Half-baked

I love clams. To the point of being dysfunctional, most might say. Those warm and wonderful little nuggets of fleshy goodness have been the object of my affection for longer than I’d care to admit. But here I am, telling all about my pitiful obsession with little neck clams.

They’re best bathed in butter. Plucked hot and steamy from a monstrous pot on the stove or from a metal garbage can resting atop a wood-fired pit—which is how my friends from Canton cook ‘em. Almost every summer. It’s tradition to gather there amidst family, friends and mosquitoes in their sprawling backyard, whacking at whiffle balls, tossing Frisbees and crowding around that glorious can, the one that also houses corn-on-the-cob, foil-wrapped potatoes and other picnic-ish items that really don’t matter much when clams are part of the meal. In my mind, clams ARE the meal.

The other stuff is just peripheral. A perfunctory afterthought designed to woo non-serious clam eaters there, or to serve as a cover for people like me who plan to gorge exclusively on those brackish bits of joy with wild abandon. I’ve found that it’s surprisingly easy to mask such gluttonous behavior. A carefully placed wedge of watermelon or scoop of potato salad can hide a mountain of clams and a vat of butter. Bouncing around from table to table with a fresh plate throws the casual observer off, too, especially when coupled with idle chitchat. Gluttony becomes all too conspicuous, however, if you wear a path to the same spot to devour those delectable little indulgences, pausing only to breathe and to mop the embarrassment of schmutz from your chin. Apparently, I am not alone in my thinking. Others agree that clams are downright slurpable. Swines—every last one of us.

My friend Pat has admitted to consuming 22 dozen in one sitting and estimates his lifetime consumption of the lovely little gems as “incalculable.”  From other accounts, that may well be a conservative approximation. Some other friends have been known to refrain from eating ALL DAY, right up until the time of the big event, in order to arrive primed for epic feasting of all-things-clamish. Of course, I admire these folks beyond compare and recognize that I simply don’t possess that level of commitment. Not yet anyway. But there’s always hope. And always another clambake to pencil in on the calendar.

My husband said he once saw a guy eat 32 dozen at the Wheel Inn. Throngs of people gathered around to watch as if he were some sort of sideshow freak. It’s no wonder. The man recklessly scooped them out of their shells, dumped them a dozen at a time into a Styrofoam cup brimming with melted butter and chugged ‘em down like raw eggs. I don’t get it. Where’s the joy in that? Where’s the romance? It’s too rushed, dispassionate and superficial. Quite frankly, I think it smacks of casual dining. Gasp!

By contrast, I’ve been known to become thoroughly engrossed while eating the silly things, one sensual bite at a time. Admittedly, the world around me melts away and I become completely enraptured by the whole experience—weak with pleasure. So much so that I can block out the maddening blares of my dryer, insisting that I fold the laundry NOW. I can also silence the persistent demands and the relentless bickering of my children, waging war over Mrs. Smith’s fish sticks or over a stupid yellow cup into which I have been instructed to pour milk. What’s more, I’ve nearly perfected the art of appearing interested in discussions that float over the dinner table, nodding my head and contributing appropriately to conversations without ever really being present mentally. Of course, this frees all my senses for more important matters—like savoring my beloved clams.

One time I just stood at the counter, blissfully slurping the freshly steamed batch my husband had so lovingly prepared for me. I never once gave a thought to moving to the table like a civilized individual might be inclined to do. Nor did I share, except maybe one or two. I can’t remember such details. Fifty or sixty clams later I came up for air and slipped back into consciousness. Back into being a mommy and a wife.

Apparently, the appeal of clams is not a new thing. A Cnn.com article I read last week (“Study: Early humans threw clambakes”) certainly adds credence and validation to my obsession. A new archeological find in South Africa (author of the study: Curtis Marean, ASU) revealed evidence suggesting that humans living 164,000 years ago harvested seafood (including clams), cooked them over hot rocks and then perhaps gathered together to eat them. This is in fact about 40,000 years earlier than previously thought. News like this makes my heart glad.

As does learning that we’ll be having clams for dinner. I get giddy just thinking about it.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

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