On Oysters and Artists

Aunt Linda here wishing you a very very Happy New Year this first week of 2017.

 

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Water is on my mind today, after the long awaited rains we received in the Old Pueblo a few days ago. Like many desert dwellers, I can sometimes smell rain days before it arrives – our nostrils literally feel the  cool, moist and clean air entering our noses and mouths both before and after rain. We feel and sense rain like the mammals we are. Todays recipe is inspired by water.

Water was also featured as a central character in a movie I just watched: The Secret of Roan Inish. It got me thinking about food from water: Sea Stews and seafoods. In the film Seaweed Soup is made by a Silkie member of the family;  we visit it again at the end of the movie  as it is being made (generations later) by the family matriarch.  (Now, lest you dismiss Seaweed Soup too quickly, jut google it. It is Korean fare, touted for aiding in breast milk production. The ancient Inca also harvested and ate (and traded!) seaweed….explore this on your own if you wish.).

Oysters have caught my attention.  The more I read about oysters, the more I like them, so todays recipe is Oyster Stew. It turns out that Frida Kahlo enjoyed making Oyster Stew, so in a bit we’ll look at both my fathers Oyster Stew Recipe as well as Frida’s.

First though, lets look into Oysters a bit more. They are live animals – bivalve mollusks, or two-shelled mollusks. And they are carnivores. Go figure. And, like all of us animals, sensitive to environmental stimuli.  They remind me yet again that everything is connected to everything.

Oysters function like filters. They feed by filtering water through their gills extracting algae and microscopic creatures .  And filter water they do!  They can filter from 30-50 gallons of water a day as they are feeding and in the process clean the water – removing toxins and pollutants.

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This photo from my dad’s pan gives you an idea of the filters oysters have.

George Monbiot, in his book FERAL describes the powerful affect of these two shelled living filters. He refers to “the remarkable abundance of oysters on the eastern sea board of the Americas …(and in other seas) …a” map made in 1883, 500 years after trawling began, marks an area of the North Sea the size of Wales as oyster reef.” Stay with that a moment and really take it in: that huge area as an oyster reef.  He poses the possibility that that “grey sea might once have been clear. Like most two-shelled mollusks, oysters filter the seawater. They also stabilize the sediments of the seadbed. Less mud would have been raised, and that which was washed into the water would quickly have been extracted again”.

Fast forward to major fishing industry traffic and coastal pollution-pressures and oysters get stressed to the point where they suffer from lack of oxygen and are overwhelmed by the abundance of sediments – this, Monbiot writes, ” makes them “susceptible to disease, which further reduced their number. The report describing this effect remarks that Chesapeake Bay, Baltic, Adriatic, and parts of the Gulf of Mexico, are now ‘bacterially dominated ecosystems'”.

Oysters are Accidental Artists as well. They form pearls as a response to irritants like sand that slip into their shells. These particles are uncomfortable – irritating. In an attempt to reduce the scratchiness factor, these living animals secret a substance called nacre to coat the irritating intruder.  Layer upon layer of this substance is laid down for the life of the two shelled being, the result are beautiful pearls.

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Frida’s Fiestas cookbook – written by Diego Rivera’s daughter, features a recipe for Oyster Soup – that was served at Frida and Diego’s wedding in August of 1929. I found this on http://cookwithus.com/blog/.

(Wedding Day menu:  Oyster soup, white rice with Plantains, Huauzontles in green sauce, Chiles stuffed with cheese, chiles stuffed with picadillo, black mole from Oaxaca, and red Hominy stew from Jalisco) I have heard that Oysters are considered an aphrodisiac.

Oyster Soup

This splendid oyster soup was served at  Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s wedding reception.

  • 1 large onion,chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 quarts oysters, shucked with liquid
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 crusty rolls, cubed and fried

Saute the onion and garlic in butter until softened. Stir in the flour and cook for a few seconds. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and simmer for about 10 minutes until thickened. Drain the oysters, reserving the liquid. Add the oyster liquid and chicken broth to the saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer for a few minutes. Add the oysters and parsley and simmer a minute more. Pour the soup over the bread croutons in a soup tureen, serve piping hot.

Chuck’s Oyster Stew: (made right in my father’s kitchen)img_2975

Ingredients:

-16 oz of fresh oysters

-2Tablespoons of butter

-1 and 1/2 cups milk

-Tabasco to taste – or try Chiltepin!

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drain the oysters – (reserving the oyster juice for another step)

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saute oysters in butter

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Saute the oysters in butter, while the milk and oyster juice warm

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pour the milk/oyster juice mixture into the pan with sauted oysters

 

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enjoy with tabasco – or with crushed, dried chiltepin

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We all have filters. Some are cultural, some familial .. religious, political, genetic, mental & emotional. It is a powerful act to watch out that those filters don’t get overwhelmed. It seems to me that if we could use our filters more skillfully we might all be better off.

And by all I mean the birds and bees, trees and tide pools, animals and humans, alike.

Have a wonderful 2017.

 

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