I always find this time of year to be so bittersweet. Fall’s coming and summer is almost over. On the sweet side is anticipating the little thrill that comes when the weather turns crisp and you put on your fall boots for the first time or climb into bed in a new pair of flannel p.j.’s.
On the flip side is seeing the gorgeous, intoxicating summer days grow shorter, and knowing they won’t be back for months and months.
I don’t know what summer was like in your area this year, but in the northeast the weather was overall great, and much warmer than last year, when it never edged above 90 degrees. We had more than a few very steamy days, and it brought back memories of summers when I was young. I’m sure you have plenty of those kinds of memories, too.
When I was growing up—north of Albany, NY, in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains–summer for my brothers and me meant gathering kids from the neighborhood and riding our bikes to a little beach along the Hudson River so we could swim there all afternoon. (Can you believe our parents used to let us do something like that? The Hudson in those days was about as clean as Guanabara Bay in Rio, the polluted body of water the press was buzzing about before the Olympics, but it was a less uptight time and parents often allowed kids to do their own thing, without worrying we’d end up with our photo on a milk carton one day). On the way home from the river, we always stopped and bought ice cream cones at a place called Dobert’s Dairy.
I’m not eating as much ice cream as I used to, but this summer I rediscovered another seasonal pleasure from my past: steamed clams. My mom was a HUGE clam lover. She introduced me to steamed littlenecks when I was about 12, and it was love at first taste. She often surprised me with steam clams when I visited her, and during the last years of her life, I would do the honors, bringing a bag of them in a cooler when I traveled north from Manhattan. Kind of Have Clams, Will Travel.
For some reason, I let this great pleasure fall by the wayside after my mom died–until a couple of months ago. I was shopping at the ShopRite in Clinton, PA on our way to our home in Pennsylvania and discovered that they were selling big mesh bags of littlenecks. So one day I picked up a bag for my Saturday lunch. My husband, Brad, doesn’t like clams so we decided I’d be eating them on my own as he enjoyed a chef salad.
The big question, though, was “What the heck do I serve with them?” At clambakes you get all sorts of side dishes, like corn on the cob, but I didn’t feel like going to a lot of trouble.
And then I recalled a moment from a trip Brad and I took to Provence years ago. In a café one day in the exquisite town of Aix en Provence, we found ourselves sitting next to a couple who had ordered a huge platter of raw oysters and were eating them for lunch with a bottle of rosé. And nothing else–unless you count the Gauloise cigarettes they smoked through the meal.
So I decided to let that couple be my inspiration. I steamed the clams and devoured them with nothing more than a tall glass of rosé (no Gauloises, though!). They were fantastic! So I started doing it every Saturday.
My steamed clam lunches have made me think of many wonderful nights with my mom.
And they’ve also reminded me of how, so often, less is more.