Friday, March 4, 2011

Our Lady of the Rock -- Part 1

I sent the email on July 27

To the Sisters at Our Lady of the Rock:

I live in Princeton, New Jersey. I have heard vague references to you over the years and have finally been able to track you down on your little island. I would like to visit your monastery and would be free any time after the 2nd half of October. Please let me know if this can be done, and what might be needed for such a visit.
In peace,
Marcia W.

July 28
HELLO
N.J.??? DO YOU REALIZE WE ARE IN WASHINGTON STATE????
LATER HALF OCT. FREE- GIVE ME DATES, BLESSINGS, MOTHER HILDEGARD, OSB

July 28
Yes! I know just where you are...I grew up in Washington and have felt the pull of the San Juan Islands most of my life, although I haven't explored them nearly enough. Being out here in New Jersey makes me miss the San Juans even more, and once I found you I thought it would be the perfect thing to do. I will be in Seattle the 24th, and would be able to come to your island any time after that. The 25th would be wonderful.

Peace,
Marcia

P.S. I am a trained cook The thought of cooking out there sounds like heaven to me.

Aug. 2
HELLO
YES, OCT. 25 IS FINE- WE WILL HAVE HAD A BIG GRP. OVER WEEKEND SO WILL BE QUIET THAT WEEK- LET ME KNOW LATER IF YOU NEED MORE DETAILS, BLESSINGS, MOTHER HILDEGARD

Oct. 8
Dear Mother Hildegard,
Once I catch the ferry to Shaw Island, how will I find you? Can I get there without a car?
Thank you,
Marcia W.

Oct. 11
HI MARCIA- CAR NOT NECESSARY BUT CHEAPER THAN PARKING ON THE OTHER SIDE. 3+ MILE WALK.
ALSO LET ME KNOW WHICH FERRY YOU WILL BE ON SO WE CAN PLAN YOUR TIME WITH US-

OFF FERRY AT SHAW ISLAND

GO UP ROAD 1.3 MILES TO THE 1ST LEFT= SQUAW BAY RD.
GO ANOTHER 1.8 MILES TO THE DEAD END SIGN= HOFFMAN COVE RD.- MAKE A RIGHT
SOON ON THE RIGHT IS OUR FENCE- GO TO END OF FENCE = LARGE WESTERN GATE WITH AN IRON MALTESE CROSS TO LEFT OF GATE
GO THRU GATE- FIRST HOUSE ON RIGHT = ST. SCHOLASTICA’S GUEST HOUSE- ROOMS LISTED ON REFRIGERATOR

Oct. 12
Thank you! I will be dropped off on the mainland side. I'll let you know about my arrival as soon as I get the ferry schedule.
--Marcia

Oct. 22
HI AGAIN
DO YOU WANT TO DO SOME COOKING WHILE HERE-
I NEED TO MAKE MY 5 YRS WORTH OF MINCE MEAT- YOU COULD HELP WITH THAT AND MAYBE OTHER THINGS?
MH
***

The tiny old ferry, like a magical rumbling boatman, navigates the mysteries of The San Juan Islands. I first encountered these old green and white rusted metal carriers when I was twelve years old and had just moved from Los Angeles up to the Northwest Puget Sound. I thought those ferries were the closest thing on this earth to angels. Fat, slow and unassuming; yet weightless and able to carry so many people’s burdens.

Looking out the window from the upper deck I can already see the islands. Like the people who live here, they are difficult to approach, and one can’t easily find that first foothold. There are no soft, sandy beaches: rather, each island is a rock that falls straight into the icy water. The peeling red-barked madronas have managed, though. They don’t grow just anywhere, yet here they cling tenaciously to the plunging rock by the thousands, giving way to cedars and firs as one moves inland. There are few buildings to be seen, no lights, just island rock.

Those who live by the ferry schedule learn to be patient, practical and self-reliant.

The rhythmic rumbling of the engine mutes the scraping of my suitcase as I walk down the aisle past blue leather restaurant-like booths. Silver-haired folk (they don’t color their hair much out here) wearing Goretex jackets, Nordic sweaters, and blue jeans listen to an old salt strum an acoustic guitar. He’s staring out the window as though he’s playing to the sea birds and icy-green whitecaps. One fellow with a well-trimmed beard wearing a pea-coat and wool fisherman’s cap nods at me silently, as though he thinks I’m a local. Maybe my suitcase gives the impression I’m coming home.

Pushing through the double doors to the outside deck I close my eyes and relish the cold stinging drizzle as it hits my face. Ah, this is the Puget Sound of my teens, before Microsoft and Google...

I remember feasting on raw oysters with a bewildering taste of watermelon, eating crab while still on the boat where we caught and boiled them, fishing for salmon back when they were easy to find, tasting my first clam chowder cooked on the beach over a driftwood fire...

The ferry pulls into the Orcas Island terminal and everyone gets off, except me. It is only noon, yet it feels late in the day, as though the place is closing up. As the ferry takes off again, I look around and realize I am the only passenger left. Suddenly I’m gripped with the fear that I’ve taken the wrong boat. A crew member pushes a mop nearby and I ask, “Is this ferry going to Shaw as well?”

“Yep,” she says. “It’s just that most people only go this far.”

“Is there something I need to know about that?” I ask concerned.

“Nope,” she replies without lifting her eyes from her task at hand. “Not much going on there...just the nuns, mostly. They even used to land the ferry out there a while ago. But they’re older now, and not so many. They got other things to do.” She pushes the mop on by.

Just a few moments pass before a voice booms over the loud speaker for my ears alone, “ALL PASSENGERS PREPARE FOR DEPARTURE. WALK-ONS DEPART FROM THE CAR DECK!” I roll my suitcase down the ramp as we approach the tiny dock. There is a one-person shack for the ferry worker on the left, a tiny weathered cedar-shingled store on the right, and hanging above the dock is a primitive carved wooden sign of a whale, over which is engraved in free hand, “SHAW”.

Islanders' Clam Chowder


As my husband (a fifth generation Puget Sound Islander) says, “This chowder is just like something you’d find at a stall while you were waiting for the ferry!” It is a rustic dish made in one pot, preferably cooked on the beach where you dug the clams. While the milky broth may be delicate, the eating of it is not. Pick the clams out of the soup with your fingers, carefully pluck off the stringy bits, then suck out the meat and throw the shells against the rocks for the seagulls. If you are faint of heart and don’t want to look at a whole clam in your bowl, you can always shuck and mince them, leaving the shells and the occasional grain of sand, out of the soup entirely.

One last note: if you are missing a minor ingredient, do the best you can. Today you’re an Islander, by God! Make do!



Ingredients:
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 clove minced garlic
¼ cup chopped onion, shallot or leek
¼ cup chopped fennel bulb and/or celery
1 bay leaf
⅛ teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning or curry powder
small pinch of cayenne
1 ½ cups water
1 lb fresh clams, extremely well-scrubbed and preferably left to empty their stomachs
in a bucket of salt water and cornmeal.
½ cup fresh corn kernels
¼ cup heavy cream
1½ cups whole milk
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, chives, tarragon, what-have-you
Pepper to taste, (salt is probably not necessary)

In a 2 qt. pot saute the bacon until brown and crispy. Add the garlic, onion, celery and bay leaf cooking until the onions are translucent. Add spices, cooking a minute longer (careful not to let the spices burn.)


Add the water and bring to a boil, then add the clams and cover the pot, cooking for 5-10 minutes (depending on the size of the clams), until all the clams are open. Toss in the corn, cream and milk. Heat until almost simmering. Serve with a grinding of pepper and a sprinkle of herbs.


4 comments:

  1. Wonderful story! I can't wait to read more (and to try the recipe!)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, Marcia, I love it.

    Bridgid Shelly (Ardmore, Ireland) is the cow portrait painter i mentioned.

    I think it is www.BridgidShelly.ie

    But if not, you can find her on Google.

    Daphne Hawkes

    ReplyDelete