Monday, January 30, 2012

New Zealand Shells - Jewels from the Sea!

So excited to feature a guest blog post from my good friend Judy! (See my post from last winter - Just Beachy)  Judy and her husband Gordon invited Tom and I over for a Christmas brunch. Not only did we get a fascinating sea lion show from their dining room,   I got a first hand look at her gorgeous shell treasures from New Zealand.  Judy  is one lucky lucky lady, to have the opportunity to travel and pick up seashells from around the world! Can you tell, I might be just the teeniest bit envious?  

Confessions of a Shellaholic....

OK, I confess. I am unashamedly a full-blown shellaholic. And I know I’m not alone. Many of you reading this know what I mean when I say I love everything about shells – how they feel in my hands, how each one is different, how incredibly they travel thousands of miles before I find them and how, even with broken parts and rough edges, they are truly beautiful.

Show me a beach and while I’ll admire the sea and the setting, my eyes also will be cast downward in search of one of God’s treasures. I’ve collected shells on every beach I’ve ever seen, so when I had the chance to explore new beaches while attending a conference in New Zealand, I was in beachcomber heaven.

I was particularly excited to learn that New Zealand has what might be called a “national shell” that is used in beautiful jewelry and is an iconic design in many other forms of art from pottery to silver. It’s the Paua, a small, particularly colorful abalone, so not only was I on the hunt for such a shell, but I was determined to bring home a piece of Paua jewelry.

When I’m in a foreign country, such as New Zealand, I try to be a discreet sheller. I’m never sure how the locals feel about my taking shells off their beaches or what they’d think about some of them finding their way to Gig Harbor, Washington. So – no pails or buckets for me. Instead, I’ve got a lightweight jacket with a ton of inside pockets, plus long sleeves that zip off to become a vest for warmer days. I line those pockets with plastic Ziploc bags and I’m ready to discreetly collect my treasures … that is, after I’ve checked the local laws to make sure it’s OK.

New Zealand’s north island has beaches on both the South Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea. Playing hooky from meetings one day, we took the train east to Paraparaumu, a small beach town on the Kapiti Coast that faces an island wildlife reserve. We hit the beach on a windy but sunny day and had it to ourselves. We oohed and ahhed over the driftwood until we began to find beautiful striated shells that my shell encyclopedia says are Pacific Tritons. There were other colorful shells – clams and scallops and cones as well -- and before long, my jacket was bulging with shells that never would have found their way to my beach in Gig Harbor except in my pockets.

Other memorable shelling beaches were up north in the Bay of Islands, an archipelago where we spent five days with the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand who still practice their native culture. Each day, I wandered a different beach in my vest, finding flat scallops, colorful umboniums, terinas, terebras, augers and portions of pen shells. On one beach, almost every shell bore shades of blue; on another the shells were striped orange and white. I tried to be selective, but it was hard to resist them.

Shelling on a group tour can be problematic because shells need to be washed to eliminate unpleasant odors. So every afternoon I washed, sorted and dried my shells anywhere I could in our hotel room – the counter, the tub, the back of the toilet. But this wasn’t work – it was like sifting through a box of jewels.

We stayed with friends near Auckland before coming home, and I took that opportunity to soak my shells in bleach and dry them in the sun. But wait – they live at Snells Beach, so there I was, gathering more and more because our hosts helped me fill my pockets.

While all this shelling was fun, we still wondered how we’d get all these little gems home. We’d collected nine pounds all told, and both our suitcases were already very close to the 5pound limit. What to do? We decided to divvy them up – put some in our checked bags and some in our carry-ons. We didn’t have to declare them – they weren’t fruit, vegetables, meat or living creatures, so the trip home was without incident.

Now I have shells that I will simply admire for their beauty and also use in my shell art for Just Beachy. And I revel in the knowledge that these aren’t shells I bought from an online shell store in Florida; I picked these myself (my sore back was proof positive!), washed and sorted them, and will forever remember the wonderful beaches of New Zealand where I found them.

Yes, I’m a shellaholic and like another “aholic” we hear about, I found New Zealand’s beaches to be my own personal “open bar.”

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Easy Elegant Scallops

Bacon, scallops, sea salt, and garlic - how can you go wrong?

Scallops can be tricky if you are not careful, they need to be fresh, large and cooked only until they are done or they can be more than a little "rubbery" (is that a word?)

Bacon Wrapped Scallops are incredibly easy, and can be presented so elegantly, your friends will know that you are a graduated gourmet chef!

Large Sea Scallops - plan on 2 or 3 per person
Thick Sliced Bacon
Sea Salt (or Kosher Salt)
Fresh Ground Pepper
Chopped Garlic

1. Liberally salt and pepper your scallops, then "sprinkle" on your chopped garlic

2. Use 1 bacon slice per scallop and wrap them completely - use a skewer to secure

3. Place under broiler until bacon is crispy and done, it's just enough time for the scallops to also be done without getting overcooked.

A suggestion for you - serving these scallops with a lovely balsamic reduction sauce would be a beautiful final touch. So easy to do; simply cook your favorite balsamic vinegar over high heat 12 -15 minutes,until it becomes syrupy and bubbles begin to form.

Or you can cheat like me and use prepared balsamic salad dressing!  I served our scallops with an avocado, heirloom tomato salad, dusted with fresh rosemary Asiago cheese and a Tuscan balsamic dressing.  Our Pinot Noir is a favorite from the Oregon Willamette Valley, Domaine Drouhin.

Yes, we eat and drink well around here.

Cheers to a Happy Weekend!  We are headed up to Sonoma County to see our friends and celebrate a birthday.  I have heard a rumor that there might be wine tasting involved....

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Happy New Year! The Year of the Water Dragon

How thrilling!  Not only is it MY year on the Chinese New Year Lunar Calendar, but it is also the year of the Water Dragon - how lucky am I??

The Water Dragon occurs only once every 60 years on the Chinese lunar calendar,  and is expected to bring prosperity, luck and exciting transforming changes.   I am ready for whatever this year may bring!  How about you?

Now to add some traditional red and water elements into my coastal decorating to celebrate - and to encourage the good luck!

Red coral always makes me happy and it does have a beautiful organic shape. (reminiscent of a dragon!)

Hmm... and it does come from the sea....

Maybe a few new pillows to toss on my couch?

Could not resist this one - it's already on my bed!  Just a touch of red in my sea aqua room....

Or a beautiful red bowl for my ever-growing collection of seashells?  I like this one for the sea grass type of etching on the base.  Can you imagine this filled with bleached white shells?  I can, it would be so gorgeous!

Wishing you all a very Happy Chinese New Year!  Special wishes to my fellow dragons... you know who you are.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Oh Yum... Salmon with Lemon Caper Sauce

Saturday morning started out with a picnic breakfast and a gorgeous beach walk at Montara... it's a new beach walk that we discovered just a tiny bit north of Half Moon Bay right off Highway 1.

Completely awestruck! Clear blue sky, roaring waves -  amazing, powerful, soul restoring, with fewer than 10 people (and a few puppies!) on the beach to share this incredible experience. Worked up an voracious appetite after our walk in the sand. So, of course we had to stop at our favorite fish market in Half Moon Bay on the way back home for some local fresh caught salmon for a seafood dinner feast.

To die for - Salmon with Lemon Caper Sauce


Fish + Marinade
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
2 large shallots
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons of olive oil
4 salmon fillets

Lemon Caper Sauce

2 1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fish stock (or 2T each water and clam juice)
1/4 cup half & half or light cream
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 Tablespoons capers, drained
cayenne pepper

1. Fish: Mince parsley, basil and shallots in food processor or by hand; place in plastic bag with oils and salmon. Seal and turn to coat salmon completely; refrigerate 2 hours or overnight; turn occasionally.

2. Sauce:  Simmer lemon juice, wine and stock until reduced to 2 T, about 12 minutes, add half & half and boil until reduced to 1/4 cup (2-3 minutes)

3. Add Dijon Mustard to the already reduced lemon sauce.

4. Stir in half and half

5. Whisk butter in over low heat, 1 Tablespoon at a time, letting each piece melt before adding the next.  Set aside,  then add capers, salt and cayenne pepper to taste.

6. Keep Warm - but not too warm!

7. Finish: Place salmon on aluminum foil if grilling or on broiler pan, skin side down.  Grill or broil until opaque, about 8 minutes (be careful not to overcook!) depending on thickness.

7. Plate and spoon the sauce over each fillet and garnish with extra capers or parsley if desired.

School of Fish Wine Tumblers
Make sure to serve your elegant dinner with a really good wine!  And don't forget the pretty wine glasses too....

We've been saving a bottle of Alpha Omega Chardonnay (Napa Valley 2009) for a special occasion. Luckily for me,  every Saturday with Tom seems like a special event, even if we are just hanging out at our dining room table....

*vanilla sea salt tomatoes recipe courtesy of the Walrus and the Carpenter

Have a great week!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Beach Fossils on a Winter Coast

Beverly Beach, Oregon Coast.

We left Portland early on New Years morning, driving through the gorgeous Willamette Valley  - I was so excited to get to Lincoln City that I could hardly stand it!  (picture of Mount Hood taken from a hill in Dundee while were searching for our favorite Pinot Noir winery)

Tom has the patience of a saint,  I made him pull the car over several times when we started driving along the coast to Patti's.  Thank goodness he understands my need to actually hear the roar of the ocean and breathe the salt air...

First of all, I have to say that I am EXTREMELY lucky that my friend Patti took a leap of faith and bought her beach view cottage just above Beverly Beach a few years ago, and she was nice enough to invite Tom and I down for New Years Day.  She and her husband Michael live an incredible beach life, walking their pretty collie dogs on the beach, writing and playing music, searching for agates, hanging out at the Newport Aquarium, and scooping up fresh crab off the docks in Newport.  (Can you tell that I am just a little jealous?)

Second of all, a winter beach is so much more interesting to me than in the summer. The sky is filled with fascinating colors and clouds -not seen in summer. The beach takes on a whole different flavor and shape, revealing treasures and tidepools. 

I like that I have to wear my scarf, an extra sweater, and my furry jacket with big pockets...  I was practically skipping when we finally got to Patti's! 

Beverly Beach was littered with agates and jasper.  Michael and Patti know exactly what to look for, I simply pick up pretty rocks and put them in my pocket.  When my pockets are full, I put my rock finds in Tom's.  (he is the BEST boyfriend)

I love the winter sky on the Oregon Coast...

The sand had shifted to reveal ancient fossil rocks that don't show in the summer.  

I don't think I have ever seen fossils like this before.... 

Tom spotted this beautiful heart shaped shell fossil near the surf, it might be my favorite find of our day at Beverly Beach.
It's exactly how I feel about the Oregon Coast.  

I am so excited that we will be going back this summer!  Our reservations have already been made for a weekend trip in August with Tom's family near Cannon Beach.  Can't wait.

Relax and Live at the Beach Every Day of the Year!

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