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The Beaches of San Juan County – Part 1

20 Aug

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Okay, so to be truly “The Beaches of San Juan County” I’d need to have a much better sampling of various islands, plus I’m including one beach from Island County as well, but while we were on vacation, we visited a total of 8 beaches, and I loved every minute of it!  Most of the beaches were on Orcas Island, but one was on another island, a much smaller and rather secretive island, which I am not going to name but which will feature – nameless – in an upcoming post!

This was the beachiest trip that I’d been on for years! I have too many pictures to make this just one post – in fact, it will have to be even more than two.

Truly, I love beaches. Not the movie – though I liked that okay, much to my husband’s bewilderment – but the places. The physical, rocky, shores of the ocean.

Note I said “rocky”. I’m not as much of a fan of sandy shores.

I found, on our recent vacation on Orcas Island, Washington, that even though I grew up there, I’d forgotten – or, more likely, never spend much time thinking about the fact – that not all beaches are created the same. I mean, I knew about the basic difference in a sandy beach vrs. a rocky/stony beach, but it had been so many years since I’d been on any other sort of beach, that I’d forgotten that such a thing existed.

The first beach for your perusal today is a private beach on Orcas where we went (with permission!) to dig clams. And I’ll even give you my sister’s recipe for clam chowder that was absolutely the best I’ve ever had in my life.

No, not a beach you want to walk barefoot on!!  You'd be cut to ribbons.  Even my flipflops suffered a bit.  The entire beach is like this - broken shells, barnacles, and yes, a few pieces of beach glass.  But, apparently, the clams like it!

No, not a beach you want to walk barefoot on!! You’d be cut to ribbons. Even my flipflops suffered a bit. The entire beach is like this – broken shells, barnacles, and yes, a few pieces of beach glass. But, apparently, the clams like it!

Basically the same, only an underwater shot.  It's clear water, isn't it?  That is, until you dig in on a clam search, then it's murky - for a few minutes.  It was a wonderful beach to go wading on, as you could see so much - many Dungeness and rock crabs (the big ones came out as the tide came in) and hermit crabs.

Basically the same, only an underwater shot. It’s clear water, isn’t it? That is, until you dig in on a clam search, then it’s murky – for a few minutes. It was a wonderful beach to go wading on, as you could see so much – many Dungeness and rock crabs (the big ones came out as the tide came in) and hermit crabs.

This beach was actually a cove, and for the whole half-circle the water was wonderful - and not even very cold, it was such a sunny and warm day.

This beach was actually a cove, and for the whole half-circle the water was wonderful – and not even very cold, it was such a sunny and warm day.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #1: Nope.  Not a clam.  An oyster.  Back into the water it goes.  Yes, oysters are marvelous to eat, but not what we were after that day.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #1: Nope. Not a clam. An oyster. Back into the water it goes. Yes, oysters are marvelous to eat, but not what we were after that day.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #2: The tasty, delicious Butter Clams!  It's not a fast or easy way to get one's dinner, but it's worth it in the end.  The pioneers on Orcas often supplemented their diets with clams - often to the point where their primary protein WAS clams.  Can only imagine the time and effort that took.

The tasty, delicious Butter Clams! It’s not a fast or easy way to get one’s dinner, but it’s worth it in the end. The pioneers on Orcas often supplemented their diets with clams – often to the point where their primary protein WAS clams. Can only imagine the time and effort that took.

My sister, my nephew and his family, oh, and Boo.

My sister, my nephew and his family, oh, and Boo.

My two favorite Minnesota boys hard at work.

My two favorite Minnesota boys hard at work.

Even Boo got in on the hard work - for a while, anyway.

Even Boo got in on the hard work – for a while, anyway.

Sometimes it's a group effort!

Sometimes it’s a group effort!

You have to dig quite deep to get to the good stuff.

You have to dig quite deep to get to the good stuff.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #3: This is not a shellfish!  At first I thought, "Oh, a rock that looks just like an egg!"  And then I picked it up only to discover that it was an egg.  A seagull?  Not sure, but it did not make it into our take-home treasure box!!

Shellfish Identification Lesson #3: This is not a shellfish! At first I thought, “Oh, a rock that looks just like an egg!” And then I picked it up only to discover that it was an egg. A seagull? Not sure, but it did not make it into our take-home treasure box!!

The youngest member of our expedition did not enjoy herself as much as the rest of us.  Her Uncle Sailboat King kept her occupied for a LONG time, further up the beach.

The youngest member of our expedition did not enjoy herself as much as the rest of us. Her Uncle Sailboat King kept her occupied for a LONG time, further up the beach.

Baby starfish?  Or just naturally that small always?  Not sure.

Baby starfish? Or just naturally that small always? Not sure.

Shellfish Identificatino Lesson #4: A Hairy Chiton, a mollusk - though not an edible one.  At least, I assume it's a shellfish.  I'm no expert, so don't quote me for a research paper on this!  There's a teeny Limpit clinging to the rock, showing just beneath the hairs on his upper center.

Shellfish Identificatino Lesson #4: A Hairy Chiton, a mollusk – though not an edible one. At least, I assume it’s a shellfish. I’m no expert, so don’t quote me for a research paper on this! There’s a teeny Limpit in the hairs on his upper left.

Very gritty mud.

Very gritty mud.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #5: This is a Cockle...yes, it's a clam, and yes, I understand that it's tasty, but apparently they're a pain in the rear end to clean...so, we ditched all the cockles we dug up.  Which, sadly, was rather a lot.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #5: This is a Cockle…yes, it’s a clam, and yes, I understand that it’s tasty, but apparently they’re a pain in the rear end to clean…so, we ditched all the cockles we dug up. Which, sadly, was rather a lot.

Sorry that this isn't a better picture.  Guess where we found this guy?  INSIDE OF A CLAM!  He must have gotten in when he was tiny and then could never get out - or chose not to.  He was practically shell less and albino and fat and he couldn't really walk too well.  We let him go into the water, but I have a feeling that his life was not going to be a long one.  Fascinating, though...

Sorry that this isn’t a better picture. Guess where we found this guy? INSIDE OF A CLAM! He must have gotten in when he was tiny and then could never get out – or chose not to. He was practically shell less and albino and fat and he couldn’t really walk too well. We let him go into the water, but I have a feeling that his life was not going to be a long one. Fascinating, though…

A beach is a perfect place for a wee boy to get wet and explore and have a marvelous time!!

A beach is a perfect place for a wee boy to get wet and explore and have a marvelous time!!

AND NOW, WHAT YOUR MOUTH IS WATERING FOR: MY SISTER’S RECIPE FOR FABULOUS CLAM CHOWDER! (Is it as good with canned/jarred clams? Probably not, to be honest, but if you like chowder, why not give it a try?!!)

Here’s the e-mail I got from my Island-Living Sister:

My recipe for clam chowder –

Bring enough shovels! Dig clams! (Butter and/or Horse clams) Remove from shells, leaving the empties on the beach. Clean, making sure to slice the neck in half lengthwise down both valves to rinse it all out, keeping what liquid there is from the clams and grind! (You will not have all the liquor from the clams when you clean them on the beach.) Set aside.

I do it all in one big pot so you get the bacon stuck-on bits to later end up in the chowder.

Brown bacon, lots, remove to a paper towel to drain

Onion, chopped, added to the bacon grease until tender, remove to drain if you like

3 or 4 potatoes, diced to the size you want to eat. Put in the large pot. Add back in the onions if you took them out. Add your clam liquor if you have any. Cover with enough water to cover potatoes and onions. Bring to a boil until potatoes are almost done.

Add clams, 2 cups or more, or a couple of cans if you can’t dig your own clams!

Add 2 cans evaporated milk, or more if making quite a lot

Salt and pepper

Heat to almost a boil, and it should be done.

I, GRETCHEN, HAVE ONE CAVEAT TO ADD: IF YOU ARE CLEANING YOUR OWN CLAMS, YOU MUST HAVE A STRONG STOMACH! The smell is rather strong…and it’s all a little overwhelmingly beachy!! BUT…it does NOT taste like the beach at all. It’s marvelous!!!!!!!

MANY THANKS TO MY SISTER FOR ALL HER HARD CLEANING AND GRINDING AND COOKING WORK SO THAT WE COULD ALL ENJOY SUCH A WONDERFUL MEAL!!!!!!!!!!! My brother-in-law made fresh bread for us, too, which was also fantastic! I just wish I’d taken a picture of the finished product. I was so excited to eat that it never occurred to me!!!

PS – Be careful if you are ever clamming and/or oystering (is that a word?!) to check first on something called Red Tide, a potential lethal algae bloom in the water that effects shellfish and the people who eat them! Sadly, my nephew’s wedding this coming weekend was supposed to include 400 oysters…but, due to Red Tide, will include zero. So sad!!!

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A Very Good Day in a Busy Week – and a Rustic Peach Tart that will Make Your Day Even Better

30 Jul

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We have had an adventurous week in the O’Donnell household. Visitors. Animals. Jet lag. And several hundred photos (okay, more than that) to peruse and remember our vacation in Washington.

First: our visitors. Audrey her husband and Randy, from  one of my favorite blogs, Minnesota Prairie Roots, stopped by on their way to a family reunion. How lovely it was to see my friend again! We enjoyed an evening of laughing and eating together just as we had at their home one year ago. The recipe I’m including at the end of this post is in honor of her!

Audrey and Boo.  Such a lovely photo!

Audrey and Boo. Such a lovely photo!

Secondly: our animals. When we left for vacation on July 4th we left the care and keeping of our two cats (and my tomatoes, herbs and flowers) to our neighbor’s daughter. We had no worries. The cats, however, seemed to feel differently. Even with a visitor twice a day, they decided that they had been abandoned and so set off to seek their fortunes.

One, Copernicus, (as blogged about here  in her skunk vrs. cat cat-astrophe and here when she was expecting her kittens and a couple weeks ago, here) stopped by from time to time while we were away, but her year-old son, Zephyr, did not – at least not that anyone ever saw. So, when we returned at midnight on the 20th, no cats were to be seen at all. Thankfully, Copernicus showed up the next evening, looking healthy and fine and far cuddlier and purringer (not a word but I’m choosing to use it!) than ever before. For several days she loved us and cozied up to us – making us think that we should leave her more often!

But there was no sign of Zephyr. The kids and The Sailboat King took walks looking for her. We even drove around, calling, and driving in a neighbor’s driveway when we saw an orange cat…but no sign. Nothing. Nada.

I admit, I was thinking the worst. But we were still praying.

And then, Friday morning, the 26th of July, after not having been seen by anyone since the 4th of July, he showed up, walking nonchalantly across the driveway, just as I came upstairs in the morning.

My eyes bugged out. I opened the front door and called to him. He stopped and turned and began walking toward me. I reached for him and he backed off. I knelt down. Held out my hands slowly. Called him by name. Saw his golden eyes looking up at me, inquiringly, accusingly?

And he came to me.

Back in his favorite spot on the deck.

Back in his favorite spot on the deck.

I picked him up and went into the house.

“Hey, guys! It’s Zephyr! Zephyr is home!” I woke them up with my calling and they all came running.

I admit it, I was crying.

It was a good day, beginning with the kitty’s return and ending with Audrey’s visit. 

Beach treasures - being sanctified in the Minnesota sun.

Beach treasures – being sanctified in the Minnesota sun.

Thirdly: The Jet Lag. What can I say? It is what it is. It’s only two hours different here in the Mid West from the Pacific Northwest, but it’s been hard to recover!

Either Zephyr became a pirate on his adventures away from home, or he was yawning after being wakened up.  He and his mama seem happy to be home.  And we're quite happy, too!

Either Zephyr became a pirate on his adventures away from home, or he was yawning after being wakened up. He and his mama seem happy to be home. And we’re quite happy, too!

Peach Rustic Tart Recipe, which I made for Audrey and Randy – I like this style of pie because it’s so much easier than a traditional pie! This is a Martha Stewart recipe – and it’s delicious!! 🙂 Here’s the link: Stone-Fruit Galette. PS – I sprinkled a little more cornstarch over the top and drained the fruit before adding it to the crust because I hate peach pies being too runny.  Oh, and I added Turbinado Sugar on the top of the crust instead of the fine sugar that she suggests.  It’s so yummy!

The marvelous rustic tart...or galette, as Martha Stewart says.  I call it a tart.  It's a more normal word.  :-)

The marvelous rustic tart…or galette, as Martha Stewart says. I call it a tart. It’s a more normal word. 🙂

Soup’s On!

24 Jan

I am a firm believer in the power of soup. No, not for healing from the common cold. Nor for “healing” of my soul…no, I just believe that soup is wonderful, delicious stuff, and if it cures my body and my soul while I’m eating it, so much the better.

My mother is a soup magician. When I was growing up, she could take turkey bones, leftover green beans, a little lemon juice, onion and celery and rice, and make a pot of deliciousness which would bring us all running when “soup’s on” echoed down the glass-walled hallway. When I was home over Christmas, she made soup too – though with quinoa noodles, a noticeable change since the ‘80’s – and proved that she still has what it takes to bring us running.

Because I’d watched Mom turn leftovers into magic so many times, I wasn’t afraid to try making soup myself when finally on my own in my tiny grad-school kitchen. It must be in my genes. Luckily for my taste buds, I was not disappointed.

We finally got some snow last night; about 5 inches of powdery, dry stuff with which the prairie winds have a heyday. The lack of snow to this point has somehow curbed my soup-longing but today I’m drooling over cookbooks, planning at least a week of soup, soup, soup!!

Wild rice - before it's cooked.


Here’s my all-time favorite – Wild Rice Chicken Soup. (It’s my 9-year old daughter’s favorite, too). This even won my husband over, and he wasn’t a fan of wild rice. Wild rice, in case you don’t know, isn’t really rice at all. Also known as Canada Rice or Indian Rice, it is the flowering head of a certain type of grass which grows in certain shallow lakes. Harvesting is a bit of a bother, as each grain is gotten by whacking the tops of the grasses over the edge of a tarp-lined canoe, causing the grains to fall onto the tarp. This means you need two people for sure – one canoeing, one whacking – and, as you can guess, the cost of wild rice reflects all the time and bother of the harvest.

That being said, it’s more easily found than it used to be, when people in Minnesota could find it but no one else ever could. It grows well in Northern MN, as well as (as the name suggests), parts of Canada. I know it can be found in Trader Joes across the United States, though I’m not certain it can be found in Australia – sorry to you, my Aussie readers! As with everything these days, I’m sure it can be found on-line wherever you live!

After it's cooked and the grains have popped open. Steamy goodness!

Cooking wild rice for a LONG TIME is necessary to soften the tough outer shell of the grain. The packaging should have directions to cook the rice. I think using the stovetop is best, though I’ve done it in the oven (takes 2 hours) and I’ve even seen microwave directions, though I’ve never tried it that way. Rinse the rice before you cook it, to get rid of dust and/or small stones. You can buy pre-cooked and canned wild rice…but that always seems like a bit of a cop-out to me! It does speed up the process, but it also adds to the cost…and, most likely, the sodium levels.

Cooking times for the rice may vary. You can tell the rice is done cooking when MOST of the grains of popped open. There may be some water left – it does not have to soak up all of the liquid, just enough to pop the majority of the grains of rice. Conversely, sometimes you have to add more water if not enough of the grains seem to have popped.

The butter...the onion...the flour...the broth

So, cook ONE AND ONE HALF CUPS OF WILD RICE according to the package directions. Then, when it’s ready, (it will take approximately one hour, sometimes half that again.) you can proceed with the rest of the yummy soup.

You will need, in addition to the rice:
8 Tablespoons butter
5 Tablespoons finely chopped onion
2/3 cup flour
4 cups chicken broth – I often end up needing more…
3 cups cooked wild rice (from the one cup, dry that you already cooked – there may be more and that’s fine – but if you do add more, know that you may have to adjust the salt etc.)
1 teaspoon (or to taste) salt – though more is needed at the end
Two grated carrots – or even 3!
Two cups cooked, chopped chicken (approximately)
1 – 1 ½ cups half and half
Pepper to taste
I always need to add more salt at the end and sometimes add a little onion powder too, to up the flavor a wee bit. I have even been known to add chicken bullion (shhh…don’t tell any real cooks about that).

Melt butter in saucepan, sauté onion until tender. Blend in flour, gradually stir in broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil, boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in rice and salt and carrots, simmer about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken. Mix in half and half and heat, but try not to boil with the half and half in it. Add pepper and more salt if needed. I often will add a little more broth and/or half and half at this point – depending on thickness desired, personal taste, etc.

All done!!!


I am by no means a professional chef, nor do I ever desire to be, but everyone who has had this likes it, and I have shared the recipe many times. Even non-soup people like this recipe!! I made this for a friend from church when she was diagnosed with cancer shortly after we moved here to SW Minnesota. Her husband remembered the soup when, 13 years later, she died of the disease. Now that’s a special soup.

So…there you have it. My medicine for a winter’s day. ENJOY!

Why does it look orange? The carrots...I may have added too many! (But can you ever have too many veggies?!) Then I added the rest of my broth because it was thawed and needed to be used...so it looks a little thin in the picture, but it actually is very thick and filling and fabulous!


PS – there are many other wild rice recipes out there, including many salads, but the only way my husband likes it is in this soup, so I’ve not tried them. I’d love to hear any input about more wild rice recipes!! Then, perhaps, I could try to expand his palate a little!!

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