I am a big fan of Richard Russo. His latest book, That Old Cape Magic, is the story of a middle age professor of screenwriting whose marriage is falling apart. That professor, Jack Griffin, spends much of the book reflecting on his parents and their marriage, which ended in divorce. The book begins as Griffin is traveling to Cape Code for the wedding of one of his daughters friends. Although his parents, both professors, taught at a university in the Midwest, they family spent their summers on Cape Cod, and that is where his parents were most happy. I decided to make a Cape Cod inspired recipe and came up with these simple Stuffed Quahogs (clams), a classic Cape Cod appetizer and perfect for the summer. Enjoy.That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
I have read a lot of Richard Russo, and after reading That Old Cape Magic, I decided that his books fall into two categories - in one bucket are books like Empire Falls and The Bridge of Sighs and in the other bucket are books like Straight Man and That Old Cape Magic. Now that I think about it, all of Russo's books focus on middle aged men and their issues, but I think the Empire Falls line of books tell more wide ranging stories and have more heart. To be honest it is this category of books I prefer to those like That Old Cape Magic, which really focus on the middle aged man issues and nothing else. Both books are about middle aged professors that do wacky things to mess up their lives. In That Old Cape Magic, we see Griffin at two weddings - l first at the wedding of his daughters friend on Cape Cod and then a year later during his own daughters wedding in Maine. At the first wedding, his marriage seems to be a quiet breaking point. At the second wedding it has been broken and he has been living apart from his wife for a year. But we don't really learn that much about Griffin's marriage to is wife Joy. Instead, the focus on the book really is Griffin's parents and their (silent) role in their son's marriage and life. Griffin's mother is depicted as a difficult, unhappy and outspoken woman. His father as a philandering absent minded professor. Throughout the book Griffin struggles with how he feels about his parents and more practically, where he should scatter their ashes. He carries around the urn of first his father and then both parents around Cape Cod, unable to decide the best spot to scatter their ashes (separately, at his mother's insistence). Cape Cod was the place his parents loved, and the place every year they would come to mend their relationship after a year of hurtful actions. In the end, I am not really sure what it symbolizes to Griffin. He is the classic Russo unhappy middle aged man - dissatisfied with where he is in his life, not totally happy in his relationship with his wife, and still hung up on how his mother or father treated him. While this is a common theme in Russo's books, I cared about the main character in Empire Falls, Nobody's Fool and Bridge of Sights. Unfortunately here, I just really didn't care about Griffin and therefore did not enjoy this book as much as I have enjoyed Russo's other books.
Adapted from Jessica Harris's recipe from Martha's Vineyard Table
1 cup water
1 cup dry white wine
24 quahogs, scrubbed
1 cup panko
1/4 cup crumbled saltine crackers
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, minced
2 scallions, minced (including 2 inches of green tops)
3 Tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Bell's Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Instructions: Preheat oven to 350. Bring the water and wine to a boil in a 5 quart saucepan. Add the clams, discarding any that fail to close to the touch. Cover, return to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover and remove any clams that have opened with a slotted spoon. Cook the others 3-4 minutes longer (re-cover pot). Take out the clams that have opened and discard the clams that remain closed. I found 5 minutes was enough for all my clams.
When clams are cool enough to handle, remove then from the shells and reserve the bottom shells. Mince the clam meats. Wash and dry the saved shells. Melt the butter in a skillet and cook onions until lightly browned, about five minutes.
Mix panko, minced clams, saltines and egg in a bowl and mix well. I will make an admission, when it was time for me to make this recipe, I found myself without any eggs! Oversight on my part. What I did is add about 2 -3 tablespoons of mayonnaise instead (which is, after all, made of eggs). It worked great. So there is a tip if you are missing an egg. Add the sauteed onion to mixture along with the spices, scallions, parsley and salt and pepper. Mix well. Spoon the clam mixture into the reserved shells.
Bake for 30 minutes until the tops are lightly browned.