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I’ve been getting this group of women together for wine dinners since 2006 (we call ourselves Lady Lushes mostly because it’s so fitting). I love these women; they all truly appreciate good wine and food and want to be educated in a really casual environment. Plus, I think we all hate drinking alone. We try to meet at spots where there are female sommeliers (there’s a growing number up here) and usually do 3 or 4 courses with ample amounts of wine. I always have a great time and we’ve had some unforgettable meals (Silvertone & Oleana are tied as faves).
Last night we made it to La Morra (where I hosted the first dinner way back when) and in honor of my move, owners Josh (chef) & Jen (who handles the wine) gave me a great send off by putting Island Creeks on the menu. Josh admitted he doesn’t use them often (don’t find too many oysters in Northwest Italy) but he managed to totally elevate a gnocchi dish with fresh oysters, cauliflower, and caviar. It was all layered in a butter and chive sauce which I literally licked off the plate. Fantastic job, Josh.
Tonight, I’m headed to Rialto for a New England Shellfish Dinner. Rowan Jacobsen is speaking and signing books so I’m hoping he can help me with the whole oyster prose dilemma. Stay tuned. Oh, and if you haven’t read it yet, check out Jody Adams’ blog.
Thanks for all your notes, comments, and links. Lots of love for the first week of Shucked! Two quick things: I have no idea why but I’m now on Twitter (@erinbmurray) and so is the Oyster Dude (@Oyster_Dude). Please, please follow CJ on Twitter. It’s ridiculous. Also, I’ll occasionally post pics from photographer David Grossman who has done an awesome job chronicling the ICO life. Thanks for providing visual aids, Dave!
My mom, Dottie, came up to Boston on Sunday for a quick visit so yesterday I drove her down to Duxbury to show her the new digs. Despite my attempt to totally freak her out with this move (as she puts it: giving up a perfectly good job to go work outside), she has been nothing but supportive from the start. And she’s really trying to like oysters…really, she is! My dad, Kelly, on the other hand took a little longer to come around. We put it into terms he could accept (I was attempting to be the James Michener of the oyster world) and he finally admitted that it all sounded pretty cool.
Mom and I got to ICO Headquarters around lunchtime and found Shore in the office…in slippers. Mom was instantly impressed. He showed her the shop, set up in the barn next to the office, and the piles of equipment out back. Skip rolled up to say hi for a minute and he and Shore gave Mom a quick primer on oyster speak. “It’ll take me awhile to get the hang of the language,” I said but Skip reassured me that I’d catch on quick and that before I knew it, I’d be handling everything, including the boat. Mom admitted her biggest concern, which was how cold my feet might get. “The coldest part of the job is the boat ride out in the mornings,” Skip said. “But it’s manageable. Just like riding a ski lift. If you can handle that, you’re fine for the rest of the day.”
Shore, Mom, and I hopped in Shore’s car and he gave us what I like to think of as the $50 tour of Duxbury (he grew up in town so he’s full of informational tidbits, like historical sites and celebrity houses). We started down Parks Street, where the offices are, down to Bay Road and past Kingston Bay. From there we could see the Myles Standish memorial at the top of a hill just past the bay. We continued down into “bustling” Duxbury Center (where there is a Dunkin Donuts but true to town code, has toned-down logo colors) and followed Washington Street to a little parking area by the beach where the entire bay stretched before us. Shore pointed out the leased acreage of the bay marked by buoys sprinkled across the water. It was eerily empty but for a two farmers dragging from their boats; they use a dragging tool, or rake, which pulls oysters from the ground into a basket that is then hoisted into the boat with a winch. “Just wait until you come back this summer,” he told Mom. “It’s the calm before the storm.”
We drove down to the marina (which didn’t look quite this busy) passing Snug Harbor Fish Co. “You’ll eat lunch out here every day,” said Shore pointing to the cafe’s sunny deck. We pulled up in front of the sorting house which had been pulled out of the water and sat in front of the still-under-construction Maritime School building. Normally, the house is set out in the water like this but it came up on land in December and will go back out towards the end of March.
Inside, we found the two Andys busy culling. Yes, the guys I’ll be working closely with are both named Andy. One (the blonde) was wearing several layers, a blue skull cap and a pair of Hunter boots while the other was decked out in a green fleece and jeans. (Note to self: find better way to identify than “blonde” Andy and “the other” Andy.) Not sure about you, but I’ve been wondering about what I’d wear on my first day of work for months. It was about 34 degrees and sunny yesterday, probably close to what it’ll feel like in a few weeks. Finally, I had a template: lots of layers and rubber boots.
We chatted for a bit and blonde Andy told me to come equipped with good tunes. Music and a couple cups of coffee clearly get these guys through the day.
Continuing on our tour, Shore drove us past the old ship captains’ houses and out to Powder Point across the longest wooden bridge in the country. On the other side was Duxbury Beach which is “like South Beach” in the summertime. Driving back over the bridge, he pointed out the back river (great water skiing) before driving us back out towards town and up to the office.
For me, the tour was a tremendous help; it gave me my bearings, a point of reference… and a better clue on what to wear. Plus, Mom was happy to see I wouldn’t be too far from heat, electricity, and a bathroom.
Back at the office, we said a quick goodbye and headed up Route 3 towards Hingham for lunch. Mom had been craving a lobster roll but settled for a massive lobster club and after lunch, we wandered past a few storefronts to get back to the car. “Look!” Mom said, grabbing my arm. She pointed to a window where a pair of green Hunter boots sat beneath a sale sign.
And that pretty much made the day complete.
He’s the one on the right and most of what I know about him I’ve either read or heard secondhand (all good). We’ve chatted a few times, one of the first being the night I pitched him on this idea (Mom was right about those first impressions). He, Shore (on the left), Matthew and I went to Rendezvous in Central Square to discuss how we’d set this whole thing up. After shuffling through logistics our conversation ended like this:
Me: I’ve still never heard how you got here, you know? Your story in your own words.
Skip: It’s a long story. We’ll talk about it another time. It might take awhile. (Pause) Probably about a year. (Big grin)
Last Monday, he was on a speaker’s panel at Eastern Standard (they go through hundreds of his oysters each week) so I got a sneak preview. A few notes:
- He eats oysters everywhere he goes. “I love the process of eating them in a restaurant. Normally we eat them warm, right out of the water. It’s nice to have ice, some lemon, a little wine. Plus I want to taste all the other oysters out there, compare them to one another and to mine.”
- On success: “For me it’s about having a passion and surrounding yourself with the right people. I graduated from college with a finance degree and had a job lined up in NY. But I thought digging clams was so cool so I just followed that passion. There was an opportunity cost to not having a career and I struggled with it a lot then but now, it’s what I believe in.”
- After trying to grow clams in Duxbury Bay (they all died), he switched to oysters (everyone thought they would die). “To some degree, I never really thought it would work. And if it stopped working tomorrow, I’d be grateful I had the opportunity.”
- On his team: “I worked at my father’s garage when I was a kid and the thing I learned there is that one person can really spoil the pot. At work I tell people, ‘it’s your responsibility to be upbeat every day’ and everyone at the company has that. It’s very important to keep that alive.”
I’m just scratching the surface here, so bear with me. Better details are on the way. My last day with DailyCandy is tomorrow and while it’s a bittersweet goodbye, I’m anxious to get down to the farm (despite the 30 degree temps). Dave and I are celebrating at (where else) Eastern Standard tomorrow night with some cocktails and a huge plate of Island Creeks.
I’ve just started reading The Oysters of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark. It’s a beautiful, out-of-print book (you can find a used copy here) recommended by a new friend, Alison Cook. (We randomly met at the bar at Babbo when I was in NY last week. After secretly coveting each others dinner choices, she spoke up and introduced herself. She’s the dining critic for the Houston Chronicle – where my parents live – and while sharing each others’ dishes and a lovely chat, we eventually realized we’re separated by about one degree and have more than a few mutual friends. Truly serendipitous.)
Anyway, Clark does a stellar job of describing oysters; the flavor, salinity, texture, brine. Not sure I can’t do it justice like she can.
“It is briny first of all, and not in the sense of brine in a barrel, for the preservation of something; there is a shock of refreshment to it.” … “You are eating the sea, that’s it, only the sensation of a gulp of sea water has been wafted out of it by some sorcery, and are on the verge of remembering you don’t know what, mermaids or the sudden smell of kelp on the ebb tide or a poem you read once, something connected with the flavor of life itself…”
I’m at a loss for words like this, poetic and prosey, that really grasp the flavor, sensation, and overall aesthetic of tasting an oyster. So at some point in the near future, I’ll have to use my reporter’s approach, a mildly scientific one if you will, to uncover the words, my words, for describing an oyster. It won’t be today, sadly. But someday, very soon. I’ll bring home a bag of oysters, maybe several from a few different farms, then taste them one by one and write down every word, however poetic or not, that pops to mind. I’ll need assistants, of course, and plenty of bottles of white wine and hearty beers (have you tried a good beer with oysters? Please do, it’s fantastic. Try Harpoon’s Munich Dark if you can find it) plus some crackers and plenty of lemons. Date is tbd so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’m open to suggestions.
After months of planning, scheming (in some cases flat-out lying – apologies), I finally announced today that I’m leaving my job as Boston editor of DailyCandy.com to spend a year working at Island Creek Oysters. My last day at DC is Feb 20th; I start at the farm on March 9.
My first glimpse of farm life came from a funny email chain started by ICO’s director of business development, Shore Gregory. He announced to the growers that I would be joining the team in a few weeks and that I’d be writing about the experience, to which grower Don Merry replied all with: What are her measurements?
I had to laugh. It was followed by a barrage of responses giving him a hard time about replying all. (My response was, “I wear a size 4, thanks for asking.”) As Shore later commented, it was classic Don Merry.
I also sent out the obligatory mass email and was bombarded with feedback, all of which was positive, but I was immediately struck by the number of inspired notes I received from women who had thought long and hard about taking a similar life risk. One email in particular stuck out:
I have to admit, when I read your email I became very jealous of you. Lately, I’ve been feeling the same – a strong urge to unplug from the grid and do something more down to earth and “real”. I’d bet you have felt this way for a while, and I think it takes a lot of guts to make the decision you’ve made. I was just talking with one of my girlfriends last week about how great it would be to check out for a while and do something similar to what you’ll be doing at Island Creek. I just wanted to let you know that reading your email today made me feel a lot less crazy about wanting to unplug and was definitely very motivational for me. I really hope this experience is everything you hope for and more.
I’ve been planning this in my head for months and not once have I considered needing justification but this statement alone gave it to me. I’m acting on an urge that I think so many of us have felt. There’s just no good reason not to do it. Here was my other favorite response:
How freakin’ cool are you?! Color me impressed (and can I shuck with you?).Congraulations, Erin; you’re living life the way it should be lived.
Exactly what I was going for.