There was a “to do” list written for a productive, busy day. There’s a design proposal that needs to be delivered to a client. The food blog needs a new post. Pictures need to be downloaded. Work beckons my creative-thinking skills. All I want to do is lie down and sleep. I admire all my coworkers and friends who were able to leave out of town for at least a week this summer for a real vacation. New York City has been my vacation hot spot for years.
Despite being stressed from all of life’s beauties and fiascoes, the boyfriend casually announced he was going to the beach. He coyly smiled, “You can come, too.” He knew there was a slight chance, a break or a second option of me saying yes. Beating the odds, I said, “I’m getting my swimsuit.” I needed a break. Some rest. Splashy fun. This was my only chance of escaping from this summer’s excessive heat for a few salty airs of change.
We headed for Jones beach. I didn’t make special sandwiches or plan an exclusive meal. These next few hours were my vacation. We stopped by a popular café for sandwiches and a grocery store for drinks, ice and healthy snacks.
Two hours later, we were sleeping on sand and enjoying the sun. It was a Friday afternoon. We choose the least populated part of the beach. When I waded in the refreshing cold water, broken seashells tickled the soles of my feet. Large clamshells beckoned me deeper towards the ocean. I created a fun game of holding my body steady against the pounding waves while reaching for seashells in the water.
There was a time, when I knew the name of every popular and rare seashell. I was a seashell nerd as a child. The skeletal beauty of an animal that has inspired design theories, paintings, and architecture still allures me. Seeing many seashells at the beach were a surprise gift to my inner-childhood self. I knew we had come to the beach at the right time, for a storm had just passed. Storms bring the skeletal remains of the ocean to sandy seashores. It was the type of day that the guilt of saying no to everyday daily tasks, and saying yes to an infrequent perfect day was hedonistically enjoyed.
As if most people have the opportunity to fully experience a perfect day, we woke up the next morning to another beautiful day. It started with a work out in a park. After wards, we strolled around the farmer’s market. This is tomato season, and a vendor was displaying all their girls on the table: Striped German, Brandywine, Orange Strawberry, Black Prince, and Eva Purple Ball. The vendor offered samples, in which few refused. We were all Eves in the Garden of Eden taking a bite. The expensive cost per pound was easily ignored, for the taste was a requited love.
The bag of tomatoes and the bucket of large clam shells inspired a love dish of spaghetti pasta, a simple heirloom tomato sauce with saffron and spicy peppers, and a lovely seafood medley of shrimp and fresh clams. We sopped the sweet juicy, salty dish like lovers meeting for the first time. It was a dish enjoyed during the following workweek after a perfect weekend. The weather was cooler that week. It was as if fall made an early, brief appearance. The clamshells and the orange-red sauce made our new summer memories profound. A last minute decision turned out to be the perfect timing to enjoying these last days of summer.
Spicy Saffron Heirloom Tomato Sauce with Clams and Shrimp
1 lb. wheat or white spaghetti; cooked al dente according to manufacturer’s directions; toss lightly with olive oil
1 large red onion; diced
3 to 5 garlic cloves; minced
1 large green bell pepper; diced
1 jalapeño pepper; seeds and ribs discarded; diced
Crushed red pepper; to taste
1 tsp. Spanish smoked sweet paprika
A large pinch of saffron
2.5 lb. heirloom tomatoes; diced, chopped and/or crushed
A dash of red balsamic vinegar
1 cup red wine
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 lb. live clams; scrubbed clean (mussels can be substituted, too)
1 lb. medium shrimp; peeled, cleaned and deveined
Salt and fresh black pepper; to taste
1. Over medium heat, sauté red onions in olive oil until translucent. Stir in garlic for 30 seconds. Mix in the green bell and jalapeño peppers. Add the crushed red pepper, paprika, salt and fresh black pepper. Let vegetables soften slightly.
2. Add the chopped tomatoes, saffron, balsamic vinegar, red wine, and tomato paste. Adjust seasoning. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Add the clams and cover with a lid. Cook until the clams have popped opened wide. Discard any that did not open.
4. Add the shrimp and cook for one to three minutes, until they’re opaque. Adjust seasonings.
5. In a large bowl, gently toss the seafood sauce with the spaghetti.
6. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.