Impromptu Oyster Feast

December 28, 2013

Oysters Rockefeller.

Oysters Rockefeller.

One morning last week, James called to ask if we had plans for evening. He said that he and Zandra had received a hefty parcel on their doorstep: a box of fresh Gulf oysters, courtesy of Dorothy and Bob, a reminder of our recent trip to New Orleans together. They had no idea how they were going to eat them all. So that evening, they knocked at the door carrying a huge Styrofoam cooler and a couple of bottles of wine.

An inquiry to our benefactors revealed that the oysters were from Joe Patti’s Seafood Company in Pensacola, Fla. Dorothy had ordered two bags, each containing two dozen. The open cooler revealed a mass of oysters, three dozen (the other dozen J&Z saved for another meal), certainly more than we could eat in one sitting. But, reminding ourselves that this was not our first oyster rodeo, we poured some wine, snacked on a bit of cheese, and got down to shucking.

Shucked and ready.

Shucked and ready.

First order of business: baking a dozen Rockefeller-style with a topping that Zandra had prepared. While those bubbled in the oven with butter, spinach and Parmesan, the other two dozen were pried open and arranged on a platter. (The proper method, we learned from the man with the oyster knife at Bourbon House in New Orleans: “Stick it in and wiggle it.” Good advice for the uninitiated in any number of circumstances. The Hokey-Pokey, for example.)

And the feast began. The Rockefellers were consumed in moments, bright and savory with fresh spinach, a bit of cheese and a hint of anise. Then, on to the raw: a squeeze of lemon, a splash of homemade mignonette, a dab of horseradish cocktail sauce. Top, slurp, repeat. These oysters were so fresh and clean-tasting, we might as well have been seaside.

Before we knew it, the mountain of oysters was a pile of shells.

Red Ridge Farms

The view of Red Ridge Farms' lavender fields.

The day after Thanksgiving, and the Christmas spirit had burst out of its bulging seams. Everywhere we turned were red, green and glittery decorations, miles of twinkling lights and of course, endless television commercials. But rather than join the Black Friday throngs, we headed toward wine country for a little holiday cheer of our own.

Thanksgiving weekend is an event for the Willamette Valley wineries, and most host open-house style functions with tasting tables set up in their cavernous barrel-laden storage rooms. We stopped at three wineries on Friday (Lange Estate, De Ponte Cellars and Argyle) plus we made a little side trip to Red Ridge Farms’ gift shop and nursery for olive oil. (Hint: If you’re looking for a gift for the food lover or gardener in your life, Red Ridge is a good bet. Tons of creative options for the cook or home entertainer, but if all else fails, locally pressed olive oil is always a welcome gift.)

We were lucky to have a gorgeously crisp, sunny day, and the indoor/outdoor tasting setups lent a festive note to the start of the season without being overbearing. I may be mentally ready to go Christmas tree cutting.

Noodles for breakfast.

Delicious noodles for breakfast.

I had a pretty typical childhood. I loved swimming in the summer; my friends and I pretended we were “Charlie’s Angels,” packing heat and fighting crime in our Salt Lake City neighborhood; I adored kittens — more than once my sister and I dressed up the family cat in old baby clothes. And I ate Top Ramen regularly for breakfast. OK, maybe not completely typical.

Of course, on the weekends, I enjoyed traditional breakfasts: pancakes, French toast, oatmeal with a little brown sugar. But around the age of 12 and on through high school, my breakfast of choice during the week was ramen.

I must have learned this breakfast behavior from my dad, Levi Mike, who never ate “normal” breakfast food. Instead he would make soups and stews, vats of collard greens, Mexican menudo, the leftovers of which would be his morning sustenance. So my penchant for ramen was not terribly unusual. Every morning, I’d start a saucepan with a finger of water and cut the top of the flavor packet, leaving a graveyard of silver trimmings in the drawer where the scissors lived. In less than three minutes, I had a savory, salty, warming pan of noodle soup. Rather than dirty a bowl, I would eat the soup right out of the cookpot, and to get to the “meat” of the meal faster, I would slurp the liquid with a giant mixing spoon. (J and I still have that spoon and use it often, though it’s been retired as silverware.) Once the broth was out of the way, all that remained were the delicious, slippery, curly noodles. I would savor them lovingly, making them last as long as possible. After one unfortunate morning when my mother asked for “a bite” and ate HALF THE NOODLES on one forkful, I became fiercely protective, guarding my noodles with the ferocity of a junkyard dog.

Though I don’t often eat ramen for breakfast anymore, every once in a while I wake up with a craving. I’ve graduated to bowls, and I now use a regular soup spoon. But don’t ask for a bite, even on your birthday. Call me selfish, but for 20 cents or so you can have your very own bowl of noodles for breakfast, in under three minutes. I’ll start the water for you.

After months of hemming, hawing and exasperated sighing over blog names, J and I landed on “Chile Verde Chronicles.” We wanted our little sliver of the Internet to reflect who we are as a couple, food lovers, cooks, writers, editors and former Salt Lakers. We think our quest for the best chile verde best represents our food adventures.

Somehow, the pork-and-green-chile stew has become an icon in our families, and most of us can trace our love for the dish back to one Salt Lake City restaurant chain: La Frontera. Just about everyone in our family — siblings and parents alike — have their own versions of the stew, and many of us began by trying to achieve the flavor, texture and appearance of the LaFro original. The results, however, could not be more disparate. Nor could they be more delicious in their differences.

In looking for a blog name, we wanted something emblematic of our love of food and tradition, and our hunger for discovering new dishes, restaurants, cultures, techniques and recipes. We want this blog to be a place to chronicle our dinners out, home-cooked meals, happy gatherings, discoveries and travels. Of course, our posts will extend beyond the namesake dish, but like coming home after a long trip, it represents all that is welcoming, comforting and familiar.