Feasts with friends, family fuel fine holidays

jdodge@theolympian.comDecember 31, 2013 

Four fabulous days of feasting with family and old and newfound friends is what I’ll remember most about the 2013 holiday season.

It started on Christmas Eve morning with a long line of customers that snaked from the cash register inside Olympia Seafood Co., past the seafood display case, outside the door, down the sidewalk to the southwest end of the parking lot. Most of us were there to pick up our pre-ordered, cooked and cleaned Dungeness crab, fresh off the fishing vessel Lowater, based out of Tokeland near Willapa Bay, and skippered and crewed by seafood co-owner Kira DeRito’s brothers, Jacob and Gabriel Lowe.

Olympia Seafood sold 1,500 pounds of crab harvested by the Lowater during Christmas week, much of it to the 160 customers on the seafood store’s advance crab order list. Crab for Christmas Eve or Christmas is becoming quite a South Sound tradition.

The crab they’re hauling out of the bay at the start of this year’s commercial crab season is sweet, melt-in-your-mouth fare. I brought home three for a Christmas Eve crabfest with my partner, Barb, my sister, Deborah, my daughter, Kate, and good friends Steve and Sandy Wall. We spread newspaper on the dining room table and started cracking crab, accompanied by a shrimp Caesar salad and artisan bread. Dinner was followed by Sandy Wall’s signature dessert: huckleberry-peach pie. The night was capped off with a most memorable gift — a 2014 calendar the Walls made for Barb and me that featured photos from some of our memorable adventures together, including hiking in Glacier National Park and kayaking in the Clark Fork River on the Idaho-Montana border. I can’t wait to hang it on the kitchen wall New Year’s Day.

Christmas Day family dinner featured a seasoned prime rib from Western Meats in Tumwater. It weighed in at 8.56 pounds and fed a party of eight with plenty of leftovers. The prime rib was joined by garlic mashed potatoes, green beans and velvety buttermilk rolls from Olympia Honey Baker, plus one more shrimp Caesar salad. Dessert was a Scandinavian apple cake baked by my 93-year-old dad’s partner, Virginia Streets. The best Christmas gift of all was having the two of them with us for another holiday gathering.

The day after Christmas was a chance to eat leftovers and rest up for the next round of parties and good food.

Friday night we visited with Bruce Botka, his family and wide assortment of friends. I first met Botka when we worked together as reporters at The Daily World in Aberdeen in the late 1970s. More than 20 years later, he coached our sons’ youth baseball team through a championship season, and our daughters rode show horses in equestrian events together. In other words, we go way back. Botka is a master of barbecuing or smoking turkeys, hams and other big chunks of meat for festive gatherings, and Friday night was no exception. His dining room table spilled over with all sorts of appetizers and main dishes. No one left hungry, or thirsty either.

Saturday night was a night of culinary discovery, at least for me, at the home of Jim and Denise Lynch. Denise is one of those confident cooks who isn’t afraid to try new recipes on friends. The four-course meal for 14 included an arugula salad topped with diced celery root, which was unfamiliar to me. It was delicious.,

One of the main course dishes, presented next to baked salmon served on polenta and topped with fruit salsa, was cooked Belgian endive, a small cylindrical head of lettuce with pale yellow leaves and slightly curly edges, and a member of the chicory family.

I’ve learned it’s a lot of work, a two-step process, to grow Belgian endive. First, the seeds are sowed in late spring. In the fall, the plant is harvested and the green tops are trimmed and composted and the roots are trimmed to a uniform length of 6 - to - 8 inches and packed into a container filled with sand or sandy soil. They’re stored in a cool location while the roots sprout, then the sprouts are shielded from light to grow a few more weeks without turning green and bitter. The finished product is versatile, slightly bitter served raw in a salad, but mellowing to slightly sweet when braised, roasted or steamed.

Incidentally, we moved to different tables between courses, a good way for people who don’t know each other to get acquainted, especially if the wine and microbrews are flowing freely, which they were.

You may have guessed by now that after four big dinner parties in five nights, Sunday was a lazy day spent at home reading, stoking the fire and watching the Seahawks thump the Rams. We scrounged around in the freezer, refrigerator and the cupboard for dinner. Neither of us had the energy to go to the grocery store.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

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