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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Northwest artisan's famous fish stew

Last night in Tacoma I stood outside in the raw January wind and thought of Carrie's fish stew. My friend Carrie Rice lives in scenic Port Townsend, where she and her husband Rex enjoy a life filled with friends, interests, worthwhile causes, good books and films, his music and her business. Rex plays trombone and she runs Carrie's Caning, repairing or replacing hand-caned seats and backs on antique chairs. But if Carrie had a kitchen down by the docks she could get rich selling bowl and after bowl of fish stew.

My idea of what soup could be changed forever the first time my husband and I experienced it. Chunks of firm white cod, onions, peppers, navy beans, Kalamata olives, plus both diced and sun-dried tomatoes conspired to tempt us from within a rich tomato/clam juice/red wine broth, fragrant with garlic and herbs. Waiting for the steaming bowlfuls to cool seemed like torture, only partially relieved by a fresh loaf of crusty bread, a bottle of Rex's homemade wine and the good company of old friends. Nothing could better represent true Northwest hospitality.

Carrie doesn't remember where she first got the basic recipe, long ago, but by now she's made it her own, changing it here and there according to what she has on hand, what herbs are available in her garden, and seasonal prices. Any vegetables or herbs she doesn't grow herself she buys in bulk at Port Townsend's Food Co-op. Instead of canned Carrie uses her home grown tomatoes, fresh or chopped and frozen, and soaked dried beans which are pre-cooked before adding. Our first taste had Fava beans. She varies the herbs, using fresh basil when possible, dried if she has it, or whatever is out in the yard. If you decide to make this soup, you can do as you please, which is the best method for making soup anyway. Rex and Carrie believe that with things like improvised jazz solos, antiques you repair yourself, or a pot of soup on the stove, no matter how wonderful the end result may be, the artistry and joy start in the process. So when the cold wind blows may your only tears be those you get from chopping onions and may you find warmth and welcome at home with a pot of fish stew.


1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large red, yellow, or green bell pepper, chopped
2 8-oz. bottles of clam juice or the equivalent made from "Better than Bouillon" brand Clam Base
2 14-oz. cans of salt free diced tomatoes, or equivalent fresh or frozen
1 cup dry red wine or tomato juice
4 large or 5 small cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup combination of fresh herbs like basil, thyme or rosemary (go easy on the rosemary) or a lesser amount of dried
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced
1 or 2 15-oz cans of navy beans, drained and rinsed, or equivalent cooked beans
About 1 lb. firm fish like cod, cut into chunks 2" in size
2 Tablespoons fennel seeds, lightly crushed
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
a few hungry friends

Put the sun-dried tomatoes and about 1 3/4 cups water in a saucepan and simmer until the tomatoes are very soft. Drain and discard the water.

Using a large soup pot, saute' onion and pepper in olive oil until softened.
Process the sun-dried tomatoes and 1 bottle of clam juice in a food processor or blender until smooth and add to the pot. Add remaining clam juice, diced tomatoes, herbs, garlic, bay leaves, olives and wine, and stir to combine. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in beans, fish, and fennel seeds. Simmer until fish is cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle it into bowls (serves about 8) and sprinkle the cheese on top of each serving.
The good friends will already be at the table eating your bread and drinking your wine, so just pass out the bowls and enjoy!

By the way, if you have an antique chair that needs caning you can reach Carrie at

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Serving My Country With Sandpaper

Imprisoned by fog that now seems permanent in Tacoma, I think about last Monday. On that morning the gray captor itself hid me as I slipped out of town on black ice. Over the bridge and north to Port Townsend I drove, never looking back, and in less than two hours I stood on a dock in Boat Haven, squinting into sunshine and a sky too blue for January.

“Let me take that from you,” said a voice above me. I saw the smiling face of someone already on board the old wooden schooner ADVENTURESS, reaching down for my bag. After passing it up I could grab the ladder, take the big step over water, and climb aboard. The gesture of lending a hand symbolized our purpose in being there. It was the National Day of Service. Along with other members of Sound Experience, the non-profit that owns the ninety-six-year-old ship, I’d come to spend the day doing maintenance, cleaning and repairs to this important piece of maritime history, so ADVENTURESS can continue in her current role: environmental education and youth leadership development. We naturally answered the call for help put out by Executive Director Catherine Collins, but so did a bunch of citizens who’d heard about the work party through an excellent story in the Peninsula Daily News, by Jeff Chew. Young and old, some had never been aboard a sailing ship but showed up anyway, saying “How can I help?” All were welcome. There was plenty of work to do, work money can’t buy, because there isn’t enough money to buy it.

President Obama, though not yet sworn in at the time, stressed the importance of this past Martin Luther King Day as a National Day of Service, and as presidents before him have done, asked citizens to help meet our country’s needs by volunteering. I am encouraged by figures indicating how Americans not only listened, but like the newcomers on ADVENTURESS, took action. Government statistics prove it was the largest such event ever, with over 12,100 volunteer projects, more than twice as many as last year. I’m encouraged because even before taking office our new president demonstrated leadership abilities strong enough to bring about that statistically demonstrable difference. Now it’s up to us.

Helping in a food bank, classroom, library or senior center may not seem like much compared to tackling huge issues like war and the economy. But volunteering matters. Ask the family in a small town whose burning house was saved by a volunteer fire department, the child struggling to learn to read, the nursing home resident, the recipients of Hospice care, the victims of disasters helped by the Red Cross, the club members who pick up freeway litter or organize canned food and clothing drives. Think especially of those risking their lives in war because they volunteered for military service. Each in their own way, Americans always come through when the need is there. I sanded spars and helped wash down a cabin.

A local nonprofit organization is a good place to find opportunities to help. Nonprofits contribute so much and struggle so hard, especially during tough times. When huge corporations fail, stores and factories close, and people lose their jobs, priorities change. Causes popular during more prosperous times, like helping the environment, can suffer. No matter what skills may or may not have, you can bring something of value to others as a volunteer, even if all you do is be a good listener or show some kindness. And if you have a certain interest, like I do in ADVENTURESS, with her historical significance and present purpose, you can pursue that interest while doing good.

As we begin 2009 during difficult times let us come together as a nation and each find a way to give at least a little of ourselves through volunteering. Years from now, when the child you mentored contributes to society, the tree you planted stands tall, your local salmon stream sparkles with clean water, the friendships you made have deepened, and maybe… just maybe… when our nation once again enjoys peace and prosperity, you might look back on these days as “the best of times” after all.

Some helpful links:

Corporation for National and Community Service

Volunteering in America
USA Freedom Corps for Nonprofits
Greater Tacoma Community Foundation

American Sail Training Association (ASTA)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Celebrate Urban Birds!" program offers mini-grants

I love the way one good thing leads to another. For last week's blog post about hummingbirds I contacted Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology for permission to use a photo. My gracious contact there, Patricia Leonard, just emailed me about an exciting opportunity.

"Celebrate Urban Birds!" is a nationwide program designed to bring people together through planned events to learn more about birds in their urban environments, to appreciate and celebrate their presence, and ultimately to help them. It focuses on education, the "greening" of cities, bird-friendly gardening, and even the arts.

Visual art, music, literature and drama all bring a deeper awareness. This program involves citizens with the world of birds through celebrating their beauty and significance in our lives, and it incorporates, supports, and encourages art on many levels. That even includes an art challenge, and prizes. Information can be found on the website, along with an abundance of resources for planning, promoting and making the most of your own group event.

It sounds like a lot of fun but there's also a more serious side. That's why Cornell offers "mini-grants" ranging from $100 to $500, to help those planning events. (Applications can be filled out online but the deadline is February 15, 2009.) Researchers need our help on a local level to learn more about how well America's urban birds are doing. Birds trying to survive in cities live in close contact with humans. Every day our lifestyles and choices seriously impact whatever habitat they can find, whether it's a rooftop, park, or your own backyard. As "citizen scientists," participants in the Celebration are asked to spend a mere ten minutes observing birds in their communities and gathering information, then easily submitting their data online. By doing so we can make valuable contributions to this important effort.

You can help. Here's a chance to plan a fun and worthwhile event for your club, organization, business, school, church, community center, senior center, day care, or even a group of neighbors. What could be more perfect for kids? This is also a great idea for parents who are homeschooling. It's easy and can be as simple or involved as you choose. You'll find every bit of information you could ever need, plus inspiring ideas, examples, and so much more on the "Celebrate Urban Birds!" website. Just by registering you can receive a FREE celebration kit (while supplies last). Each kit contains a welcome letter, two gorgeous and informative posters, a sticker, a simple data form, and a packet of sunflower seeds to plant in your garden or container. (Note: Although the kits are offered at no cost, any donations made are very much appreciated and help to perpetuate this important program, and can be made online.)

Let's get started. First, order your kit and read the website, then have fun planning your own unique way of celebrating. The ten minutes spent gathering data to report can make a difference for urban birds. Next time you see a pigeon on the street, or that little songbird chirping and looking for crumbs near your outdoor table at a coffee shop, try to imagine city life without them. Remember how we all share this world and how much happier life is when we practice being good neighbors. Help make your city greener as a way of encouraging birds. They keep us connected with nature, even in the midst of concrete and congestion and their presence in our lives is truly something to celebrate.

Note: Please spread the word by sharing this Good Life Northwest blog post with your friends or anyone who might be interested. Thank you.