Last Hurrah in the Northwest

Well.  That blog title is rather misleading, because I’m no longer in the Pacific Northwest but in Sevilla, Spain.  Finally made the move.  I’ve spent a few days arranging all the things I could fit in two duffel bags and a small carry-on.  It’s a surprising amount of crap, actually.  Strange things that made the cut: a statue of Ganesh, lots of bubble gum, tea tins full of earrings, two types of hot sauce, a pie pan, the third season of MacGyver, and a pastry cutter.  They are all nicely shelved.

I haven’t gotten the chance to cook because 1) my roommate does, better than I, and 2) I’m afraid of buying anything not prepackaged and clearly labeled in price at the market.  Yep.  My Spanish languished away for a year and a half and I am resultantly a lot rusty and afraid to talk much to strangers, especially in front of a long line of more strangers.  My friends can just suck it up.  And they do, thank God. But it isn’t really conducive to shopping when you are having to think in a foreign language and a foreign measurement system.  I really don’t know how much a kilo of chicken legs is…or what a good price is for them. My only contribution to the kitchen has been washing lots of dishes and making chai which fortunately went over well.  FYI – they have whole stick cinnamon in most grocery stores, though not cardamom. In case you needed to know that.

Luckily, my roommate is going to take me shopping with her tonight in preparation for a welcome back party for me and another girl.  I’ll stand quietly behind her and pull the little shopping carrito. I’m good with that.

In between being useless and being useless, I now find myself with a little time, during the siesta.  I spent the morning trying to search out my bus stop in dark wash jeans, got really hot, and decided to join the rest of the world in returning home to hide from the midday sun and eat my ham sandwich (I did find prepackaged lunch meats).  And so, I finally get to look over the pictures I took of food in the last few hectic months.  The next post or two will be these catch up pictures.  I thought I’d start with what I consider to be my last truly Washingtonian feast – clam digging.

Fresh fresh clams!

Now, the last time I went clamming, the beach was rather… chintzy.  My friend Elissa was visiting from New York and we were doing Northwesty things, so off to Dosewallips State Park we went.  First, we walked a half mile out from the parking lot and beginning of the beach out to the water line where we were most likely to stumble upon clams.  Then we slunk around with bucket and garden rake, eyes tracking any bubble of mud in the hopes that it would be a clam spitting, futilely trying to escape us.  We netted a whole dozen clams.  Unfortunately for us, the beach was all dug out the previous year and the clams hadn’t really had a chance to re-propagate.

Finding one of the scant dozen. Photo courtesy of Elissa.

Of course, we made some tasty pasta with those lonely clams, but I was greatly ridiculed by my mother.  She promised me that we’d go to a friend’s beach cabin and clam dig for real.  The trick apparently is to sneak off to  private beaches far from the madding, voracious crowd.  Eight months later, one week before I flew to another country, work schedules finally lined up with the low tides and we set off.

Undisclosed clamming location

I didn’t bring my camera with me to the beach because I live in fear of sand working its way insidiously towards my lens and crippling my camera capabilities (but not my alliterative abilities).   But seriously.  This clam dig was ridiculous.  We didn’t have to search for clam spouts, we didn’t have to chase down any wayward bivalves.  We simply took a ten minute walk down by the softly lapping waves until my mother’s friend found the downed oak that marked the clam bed.  Then we dug down a full 6 inches and hit gold.  Each shallow clam puddle held ten or twelve each.  In fifteen minutes, we had gathered about seventy-five clams and could have easily kept digging for hours.  It was absolutely incredible – as in not believable.  I resent this beach, a little.  And want to go crawling back.  It’s complicated.

How to Prepare Freshly Caught Clams

If you are digging them yourself, then the very first thing to do is wash them in the ocean before you leave the site.  Wash out your buckets and fill them with fresh, clean ocean water and then rinse each clam in the same ocean before dropping it into your clean bucket.  Let the clams sit in the bucket for an hour and a half if you were on a rocky beach (like ours) or more for a muddy beach – these clams will have sucked up more muck, which I prefer not to eat.

Gratuitous pictures of clams

When they start to poke their feet out like the pictures above and below, you know they are getting nice and clean and relaxed.  If the water at this point is still nice and clean, then you don’t need a secondary soak.  If you bought your clams, or they were particularly dirty, go ahead and mix some salt into cold tap water and let them sit awhile longer.  They won’t go bad as they are still alive and the longer you let them work at cleaning themselves out, the tastier they will be. And again, if you bought your clams, this brine will make them taste more like the tasty ocean critters they are.

Gratuitous pictures of clams

I think I love clams so much because they are so fascinating.  I think I stood there for fifteen minutes watching them shift around and kick each other out of the way, bubbling their little tube feet.  And I’m talking clock minutes, not I’m exaggerating to make a point minutes.  Perhaps this falls in the category of playing with your food before you eat it, but hey.  That’s why you never clam more than you can eat.  I am a solid link in the food chain. So are they.

Last of the gratuitous clam pictures

Just before cooking, give each clam a scrub in fresh water.  This will get rid of any last bits of mud or kelp or generic ocean slime.

Discard anything that is not a whole, normal looking clam.

Like limpets.

Now what? We cook the little suckers. You will need:

A stick of butter

Half a large onion, chopped

2 or 3 stalks of celery, chopped

2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced

2 or 3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

A splash of white wine if you’d like, but it’s not necessary

Pile the clams into a large pot.  Chuck in all the ingredients.  Cover with a lid. Put on high heat. Wait for steam to rise up and the sound of boiling to emerge – about 10, 15 minutes.


When the steam starts to escape, give the clams thirty seconds, then check to see if they’ve popped open.

Double natch.

If the majority have opened up, take off the heat and eat immediately.  If you leave it on for more than a minute or so after they have popped open, then you’ll overcook them and enjoy some lovely ocean rubber.


The surprising thing about this recipe is that you really don’t need to add any more liquid than that stick of melted butter.  That pot on the right is almost all released clam nectar, and a delicious, delicious soup base, by the way. Or bread dip.

I’ll miss you, Pacific Northwest.  I’ll be back for clam season next year.


3 Responses to “Last Hurrah in the Northwest”

  1. 1 Caroline Schwenz September 25, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    Desa, if you were a man, I would have married you long ago. These clams look amazing!

  2. 2 Michelle September 28, 2010 at 5:08 am

    If I wasn’t living in a landlocked area and afraid to eat fresh seafood right now, I would make these right now. The clam juice + buttery deliciousness seem like a fantastic soup base too. Yum!

  3. 3 Vicky October 5, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Good luck in Spain Desa! You did great in the grocery stores in Mexico so I’m sure you’ll be fine in Spainish ones. Those clams looked gorgeous btw.

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Hey, I'm Desa. I've been bouncing between the Pacific Northwest and Sevilla, Spain in the last few years and from tiny apartment to tiny apartment. I cook mainly for one, which means some potentially boring meals, but here I'll be sharing the food that excites me. Feel free to offer suggestions, commiseration, or desires. And thanks for coming by!


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