The Blue Chair Blog

It's not just about the novel


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Just a little bit brighter

IMG_4573How can we cope with the news during the holidays? Somehow, all of the sad, dangerous, bitter, and mean-spirited things that get reported day in and day out seem to resonate a little more deeply at this time of year. Over on Facebook, a friend mentioned how movies can take us out of ourselves and remind us that love is still, actually, all around. Great reminder. At her suggestion, I sat down last night and watched Love Actually, which is one of my two favorite movies to watch at Christmas. It’s still funny, warm, and sweet — and it’s currently streaming on Netflix, too.

My list of favorite “Christmas movies” is short. But I can think of a few other DVD’s that might brighten your day or mine.

My Other Favorite Movie to Watch at Christmas

My Favorite DVD to Watch at Christmas That Isn’t a Movie

 A Few Movies Guaranteed to Make Me Laugh Out Loud No Matter How Often I See Them

A Couple More Feel Good Movies

This is a short and pretty idiosyncratic selection, but maybe one of these suggestions will make you smile or comfort you this season. Remember, it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. I’d love to hear what you like to watch over the holidays!


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Down memory lane into the Inns of Court

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Staple Inn Yard

Once upon a time, when I was a law student, I spent a few weeks on a study abroad course in London’s Inns of Court. A lot of American lawyers have a crush on the British legal system and wouldn’t mind if we got to wear wigs and gowns in court. This secret desire all started — or at least took on a life of it’s own — with Rumpole of the Bailey, in case you didn’t know. In Horace Rumpole, barrister and author John Mortimer created one of the indelible characters of the Twentieth Century. Mortimer’s stories are wonderful and the great Leo McKern will always embody Rumpole for me. He lives on, though, in radio plays recorded with Maurice Denham, later with Timothy West (and his wife Prunella Scales as Hilda Rumpole — She Who Must Be Obeyed), and most recently Benedict Cumberbatch as the young Rumpole. The stories, the radio plays, and the TV series are all quite entertaining and you should track them down if you can.

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Hare Court, Inner Temple

Getting back to the heady days of my own “mini-pupillage,”  I went to receptions and dinners in venerable old buildings, spent time in a barristers’ chambers in Gray’s Inn, observed a murder trial at the Old Bailey from the courtroom floor level instead of the gallery, and rubbed elbows with policemen, lawyers, defendants, and court personnel. I felt awfully lucky to have the experience but except for poking my nose whenever I can into Temple Church, which is one of my very favorite places in London, I haven’t really been back.

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Gardens in The Temple

Walking down from Bloomsbury, we threaded our way through Staple Inn (once an Inn of Chancery, now home to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries) and the four Inns of Court:  Grays Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, and the Middle and Inner Temples, eventually coming out on the Embankment. Since it was Saturday, pretty much everything was shut up. We eventually found our way into Middle Temple and through to the Inner Temple. Athough the church was closed, we could still hear the organ being practiced. On the positive side, the Inns were all blissfully peaceful and at this time of year the gardens were in their glory.

Read about Dickens, the Inns of Chancery, and the Inns of Court here.


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Stalking the wily razor clam, again

Pacific razor clam, Siliqua patulaSpring in the Pacific Northwest inevitably brings thoughts of razor clams, or at least it does if you have ever dug them or eaten them and live within striking distance of Long Beach Peninsula, Grayland, Ocean Shores, Copalis, or Kalaloch.  Fifteen years ago, I rented a house with some of my cousins and went clamming on Long Beach. It was such a successful event (135 clams in on the first day!) that I put up a little web page about it, which miraculously still exists out there on the Internet. But I’ll relive the experience here, too. After all, it’s Throwback Thursday. My timing is pretty good, too, because the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival is coming up this weekend, April 18-19!

If razors are unfamiliar to you, you are laughing at the notion that we were so happy about 135 clams, but note that the daily limit is the first 15 clams you dig. That’s because once its fragile shell is broken, a razor clam won’t survive. They’re called razor clams for a reason, by the way — those broken shells are sharp! Bear in mind that only two or three nice-sized clams make a fine meal.

Clammers as far as the eye can see

Someone once said that going after razor clams fulfills the human urge for hunting, fishing, and farming all at the same time. You have to be up early to catch a spring tide near its lowest point. It’s cold and there is likely no time for coffee. If you are doing it right, you will get wet and you will probably end up eating sand. You certainly won’t be alone. Oh, and those clams are several inches under the surface of the beach and they are not just sitting there.  They are trying to get away from you.

mark-kirbI won’t go into methods, but you can learn more here. Old hands often dig in the surf. Kids might sit down and dig high on the beach. Some folks like to use specialized shovels, some prefer clam “guns.” Just remember, everybody over the age of 15 needs a license.

If you are successful, you’ll have your work cut out for you cleaning your catch. I remember that we set up an assembly line to clean our 100 plus clams. Boiling water goes on to loosen the shells, followed immediately by cold water so they don’t start to cook. I like to use kitchen scissors but a sharp knife works, too. These WDFW instructions describe what to do.

The best way to eat razors? I recommend cleaning a few as soon as you get back from the beach. Their delicate texture and rich flavor is hard to describe but, once experienced, never forgotten.

Sautéed Razor Clams

Shopping list: eggs, flour, Saltines, oil, butter, lemon, pepper.

  • Beat up an egg or two for dipping and finely crush some Saltines to use as a coating. Heat a cast iron skillet to medium high
  • Once the pan is beginning to heat, add a little oil (olive, canola, etc.) and then a little butter
  • Dip each clam in the egg (you can dip in flour first if you want) and dredge it in the cracker coating
  • Sauté them for about a minute, then flip over and sauté the second side for less than a minute
  • Place on paper towels to drain of some of the oil
  • Serve as quick as you can, with eggs and toast along side if you like.
  • Seasonings if desired: pepper, a squeeze of lemon

That’s the way I learned to do it when I worked for the old Department of Fisheries about a gazillion years ago, reinforced over the years by my cousin Jill, who is just about the best cook I know. As for all those “extra” clams, the necks are are great for chowder. It’s hard to beat sautéing the rest (body and foot), though. You can freeze razor clams, but fresh is best. Sure, you can try some fancy recipe, but nothing you make will ever be as good as clams coated in saltines, sautéed when you and the clams are fresh off the beach.

Have you been clamming?  Plan to go? Got a favorite digging method or recipe? What’s your experience with hunting or gathering your own food? Please share in the comments!