Today is the anniversary of the passing of our good friend and Linda's husband Jack. We lost Jack to cancer a few years back and he is, as ever, sorely missed. Jack was a rascal with a seemingly gruff demeanor who, as the rough layers were peeled back, revealed many an interesting side to him. One of those intriguing characteristics was his most masterful cooking skills.
I first met Linda and Jack when I was sent from the Plaza B&N to help open the new store at Zona Rosa. This personable couple were the first to befriend me at this store and after helping them set up the music department, they invited me to have a beer with them at a local brewpub. I was a little out of my element in the Northland so I asked for a rain check. Eventually, I would socialize with them and the evolution of our dinner party group began with Jack and Linda's first invitation to dinner.
Jack's occasionally stern countenance was often a source of amusement for those of us who worked with him. Our store has always been overrun with unruly teens and Jack was the captain of corralling them. The rest of us might get attitude in return but Jack had that authoritative look that growled, "Don't @#*! with me." and they would just scurry away. It was brilliant to watch. However, I think Linda was occasionally a bit frustrated with Jack's rude rep as she knew her husband was a different and gentler man outside of work. I would encounter that softer side when Jane and I joined Jack and Linda at their home for dinner. The invitation didn't come right away. Jack started by torturing me with loving descriptions of the meal he'd cooked the previous night. He would be nibbling on the aromatic leftovers in our break room while I was heating up some Campbell's soup. Realizing he had me swooning with the aromas, Jack started bringing me his leftovers as well and frankly, if the leftovers were that good, I couldn't wait to try out the freshly prepared goodness. Soon, I would start bringing these leftovers home and having Keith taste them. Finally, the invitation came and Jane and I joined Jack and Linda for dinner. Linda would mix a stellar martini and then Jack would soon wow us with his culinary know-how. I savored every bit of that first meal: a velvety crab Bisque, fresh halibut in Vermouth sauce and garlic mashed potatoes. I was in heaven. We enjoyed ourselves so much we decided to make the dinner party a regular date and host it at our various homes. Ronnie and Keith would eventually join us to make it a solid six.
Several dinner parties came and went. We all reveled in this wonderful fellowship of great food and conversation. The fateful day would arrive when Jack would receive his cancer diagnosis and the world just seemed to get a bit grayer. Linda was stalwart in her support of Jack and the rest of us tried to be supportive the best way we knew how. Jack was the very definition of courage through his ordeal, though. He endured what I would consider unimaginable pain and discomfort and then later return to work and tell me that chemo "wasn't so bad". Jack was always a tough soul....this is a man whose hearing challenges were the result of a grenade blast during his time in the military. When Jack returned to his life following chemo treatments, all he seemed to desire was a sense of normalcy. Jack loved to devour life and so he returned to doing just that. I remember a particularly uplifting and boisterous lunch of Mexican food with he and Linda.
The photo above occurred on a December day a few years back at Jane's Christmas dinner. It was a lovely evening but we tearfully realized upon leaving that Jack, despite his valiant battle, may not be with us much longer. Indeed, it would be the last time I would see him. In classic Jack fashion, his passing was marked by a celebratory wake as opposed to a solemn funeral. It was held at the Power Plant, his favorite brewpub, where they brewed a special ale in his honor. The place, unsurprisingly, was packed. No long-winded speeches were made but instead a simple toast in his honor....as it should have been.
Jack would not want a lot of fuss so I won't make any. I called him the Rascal because I was one of those people that had the distinct pleasure to discover what a Renaissance man Jack truly was. He was a gourmet cook, a voracious reader, a lover of great film and a creative painter. When that gruff exterior melted away to reveal that wonderful smile of his, it was a treat every time. It might be an ornery grin similar to my Dad's when he was up to something. It might be a proud smile when we raved over his culinary skills. It might even be that rare look of utter bliss that I witnessed when I caught him watching his beloved wife dance at a party they were giving for a friend. However that smile came, it was a joy to behold.
I mentioned in the post on Jane's recent Christmas dinner that Linda, after multiple requests, had surprised me with Jack's recipes. The bisque recipe is in Jack's own handwriting and I offered to copy it off as I believed the original should remain with Linda. Linda herself insisted I keep it as she believed that Jack would have wanted me to have it. Needless to say, I needed a few moments to recover after that statement. Jack would indeed be proud that I had decided to improve my cooking skills.
Keith and I decided to make Jack's Crab Bisque today on the anniversary date. I will save the Halibut dish for another day. The recipe is posted at the end and will count as Cookbook Challenge #15. The bisque was delicious and a visceral reminder of brother Jack. We served it with some Van Till Farms crusty sourdough bread and toasted Jack with a glass of red wine.
Cheers, Jack. We miss ya. Send me some of your cooking mojo.
Jack's Crab Bisque
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp canola oil
3 large shallots, minced
5 cups chicken broth
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 - 1 lb. fresh or frozen crabmeat
1/2 cup dry sherry
minced tarragon or flat-leaf parsley
In a large soup pot, melt butter with oil. Over medium heat, add shallots and saute until translucent; about 2-3 minutes. Add chicken stock, heavy cream and crabmeat and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Slowly stir in sherry and continue cooking for about 2-3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Remove from fire and either use immersion blender or regular blender to blend until smooth.