Not fussy, but worthy, an abundant Mediterranean-style seafood chowder for my sister Annie’s birthday dinner on the first day of spring – also the birthday of my paternal grandmother, who lived to be 100 and who’s life was so blessedly intertwined with ours.
A meal with family, including our brother and mother plus a few others, was the finale to a day of rambling celebration. The meal, while pretty delicious, was no competition for the 13-month old baby boy in our midst, our niece’s child. You’ve all been there. Adults sitting around, thinking they might have a conversation and, indeed, attempting that, but the truth is it’s all about the baby. A dozen pair of eyes and ears attending to his every move, his every word, attempted words, while he goes about the business of being one, toddling back and forth, paddling earnestly with a wooden spoon and a bowl, occasionally being picked up for a quick hug.
Birthday festivities unfolded in the midst of this affectionate, chaotic family circle.
I had a barely hatched plan for dinner and crossed my fingers. The challenge was this: I wanted it to be something special, I haven’t had a birthday with my sister in so many years, but I didn’t decide what I’d cook until the night before, therefore, no day-before preparation. And, I wanted to spend the day with my sister doing whatever she wanted to do. Miraculous that she’d left her spring for ours. She’s from eastern Canada where it’s been nearly 80 degrees for the past week, in the range of 27 degrees Celsius as our Canadians would say. With a last minute nudge she reluctantly packed a warm coat.
Help with the shopping saved me – thank you Bob! – and included a small birthday cake from Bakery Nouveau. It was hard to give up the making of a homemade cake, but necessary in order to spend most of the day playing, which we did. I started the seafood chowder at 4:00, made some leek dip for a platter of vegetables, prepped the veggies, sliced the bread, Bob prepped the fish, guests arrived, someone set the table and I had plenty of time to pay attention to the baby. Dinner at 6:30, later on a song, candles, cake, ice cream and presents.
The chowder is a snap, meaning maybe 30 minutes to get it going, another half hour or so to simmer, and then it’s about adding fish at the last minute. Time for the broth to sit and age is a good thing, a few hours if you can manage it, which I couldn’t. It was a wonderful meal, definitely a fish-lovers bonanza with salmon, true cod, clams and shrimp.
Birthday Dinner Menu
Mediterranean Seafood Chowder
Plenty of baguette & butter
Raw Vegetables & Leek dip (instead of salad)
Chocolate Cake & Ice Cream
Recipe for a Mediterranean-Style Seafood Chowder
Enough for 6 – 8 servings.
Ingredients: 1 finely chopped onion/ 1 C finely diced celery/ 1 red pepper, finely diced/ 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped/ 1 28 oz. can blended tomatoes, or 3 C tomato juice/ 1 14 oz. can clam nectar/ 4- 5 C water/ 1 bay leaf, 1 T oregano, 2 t thyme, 1/4 t red pepper flakes, about 1/8 t saffron threads, a little more if you like/ 1 bulb fennel, coarsely chopped/1 large potato, diced/ Approximately 2# assorted fish and/or shellfish/ Fish should be deboned – very important! – and cut into 1/2″ pieces, larger if you prefer, and refrigerated until the last minute.
Directions: Sauté onion, celery and red pepper for 10 – 15 minutes or until mixture is tender and translucent/ Add fennel and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes/Add herbs and stir, tomatoes, nectar and water/Salt & pepper to taste/ Simmer with the lid on for 30 minutes/ Add diced potatoes and cook until barely tender, another 10 minutes or so with the lid off/ Taste and adjust seasoning, turn heat off and let the broth sit/ When dinner is about to be served, reheat the broth to a simmer and add all fish and shellfish/ Simmer gently for 5 – 8 minutes, until clam shells have opened and fish is just tender/ Serve in bowls with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of parsley.
Assorted seafood for this batch included 1/2 # each salmon and true cod, 1 # clams, and several prawns. The seafood addition can vary in amount. I’ve made a smaller batch with just one piece of Loki salmon, or with clams only. Use what’s available and what fits the occasion. In this case the chowder was party fare.
Satisfied bellies, birthday presents, best wishes, a not too messy kitchen and a sleepy baby. Leftover cake in the freezer and I can hardly sleep at night with that cake in the house. Good party. Happy spring.