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We’ve officially found our way to Tennessee–and for the last five or six weeks, have been taking every possible opportunity to eat our way through Nashville. But, between the time change, adjusting to our temporary home with family friends Jim and Carol, and the culture shock of adjusting from the surly northeast to the oh-so-friendly south, we are just barely starting to feel settled, let alone find our new watering hole. The good news is, we have found oysters!
Right after we arrived, I started a new job with Nashville Lifestyles, a luxury magazine that covers all there is to know about living the good life down here. Being back in an office after all these years working from home (or on the farm) was by far the biggest challenge I’ve faced since the book release. But, I’m taking advantage of my exploratory phase and quickly found a way to do some research on oysters (there’s a handy reference guide for Nashville oyster lovers in the November issue). A trip to The Southern with my coworkers netted several dozen (Wellfleets, Kumos, Beau Soleils…) as well as an appreciation for their oyster program and shucking skills, both of which are solid.
Meanwhile, Dave and Charlie settled into a day-to-day routine at the house, which is about to be turned on its head: Dave has landed a job (yay!) and Charlie is headed to daycare for the first time ever. He’s more than ready for the transition — he tells us every day, in his very own language, how excited he is to meet new friends.
And although the book launch is already a year behind us, I was able to get a few signings in this fall with a swing through the Midwest. Dave and I hit up Milwaukee for a signing at the stunning Harbor House restaurant, where I got to spend the evening with about 50 oyster lovers and the restaurant’s incredibly friendly staff. They went out of their way to take us out, show us the town, and left me with the best parting gift ever: an authentic Harley Davidson jacket – huge thanks, Chris!
The next day, we made our way to Chicago for a signing at Shaw’s Crabhouse and to attend yet another unforgettable Hall of Fame Dinner. This one was in honor of John Hall, founder of Goose Island Beer Company whose very first wholesale account was Shaw’s. The two businesses have clearly grown up together so it was a great celebration to mark John’s milestones–and naturally, there were a number of exceptional beers.
Back here in town, Dave and I are back to the task of exploring Nashville’s top restaurants (Catbird Seat is high on the list). I’m slowly working my way through the endless number of hip little coffeehouses (which are seriously impressive–they’ve perfected the vibe down here) but for dining, The Southern will surely be on the regular rotation, as will Merchant’s, City House, Holland House, The Pharmacy, Local Taco, and Judge Bean’s Barbecue. Our ICOB/Eastern Standard equivalent is still out there, waiting to be found… but we’ve got plenty of time to make our way down the list. One meal at a time.
How did it get to be March already?! The book mobile has been rolling nonstop since the holidays so I’ve hardly had a chance to breath let alone put something up on the blog. But things have started to slow down — relatively — which means it’s time to catch you up.
My “world tour” made a quick stop in Chicago where Shaw’s Crab House and the culinary group Chicago Gourmet hosted Skip and I for a luncheon and book signing at the Shaw’s Oyster Bar. Dave and Charlie joined me, as did my father-in-law Dave along with a few other Murray family members giving me plenty of familial support… but even if I had been by myself, I would have been surrounded by friends. The entire team at Shaw’s made us feel like we were part of the family, giving us free reign of the space throughout the day and even inviting us to their staff bowling party later that night (sadly, we were on baby duty…) It was an epic day filled with new friends and plenty of book lovers.
Next stop was New York City where Dave and I went on a much-needed adult-only restaurant crawl hitting up as many oyster bars as we could find. My super quick synopsis is below.
The trip wasn’t all research, of course. The guys from Island Creek joined me for an oyster and book event at Peels NYC — my first NY signing to date. It was great to get back behind the boat for a few minutes and the guys were, as usual, the most popular folks in the place.
In between all of the traveling I taught a merroir class at Boston University. Before tasting through a dozen different oyster varieties, I walked the students through the flavor profiles of four different species: we had East Coasts, Pacifics, Kumos and Olympias. (Unfortunately, the Belons were being finicky.) We dipped into a little oyster lore as well as a bit about how each oyster was grown. The students were fantastic – really engaged, solid questions, and hopefully took away a little ammunition for their next trip to the oyster bar. Behind the scenes, CJ & Hoban from ICO plus Frank & Francisco from ICOB kept the oyster platters filled before joining me out front to offer a quick shucking demo. Overall, I’d say the class was a raging success… and I’ll be doing another one at Formaggio Kitchen at the end of April.
There’s been a pretty fantastic run of press for the book these past few weeks, too. I’ll work on getting the press on my About page updated — in the meantime, check out the links to my interviews on The Splendid Table and ABC 7 Chicago.
So when does reality kick back in? The past few weeks have brought me back down to earth as we’ve gotten back into the rhythm of work / home life. But we did take a quick break this past weekend to visit Dave’s sister in New Haven — her family just welcomed their second daughter, Becca Jean on Friday! I’m happy to report that she is healthy, happy, and has a stunning head of hair, just like her big sister.
Despite the book tour quieting down, I’m still swimming knee-deep in oyster work — mostly thanks to some side work I’m doing with the farm and upcoming classes and oyster program. To answer a question I get asked almost daily, no, I never do get sick of eating those little suckers. Hopefully you won’t either.
As far as year’s go, I’d say this one’s starting off on the right foot. We spent the first few weekends traveling both for the book and for fun and I’ve managed to meet a number of die-hard oyster lovers along the way.
My trip to Houston brought me to some of the nicest, most voracious oyster fans I’ve ever encountered. Brasserie 19 hosted an oyster and wine tasting set for 4 pm on a Friday and sure enough, the place was packed to the gills and completely sold out at over 160 people. The entire crowd was into it, slurping back our selection of East and West coast oysters with genuine excitement for what was on the plate. My Dad, who played manager/bodyguard for the night, got a few pictures but mostly, we just enjoyed chatting up the crowd and spreading oyster cheer.
The following day, Hubbell & Hudson, a fantastic gourmet market in The Woodlands (with its own walk-thru beer cave and on-site cooking school) hosted me for a signing which drew a decidedly different oyster crowd: the kind who enjoy them at home. It was so refreshing to see so many folks who were comfortable with a shucking knife. Admittedly, before I worked for Island Creek, I don’t think I would have braved shucking oysters at home on a regular basis…special occasions are one thing but these folks seemed to be bringing oysters home just because it was Saturday. It inspires me to get back into the habit.
We also got to see some of my family’s Texas friends, as well as some of the extended ICO family: Shore’s aunt, uncle and cousin. It’s good to see these pockets of die-hard ICO fans spread throughout the country.
Here in Boston, I’ve been busy dining my way through oyster menus at spots like Harvest and La Morra. Next up, I’ll be doing a signing at the Weston Library this week, followed by a dinner at STIR Boston next Wednesday, Feb. 1. Then it’s on to Chicago, a class at Boston University, New York City… yes, it’s turning out to be quite a year. For those keeping track, Charlie’s now a pro at getting through airport security.
Will I see you on the trail? If not, you’ll be able to get a glimpse of SHUCKED on the air a few times in February. My interview with The Splendid Table airs the week of February 18… but before that, our long-awaited appearance on Bizarre Foods will air Monday, February 13 (host Andrew Zimmern gave the book a little love this past fall). Tune in for a look at life on the farm… and hopefully I’ll see you out on the road!
PS – Check it out: I made it onto a local bestseller list!
I’m hitting the road this winter to give Shucked a little national love. First stop: Houston. I’ll be there January 13-15 doing events at Brasserie 19 and Hubbell & Hudson so if you’re down that way, please come out and say hi. I’d love to get to know some folks from the Texas oyster world and hear what’s happening down there. As my friend Alison Cook mentions in her exceptional blog post about our long-winding friendship and my book, the Texas oyster season is officially closed due to red tide, which gives us a great excuse to try New England oysters — but I’d love to learn more about the oyster growers along the Texas coast and what this means to their business.
(Speaking of Alison, I have to give her huge props: I never mentioned our encounter in the book but really wanted to. Her encouragement helped propel me into my adventure. Alison – thank you! And I hope to see you in TX.)
I’ll also be heading out to Chicago from February 5-7 for an event at Shaw’s Crabhouse — a place I became pretty familiar with on a trip out there in 2009. Skip and I will be hosting an oyster luncheon where they’ll be serving recipes from the book after which, I’ll be hanging out in the Oyster Bar for a signing during oyster happy hour. (PS – all of the details for these events can be found on Signings and Appearances.)
Closer to home, I’ve got some really fun events coming up including a very special night we have planned at La Morra in Brookline. Chef Josh Ziskin cooked a meal for some wine-loving friends and I right before I started on the farm — he paired oysters with gnocchi and it pretty much blew my mind at the time. He and his wife Jen are very kindly hosting a Shucked dinner (four courses, paired with wines for $65) on Wednesday, January 18 at 6:30 pm to commemorate the journey. I hope you’ll come out for what is sure to be a stellar meal.
And now, a few notes about our first Christmas with Charlie:
- We hit the road for a ten-day Southern tour stopping first in Charlotte to spend a few days with my family and then made our way to Knoxville to celebrate Christmas with Dave’s family.
- The kind and supremely generous folks of Hama Hama Oysters sent out a few dozen of their regular oysters and Blue Pools, which my family and I happily slurped back a few days before Christmas (thanks, Adam!)
- Both my niece Gracyn and Charlie teased the idea of trying oysters. Alas, neither fully took the plunge but I see a couple of oyster lovers in the making.
- We don’t have video proof, but after hours and hours of practicing with his Pop-Pop, Charlie had his first official rollover on Christmas morning right at the feet of Grandpa Dave. Of course, no one actually saw him do it but he started off on his back and a minute later, he was on his belly. So we know it happened somehow… and it made for an exciting milestone. Now, if only we can get him to say Mama…
- Charlie got to meet his great grandad Joe, or JoeJoe as the kids call him, another milestone that formed an instant friendship. Between JoeJoe, Charlie’s cousin Alice, and the many cousins and aunts and uncles we spent our week with, Charlie was fully entertained during our time in Knoxville (and I think it’s safe to say that the rest of the family was, too)!
Thanks to our entire family for making Charlie’s first Christmas so special! And to my Mom who created these adorable Shucked aprons…modeled by my parents and our dear friends Carol & Jim right before they shucked several dozen ICOs on New Year’s Eve. I have the feeling Dave and I are going to get a lot of use of them out on the road. (And PS: We’ve got a few extras if anyone’s interested!)
After enduring a little over 9 months without oysters, I’m now eating my weight in bivalves in order to make up for those painfully empty days. Or at least, that’s the excuse I’m using. That, and the fact that I’m promoting an oyster book pretty much give me free reign to eat Island Creeks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I so please.
Just over a year ago, I helped the guys at Island Creek put together an insane oyster tasting that put 18 oysters from both coasts side by side. The tasters included a number of wine experts — the idea was to create a new set of oyster descriptors, a new language that we could use to better describe the complexity of merroir. The tasting was a huge success in that we collected some out-of-this-world terms (lobster butter, shiitake mushrooms, linden flower) and because I still use a lot of the terms regularly when tasting several different oysters in one sitting. It’s the difference between calling a Rocky Nook “salty” (which it is) or saying it has an “olive-like brine.” Or recognizing that the toothsome, beef-like bite of a Moon Shoal is balanced by its brown-sugar finish.
These past few weeks, I’ve had the honor of tasting oysters with some fellow journalists who just happened to be interviewing me for the book (ok, so there was usually bubbly involved but, I swear, we were getting work done) and it occurs to me that there are many, many more oysters out there for me to try. Dave, Charlie and I are headed down to Charleston, SC for the Association of Food Journalists conference tomorrow where I’m told I need to get my hands on some Capers Blades (what a killer name). I’ll also be in Philly in November tasting oysters at DiNardo’s and look forward to seeing what’s on their list.
The point is, I really need to keep practicing. Like with wine, tasting is the only way to improve the palate. So, this past week, I got back to it with some old favorites: Moon Shoals, Beachpoints, Wellfleets, Belons, and of course, Island Creeks. The good news is: I still consider Island Creeks the gold standard of East Coast Oysters… a fact I’m guessing will never change.
So what are your recommendations? Any others out there I need to try?
Where better to dive back into adult reality than the Island Creek Oyster Festival? I admit I’ve been a victim of “baby brain” these past few weeks so it felt good to get back down to Duxbury and help out with the nuts and bolts of this massive annual event. I’m not sure how much of a help I was to those who had been immersed in the minute details these last several weeks (Cory, above, included) but at the very least I think I earned a few of the many oysters I downed during the party.
The event kicked off Friday night with the first ever Friends For Haiti fundraiser which brought some big name chefs into the mix. We had Jonathan Benno from Lincoln (nee Per Se) and chefs Brian Huston and Erling Wu-Bower from The Publican in Chicago along with good friends Jody Adams, Angela & Seth Raynor, Jeremy Sewall, and a host of others. There was a fantastic live auction which Angela co-emceed with editor Annie Copps as well as the Festival’s first ever “fire pit.” Suffice it to say, our little festival is all grown up! The Friday night event proceeds went to Caribbean Harvest, a program founded by Valentin Abe who came up from Haiti for the festivities. He very kindly shared his story with the crowd before the auction, explaining that his work is all about the people he helps. Read more about what he does here.
On Saturday, Island Creek hosted it’s annual Oyster Festival complete with thousands of ravenous oyster and food lovers, a couple dozen chefs from Boston and NY, and as always, a killer band. It was a perfect day that turned into an absolutely stunning night, as captured by Dave out on the beach.
We even got Charlie in on the action – his first Festival at just 6 weeks old! Dave nabbed plenty of compliments carrying around his little guy while I took care of my volunteer duties. But we couldn’t have done it without the help of my parents, Mimi & Pop Pop. Huge thanks, guys!
The best part of the Fest was seeing these notices plastered all over the merch tent…
Thanks to Elizabeth Burnham for that! Can’t wait for that signing, set to take place on Saturday October 22nd at Westwinds Bookshop in Duxbury. Speaking of which, I’ve created a very handy “Signings and Appearances” page here on the blog where you can keep track of any and all SHUCKED related events. Hope to see you at one of them this fall!
Look what we did on our summer vacation! World, meet Charlie. Born July 31st at 6:05 pm, he is the adorable handful that Dave and I are lucky enough to call our own. It’s been a wild first few weeks what with the sleeplessness, the feeding, the massive mental shift of sharing our lives and our space with a bouncing, fussing, fully functioning new family addition. But really, we promise we’re enjoying every second of parenthood… so far.
In Charlie’s first few weeks of life, we got him up to speed on the important things, such as how to enjoy Maryland blue crabs at Eastern Standard’s annual Crab Festival (ICOers Skip, Mark, CJ and Shore were all there to help him out and while it wasn’t as wild as years past, it certainly gave Charlie a taste for Old Bay) …
… along with where to go when he wants to get the area’s most incredible oysters. Yesterday, Charlie and I took a trip down to Duxbury so that I could be part of a shoot for the television show, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. While Charlie didn’t quite make it out onto the water, he did get a taste of his first oyster via osmosis. (Physically, he was about 5 minutes away with my friend Jenn in Kingston – which gave mom enough peace of mind to spend her first few hours away from the little peanut and not fret the entire time.) The shoot itself was loads of fun – Andrew put the whole crew at ease and even beat Chris at a shucking contest. I may have even gotten a little plug for SHUCKED into the footage (the episodes airs in February… stay tuned).
Speaking of the book, all systems are go for an October 11th publication date which we’ll be celebrating with a number of signings and book-related events. Get in on the fun by “liking” the book on Facebook or keep an eye on the blog where I’ll be adding a calendar of upcoming events. We have signings scheduled for Boston, Duxbury, Hingham, Philly, and Wilmington, DE so far… I have the feeling there will be many more to follow.
Until then, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll keep posting pictures of Charlie and any other fun oyster-related adventures I’m on… now that I’m able to eat them again (post pregnancy), there will be no more excuses for blog neglect. Next stop: Oyster Festival.
Please forgive the epically long pause between posts. Life has gotten in the way, once again, now that my time on the farm is over. And if the attention grabbing headline is news to you, I’m sorry that you’re reading it on my blog! But it’s true: Dave and I are expecting our first son in August. The timing has been fortuitous — especially since I don’t have any mud flat runs in my near future (though I can’t wait to get back to it once our little guy arrives).
Besides the obvious life change, I’ve rejoined the world of publishing for a brief stint back at Boston magazine where I’m filling in for the food editor while she’s out on maternity leave. I’ve been back for a few weeks now so I’m finally feeling comfortable in the new routine — though returning to office life has been a tough adjustment. Let’s just say that nothing compares to showing up to work in a hoodie and a pair of mud boots.
And so, my writing career seems to have picked up a few paces in front of where I left off. Thankfully, I’m now focused fully on food. The only downside is that being pregnant brings with it so many restrictions. Wine, obviously, is off limits but so are my beloved oysters in the raw. Moments like this make me want to cry.
Still, I’m grateful that I can put together stories about food and once again, immerse myself back into the restaurant world of Boston, which I adore. This gig is up in May at which point I plan on throwing myself into the freelance world and hunting for work to keep me busy until the baby arrives.
The book, by the way (the book!) is in the copy edit stage, meaning I’ve turned in the first draft, done a thorough edit, and am now waiting for all of the red marks to come back to me one more time. The process has been eye opening — not only for the amount of time, emotional energy, and effort that goes into the writing process but for my own feelings toward it. I can honestly say it’s as emotional as producing an actual child, complete with the insecurity, pride, guilt, and unconditional love. Having put the book aside for a few weeks (well, sort of… it still lives in a pile by my desk where I pick up pages of it to read every day) I can say that I am truly terrified of letting it go. It’s been such an incredible journey and, in some cases, a very tough slog, and every step that I take forward only takes me further away from a life that I loved. My attachment to the entire project grows weaker each day but I can’t imagine it being completely done and behind me. It just seems so… final.
To ease the pain, I’ve thrown myself into this other work, other writing, and into preparing for what will surely be my next big life adventure. I still miss Island Creek every single day but take comfort in the fact that the folks there are still my family and I’m still part of theirs. They’ve even given our unborn baby its very own nickname (a rite of passage)… Poseidon. Looking forward to finding out if this little guy enjoys being on the water as much as I do.
Book writing is a tedious business. Up every day, staring at the screen, wondering whether my words are going to fully capture my 18 months at Island Creek or just dip below the surface. But slowly, I slog on, hoping that something cohesive and maybe even witty will come out in the end.
What breaks up my day are frequent and often supremely entertaining visits to the Island Creek Oyster Bar. Wednesday’s stopover involved a comparative tasting of almost the entire oyster list with the front of house staff. Although the list changes day to day, there are a couple of staples that are starting to become favorites and the staff was eager to try them all side by side. So, we sampled them in flights — three flights of three oysters plus one palate-whopping finish.
It went like this:
Island Creeks, Duxbury, MA
Rocky Nooks, Kingston, MA
Cuttyhunks, Cuttyhunk, MA
Riptides, Westport, MA
Peter’s Points, Onset, MA
Wellfleets, Wellfleet, MA
Shigoku, Bay Center, WA
Hog Island, Tomales Bay, CA
Kumamoto, Puget Sound, CA
Wild Belon, Harpswell, ME
After tasting and taking notes, the staff shouted out descriptors using a new list of oyster language that we devised after a similar tasting (scroll to the bottom) Skip and I ran at Eastern Standard in September. With this new set of oyster words, the staff opened up their vocabulary when describing certain flavor qualities. Instead of creamy, they opted for compound butter, yogurt, or heavy cream. Instead of earthy, they offered musky, miso, and my personal favorite “sea mushrooms” (which don’t exist but totally should).
Here are a few other oyster descriptors to try:
Hard Candy sweet
Pear, Asian Pear
Melon, Green Melon
Sea Salt, Flake Salt
Olive-like, Greek Olive or Picholine
Creamy, feta-like saltiness
Mouthful of ocean
Chewy like a mushroom cap
Crunchy like kale
A bit dumb, weighty
Stringy, like bamboo shoots
Like sucking on a penny
Saffron (like lead)
Pine, pine needles
Like licking a mossy rock
Muddy, River mud
Smoked Meat, Prosciutto
Whether the Hog Islands really tasted like “green beans for a tin can” or “had hints of fennel” is still up for debate but I think we all walked away with sturdy understanding that oysters can be much more complex than briny, sweet, or vegetal.
For those keeping track, the wild belons are absolutely stunning this time of year. This is an oyster that was originally introduced to U.S. waters in the 70s by the University of Maine. Experimenters assumed the crop died after they failed to produce but what the oysters were really doing was getting used to their new habitat. Years later, they started reproducing naturally and now grow wild near the shores of Casco Bay. Amanda Hesser covered this story several years ago – a great read about a mind-boggling oyster. If you’ve never tasted Flats, get ready for a completely unexpected contrast to the brine of the Virginica or the melony cucumber of a Kumo. As Rowan Jacobsen says, this oyster doesn’t want to be your friend. But, if you’re up for an adventure, this is the time to do it. It’s December which means the waters have turned colder up that way, putting the distinct European-flat, mouth-coating hit of metal right around an 11. Also, I’m offering a prize to the person who can pair it with just the right wine. Hint: It may or may not be something sweet. Good luck.
My very last day on the farm ended with a group lunch at Tsang’s. Wholesale and the crew… suits and boots… all noshing away on General Gau’s and pork spareribs.
While I have plenty to share about my last week on the farm, I’m about to hop on a plane to Portland, Oregon for a week of road tripping up the Pacific Northwest. So, I’ll leave you, for now, with some of my favorite Duxbury eateries.
…for the Old Italian…
…for the mac n cheese (and usually a Twix and some cookie samples)…
…for a bagel and the best coffee in town…
…for an IPA, a warm fire, and some laughs…
…for the crabcake sandwich…
…for ham and cheese croissants…
…for the chicken verde burrito…
…for the pulled pork sammy…
… and a fried chicken box lunch.
There will be one more meal to enjoy, just not in Duxbury. The Island Creek Oyster Bar opens for business tonight… around the same time we hop on the plane. My best of luck to everyone who worked their tails off to get that place running. You guys are going to rock. We’ll be there as soon as we get back…