That was the story of Renee Erickson's A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus. When it finally arrived, it just sat on the table, because we wanted to savor the moment. Then we got all excited because we wanted to write about it. And then...
So today, I picked up A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus and began flipping through it like I had just gotten my copy. So I checked to see what I had written about it. Like this happens all too often, there was no "there" there. How in the world did we never write about this book. We hang our head in shame.
First, Renee Erickson just looks like she would so much fun, we really don't care if she can cook a lick. We are also fond of the idea that she went to school to be a painter. The world needs more cooks who are painters. She opened her first restaurant when she was young and enlisted her entire family to help her out. She cooked because she wanted to cook, to offer up a small, fun place for people to break bread.
She learned to cook reading Julia Child and our fave, Elizabeth David, she loves France and her favorite Birthday dinner is steak! Who doesn't love her?
The book features stories about various providers for her restaurants, stories about the dishes, helpful notes, and the occasional shopping tip. The recipes in the book are seasonal, and organized in menu's. One can cook a menu or an individual dish. One of my favorites is Mussels in Cider.
Mussels in Cider
In Blainville-sur-Mer, a tiny town on Normandy’s Cotentin Peninsula, there’s a quirky little restaurant called La Cale, whose official street address is “La Plage,” or, simply, “the beach.” It overlooks the tidal flats that stretch five kilometers into the sea—an area that accounts for more than 10 percent of France’s oyster production—but at high tide, when all traces of aquaculture disappear, it’s simply a beachfront bistro with a few legs of lamb on an open hearth. It’s homey, complete with picnic tables and a “serve yourself ” rule that explains why patrons cut their own bread, fetch their own water, and choose their own wine from a shelf next to the bar. The rule does not explain why the room is adorned in giant needlepoints of various nudes, both male and female, but the artworks add a je ne sais quoi that I’d miss if I returned to find them replaced with something more modest.
When you order mussels there, they come in the pot they were cooked in, steamed in cider and topped with a generous dollop of creme fraiche, which whoever has thought to grab a ladle gets to stir into them just before serving. This recipe is similar. And as you do at La Cale, you should eat a small mussel first, then use its shell as a utensil to pry the mussels out of the remaining shells.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 cups dry hard cider
3 pounds mussels, cleaned and debearded
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, for seasoning
3/4 cup creme fraiche
1/2 cup loosely packed whole tarragon leaves (no stems)
Crusty bread, for serving
In a large, high-sided saucepan or soup pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add the shallots and cook, stirring, until the shallots are soft, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the mustard, add the cider, then increase the heat to medium-high. Add the mussels and cook, covered, until they begin to open, about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and begin transferring the mussels that have cooked to a large bowl, stirring and prodding until all the mussels have opened and have been transferred to the bowl. (Discard any mussels that do not open.) Increase the heat to high and simmer the cider for 3 minutes, or until it has reduced by about a third. Season the liquid to taste with lemon juice and salt, then reduce the heat to low. Return the mussels to the pot, add the creme fraiche and tarragon, and stir gently until the mussels are warmed through and coated with the cream. Serve immediately, with the bread.
Now if only Renee were here to enjoy them with us.