In love, you have loosened yourself like seawater.
~Pablo Neruda

From the from Greek ὀκτάπους (oktapous, “eight-footed”), the octopus is a cephalopod mollusk of the order Octopoda that inhabits diverse reaches of the ocean, including coral reefs, pelagic waters, and the sea floor.

There are some 300 species of these complex, supremely intelligent creatures — thought to be the Einsteins of invertebrates. These species are divided into two groups, the Cirrina and the Incirrina. The Cirrina are characterized by having two fins on their head, a small internal shell, and cirri, small cilia-like filaments on their arms with a pair of cirri adjacent to each sucker. The Incirrina, the benthic octopuses and argonauts, include many of the better known species, most of which are bottom dwellers.

All have two keen eyes one of which is dominant, four pairs of sensitive, neuron laden arms with dexterous suction cups that taste as well as feel, three hearts with two pumping blood to the gills while a third circulates it to the rest of the body, and a beak that exudes neurotoxins. As a species, octopuses are bilaterally symmetric meaning they can be divided into roughly mirror image halves. Researchers are becoming convinced that these boneless, ancient creatures have developed intellect, emotion, and personality. Even a sense of cephalopod consciousness.

Octopus have relatively short life spans ranging from 6 months to 5 years. But, it should be remembered that coitus is lethal, a direct cause of octopus demise as most males only survive for a few months after mating, and females die shortly after their eggs hatch (following a brief bout with senility). What a Hobson’s choice: live a longer, celibate life or copulate and die sooner?

Octopuses, octopi, octopodes have uncanny methods of escape. Mimicry and camouflage are aided by chameleonic skin cells which change the colors, opacity, textures, pigments and reflectiveness of their epidermis. Shifting shapes and changing hues, they adroitly merge into their surroundings, hidden from predators. Other times, octopi flee rapidly by propulsion ejecting a thick, blackish ink in a large melanin cloud which actually reduces the efficacy of their predators’ olfactory organs. Since they have no internal or external shell or bones, they can manipulate their body to fit into bizzarely minute crevices. Finally, they can sever appendages as a self-defense mechanism designed to elude a predator’s grasp, and the lost body part may be regenerated later.

Despite the suggestion, baby octopus are not the young of adults. Rather, they are full grown, mature critters which are just a diminutive species.

PREP(S)

If the octopus is frozen, defrost thoroughly.

Should the octopus still have their heads, remove and discard the head or clean the inside of the head and discard the beak. Either sever and discard the heads or keep them attached. If you choose to keep the head on, however, make sure it is cleaned out by making a shallow cut along the head, being careful not to cut too deep and puncture the innards, then carefully but firmly pull out everything inside -or- cut the head off, turn it inside out and use a paring knife to scrape away the innards. Clearer heads prevail here.

If a small black, triangular beak does not come out along with everything else, then insert your finger up through the middle of the body and push it out or extract it. Rinse the octopus well under cold water and set aside.

GRILLED BABY OCTOPUS & LEMON VINAIGRETTE

2 lbs baby octopus

Marinade
1/2 C olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
8 sprigs of fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Vinaigrette
1 C extra virgin olive oil
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T white wine vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
2 t fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1 T plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1/2 t honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Finish
Grated fresh lemon peel
Chopped flat leaf parsley
Artisanal bread slices, grilled or toasted
Garlic head or tomato, sliced transversely

Vigorously whisk all vinaigrette ingredients in a glass bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper to your liking, then set aside. This can be done the day before.

In a large, heavy pot over high heat, bring water to a boil. Turn the heat off and dump the octopus into the pot. Allow to poach for one minute then drain immediately through a colander. Rinse with cold water and dry well on towels.

Whisk together the marinade ingredients and combine with the octopi in a large, heavy plastic bag, then seal. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Remove octopus and allow to reach room temperature. Soak wooden skewers in water. Meanwhile, heat grill to medium high. Consider placing some fresh rosemary sprigs in the fire just before grilling. Skewer a few octopus on each skewer, and then grill about 3 minutes per side, turning once.

Remove from the grill, drizzle with the vinaigrette to your liking and top with grated lemon peel and chopped parsley. Serve over grilled bread slices which have been brushed with olive oil and rubbed with an open head of garlic or fresh tomato before placing on the grill.

KOREAN GRILLED BABY OCTOPUS (JJUKKUMI GUI)

2 lbs baby octopus

Marinade
1/3 C ssamjang (bean and chili paste)
2 T kochujang (chili paste)
3 t gochugaru (red pepper flakes)
2 T shoyu (soy sauce)
2 T mirin
1 T sherry vinegar
1 T canola oil
1/3 C honey
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t fresh ginger, finely grated
2 T sesame oil

Finish
English cucumber, peeled and cut into julienne strips or thinly sliced into disks
2 T white sesame seeds, toasted

Whisk together the marinade ingredients and then pour over the octopus and mix to coat well in a large, heavy plastic bag. Seal, then marinate for 4 hours, preferably overnight, in the fridge. Remove the octopus and allow to reach room temperature. Heat a charcoal grill to medium high and cook for about 3 minutes per side, turning once. Serve promptly strewn with the cucumber strips or slices and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Pourboire: Grill temperature is best assessed by using the traditional hand test. Hold your open hand, palm down, about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands you retract it — for medium high, about 2-3 seconds.

The death of a parent is rarely well served by prose, essay or exalted speech. And obits never do justice. Like life, death is more the stuff of poetry with melodious cadence, dissonance, subtlety and ambiguity. That big visual born of few, yet potent, words that link pasts and presents.

My father was admittedly no wordsmith. He was more a man of carefully metered words and most times an avid listener. He carried a certain grace and charm, a souplesse so when he moved, when he spoke, and even in his eyes there was quiet meaning that seemed as smooth as wet sea stones. While Dad had the power of a raging bull under his skin, outwardly he was poised and glib. Sometimes he was somber, but more often he sported an impish grin, raised brow, dancing look, and always greeting with that crushing handshake. There were diversions along the way of course, some sweet and some not. Nothing is perfect, and none of us are infallible. But, that was the very humor and sadness of the humanity he embraced.

Dad had an abiding love for the endless sea and the eternal pulse of waves. The ocean was his vast cathedral. There he was taught, and there he often returned to discover. So, I felt compelled to give way to a real poet, Pablo Neruda:

Here I came to the very edge
where nothing at all needs saying,
everything is absorbed through weather and the sea,
and the moon swam back,
its rays all silvered,
and time and again the darkness would be broken
by the crash of a wave,
and every day on the balcony of the sea,
wings open, fire is born,
and everything is blue again like morning.

Kiss-principled, pan sautéed sweetbreads. Something akin to what he savored on some weekend mornings as a child.

SWEETBREADS WITH LEMONS & CAPERS

1 1/2 lbs sweetbreads, preferably veal
Whole milk

Sea salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 bay leaf
6 peppercorns
Cold water

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 t dried thyme
All purpose flour

3 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 C dry white wine
Juice of 2-3 lemons
2 T capers, rinsed

Capers, rinsed or
Chopped tarragon

Briefly rinse sweetbreads under cold water. Place them in a glass bowl, cover with milk, and allow to soak several hours. Remove the sweetbreads, discarding the milk. Using a sharp paring knife and fingers, remove excess membrane or fat. Do not overly obsess about peeling, and do not fret if the sweetbreads separate some into sections. Rinse, pat dry and set aside.

In a heavy large saucepan filled 3/4 full, add a generous pinch of salt, lemon juice, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring the water to a boil, add the sweetbreads, and poach for about 5 minutes. Remove the sweetbreads and briefly plunge them into an ice bath, then drain promptly and dry thoroughly.

Line a small sheet pan with a kitchen towel and place the sweetbreads on the towel in a single layer. Fold the towel over them to cover, then place a same-sized sheet pan on top. Weigh the top pan down with whatever works–a brick, cans of tomatoes, a hand weight. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

Remove from the frig, place sweetbreads on a large platter and bring to room temperature. Season with salt, pepper and thyme and dust in flour, lightly coating on all sides. Melt butter and olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat until bubbling but not browning. Sauté sweetbreads until nicely golden brown, turning once. Place the sautéed sweetbreads on a platter or baking dish and set aside, tenting loosely with foil to keep warm.

Deglaze the pan with wine and just bring to a quiet boil, scraping to remove any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Lower to a gentle simmer, add the sweetbreads and finish until just cooked through, about 5 minutes, turning as needed. During the last minute or so, add the lemon juice and capers and cook until sauce has slightly thickened.

Plate sweetbreads, drizzle with sauce, then garnish with capers or chopped tarragon.

This is a culinary ode to St. Barts—that emerald, beach fringed French isle in the Caribbean with its luxurious villas, sophisticated bistros, stunning vistas, harrowing runway, and oil coated nude bodies. Here, you bide the time reclined, barefooted, scantily clad, discussing dinner during a lunch overlooking the azure sea framed by a cobalt sky with the always present puffy white clouds…with multilingual banter and the clink of wine glasses… did I forget to mention bathed in ocean breezes with your toes in the sand?

Anthony Bourdain is right on when he says food just tastes better in naked feet.

In a diplomatic master stroke with undoubtedly some collusin involved, France purchased St. Barthélemy from Sweden in 1878. Some Swedish influences remain, including the name of the its quaint capital port, Gustavia, and the blonde haired, blue eyed populus. But now, the island is part of the overseas département of Guadeloupe, and the French savoir faire exudes.

The goat cheese salad is pervasive at the local restaurants, with good cause. But, perhaps to satisfy that darker and wilder urge for offal, I admit to daily ordering the boudin noir and fabulous frites (blood sausage and fries).

Bon appetit chef Sonja Lee (formerly of St. Barts, now in Oslo)

GOAT CHEESE SALALD

2 C fresh baguette breadcrumbs
2 T fresh thyme, minced or 2 teaspoons, dried
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 sliced rounds of soft good quality fresh goat cheese
2 eggs, beaten

2+ T plus champagne vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1/2 cup walnut oil
3 T walnut oil
8 C mixed baby greens or mesculun
2 heads Belgian endive, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces
2 large ripe pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices

1/2 C chopped walnuts

Create two separate open dishes, one with breadcrumbs and the other with beaten eggs. Season goat cheese with salt, pepper and thyme. Dip cheese into beaten egg, then into breadcrumbs, coating completely.

Whisk vinegar and mustard in small bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Combine mixed greens, Belgian endive and pears in large bowl.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add walnuts and sauté until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to plate using slotted spoon. Reduce heat to medium. Working in batches, add coated cheese rounds to skillet and cook until crisp and brown on outside and soft on inside, about 2 minutes per side.

Toss salad with enough dressing to coat. Divide among 4 plates. Arrange 2 cheese rounds in center of each salad. Sprinkle with walnuts.