“Sit and watch the stars,
realize in the stillness
what hopeful can mean.” —
Tyler Knott Gregson
If I were to understate it, I would tell you the last few months have been hard. Admitting that I have not done a very good job of taking care of my own needs this year is difficult—in part because the neglect was necessary. Worrying about the health of someone you hold dear is new to me and it is the type of concern that undergirds everything. You never quite step away, always trying to carry a burden that isn’t even quite yours to hold. But we’ve reached a tentative conclusion, where health has returned to our young and strong bodies, and it is time for us to recuperate.
For me, this means acknowledging what has been missing: time in my own space; daily grocery store trips; experimenting with dishes; spontaneous happy hours that turn into late night dinners; brunch plans; poetry in bed; the supreme satisfaction of a boring Sunday. They are little, but there is something about them all that create space for moments of confrontation with yourself. You know the feeling? When in the middle of it all, you feel like you’ve been uncovered just a little more? That. We’re never really taught how to be alone with ourselves, and yet, I think it is one of the most important skills I’ve learned in this life.
Pulling out my camera yesterday was one of those moments—that familiar feeling of apprehension and excitement as I held my breath while framing shots. Years ago, I realized that I often hold my breath or clench my jaw when trying to do something I want desperately to be good at. It started with my knife skills and has migrated to my Nikon. It is a feeling of growth for me and as I get older, I realize more and more that it is something to lean into and not avoid. So, I spent the afternoon trying my best to deal with the constantly changing light conditions and ended with both photos and a dish I am proud of.
Old hat now, but I made a delightful shrimp bisque from Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark. Classic flavors of leek, fennel, and celery come together into a rich and satisfying soup enhanced with a quick shrimp stock. Never, never throw away your shrimp shells. All they need is a quick brown in the bottom of a pan with some butter and 15 minutes of simmering to coax out more flavor than you ever thought possible. The end result is more complex and interesting and you’ll barely have given up any extra time. What I love about this bisque is that is uses a mere quarter cup of rice that is blended into the base to provide the right mouthfeel. It allows you to skip the cream, and while I am never worried about a little full fat dairy in my life, you don’t even miss it here. Give it a go this week.
In the meantime, I will continue to do the things that make me feel more like myself. I know that in the long-run, these activities are what make me a happier person, a better partner, a more thoughtful friend. Thank you for reading and for joining me in my space—it means a lot.
Very lightly adapted from Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark
8 T. unsalted butter
2 t. kosher salt
1 lb 16/20 shrimp, shells removed and reserved
2/3 c. dry white wine (I prefer sauvignon blanc)
2 T. brandy
6 c. water
3 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 celery stalks, chopped, reserving leaves for garnish
2 leeks, chopped (white and light green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 fennel bulb, chopped, reserving fronds for garnish
1/4 c. long-grain rice
2 T. tomato paste
¼ t. cayenne pepper
Lemon juice, to taste
Melt 1 T. butter in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add shrimp shells and 1 t. kosher salt, stirring frequently, until shells begin to brown. Add the wine and brandy, cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated and scraping up any brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan. Pour in the water, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf. Lower heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes so the shells can release their flavor. Strain the stock into a large bowl and discard the shells.
Return pot to medium heat and melt 2 T. more of butter. While melting, toss shrimp with ½ t. of kosher salt. Add shrimp to pan and sauté just until shrimp have turned pink and are no longer translucent. Transfer shrimp to a clean bowl and set aside.
Melt 3 T. of butter in the pot over medium heat and then add the celery, leeks, fennel, and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes, until everything begins to soften. Stir in rice, tomato paste, cayenne, and 1 t. kosher salt. Cook until the tomato paste begins the caramelize and create a strong fond on the bottom of the pan. Add the reserved shrimp stock and scrap up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Cover and let simmer until rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
Set aside 5-6 of the best-looking shrimp to garnish and add the rest to the pot. Using an immersion blender or a traditional blender, puree the bisque to your desired consistency. Add lemon juice and salt to taste (note: this is a rich dish, so you will need a generous amount of lemon. The acid provides needed balance). Finish by stirring in the final 2 T. of butter. Transfer to bowls and garnish using the reserved shrimp, celery leaves, and fennel fronds. Serve.