We can’t let summer slip into rain without one of the best parts of the season: blackberry pie! Especially when my mom comes up to teach the technique, and my brother brings his kids to help out and partake. That’s my niece, Nora, Mom, and Skyla teaming up to perfect the lattice crust, above. One of the benefits of slacking off on yard maintenance around here is that the blackberries–a hated, thorny, aggressive, invasive species 11 months of the year–now make for easy picking without leaving home. The kids teamed up to gather a bucket of berries, then Mom showed us all the secrets to the light, flaky, savory crust we love. The masterpiece, below. So good. The best dessert around, and potentially even better for breakfast. If we’re lucky enough to enjoy another dry stretch, should be one more push of ripening berries. Make and eat as many pies as you can! And don’t forget the vanilla ice cream.
We wrapped up our local king season a couple weeks back, but we’ve had our hands full with Skyla’s high-school volleyball tryouts and practices, a huge family reunion, book events, and all the usual summer fun. So just finding the time to post now. In short, it was a surprisingly decent season, with good numbers of fish around, at least in the places and times we fished. The majority of fish we boated, saw and heard about, though, were exceptionally small this year–perhaps a result of an ocean still recovering from The Blob hot water event. They did, however, provide some fantastic eating for us. King chunks and belly strips, pre-smoke drying phase, below.
My standard late-night, just-out-of-the-smoker shot. Gotta vac-seal and freeze as much as possible for kids’ favorite school lunch!
And king caviar as part of a “deconstructed” ikura sushi bowl, below, with a mix of white, brown and wild rice and toasted, crumbled nori on top. Once again, much as I love smoked king, the eggs are my favorite part of the fish. At the rate the kids are plowing through our cured eggs, I think they agree.
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.
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.
My brother and his family came out from Brooklyn, and my mom came up from California for some good Pacific Northwest fun. We spent time on the water for a little fishing–that’s my niece, Nora and me multi-tasking with boat-driving selfie–and mostly just enjoyed our time together. The cousins, Skyla, Weston, Nora and May, live in such different worlds, and see each other only a few times a year, but they love each other so much it lifts my spirits just to watch them together. I am so thankful for our family, and for the NY and Cali members to make the effort to be here.
We went berry picking, and the kids teamed up with their grandma to learn the secrets of making The Greatest Pie In The World.
Just the smell of the pie cooking took me back to my childhood, and when it came out of the oven, we could hardly wait for it to cool. This is the pie I dream about–crisp, flaky, tender, savory crust and sweet, slightly tart blackberry filling. The very taste of August in the Northwest. Now…if the kids just learned enough to make it again themselves, I think we can squeeze in a few more before the weather turns. If only the whole family could be here to enjoy it!