My grandfather passed away two weeks ago. It happened quickly and none of the family was quite prepared for it, even though his health had been deteriorating steadily for some time. He was buried this past weekend. For several reasons, I chose to remain at home and instead, go back "home" this summer, when the girls are out of school. That way, I can turn going home into a vacation for them - we can visit family and friends and galavant around the northeast for a whole month. They will love it. I will be able to spend much more time with my mom than I otherwise would have by just going home for a funeral, and that is very important to me. I will take the girls home where I grew up, we will spend time with my mom, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We will look at old family pictures and talk about family history. We will take a Sunday drive and visit Grandpa's old haunts, where he grew up, where he fished with his father. We will go to the ocean and stick our toes in the sand, and go clamming, and smell the salty air and listen to the waves lap the beach. I will go and sit by Grandpa's grave and say goodbye, and tell him how grateful I am, and cry. I know he would understand all of this, all the reasons I chose to wait to say goodbye. I know, because nothing was more important to him than his family. And as I try to do my best for my family, I have him in mind - selfless and loving. I really believe there really is no better way to live.
I grew up with Grandpa. It was not always easy, being a teenager with opinions and living with equally opinionated grandparents. But we always had a home. And that home always smelled good. Grandpa liked food and he liked to eat. He was always cooking something. He taught me a lot and he shared stories while doing it. He showed me the "right way" to fry an egg (heat bacon fat till very hot, crack egg into skillet, fry until set on the bottom, then tip the pan and very quickly spoon the hot fat over the egg yolk until a thin skin forms over the yolk - this has to be very fast or the fat will not be hot enough!). He waxed eloquent over his mother's pancakes. He talked about not having enough to eat growing up during the Depression. He ate everything I made - even if it was terrible, he always said it was great.
One of Grandpa's specialties was clam chowder. Often it would take a couple of days to make, and it was different every time. Sometimes the broth was clear and sometimes it was cream based. It always had a lot of butter and it never contained tomatoes. He often thew oysters into it too, consternating the rest of the family and turning it more into a fisherman's smorgasboard than a true clam chowder. But that's what made his cooking interesting - he used what was available. Most of the time, everyone but Grandpa felt his chowder was a heart-attack-in-a-bowl with all that cream and butter and bacon, but boy his soup tasted good. Every time I think of clam chowder, I think of Grandpa. So tonight I made a pot of it in his memory. Although I enjoy a clear chowder, I am partial to cream based. I have not had clam chowder since going dairy-free four years ago, and tonight I really enjoyed real New England clam chowder (goodness knows the only way I'll get it is to make it myself!). Here's my version - definitely not a heart-attack-in-a-bowl. But it looks like Grandpa's chowder and it reminds me of him, and that's the best part.
3 slices bacon
1 small onion, diced
3 tbsp. dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
coconut cream from 1 can coconut milk
1 bottle clam juice
2 cans chopped clams with juice
2 small russet potatoes, diced
1 tbsp. arrowroot starch
Cook the bacon in a skillet until crisp. Drain bacon on a paper towel, then chop and set aside.
Pour the bacon fat into a medium pot, add the diced onion and cook over medium-low heat until beginning to soften. Add the white wine, bay leaf, black pepper and thyme. Cook until the wine reduces by half. Add the coconut cream (skimmed from 1 can of full-fat coconut milk), stir until melted. Add the bottle of clam juice and the juice from the 2 cans of chopped clams, reserving the clams. Bring to a simmer. Add the potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are soft.
Remove 1 cup of the broth to a small bowl, then whisk in the arrowroot until smooth. Add this to the soup pot and simmer until the soup has thickened slightly. Turn off the heat and add the chopped clams. Ladle the soup into bowls. Add a tablespoon of chopped bacon to each bowl and serve hot.