The Pierce approach to family time is emblematic; we bring to the affair a bantering liveliness, and a hunger that can only really be achieved when we are together, in the kitchen. Drinking wine. By the Pierce family I mean my family, my parents, my brother and sister, their spouses, and Cooper. Home from college for winter break in the mid-2000s I can remember Cooper saying, Your family sure knows how to have fun. What a way to win a young girls heart!
My mother (the shortest member of my family, and the one responsible for stocking the kitchen so pleine de choses that we love to eat and drink) likes to say that, Cooking is how we show our love.
I used to know this to be true, without doubt, of her, but the passing of time changes the way we live and the way we see ourselves. Cooper and I now uphold this mantra as the truest signature of our lives; a fact that makes me feel proud, and close to my family.
For more than six months we were deprived of the spirited camaraderie that comes with cooking a wonderful meal in the warm, aromatic, musical Pierce kitchen, as Cooper and I had moved to the opposite corner of the country to Boston, a city teaming with people not one of whom was a Pierce. So when we arrived back in the Northwest for the holiday season, we dove in headfirst and ate
Steamed clams in white wine and butter
Thoroughly scrub and de-beard ½ lb of Manila Steamer Clams per person, and let rest in a basin under slowly running cold water for several hours, until properly flushed. Transfer to a large pot in which you have lightly sautéed a healthy dose of chopped garlic, shallots, and prosciutto in olive oil with sea salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, and have put a 3+ tablespoons of butter. Pour dry white wine over the clams until there is about an inch of liquid in the bottom of the pot. Add a sprig of thyme, cover and let steam just until the shells of all the clams are open.
A glass of white wine or Provencal rosé should most certainly be served with this dish, and should also be casually consumed throughout the process of its cooking.
I was thrilled to be greeted with such a smorgasbord of seafood for our visit, as there really is nothing quite like Dungeness crab cracked fresh from the shell and dipped in butter, with a dirty gin martini. Once we heard the car horn honk from the driveway, announcing the final Pierce family arrival, the celebration really got under way, with preparations for our annual, Norwegian-inspired Christmas eve feast of
Pan fried, lightly floured filet of sole
Barbequed prawns, marinated in lemon juice, garlic
Lefse with butter and sugar
Boiled potatoes, served, of course, with drawn butter
Broccoli-cheese dish, my particular favorite
Pull-apart rosemary and thyme dinner rolls, additional butter optional
Citrus and arugula salad with pomegranate seeds, to cut through the butter
And the finest wine! (Usually from the Willamette Valley of Oregon, Eastern Washington or the South of France, depending on which memories are inspiring our liquor store trip)
While the exact compilation of this menu has changed over the years, these main tenants have remained true, along with our spirit of cooking. I remember one Christmas Eve not long ago (for Christmas Eve is of much greater importance to the Pierce family than Christmas day itself), Emily, my older and much more spirited sister, came dancing into the center of the large and open kitchen carrying a parcel of custom aprons. There was one for each of the women of the house – for it is only the women who wear aprons, for some reason – with the symbolic Pierce truth stamped on the front, Don’t Mess With Tradition.
And now I think fondly of all the jolly celebrations of love in the Pierce family kitchen, and look forward with impatience and comfort to the next time the horn honks, the cork pops, and the sizzling of butter in the pan fills the house and melts into the music and the laughter. Could there be anything more worthy of pursuit?