Outside magazine, July 1996
I cook (like everyone else) for therapy, and when out on the land, where you have to make do with what's at hand, one of the best antidotes to an impending disaster is to go out and find something wild and fabulous to cook up for dinner. One winter I got my four-wheel-drive pickup hopelessly stuck in the dunes of the Pacific coast of Baja. I was down there on the lam from a dead marriage and had been consoling my broken heart with a steady trickle of Tecates, so I guess I screwed up. But here I was and it was too late in the day to catch a fish. I had plenty of condiments in the back of the pickup but no main course. The sun was setting, and the tide falling. I headed down to the beach to look for something to eat.
I dug among the rocks with a screwdriver, groping blindly for the small clams I knew lived there. In 20 minutes, I had a couple quarts of the little Venus bivalves. By dusk I'd lit a driftwood fire and had a large skillet going with Mexican butter, a white onion, and a head of garlic. I parboiled potatoes in a kettle on the side, then drained all but an inch of water. I added the clams and covered the pot. As soon as the clams opened, I plucked them out and added more, until I had a pile of steamers.
The wind picked up. I added canned milk, blending it into the saut‹ed onion and garlic, and then added the spuds, a pinch of ground chiletepin, white wine, a sprig of dill, and the juice of three limes--keeping the temperature low to prevent curdling. I removed the cooked clams from their shells, added them to the skillet, and heated up the whole thing until the potatoes
were al dente. By now it was dark and the ocean was swallowed in fog. The hell with despondency; this was a great place to be mired. I ate the chowder in front of a roaring blaze, the din of the Pacific shouting in my ears.