With good friends, you don’t worry about sawdust and nails on the floor. You just welcome them with open arms and a big pot of cioppino.
We had hoped to drag some chairs and a table up the unfinished plywood stairs and dine by sunset and candlelight, but the wind was blowing like a son of a gun, a chilling wind at that. So we gave our friends the 5 cent tour of the construction, then came in to the low lights and comfort of the cottage for drinks and dinner.
Our friends fixed up their own gin martinis, and pulled up to the kitchen island to munch on marinated crab claws with Buck and me. Buck sipped on a dirty vodka martini, while I enjoyed a wee dram of The Grouse while finishing preparations for the cioppino.
What an amazing dish. I hadn’t thought of it in years, or that dimly lit Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant in San Franciso when I first encountered cioppino, a fish/shellfish tomato- based stew, redolent with garlic, onions, peppers, herbs and wine.
Early Saturday morning, I trolled the fresh offerings from Joe Patti’s Seafood. Cioppino is like the proverbial kitchen sink. It’s highly forgiving about your specific choice of fish or shellfish, as long as you toss in what’s freshest from the lot. This day, I went a little crazy and bought small portions of firm pink-tinged red snapper, Gulf shrimp, sea scallops, cocktail crab claws and Cedar Key little neck clams. I bought enough crab claws to marinate a few in garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh basil and parsley and a good twist of black pepper to serve as appetizers.
Before heading back out to the woods, I stopped by Pitzman’s Bakery to pick up a couple of Parisian baguettes. Hot, crusty bread is an essential accompaniment to the cioppino to sop up the broth.
In its first rendition on Saturday night, we ate the cioppino with a spinach, mushroom and heart of palm salad, dressed with a tarragon dijon vinaigrette. I was having such a good time with Buck and our friends that I forgot to take any pictures, so the one below is from our leftovers supper tonight.
We shared dinner with some other friends recently whose home was literally blown to bits during Hurrican Ivan. They are living in a tiny FEMA (Federal Office of Emergency Management) travel trailer right now. These folks are treasures in our community, curators of our zoo. They spent the night of the storm and many thereafter, at the zoo. It is in their natures to rescue and preserve, to think of themselves last.
Many in our community are still without replacement homes, businesses gone forever, relationships breached in the trauma. We are connected to the tsunami-ravaged countries, and all other places in peril,each one of us reaching across oceans to touch fingertips. Even as I spend the evening well fed and comfortable, I am not smothered or made numb by my own comfort, knowing it to be temporary anyway, but humbled that we are all linked, the ripples generated by our thoughts, actions, energy and perhaps prayer yoking us to one another in common destiny.