In December of 2009 my sister called me to tell me our father had just fainted and was being rushed to the hospital. I was living in Phoenix at this time, and my sister, along with my parents, were in New Jersey. At the time she called I was just finishing up my baking for the day as I was working in a local coffee shop. A few phone calls later I knew that he was in the hospital, his blood pressure was dropping, and they were trying to find the source of it all. I woke early the next morning (4 AM) to get the baking done at work. While I had just put muffins in the oven my mother called to tell me the outlook of my father’s health and life was looking grim. He was very weak, had several blood transfusions through the night, and a surgery was scheduled for that afternoon. Up to that point in my life, those were the worst phone calls I had ever experienced. I tried to stay strong, but I was thousands of miles away and felt so helpless and useless. My husband and I waited and waited by the phone until my mother called back saying that my father was stable. His health was not the greatest for a while; but a major surgery and a few months of chemo later, he was much better. We were extremely fortunate.
A few weeks ago I was preparing to travel to Costa Rica. Brian was there on a business trip, and I was to meet him after a few days. I had arrangements made for someone to watch our girls (Martini and Latte), I made sure things were situated in the kitchen at work, I packed my bag, and took a flight out to meet Brian. While we were there, in the middle of a rain forest on the Pacific Coast, we received a phone call from our pet sitter. She said Martini was not eating, not walking, and seemed to be in pain. We agreed that Martini need to see a doctor, and she took her to a vet hospital. We waited by the phone for some word about Martini. Not much different than that phone call about my father six years prior to tell you the truth. Unfortunately, the outlook for Martini was not as positive as my father’s. Vacation was no longer a “vacation”. Again, I was way too far away from someone I loved, at a point in time when they were very ill.
As soon as we landed in the states we picked up our belongings and headed to the vet hospital. After sitting with Martini, talking with the doctors and staff, we made a very difficult decision to lay her down in eternal rest. Many tears were shed, our energy was drained, and after it was done we picked up our suit cases and headed home. A week went by and our home was so quiet. We tried to keep a normal routine, I owed it to Latte who was missing Martini too. But our whole world was off kilter. Night after night I could barley make dinner. One day because I forgot to go food shopping! On another day I went to our local coffee shop to get a coffee with no wallet or money! I also went to work and left my kitchen shoes and phone at home…I was just a bit off and I felt terrible about it. I was stronger than this. I need to pull myself together.
After a week of forgetfulness, I needed to step up my game. I owed it to Brian and to Latte. So I walked over to the produce stand after work and picked up a few things, and then headed over to one of the fish counters. I purchased some mussels and headed home. I was prepared to make a tradition Belgian Moules Frites. It is something I know Brian loves, easy to cook up, and warming to the heart - just what we needed. So Brian came home and was amazed to see the mussels. When he saw the fries come out of the oven he grinned. When all was done (the dish of mussels took a total of 15 minutes) we sat and dinned. We told stories of Martini. The whole evening made me smile. It may have not been the greatest circumstances that lead to this meal, but the meal was great. I know Martini would have approved! For those who may ask, Latte is doing well. (She watched me patiently as I cooked this meal.)
Moules Frites (serves 4)
**NOTE: This dish Is traditionally served with a mayo of sorts for dipping, or to add to your broth. We personally like to make a garlicy one. One clove of garlic, minced and whisked with 1/4 cup of mayo and the juice of half a lemon.
2 pounds of Mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
1 cup of celery, thinly sliced
1 cup onion, chopped small
2 tbsp of butter, unsalted
1 tbsp of herbs d' Provence
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 - 3 russet potatoes (depending on size)
olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
Sea Salt to taste
First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wash our potatoes well, and dry them. Carefully slice your potatoes in about 1/4 - 1/2 inch by 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick sticks. The length of the sticks can vary depending on the size of your potatoes. After all of your potatoes are sliced, place them in a bowl and toss them in the olive oil. Have one to two sheet pans lined with parchment paper. place the potatoes sparingly apart. Sprinkle them with sea salt and place them in the oven. Bake them about 20 minutes before stirring them and placing them back in the oven to crisp up - about 15 - 20 minutes more (depending on your oven).
Next, place a large sauté pan (that has a tight fitting lid) over medium heat and melt the butter. Once the butter is melted add your celery and onion and salute about 5 minutes. You are looking for the onion to start to become translucent, and then add the herbs d' Provence. Stir it all together, and once the herbs become aromatic.
Then, add the mussels to the pan. Stir it well to coat them, and then pour the wine over, place the lid over it all, and let it come to a simmer about 10 minutes. Giving the pan a little shake a couple of times. After ten minutes, remove the lid and check to be sure all the mussels are wide open. Discard any that have remained closed. remove from the heat, and place in a serving bowl.
Finally, remove the potatoes from the oven (aka Frites). Be sure they are crispy and cooked though. Re-season with sea salt if necessary. Serve with your mussels and enjoy.