So, it’s official… I am a published author (cue: cheering crowd). As another writer said to me last week: They can never take away your Library of Congress number. So, there’s that!

It’s been a wild few weeks since the book’s release. I’ve had a handful of signings in and around Boston where I try desperately to come up with something witty to write inside people’s books. It’s tough to be clever on the spot but I’ve settled on one or two catch phrases that seem to both make sense and flow quickly (essential when there’s a line of people–yes, a line!–waiting for your signature). What’s more daunting is staring out into a room full of people who are there to buy my book. I have to let that sink in…

Shucked fans lined up at Westwinds Bookshop

Ok, deep breath. Yes, it is a surreal, out-of-body experience to sign my own book. I keep having to remind myself that it is, in fact, my book and not someone else’s that I’m vandalizing with a foreign signature. I also have to get used to talking about myself and this entire experience in a way that isn’t rambling or disjointed or um, nerdy. Because I can get kinda nerdy when I talk about oysters. I know this because people’s faces glaze over the minute I start talking about upwellers and algae blooms. So I try to keep those parts of the conversation to a minimum and just nod my head vigorously when they ask me if I still love oysters or if I found the experience to be hard work. Both of which are very much true and easy to compute. Upwellers=not so much.

But really, what’s great about this whole experience is that I get to share my love for Island Creek Oysters with lots of people every single day. When I was writing the book, my head was down and all I could think about was the finished product. Now that it’s out in the world, I can sit back and reflect on how much fun I had… and all of the amazing people I worked with on the farm. I’ve had a number of people tell me that they were drawn to the book without even knowing about Island Creek… which is just what I was hoping for.

I’ve also–for the first time, really–been on the answer end of a number of in-depth interviews, which is giving me even greater respect for everyone I’ve ever put on the spot in my writing career. I had some fun doing a Q&A with Bon Appetit’s Sam Dean while an interview for the Patriot Ledger was so thorough, it made me want to go back and re-interview for every story I’ve ever written. I also enjoyed writing a piece for the blog section of The Huffington Post and just this past weekend, did an appearance on TV Diner. Consider my 15 minutes of fame officially clocked.

The absolute best part about being on the circuit? Having Dave, Charlie, and a few of my good friends there with me. (Jenn: Your babysitting-slash-photography services are invaluable!) Dave is not only beefing up his shucking skills but has become a star in his own right since people now know him as a character from the book (keep an eye out for his forthcoming blog, “Dave: The guy from Shucked”). As for Charlie, as Dave has pointed out: If you haven’t finished the book, our son is a walking spoiler alert. (Sorry!) I feel lucky to have so much support.

Charlie at the Westwinds signing

It’s here! Today is the official release date for my new book, SHUCKED: Life on a New England Oyster Farm. It’s hard to believe that just over three years ago, I came up with the crazy idea to work at Island Creek. The book captures the entire 18-month journey, from my first shaky days out on the flats to the kitchen and dining room at Per Se. For those who have followed along on the blog all these years, first of all, THANK YOU! Secondly, you will find that the book goes a lot deeper than what you’ve seen here, so I hope you’ll give the full version a go. And there are recipes to boot!

Thanks so much for all of your support… and for reading!

Find the book here:
Amazon.com
Barnesandnoble.com
Islandcreekoysters.com
iTunes.com


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.

Moon Shoals

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.

Valentin Abe at Friends for Haiti

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!

Charlie


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.

I’m going to stop apologizing for the lack of posts. But really, I am sorry that things have slowed down here. To be honest, I’ve been busy. Busy finishing up the book, baking this bun in the oven, and getting life in order before both bundles arrive later this year. What’s more, without oysters in my life, there seems to be little to cover at the moment. I promise that will change as soon as I can eat raw seafood again… and as soon as things pick up with the book.

Speaking of which, that somewhat neat little stack of papers represents my last go around with the copy. I’ve now gone through two full edits, one with my editor, the other with the copy editor and am now patiently waiting to see the book in galley form (all typeset and pretty like it will look when it’s printed). From the designs I’ve seen so far, it’s going to look awesome and very much in line with my experience on the farm overall. So what’s next? I’ll have one more chance to make tiny changes to the text when it’s on galley and then, we wait some more! It seems to be a lot of hurry up and waiting but honestly, the process has been really smooth and feels like it’s going at a nice pace. Which is helpful since everything else in life seems to be slowing down, too.

This week marks my last in the office at Boston magazine but I’ll still freelance for the print edition with pieces like this and this. I’ve also signed on to contribute regularly to their blog, Chowder (I usually post a few times a week so for newsy Boston restaurant content, keep that one bookmarked).

One thing I can report is that we had a lovely Mother’s Day brunch at the Island Creek Oyster Bar this past weekend. I was lucky enough to have my whole family in town (in laws and nieces to boot) and decided to show off my old digs. While my sister Shannon and her husband Brian were the only ones who tried ICOs on the half shell (my sis slurped hers down in seconds flat… mostly so that her daughter Gracyn could play with the shells), almost everyone else at the table tried the oyster sliders which are, in my admittedly biased opinion, the most addictive thing to come out any restaurant I’ve eaten at in the last six months. Oh, and the pastries–which are all made in house–are insane. Haven’t been yet? Drop what you’re doing and go. Right now.

Dave, Gracyn and BW at the Oyster Bar

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.

a wine and oyster tasting

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.

Two years ago, around this time, I was nervously plotting my exit strategy from DailyCandy and losing sleep over the massive, life changing decision I’d made to go work on an oyster farm for a year. I was turning 31 and life was about to turn upside down.

That year, Dave and I celebrated the roller coaster that was our lives with dinner at Craigie on Main, which had just moved to its new location in Central Square. As we sat ringside overlooking the kitchen and chef Tony Maws as he worked, Dave presented me with a card which I opened to find a very loving message of support and a print out of an order he’d placed earlier that day. He was giving me my first pair of waders for my birthday.

It was a sweet, hysterical moment for both of us. We had no idea what was about to happen or where this path would take us. We didn’t realize that it would be so physically and mentally grueling yet turn out just as rewarding. We weren’t aware that ungodly early mornings, crazy travel adventures, smelly gloves, and shucking knives would become part of our daily conversation. Or that a whole new family of oyster farmers and friends would enter and take permanent residency in our lives. But here we are, two years and a million good laughs later, without a single regret and even crazier adventures to look forward to.

This year, I turned 33 and am staring down a completely different type of life change. The book will be out this fall, turning my fantastical, odd life story into something physical that will be out there for the masses. (Writing it has turned out to be just as difficult as some of the oyster work was… only, easier on the lower back.) Other than that, my future is a blank slate. I have a million ideas, just a few of which are as zany as this last one, but still, I have no idea what’s next.

In the meantime, I’m eating. Birthday eating has always been an entertaining sport, something to mark the occasion. I’ve never thought much about blogging what I eat (except for extreme cases) and sort of liken myself to this guy, who has a hard time recalling what he eats even though he writes about food. But when I eat really well in one single day, like I did on my birthday last Friday, I think it’s worth noting.

chile-flecked pizza bianco

I started my day writing about white truffles and continued on the exotic route with lunch at Coppa where my friend Nicole and I devoured an uni (sea urchin) panini and addictive beef tongue crostini. We followed that up with a wild boar ragu over chestnut fettuccine (a dinner special that chef Jamie Bissonnette tempted us into trying for lunch) and, finally, a dessert of bianco pizza sprinkled with chile oil.

Despite the insanely large lunch (especially for someone who works from home and may take time for a cup of soup and a handful of nuts when she looks up from the keyboard), I was starving in time for dinner at newly opened Bondir in Cambridge. I was so excited for this meal (especially after receiving the requisite: “dude, should be sweet” from both Bissonnette and chef Louis DiBicarri earlier that day) and was in no way disappointed. Chef Jason Bond was most recently at Beacon Hill Bistro, making this his first solo endeavor. The menu changes daily and I love the way he’s set it up because everything on it, besides a few apps, come as half portions, giving Dave and I the opportunity to eat almost everything available that day (a table of four sitting next to us actually did that).

I died over a couple of his dishes, including a mountain of handmade burrata over shaved fennel and an Indian-style flatbread (the burrata is made in Everett and I’m now on the hunt for more), as well as a rich, elegant bouillabaisse risotto topped with a few clams and tender pieces of fish. The spice milk broth and shellfish ragu that went into the dish turned the rice into something unctuous and delicious – straight from the sea. We also tried something I’d never tasted, Chatham Rose Fish which had the silky, melt-on-your-tongue texture of goose liver. Another ingredient I need to track down more of. (Local, available in winter? Who else catches or uses this?)

rose fish

There were no birthday candles in our Chocolate Enlightenment dessert — only fireworks. The pyramid of heady chocolate was topped with a savory tea foam and sat on top of hazelnut dacquoise. I think we lapped up every last bite, a true testament to its ridiculousness.

It’s been a struggle to come down off that high but there’s nothing like the sobering reality of 15 inches of snow to bring an end to the merry making. I was thinking of nothing but the farm this morning when I woke up to find this outside my door.

I’m sure the oysters will be fine. I just hope the Plex is stocked with plenty of propane.

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:

Flight One:
Island Creeks, Duxbury, MA
Rocky Nooks, Kingston, MA
Cuttyhunks, Cuttyhunk, MA

Flight Two:
Riptides, Westport, MA
Peter’s Points, Onset, MA
Wellfleets, Wellfleet, MA

Flight Three:
Shigoku, Bay Center, WA
Hog Island, Tomales Bay, CA
Kumamoto, Puget Sound, CA

Finale:
Wild Belon, Harpswell, ME

a sampling

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:

SWEETNESS
Hard Candy sweet
Brown Sugar
Natural Sugar
Pear, Asian Pear
Melon, Green Melon
Bay Scallop-sweet
Passion Fruit
Chamomile
Linden Flower
Sweet Corn
Watermelon
Jelly

BRINE
Sea Salt, Flake Salt
Salt Lick
Table Salt
Turkey Brine
Olive-like, Greek Olive or Picholine
Anchovy
Creamy, feta-like saltiness
Mouthful of ocean
Fishiness
Salmon flesh

TEXTURE
Yogurt
Silky
Beef-like, steak-like
Chewy like a mushroom cap
Crunchy like kale
Bright
Jello, gelatinous
Spongey
Thick, toothsome
A bit dumb, weighty
Muscle-like flesh
Delicate, disappears
Stringy, like bamboo shoots
Poofy
Velvety

MINERALITY
Slate
Chalk
Coppery
Tin-y
Zinc
Stone
Like sucking on a penny
Sharp
Saffron (like lead)
Cooked Cabbage
Pepper
Green Tea
Oxidized Apple
Pine, pine needles

FLAVOR
Earthy
Mushrooms
Umami
Mossy
Seagrass
Like licking a mossy rock
Muddy, River mud
Woodsy
Musky
Farm-like
Barnyard
Smoked Meat, Prosciutto
Cooked Cabbage
Hay Grass
Tofu
Bready/yeasty
Sourdough
Uni
Vanilla
Salted Melon
Ripe
Cucumber
Celery Leaves
Fennel
Broccoli
Greens/Lettuce
Funk
Green Garlic
Miso

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.

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?

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.

YCBAW acoustic set

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.

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