WANT the RAINBOW? WELCOME the RAIN.

Iron Skillet Roasted Mussels

Not for one moment do I begrudge water-deprived California a drop of moisture. After suffering through five years of drought, losing 102 million trees in its stricken forests, this state needed a miracle. Obviously Mother Nature heard the plea, tweeted Mt.Olympus and Zeus, the Greek god of clouds, rain, thunder and lightning answered the call. That’s my story. Sticking to it. As we know, however, sometimes Zeus, who rules the skies, goes overboard.

Salted Olive Crisps

Okay, okay, enough with the silliness. For me, 2017 will be remembered as the Winter of Rain. With apologies to the late Debbie Reynolds, may she rest in peace, I’ve gotten very weary of singing and dancing in it. To be clear, however, everyone living here is thrilled to see rain gauges rising. As am I.

The payoff is those winter showers brought April flowers, They’re spectacular. Unprecedented is the word used by wildflower experts. After 5 years of drought, the trees, however, cannot bounce back.

“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” (Thanks, Dolly.)

Our feathered friends are happy – so much to eat and sing about. House Finch

Despite the inclement weather I chalked up another glorious winter. Wary of wasting a moment, that clock’s always ticking, and despite too much indoorness, I buddied up with Solitude. Christopher Knight, the now-outed hermit who lived for 27 years in the Maine wilderness, opined to his biographer, Michael Finkel, “There isn’t nearly enough nothing in the world anymore.”

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel Penguin Random House photo

Whatever he meant by that, I decided to treat nothing as a luxury, building each day on that idea. It definitely worked for me. To my mind, I thrived. Honestly, that I could pull off four months of my definition of nothing so happily was eye-opening to me. But, twenty-seven years of it, kill me now! I am very ready to return home.

Last Saturday my food blogging colleague, Katie, and her husband, Marcel, and daughter Alaia, came for lunch, a 3-year tradition. I made a Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby from Melissa Clark’s newest cookbook, Dinner, Changing the Game. More about Clark’s cookbook next time.

Before my signing off from Cali, last Saturday Katie Baillargeon, her husband, Marcel and almost-five Alaia, joined me for lunch. I first met Katie, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, in 2012 when I joined French Fridays with Dorie. She also organized and is now our Cook the Book Friday’s administrator. This is the third winter we’ve broken bread together, a record-breaking 5 hour lunch despite my setting off the smoke alarm while making it. I was mortified. Surprisingly, the meal was salvaged and the haze lessened (in about 30 minutes), There is much to admire about this young family.

Alaia played on the beach, climbed trees and ate a grilled cheese sandwich.

This is my last post from Cambria. I’m in Death Valley for Easter and then will fly from Las Vegas to Atlanta to visit the Carter Presidential Library. It’s the 12th of the 13 presidential libraries I have seen. I regard these under recognized libraries as the uncrowned jewels of our historic heritage. Then, Colorado-bound.

According to the Locals, the most delicious strawberries are grown in Santa Margarita and are now available at our Cambria Farmer’s Market.

This week’s CooktheBookFridays recipe is Salted Olive Crisps, usually served with apéritifs before dinner. I’ve shared the recipe and my personal tips below. One of my most delicious meals this winter was Iron Skillet Roasted Mussels. So simple. So easy. If you own a cast iron skillet, be open to the possibilities.

Carizzo Plain National Monument is a region of 250,000 acres and is the largest native grassland remaining in California. The San Andreas fault cuts straight through it. The unique Soda Lake, pictured here, is shallow, white, and alkaline, with no external drainage.

IRON SKILLET ROASTED MUSSELS by Sharon Kramis & Julie Kramis Hearne, The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 leek (white part only), rinsed well and chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded (discard any that won’t close)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

PREPARATION:

1. Combine the wine, butter, leek, and red pepper in a 10- to 12-inch cast iron skillet or 5-quart Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the mussels, and cover either with a lid or heavy tinfoil. Cook until the shells open and the mussels are plump, about 8 minutes. Discard any that won’t open.
3. Sprinkle the parsley over the top and season with a dash of salt and pepper. Serve right from the skillet or Dutch oven with a leafy green salad and sliced baguette or rustic country bread.

Meal is Over.

SALTED OLIVE CRISPS by David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen

Makes 40 Crisps

Get this recipe from the Accidental Locavore by clicking on this link.

TIPS:

1. Rather than the 30 minutes David suggested for baking the loaf mixture, I baked it for 45 minutes.
2. Because I wanted a bit more crisp, I put the finished slices under the broiler for 1 to 11/2 minutes.
3. These Salted Olive Crisps are better eaten immediately. Although they can be stored up to one week in an airtight container at room temperature, I needed to ‘crisp them again” at 325 degree heat for 3-5 minutes.
4. Like baking mandelbrot or biscotti, this is a labor intensive recipe that requires an olive that is not too damp and a very sharp bread knife. While I enjoyed making this once, it’s probably a recipe I won’t bake again.

CooktheBookFridays is an international group virtually cooking through David Lebovitz’s, My Paris Kitchen. To see what my colleagues baked this week, go here.

Beautiful coastal Tinytips, an annual wildflower, and our dead California coastal oaks. A heartbreaking site prevalent throughout the state.

Comments

  1. says

    Mary, we’ve had such an amazing time every year and I’m so thankful for you hosting our motley crew for lunch. Especially when we stay until it’s nearly dinner time. I just made the crisps today and they were oddly labor intensive at certain times and then a lot of waiting around! I too am not sure if the payoff is worth the work. And one last thank you: thank you for insisting on taking a photo of just Marcel and I. We rarely do that anymore! Until next winter (though we will obviously speak virtually).

  2. Rita Bernardi says

    Mary…
    Mussels and I have an unhappy history…but I am tempted to try that recipe on the basis of that gorgeous photo you took. You have talent for so many things…every month I marvel.
    Safe travels,
    Rita

  3. Cathy O'Connell says

    Those strawberries sure look divine. Didn’t know there were any others than those tasteless Driscoll’s! Can’t wait to see you when we get back to Aspen in June. Happy travels.

  4. says

    I visited with a high-school friend and drove up the Pacific Coastal Highway from LA to Santa Barbara last week. It was just spectacularly lush this time of year. The recent rain has worked like a magic green wand. Happy travel. Mussels cooked in a cast iron skillet. Very few things are as perfect as that. I agree that the crisps are very fuzzy to do.

  5. Chez Nana says

    I hope you have a safe trip to everywhere you are going and I’ll bet you will be happy to get back home to Aspen.

  6. says

    I need to re-season my first ever cast iron skillet (and start using my latest purchases too!), the last time I made mussels was with FFwD! I read about the Stranger book… seems he also survived by raiding rangers’ huts and etc. I will remember your two cookbook suggestions! I am quite happy with two cookbooks gifted me late March and will be making something from them soon. A lovely post, Mary, of beautiful nature and awesome humans!

  7. Donna Grauer says

    Sitting at DiA reading your blog and looking forward to returning home too…I hope when we see each other you will elaborate on
    “nothing “… btw one of my favorite Shakespeare plays is “Much ado about nothing”
    Hugs Rocks

  8. says

    Your posts always have me adding things to my to do list. I love mussels, but have never tried them in cast iron. Adding that to the list. Also the book about the hermit. I haven’t heard of that one, and I always trust your recommendations. My crisps were crisp, and today, a week later, they are still crisp. I’m chalking it up to dry olives. The ones I used are oil-cured and, though moist, aren’t stored in brine. That must be why I had a different experience with crispiness. Safe travels, my friend!

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