You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2009.

…the more we seem to have. We’ve spent the last five days on the tide planting a lot of our seed by hand with the no-fail “fertilizer” method (we walk the bags from the cages to the lease and shake them out one by one to cover the ground evenly).

we walk and shake, careful to get the right amount evenly distributed on the bottom

we walk and shake, careful to get the right amount evenly distributed on the bottom

The seed is almost up to 1.5-2 inches in length but still feels brittle in the bags. Once we get it out onto the floor, the shells immediately start to toughen up. Now that they have space to grow and aren’t fighting for nutrients nearly as much, they’ll really start to pop. By the time the cold water hits them later in November, they’ll be bigger and ready to sleep for the winter.

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The plan is to get everything planted in the next few weeks so that we can get all of our gear out of the water and settle in for winter. It’s been a good run with some late tides on Friday and Saturday nights. The crew can get a little cranky at the start of long days like those but everyone’s been in good spirits. Plus, we’ve had the farm’s old friend Meggie working with us all week — she’s actually getting ready to move out to Chicago and take a job in the kitchen at Alinea so we’re happy to have her before she goes.

Finally, with Oyster Fest behind us and the seed nearly planted, fall has arrived. Good thing since Tuesday was the first official day of it. Funny, I’ve never paid close attention to the beginnings and ends of seasons but these last few months have given me a new respect for them. It’s not just being outside in the weather. It’s feeling the cycle shift from one point to the next and reacting to it accordingly. My body has gone from the rigid, achy soreness of a hectic summer to a more relaxed, looser pose. I can breathe a little more easily. My back’s not nearly as tight and my arms and hands are finally able to stretch out and feel good. No, I’m not wimping out (shaking the seed is a ridiculous arm and shoulder workout) but I do feel like winter will be here soon and we can all take a big sigh.

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The other good news is that we’ll be showing up with our raw bar at events around town now that we have more time. First stop: The FB Fashion Week Kickoff Party tomorrow night. We did an event at Rialto last week where Michelle Bernstein of Michy’s in Miami came up to cook with Jody Adams. They started the meal with a reception where we found our oysters topped with popcorn (!) and aji amarillo.

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We’re also about to hit the sweet spot for oysters. Once the water temps drop, the oysters that are ready to be harvested get really fat and juicy. Definitely the best time of year to eat them… and there will be lots of opps to get out there and eat them on us, including my personal fave, Eat Your Heart Out Boston. Stay tuned.

Phew. I finally found some time to sit down and wrap my head around Oyster Fest and just in time: I believe my clothes have finally dried out. It was a one of the wettest 36 hours we’ve had all summer (despite the entire soaking month of June) and of course, it had to fall during the set up and timing of the farm’s biggest party.

The rain didn’t deter the tents from going up (there were delays but they eventually went up) or the rock star committee from getting the bones of the event put together on Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning, we woke up to a deluge that tapered off to a windless drizzle and eventually dry skies. The morning was productive, though. With dozens of volunteers plus the tent, lighting and sound crews, the world of Oyster Fest slowly took shape. Committee member Brenda Henriquez and I were busy getting the chef’s stations set up and all of the decorations pulled together (entirely Brenda’s doing and it looked fantastic) while Nancy Bennett and her crew hung the signs. (Her crew included Billy and their grandson Joe who suffered a minor thumb injury and missed the entire party — never run with scissors!)

VIP tent

VIP tent

The morning was a blur but the chefs started to arrive and things quickly moved into high gear. They rolled in one by one: Chris Schlesinger’s sous chef Eric from East Coast Grill with the Caja China (stuffed to the brim with Gourmet — see the story of it below); Jamie Bissonnette of Toro with his pig portioned and wrapped in foil; Louie DiBicarri and Ian Grossman from Sel de la Terre who were full of hugs and big smiles; Jody Adams and her team; B&G’s Stephen Oxaal; Solstice’s John Cataldi with a solar powered-oven; Nick Dixon from Lucky’s Lounge; and Tony Maws from Craigie on Main with his adorable son Charlie in tow. By now the tent and everything around it was shrouded in an incredible fog and I got a call from Will Gilson who was turned around and had traveled halfway out to Saquish before turning around to find us. Jackson Cannon arrived with his bar set up and two super quick helpers from Eastern Standard. Jasper White rolled in around 2 and gave me a big hug before pulling on his chef’s jacket. The jackets, made by Shannon Reed, matched the signs and the motif . Aside from one small typo (sorry, Jeremy), the chefs really seemed to like them.

most of our Oyster Fest chefs

most of our Oyster Fest chefs

Louie & Ian

Louie & Ian

Suddenly, I looked up and it was 3:15. The party had started and guests were rolling by. The first hour was filled with families and little kids who were crawling all over the Kids Zone but before I knew it, 4 pm arrived and the beer taps were open. The chefs, picking up cues from the ravenous crowd, started putting out their food earlier than scheduled, which was fine for Skip and I who found ourselves snacking behind the tables once or twice (but probably not for the people in line).

a little taste of Midnight

a little taste of Midnight

Around 5, the VIP tent opened and folks started trickling in, eager to try Seth and Angela Raynor’s “oyster crack” (aka: green love), Chris Schlesinger’s Peking roast pork, Jody’s scallops in crazy water, and Jasper White’s razor clam ceviche. Jackson was just getting started with 4 different Grey Goose cocktails when I snuck away to check out the rain situation at 5:30. Consensus? It was a downpour. It would taper on and off but never fully let up until well past midnight (the upside was that we had more than a few fantastic lightning displays). But the troops, all 3,000 of them, carried on unphased. Between the space under the main tent and the confines of the beer tent, most people stayed pretty dry.

I ran over to the main tent a few times to find my crew working their butts off behind the raw bar. The Andys, Will, Greg, Catie, Eva, and Pops were volunteering, Maggie had her art on display (again, more on that below), and we even had an appearance from Quinn in the form of many (many) phone calls.

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Our shucking contest culminated with the finals which were up on stage at 9 (I jumped up to time one of the contestants) and wouldn’t you know it, our old friend Chopper won the prize. By then, the crowd was in full swing with the Heavyweights on stage and oysters disappearing like hotcakes. The VIP tent almost took on an open door policy (which Jackson handled remarkably well considering he and his crew were weeded for a good hour) and folks in the main tent were dancing up a storm. I made it to the side of the stage for the last few songs, including one killer performance of “Don’t Stop Believing.”

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I ended the Fest sitting on stage in an empty tent with Dave, Nicole, Shore, Skip, and a few others surveying the damage. I had a huge grin on my face and a sigh of relief. It was all behind us and despite a rainy night, we’d survived it.

There was, of course, the inevitable after party at CJ’s house which
involved a kickass DJ and several kegs of Harpoon.

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I rolled into bed around 4:30 that morning all amped up and psyched to spend the next few days reflecting on our successes (and few failures), reminiscing about the party, and hearing how everyone else perceived the night.

Now, to the story of the pig. The plan was to give Chris Schlesinger his pig on Saturday morning at the Fest. But Friday afternoon, I got a phone call that went something like this:

Chris: Hey Erin, I have a few questions for you … (two easy questions followed)… and now here’s the hard one. Is there any way we could get our pig delivered into the city today?
Erin: (Pause.) Hmmm. Well. I guess it wouldn’t be… impossible (internal freakout).
Chris: Because, I have to say, knowing that she’s 125 pounds and considering all of the logistics, we really want to get her up here and have a look at her. We’d really like to get to know her a little better, if that makes sense.
Erin: Sure, of course Chris. I totally understand. Let me make a few phone calls and get back to you (more internal freaking).

I pick up the phone, call Matthew, call Berg, call Shore… outcome did not look good. Finally, Matthew agrees to pick up the pig at the butcher in Bridgewater, bring her back to the shop and the plan was I would load her into my Honda Civic (yes, a Civic) and drive her up to Boston around 4 that afternoon.

I head down to the Festival site to start setting up and get a call from Matthew: he and the pig are almost back at the shop, do I want to meet them there? Yes, I said. Be there in 5 minutes *to drive the pig up to Boston.*

Just then, my old friend (and new favorite) Cory shows up and tells me that he is driving one of the vans up to Boston to help Maggie pick up her art in time for the Festival. Would you be able to drop off a pig, I ask? He hemmed and hawed (understandably) and finally said: Yes, Pain. I’ll drive your pig to Boston.

Later that night, I get a text from Maggie: Can I have your email address? Sure, I replied with the address. This is what I received in return:

pig delivery

Along with a note from Maggie:
“So we are going to pick up my paintings and had to deliver a pig on the way. It was quite the site! Crowds were forming. We just got paintings into truck. Success. En route home.”

When I got the message, I happened to be at the Winsor House with Shore, Skip, and Matthew who got an enormous kick out of the photo. Cory was obviously the hero of the night (and if I haven’t thanked you enough, Cory, I owe you big time).

It was just one of the many, many examples of the number of helping hands it took to put this thing together. As Shore said early in the day on Saturday, “Can you believe how many people are working to make this event happen right now?” It was remarkable. We are incredibly fortunate to have had so many people interested in working towards this goal. We raised a huge amount of money for the Island Creek Oysters Foundation and it really was a pleasure to be a part of it all.

And… so… Now what?

I got to the farm this morning after a short day off yesterday and found the harbor eerily empty. It was about 50 degrees and I could taste that crisp bite of Fall. The effects of the party are still heavy in the air (and so are the stories, which keep revealing themselves) but I’m happy to have it behind us — and ready for the summer to fade out slowly.

quiet September morning on the harbor

quiet September morning on the harbor

There are a few duties at Island Creek that the guys probably didn’t realize fell under their job description. One of them is pig wrestling.

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Now, we all knew that our pigs, Gourmet and Midnight, would end up at the butcher eventually. Some guys may not have been prepared for what that would require. But Matt Henderson and Graham Bouthillier were ready. Tasked with getting our massive piggies onto the truck, they arrived at the pig pen at 7 a.m. with gloves, rope, boots, and a 6-pack of Bud tall boys (for the pigs… and themselves). After some sweet talking, a few dabs of beer, and two dozen donut holes, the pigs were under the impression that aside from the growing number of onlookers and the truck parked nearby, life was going to be ok.

getting prepped

getting prepped

born free

born free

And then Hendo roped Midnight and unleashed hell.

I won’t go into details (it was ear-piercingly loud and pretty tough on the guys) but will say this. It takes 1 dozen Island Creek farmers to get two pigs into the back of a truck: 4 to wrestle them, 3 to lift them, 2 to soothe them after it’s done, 2 to photograph it and 1 to supervise.

Don watches over the mayhem

Don watches over the mayhem

Thankfully it all ended well and the whole display was really a testament to how these pigs were loved their entire lives and treated with kindness, respect, and a whole lotta pastry. Their sacrifice for the cause did not go unrewarded. Hendo and Graham saluted the pigs with a tall boy and drove them down to our butcher on Wednesday.

So, here we are, 4 days before Oyster Festival. The pigs have been butchered (sorry, kids), the tents arrive tomorrow, the tuna has been caught (before the high seas we’re expecting today, thankfully) and the razor clams are coming up today. What else could we possibly need? Oh right, sunshine.

Forecast right now calls for wind and rain today with more on Thursday, more rain Friday and then, fingers crossed, a few clouds giving way to sun on Saturday. We’ve got tickets left and PLENTY of food, including about 40,000 oysters, which has the farm in a tailspin. All of the crews have been cranking to get their oyster donations in before Saturday and get ahead of the weather. It’s been hectic but I’m convinced that our efforts, along with the pigs’, will make for an absolute stellar day on Saturday. Hope to see you guys there.

(Also, quick note: FOX 25 did a great job with this clip about my experience on the farm. Gives you a really good sense of why I’m doing this and what we do at the farm all day.)

Considering we’ve only had about six weeks of summer, I truly hope this isn’t the end of our nice weather. But the summer crew is gone, Oyster Fest is less than two weeks away, and now we’re dealing with hurricane season. Must mean fall will be knocking.

Last week, reality set in: We finished working on the seed and completely dismantled the upwellers. It was one of Catie’s last days on the farm so it was only appropriate that we wrap it all up (in her four years working there, she’s never been around to see the upwellers go completely empty… or taken out of the dock). We did our final grade on half-inch screen on Thursday, ending up with plenty of seed to go into the nursery. While we normally would have planted it all immediately, we were looking at an oncoming hurricane — planting would have been a bad idea before a storm that size blew into the bay. So we locked it safely into the walk-in cooler at the shop (where it will stay cool and safe) and will get it into the nursery at some point this week.

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While Catie and I finished the grade (and a little reminiscing: “remember how brutal those first lousy weeks of June were?”), the guys took the upwellers out of the dock. This project required a little bit of finesse (we have all those rowing boats to dance around) and a whole lot of brute strength (we have A2). Once the motor and bolts were taken out, the guys systematically lowered the trough to empty the water out, then tied some line through the pipe holes so that four of them could lift it out and put it onto the boat.

the giant box we call a trough

the giant box we call a trough

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It wasn’t without its frustrations (or laughs) but we got everything pulled out and put away before lunchtime. Friday, we spent the day storing it all away which required many trips back and forth between the water, the shop, and the farm where we’re keeping all of the big stuff. We also spent the morning securing our float in the Bluefish River. I thought moving it ten feet last winter was a big deal but this required separating our two floats, attaching the soaker float (the long flat one which has baskets underneath it where we soak our oysters to keep them cool in the heat) to our mooring in the bay, and pushing our garage float (with our little Carolina boat) all the way over to the river where it would be protected should Hurricane Danny decide to blow super hard.

new digs

new digs

Of course, the weekend came and went and we survived the storm. But we also had several inches of rain come down on Saturday alone which means the State has shut us down for a few days. Since our oysters are filtering about 30 gallons of water a day, they’re eating up whatever’s been washed into the bay. Of course, once the waters even out and our oysters are filtering clean water again, they’ll be perfectly fine to harvest. (These types of things don’t bother oysters who are happy to just sit around and eat all day. Must be nice.) Once the State comes back down to check the waters (probably tomorrow) we’ll be able to harvest again. Hopefully there won’t be any hiccups because we are going to need some serious numbers in time for Oyster Fest.

E&D Duxbury

Last year, Dave, our friend Nicole, and I all went down and enjoyed an afternoon on the beach, slurping back oysters and plenty of Harpoons. This year, I’ve gotten to be a part of the planning which I’ve really enjoyed. And keeping the focus on putting on a green and eco-friendly event has been the coolest part. Not only do we have our pigs ready to go (to the slaughterhouse tomorrow, officially), but the 18 chefs who are coming down are all set to whip up dishes made from a ton of local ingredients: Duxbury striped bass, scallops, razor clams, tuna, heirloom tomatoes, and plenty of our oysters. We’re recycling our oyster shells (40,000 to be exact) and using completely compostable dishware and glasses. Pulling it all together has been a pretty smooth process; now it’s time to settle in and enjoy it. And we’re still selling tickets!

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