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There are so many things I want do with this blog — it’s hard for me to settle on just one. So how would you guys feel if I kept it going… and only occasionally mentioned oysters? For now, anyway. There are many, many oyster tastings, oyster farms, and oyster people for me to cover. But I might throw in a few non-oyster topics too. They will involve food, of course. And the people who create it, whether that be from the ground level (or bottom of the ocean) or in a more finished version on the plate. And it will be full of photos when I can get them. Sound good?
To start, I have to brag, just a little bit, about the event I helped coordinate with Dave and our great friend Nicole Kanner this past Sunday. Eat Your Heart Out Boston took the stage for the third year in a row showcasing the best in local food and music at the updated Paradise Rock Club. We had an incredible crowd come out for the party, which started with a 13-chef dine around and ended with a series of rocking indie bands. We did it to support two very special organizations, Future Chefs and ZUMIX , who help educate Boston high school students through the culinary and musical arts, respectively.
For Dave and I, life revolves endlessly around the worlds of food and music. We go out to eat, we see shows, we cook, we play music (well, he does anyway; I just listen). We are devoted to both worlds both for the richness they bring to our lives and for the people they connect us with. We’ve learned that where there is good food or good music, there are great people. Simple as that.
Sunday brought those two worlds together in such an inspiring way. One of my favorite local bands (and my neighbors) You Can Be A Wesley played a lovely short coustic set early in the night, then we saw two ZUMIX kids get on stage (Renee Marrone and Jennifer Aldana) and not even blink an eye at the hundreds of people they sang an acoustic set before — truly courageous and talented kids. We also watched as two of our participating chefs, Tim Wiechmann and Will Gilson, poured their hearts out on stage with the soul band Dwight & Nicole. The room was absolutely electric with that performance.
Of course, the food rocked too. Jamie Bissonnette‘s Slayer bocadillo (with blood sausage and kimchee) admittedly stole my heart but I have to give chef Josh Buehler and his team from KO Prime props for their killer table display. Keep an eye on the Eat Your Heart Out website for more pics soon. It was a raging and successful night of fun and I am so grateful to everyone who showed their support. Thanks, guys. Get ready for next year!
As for me, I’m slowly getting reacquainted with my home office and day-to-day city life. I’ve carried over some silly habits since leaving the farm, like rising at 5 am every morning and checking out my tide chart once or twice a week. That, and I’m still obsessed with the weather. But it’s good to be back in this world. I get up, I write, I focus for as long as I possibly can, then I relax and see what the rest of the day will bring. I’m testing recipes, working on some other potential book ideas (stay tuned), and freelancing when I can. The book is coming along, slow and steady. Just what I was hoping for.
And yes, there are still plenty of Island Creek moments in my life. I drop by the Island Creek Oyster Bar at least a few nights a week (they’ll get tired of me one of these days) and a few weeks back, I made a triumphant return to Duxbury for a long-overdue going away party. It ended, in classic ICO style, in Don Merry’s garage where we admired his handiwork: a massive buck that he’d landed with a bow and arrow. The story is legendary and one only Don should share. But I’m hoping he’ll tell it again when he serves us all some venison stew.
Hard to believe Thanksgiving is almost a week away. One year ago, around this time, I was recovering from my stage and first trip to Per Se. Which means I probably forgot to share this fantastic holiday recipe with you. My mom and I made this Herbed Oyster Stuffing last Thanksgiving at my parent’s home in Texas and it was a huge hit. There’s still time for you to order some Island Creeks and put this on your shopping list for next week. Enjoy.
And so, life goes on.
My time at Island Creek ended, ceremoniously, with that last lunch at Tsang’s. But there had been a pretty eventful week leading up it as well as a couple of neat oyster moments directly thereafter which I never properly reported.
It started with a visit from Adam James of the Hama Hama Oyster Company out in Lilliwaup, Washington. He was in town doing a tour of the Northeast and stopped by the farm for a quick morning to scope out the operation. While it wasn’t a great tide to get him out in waders, Chris, Skip, and I were able to show him the Plex and give him a peek at the cages.
Skip popped a few oysters open for him, giving him a taste of Island Creeks at their peak. The oysters are just starting to get plump with all that pre-winter glycogen; the flavor is perfectly round and sweet. Just beautiful.
Adam’s operation is a lot different than ours. His family owns the 400 acres of tidal flats he farms on out in Washington’s Hood Canal.
While he has plenty of space to grow, he’s working with a unique, gravelly surface and 17-foot tides. His oysters are all naturally raised, meaning they’re grown from spat set on shell (versus ours, which are “free range”), which he harvests mostly by hand (their tides get them about 4-5 hours of picking time) and he’s growing both Pacifics and Olympias. He also grows geoducks and Manila clams.
As I was able to see for myself last week, his operation is similar to Island Creek in so many ways. Dave and I visited his farm on our trip to the Northwest the week after I left the farm and found it to be just the right day trip for our week-long tour. The company recently built a brand new retail operation and processing facility which sits right off Hwy 101 on the eastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula — the drive over from Seattle takes you across the spindly fingers of land that jut out into Puget Sound. We arrived to find Adam tapping away at his computer, which he happily abandoned to spend a day touring the farm.
After checking out his shucking and jarring operation (he has a big audience of shucked meat lovers) and sampling some of the oysters his wife Andrea was in the process of smoking, Adam and his dog Derby showed us around the rest of the farm. His family owns about 4,000 acres, all of which surround the Hamma Hamma river, a fresh water source that runs straight out of the Olympic range (and happens to be flush with salmon). A few family houses as well as a horse barn sit at the eastern edge of the property near the water but just past that sits a lovely forest park, planted originally by Adam’s grandfather — his family has owned the property since the 1920s. Up the hills, Adam pointed out where they’ve harvested and replanted glades along the range — they sell Christmas trees, too.
He walked us up the river a bit, pulling out a paper bag halfway through the walk to dive into his true passion: mushroom foraging. As we walked, he darted amongst the trees pulling up chanterelles and carefully stowing them away in his bag. Though he mostly forages for his own consumption and fascination, I’m hoping he’ll stash a few into the oyster shipments that have started showing up regularly at the Island Creek Oyster Bar.
Out on the water, Adam introduced us to one of the oyster crews who took us out for a ride on the barge. A heavy duty version of our skiff, the barge can handle a large number of oysters — they use it to pull up the seed which they keep on the southern part of their farm in rack systems as well as to harvest from the beds which sit a little farther north, close to the mouth of the river. That cold rush of fresh water, Adam said, is what gives Hama Hamas their sweet and briny balance.
We got to to sample a few, of course, fresh off the knife. As Adam pointed out, a few were still in spawn mode but those that weren’t were firm and juicy.
With our appetites fully primed, Adam took us back to his cabin and made us a hearty, Northwestern lunch: bagel cheese burgers made from beef Andrea’s father grew topped with freshly picked chanterelles.
While Adam offered to put us up in his family’s guest cabin for the night, Dave and I made our way north into the Olympic range — but we’re determined to get back out soon and take you up on that offer, Adam. Thanks again for everything.