome steelhead.
Perhaps an acquired taste, but for me, the matsutake–or pine mushroom–rice is a nostalgic dish I crave. Some describe the distinctive scent of raw a matsutake as “cinnamon red hots through a dirty sweatsock,” which isn’t far from the truth, but once cooked the aroma is piney and fresh, not unlike a Christmas tree. That’s three generations (my mom, Skyla and me) with a gorgeous matsutake to go with traditional Japanese New Year’s feast.
My grandmother made matsutake rice, my Mom makes it, and now I do too. Soon, I’m pretty sure my kids will make it. It’s simple, delicious, and a special treat. I use water from rehydrating shiitake mushrooms for a hit of umami, Japanese short-grain rice, a bit of rice vinegar, salt and sugar, and fresh-chopped matsutake. And I always try to make more than we’ll eat in one meal, because it’s even better the next day as onigiri rice balls.
This year, as the the rice cooked, the aroma reminded me of the last time I made it for my late friend Bruce up in BC. We were fishing and staying in The Shack up on the Kispiox. Bruce loved matsutake rice. A fishing buddy came by with a single big matsutake and we talked all day about how good the rice would taste. When I started cooking, I discovered the mushroom was riddled with maggots. Bruce and our friend Yvon said “make it anyway,” so I did, and we ended up eating the whole batch that night. Miss that guy a ton. But it seemed a fitting way to end the year we lost him, and kick off 2018 on a good note. Happy New Year, everyone. I think it’s going to be a good one.
The heavy rains last month took a toll on our gravel road. Seems like every time I turned around, there was another pothole, or the ones that were already there were growing exponentially. Whenever there was a break in the downpour, we needed to do some serious patch work before the road took out someone’s axle…or kidneys. Funny thing is, this seasonal ritual works like a kind of measuring stick of sorts: Each year Weston does a little more and I do a little less. When he was small, I brought him along just as something for us to do together, and his participation generally made the work take twice as long. Then we had a few years of break even–he’d contribute enough to make up for the distractions and such, but I still had to think of ways he could help. Now, with Weston on the crew, we finish the job in half the time. He jumps right in…shoveling rock into the wheelbarrow, filling the holes, smoothing the edges. It’s not complicated work, but it takes some thinking to do it right, and the results are satisfying for both of us. Weston’s innate good cheer has always made the work more fun, but now he’s gone from “helping” to actually helping. A small thing, really, but a good reminder to savor these moments.
That feeling when you finally get your very own bed. The one you’ve been wanting ever since you visited your friend Fisher Sweeney and saw her cozy, comfy bed and felt jealous. The one you wanted even more after you had that unfortunate little accident on the living room rug last year and your family had to get rid of the rug which meant you had to lie on the chilly hardwood floor when everyone else was on the couch. The one that’s so fuzzy and warm and soft you need to lie down and take a nap every time you walk past it, even if you’re not tired. The one that shows the cat once and for all who’s the favorite. As if there was ever any doubt.
In what has become a treasured tradition, we gather at Smarty’s for dinner every Tuesday night. It’s usually kind of a boy’s meal, but girlfriends, wives and moms often join. Kids and dogs are welcome, too. People pitch in and bring whatever they’ve caught, trapped, shot, foraged or found, but the featured entree is always something wild–ducks, geese, pheasant, quail, spot prawns, albacore, salmon, crab, deer, elk–and beautifully prepared by Smarty. Helene often makes her famous salad with fresh lemon, garlic and pine nuts. I usually bring brown-and-wild rice. Last night, it was fat, juicy Eastern Washington mallards, roasted hot so the skin crisped and the interior stayed blood rare, served with a sauce made from butter, sherry, worcestershire, current jelly and a few other top-secret ingredients. Pete brought fresh winter oysters and pan-fried them to a crisp, golden brown for our appetizer. It was, as usual, a meal you couldn’t buy at any price or beat at any restaurant.
A rotating cast of characters shows up, but it’s usually some combination of Smarty, me, Neal, Pete, John, Morgan, Helene, Sam, and whoever else is in town. A lot of us try to schedule around Tuesdays, and when I’m away, there’s always a pang of missing out, no matter how cool a trip I’m on, or how much fun I’m having somewhere else. In spite of the mind-blowing food, I think it’s really the company and the cadence of a regular check-in among friends, that makes these dinners so special. Wednesday mornings, I’m already looking forward to the next Tuesday. Huge thanks to Smarty for making it happen, keeping it going, and bringing us all together.