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Cooking is a joy for me. I grew up eating a rather monotonous diet that revolved around the cheapest stuff we could buy at the store, which tended to be hot dogs, bologna, ground beef, the occasional canned ham, instant potatoes and Kraft macaroni, and cans and cans of green beans, corn, and spinach. When I started learning how to cook, and discovered there was more to food than hamburger and Oscar Mayer, I fell in love with food. I developed an appetite for food quite like a swinger's libido; I wanted to try things at least once. (And some, once tried, never tempted me again. Menudo, longaniza, hominy . . .)

So I live in the Pacific Northwest. You might have heard there's a lot of fish caught here. I had some idea about using local fish to make clam chowder. And I foolishly mentioned this to my beloved, Stefan, who promptly introduced me to the geoduck.

Stefan loves my cooking. Stefan also loves fish. And finally, Stefan's an alumn of Evergreen State College, located in Olympia, WA . . . and this is their mascot.

The geoduck, a hard-to-catch mollusk, is renowned for the fact that it looks like exactly what you think it does. Stefan told me what he thought happened when the trustees of Evergreen had to come up with a mascot for the school. Somebody threw out the idea of the geoduck. "Oh, because it's a native creature?" one trustee replied. "Because it's tasty?" another asked. "No," the first trustee said. "Because it looks like a horse's prick, and because we can."

Yeah, you didn't think I was going to back away from cooking it after hearing that story, did you? Seriously, anything that looks that bad must inversely be insanely delicious.

It turns out that geoduck has a flavor described as resembling that of scallops--firm and sweet. That's if you use the body meat; the siphon meat tends to be firm and chewy, and should be fried. I found out how to clean it and prepare it, located a couple of recipes, and then took Stefan off to the Uwajimaya market in Renton this past Sunday to find geoduck.

That's where we ran into a problem.

Geoducks are notoriously hard to catch. See the shell? It looks blunt, but people have complained of having their hands sliced by those things as they attempted to catch geoducks. (Stefan caught one once, purely by accident. He had no choice but to cook it; he killed it when he stepped on it, and catching geoducks without a license is illegal.) The difficulty in catching them is reflected in the price: $27.99 per pound, and the geoducks Uwajimaya had for sale started at 3-4 pounds.

Dejected, I started to give up on making chowder, when Stefan said, "Hey. Here's an idea: why don't we get some scallops and razor clams, and make that into chowder?" So we got some small bay scallops, some pre-packaged razor clams, and headed for home.

Now we share home with Stefan's adopted little sister Annika, her husband Jason, their two boys Sebastian and Griffin, and a recent addition, Charles. (The house is huge. The housekeeping is disastrous.) We unpacked, and I found an earthernware pot of Annika's, one I thought would make an excellent dish in which to make chowder. We'd used it for a number of dishes before, from goulash to beef stroganoff to lemon chicken with orzo (I'll share that recipe later). So I prepped my ingredients and started cooking. First in was chopped cottage bacon; after the fat rendered, I took out the meat and added chopped shallots . . . and wondered why I could hear the gas flame hiss. But I paid more attention to my shallots, making sure they didn't burn, before I tossed in clam juice, then the bacon, and then cream.

And that was when I heard the gas flame sizzle against the pot. I looked, and to my horror I saw cream beading on the bottom edge of the pot.

I got a metal pot, put it on the stove, got potholders to grab the earthernware pot . . . and as I raised it, it broke loose from the bottom. Cream, bacon, and shallots went everywhere. It was an ungodly mess, and brought the boys, Annika, and Stefan to see what happened when I started cursing. The mess took half an hour to clean, and I wanted to cry the whole night.

Well, fine, I told myself. I'll try again tomorrow night. I've got to cook the damn fish before it spoils, anyway.

Stefan got more cream, bacon, and shallots. I prepared potatoes when I got home from work on Monday, and started my chowder-making all over again. Bacon? Check. Shallots? Check. Leeks? Yep. Cream? Oh, yeah. Razor clams--wait, why the hell are these all in one sheet? Unsliced razor clams look bizarre, and I knew very little about what should go into the pot and what should be tossed. Nevertheless, I set to trimming the clam meat. In short, I took my eye off the pot.

And far too soon for my comfort, I smelled something burning.

I took a spoon and stirred the contents of the pot, cringing when the stench of burned potatoes wafted up. In desperation, I added more potatoes. I turned off the burner, set the pot aside, and ran to the computer to see how to fix a pot of burned chowder. Worcestershire sauce and peanut butter were highly recommended. I can now say that 1 to 2 tablespoons of peanut butter added to chowder does not add an awful taste of peanuts to it--but neither did it help. I finally turned to Annika and Stefan and asked for their opinion: how bad was it?

They tasted it. They didn't spit it out.

"It can't be saved," Stefan said.

"I'm sorry, hon," Annika said. "But it smells like burning. There's no salvaging it."

I almost cried. Out it went, down the garbage disposal. I added water and dishwashing liquid to the pot, with its layer of black, crusted potatoes, leeks and bacon. Stefan hugged me and told me, "You can always try again. Next time, keep the heat down." I felt like an idiot, especially considering how much food I'd just tossed down the drain.

Moral of the story: Always watch the pot. Sometimes, you don't want the damn thing to boil.

Stefan washed the pot and told me I'd come up with a new dish: clam chowder carbonara. I'm going to smother him in his sleep.

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