New Year’s Reflection on Fisherman’s Stew

So there I was aboard Great Northern in a marina on Tomahawk Island. The island sits in the middle of the Colombia River between Portland and Vancouver.  The view of the river from the pilothouse was magnificent.  I was taking a break from a long day of boat provisioning.  It was February and baby, it was cold outside.  I was ensconced in the pilothouse seating arrangement that occupies that space.  It used to be straight backed and uncomfortable.  Les got her long arms and delicate designer hands all wrapped around it and transformed it to a comfortable fabric based marvel that has its butt, back and shoulder caressing priorities straightened up and flying right…

Anyway… I’m just sitting there staring out towards the river, watching a Friday night regatta form and crash through the starting line and attempt to sail upwind and upriver towards the weather mark by the 205 bridge.  Utter chaos.  Crazed sailors each and every one of them.  Its 38 degrees outside and blowing 30 knots downriver.  Whitecaps ruled the day as they attempted to tack upwind to the weather mark,  33 degree river water shooting over their collective bows as they bashed through the chop.  Impressive.  What was more impressive was that many of the smaller boats could not make headway against the current.  Many were sailing for all they were worth, but actually sailing backwards and never made it across the starting line.  Some made it across and then sailed backwards over the start / finish line.  Short race for them.  At least half the fleet did not finish the race due to the dreadful conditions, but at least they did get off the water faster and into the club bar to talk trash and regale each other about their racing prowess.  Nothing about winter racing on the Colombia comes close to racing in San Diego Bay in tee shirts and shorts.  I was sipping a reasonably sized Saphire and tonic, with a nicely corkscrewed and squashed lime right there, co-mingling in the same glass, stirred up nicely just like I knew what I was doing.  Chemistry in action.  Sip.  Think.  Sip. Think.

Les and Kai were on an epic road trip making their way back to Tomahawk Island from San Diego.  When Les is off somewhere for a few days, I can cook fish to my heart’s content.  She’s not fond of fish.  She has her reasons and will tell you about it someday.  The fleet outside was now screaming downwind.  Most with spinnakers up.  Some with spinnakers ripped to shreds.  Most were surfing.  Exhilarating racing conditions at the very least.  Did I mention my firm belief that they all were crazy?

I got up from my comfortable roost and made my way to the galley.  For a few days I’d been envisioning the briny, fishy, herby, spicy aroma of cooking and eating a fine fisherman’s stew.  In the morning I’d gone out foraging and had everything I needed on board.  I’d opened a bottle of Saldo zinfandel and there it was, just sitting there on the counter, bold as brass, waiting.  I poured a small glassful into one of Grandma Cleo’s fine cut wine glasses, and took a small sip.  Nirvana…  Thusly emboldened, I began chopping and prepping.  Peeling and de veining 4 large tiger shrimp, quartering 2 large sea scallops, cubing a small cod filet, opening and draining a small jar of fresh Umpqua oysters, dicing half of a red onion, quartering a handful of crimini mushrooms, smashing and dicing 3 garlic cloves, peeling and chopping a medium sized red and a yellow potato into bite sized chunks, opening a can of fire roasted heritage tomatoes… whew.  Heady work.  It was now time to pour another tot of Saldo into Cleo’s glass. Auntie Jacqui would approve.

Time to break out the stew pot and get it on the stove to warm up.  In goes a dab of butter followed by the onions.  Mixing those around until they start getting soft and then I tossed in the ‘shrooms.  I then added a bit of vegetable stock I had on hand, not broth like you were thinking… a whole different gastronomic treat stock is.  As the plot in the pot thickened I added a bit of oregano, basil, black pepper, a bit of sea salt, and bit of hot chili pepper flakes, thyme, and rosemary.  Not much of each.  I wanted a delicate broth enhancing the fishiness, not an Italian putanesca.  I would have smashed up an anchovy or two and put that in there to enhance and bring out the mid tones in the flavor of the broth, but that would have meant leaving my wonderfully warm abode again. I forgot them during my hunting and gathering expedition.  Not happening now.  It was 36 degrees outside and still blowing 30 knots.  I added an entry to my food list on Samsung notes,:  “get some anchovies for the pantry”.

In with the potato pieces then the vegetable broth to cover. Simmer for a bit so all the goodness thusly added to the pot can meld into full bass, mid and treble notes devised for full stimulation of the palate.  Chemical harmonization in its optimum arrangement.  Patiently wait for the taters to soften, then in with the fishy parts to simmer and meld their briny flavors into the admixture.  Pull the small loaf of warmed sour dough bread out of the oven.  Float a pat of butter on the top of the stew and fold that into the concoction to disperse it.  Ladle up a bowlful and finely grate of bit of asiago cheese to float on top… I sez to myself… after I tasted the first served up bite.  Hmmm… there’s sailing, motoring in motorboats, fishing, crabbing, trolling, trawling, and motoring in sailboats which is actually more common in sailboats than previous analyses has shown… coasting, off-shoring, island hopping, marinating in a marina… and in juxtaposition to all that messing around in boats, there is creating and savoring a damn good batch of fisherman’s stew paired with a glass of hearty red wine.

So next time you happen to be reading about adventuring in general or wherever Great Northern has been or is going…  Portland, St. Helens, Puget Sound, the Salish Sea, the San Juan, Gulf, Discovery, Broughton Islands, Canadian fjord  or Alaskan wilderness… I want you to think about inviting some friends over and cooking up a nice batch of fisherman’s stew, opening a respectable bottle of cab or old vine zin and savor the stew with fresh baked, warm sourdough bread, whilst swilling that fine wine…  Have a proper conversation about your ongoing and dreamed about adventures, and plans that need to be contemplated, implemented, modified, and nurtured.  And ponder for a moment, that you must unlearn what you have learned.  Do or do not.  There is no try.

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