We have made a pact, my husband and I. It is one of clear understanding, hashed out early on in our relationship when we were still just dating. Scott, like many men, hated to shop; I, like many women, loved to shop, and subscribed to the philosophy that if you find a sweater you can’t live without, better get one in every color. In my case, though, I’d crammed in so much shopping since my teen years that I was burned out from the ritual. I wanted to expand my life beyond the endless pilgrimage of going from one store to the other looking for that “perfect” whatever-it-was that I had to have, but never saw again once it found a niche in the closet.
So, we don’t “go shopping.” We buy things, as we need them, but we don’t go to stores for entertainment. (Well, bookstores are the exception, but that’s it).
We are very happy with our agreement since it rewards us with much more time to pursue our many common interests in each other’s company rather than the company of hoards of strangers all looking for that “perfect” whatever-it-is that they have to have. This marriage policy is especially effective when we go away on vacation. Outside of having to stop and shop for the obligatory little gifts to bring home to family, we eschew all retail in favor of kicking around our destinations for local color, sightseeing, history and dining, all the reasons why we travel in the first place.
And why we travel back to the same places. After spending a glorious honeymoon last year on the rock-bound coast of Maine, it was clear we had to return to recapture the savage and serene elements of nature as well as explore and discover the trails and vistas that eluded us the first time around. Rooster Brother The Store for Cooks, in Ellsworth, was distinctly not on the itinerary. In fact, I didn’t even notice it last year when we made our daily pass through town to get to Acadia National Park. Perhaps it wasn’t there last year. Perhaps they didn’t doll up the expansive plate-glass windows with riotous rows of Le Creuset and Fiesta Dinnerware, colors clashing and flashing like the Vegas Strip. Perhaps I was too giddy in love and it was another six months before I would start food blogging, when my world would be re-programmed, always with the next post in mind.
As fate would have it, we never traveled through Ellsworth during business hours; we were either always too early or too late. The days passed by, the car passed by, and I felt like life was passing me by. I wouldn’t see my kitchen for a week; I wouldn’t be blogging for longer still. If only there was a way to poke around all that great gear jeering at me from the window without compromising our time in the even greater outdoors. On our last day, I casually approached Scott, suggesting we double back to Ellsworth for lunch and make a short run through Rooster Brother. There was no quarrel. The store carried a large stock of specialty coffees; we could always use more coffee, we rationalized. We weren’t buying tchotchke; we were buying coffee.
A half hour later, we carefully loaded a shopping bag full of assorted sundries, comestible and collectible, into the car trunk. I prided myself on my practicality and frugality, only allowing the purchase of one small sunny yellow Fiesta bowl to feature my favorite seafood soup, New England clam chowder, for an upcoming post.
Once we got home and unpacked our treats and treasures, I was overwhelmed with buyer’s remorse. I looked at my adorable little bowl, heaving with regrets. I knew I should have gotten one in every color.
New England Potato Clam Chowder - (my own version of a vacation favorite, thickened with mashed potatoes instead of flour)
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 stick butter* (or reduce for calorie/fat restricted diets)
6 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
2-3 cups milk, half and half or light cream (or combination of these)
3 undrained cans (6 1/2 ounces each) chopped clams in clam juice or 2 dozen freshly steamed clams, chopped, reserving 1 cup of clam juice**
1 rounded teaspoon dried sage
Salt and pepper
In a large skillet, gently melt butter over low heat. Add onion and celery, sautéing without browning, for approximately 12 minutes or until vegetables are soft but not mushy. Stir in dried sage. Meantime, boil cubed potatoes in a very large pot of plain water until tender but holding their shape, approximately 20 minutes. Drain potatoes and remove half of them to a large bowl. Rice or mash these potatoes, slowly adding milk until completely smooth and loose. Return mashed potatoes to cubed potatoes in the pot, stirring slowly to combine. Add clams in their juices, the onion and celery, and enough milk to thin the soup to desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat through without boiling. Serve in cups or bowls with oyster crackers. Serves 4-6. --
* For additional fat reduction, you can substitute the butter with 1 tablespoon flavorless oil or cook the vegetables in a 1/2 cup of water until softened.
** If using fresh clams, only steam them until the shells open. Do not fully cook them or they will become rubbery. Once they are added to the chowder and heated through, they will be thoroughly cooked but of the right texture.
This post is being submitted to Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything At Least Once, hosting Weekend Herb Blogging for Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen, the creator of this weekly food event.