WRITTEN ON April 12th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Appetizer, Bacon, Fish and Shellfish, Holiday

Little Necks, Big Hearts

Looking out my window this morning at the about-to-burst magnolia tree in our yard, it dawned on me that it’s now been one full year since we bought our house on Dewey Street and moved to the ‘burbs from the big city.

The first few months were a frenzy of activity. Updates to the house (including a powder room under the stairs that I now refer to as the Harry Potter Head), combined with our normal grueling summer beach travel (life’s tough, isn’t it?) had us feeling a little less than settled.

But during that time I also had the great good fortune of finding myself included in a monthly book club (who are we kidding…wine club), meeting women who are now friends and neighbors. Through trial and error I discovered my favorite yoga studio in town, and my favorite yoga instructor. I planted my first flower garden (and learned the hard way what poison ivy looks like.) I nursed wounds that somehow refuse to heal.

Fall ushered in cooler weather and new family traditions.  I joined the Y and got a library card.  We threw a bitchin’ Halloween party. A Thanksgiving table laden with deep fried turkey and all the trimmings, around which shone the faces of our blended families. Our first Christmas season, our first tree, our first snow. Followed by our second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth snow. All of which brought us to spring, and the magnolia.

Through it all I have had a growing sense of what a warm and wonderful community this is. I was nervous about the fact that the hubster had grown up in this very town.  Would I live my life here feeling like the third wheel, never in on the jokes, the old stories, the fond memories of a Huntington gone-by?  Apparently not. I was not only immediately embraced by the people from hubby’s past, but I’ve also created my own routines, and am slowly carving my own niche.

This past weekend was the perfect example.  At our regular Saturday morning spin class at the YMCA (where we saw no less than three people we know, including one new friend who met Kevin through me, not the other way around), we learned of a 5k the Y was sponsoring on Sunday morning and thought, why not? We came home to bagels and yard work, getting down and dirty in the first warm sun of the season. While out in the front yard, we were heckled by two neighbors and friends who just happened to be driving by (we live on a corner) and stopped to critique our work. Later that afternoon, I stopped in my favorite fish shack, Jeff’s Seafood, to pick up some local little neck clams for a private dinner I was doing that night. The guys behind the counter there are patient, funny, and super helpful.  Much of the fish is local and they are champions of what comes out of the sea right here, on Long Island.

After work on Saturday night, I met hubs and his father, step-mom and a family friend at our Italian joint of choice, Joanina, where we chatted with the owner, sampled new wines they were pouring, and left with long stem roses (for the ladies), hugs, and promises to return soon.  We woke up Sunday and headed over to the YMCA, ready to run.  Jogging through our neighborhood, to the cheers of little kids on the side of the road yelling “Yay runners!” I felt suddenly overcome with emotion. It’s been a hard road, all things considered, over the last couple years.  We are waging a constant war against not only our own fertility issues, but against my mother-in-law’s colon cancer. There are times when it feels as if the world is going to open up and swallow us whole.  And yet…there are moments like those on Sunday morning, completely impromptu, crossing the finish line together surrounded by the community we are growing to love like a family member, that make everything else melt away.

Sitting at the counter of our local diner after the race, sharing a vanilla-chocolate milkshake (ahh, marriage and the art of compromise), felt like coming home to the embrace of an old friend.

As I write this, dear readers, the blooms on our 30 year old magnolia are just beginning to open.  An old tree, a new beginning. I know how it feels.

One-Year-Down Long Island Little Neck Clams “Casino” (makes 12 clams)
12 little neck clams, scrubbed clean and shucked, on the half shell
½ cup panko bread crumbs
¼ cup soft bread crumbs (you can use a baguette for this, just chop it very fine)
4 strips bacon
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped fine
2 springs fresh oregano, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp butter
Fresh cracked pepper
Preheat oven to 400. Arrange clams on a baking sheet, place in fridge uncovered.  Chop bacon into small cubes.  In a small sauté pan, melt butter.  Cook bacon over medium heat in pan until crisp. In a medium sized bowl, combine both bread crumbs, herbs, lemon zest, garlic and a few cracks of pepper. Pour bacon, melted butter and bacon fat over, toss together to combine. Top each clam with a small mound of bread crumb mixture.  Bake in oven about 8-10 minutes.  Drizzle with lemon juice and serve hot.

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