I felt incredible driving to work yesterday morning. Refreshed, renewed, strong... at least until about 10:30 when we started pulling out silos to grade the seed. Our babies exploded while I was away! Not only was I huffing and puffing trying to pull the massive seed out, but my arms were completely out of shape. After a week. So pathetic. Yesterday we hit the tide early to change over some of the nursery bags to a larger size -- the seed we put out there a few weeks ago is massive but some of it may be out there for another 4-6 weeks so we want to make sure it has plenty of room to breathe. I love seeing the difference in size -- it seems so dramatic in such a short period of time.
As for the upwellers, I was happy to see that Eva and Catie (the other seed mamas) kept things under control. It's insane how heavy our silos have gotten. But, the fantastic news is: We've started planting. Just today in fact. For those who don't know, once Island Creek Oysters have reached a certain size in the nursery (about the size of a half dollar), they're planted on the bottom of the bay floor where they're grown "free range" as we like to call them. They won't attach to anything; they simply grow loose on the bottom. Over the next several months, they'll grow pretty big until the water temperature drops in November when they'll go dormant. Once the water warms back up in the spring, they'll continue growing until they reach full size (about three inches) around harvest time. We'll be harvesting this batch sometime in Fall 2010.
To get started with planting, we pulled about 75 bags of seed out of the river and spent the morning dumping it into the bottom of our boat. Skip then took the boat out to the now empty lease (we spent the last few weeks cleaning all of the oysters off the bottom) and with a snow shovel, carefully flung loads of seed out onto the bay floor (he did it at low tide so he could watch the way the seed distributes).
While planting is a good sign, we still have a ways to go with the seed. Skip is planting the first batch of seed we received this past May and he'll leave the newest seed in the nursery and upwelling system until they're as big as what he planted today. Berg broke it down for me yesterday: we keep the seed growing in the bags for as long as we possibly can because once we plant it, the growth that occurs on the bottom of the bay floor is out of our control. By keeping it in the bags, we're keeping them safe from predators and giving them a little breathing room to grow.
Essentially, my job as Mama-Seeda is winding down but we still have a long way to go to get it all planted.
In the meantime, summer is definitely winding down. Quinn headed back to Indiana University last weekend. Eva is here just one more week (which is devastating since she's been an enormous help on the seed); Pops is off to college in a few weeks and Maggie's headed back to grad school at the end of August. "In the fall," Maggie said yesterday, "you guys will feel like it went by in a blink." She's right. Summer is just way too short. But don't worry about us. We're soaking up every second. We wind down the day with a swim and are doing everything we can to soak up the sun (with sunscreen on, of course).
Now, to the trip. There are way too many great stories to tell so I'll keep it focused on the food. A few dining highlights:
Greenhouse Tavern, Cleveland We found this spot on Saturday night after taking in a baseball game. It's right in the theater district and had the best crispy frites topped with a poached egg. Also discovered Dogfish Brewery's Theobroma. Love it.
Founder's Brewing, Grand Rapids, MI Dave has become quite the beer nerd which pleases me to no end since it gives us an excuse to hit up every divey beer bar and brewery we come across. At the Publick House (where he bartends) he serves Founders' Centennial Ale among others so we stopped into the brewery on our way through Michigan. Beautiful space with lots of windows and long, winding bar plus views into the on-site brewery. The beer cheese dip (made with cream chese, gouda, plus three of their beers: Pale Ale, Red Rye, and IPA) was a gooey, outstanding road snack.
Alinea, Chicago Words can hardly describe this one. We were blown away from the minute we sat down. It's a dining/theatrical experience, from the rock-heated basil and tomato vines (served as an aromatic essence to accompany heirloom tomato salad) to the nitrogen-frozen mousse finale (wherein chef Grant Achatz himself arrives at the table to plate a variety of blueberry sauces, maple-wood globes, the mousse, malted ice cream, and fresh thyme artistically across a silicon pad set directly on the table and then tells the diner: "the rest is up to you.")
I am still wide eyed over the white chocolate sphere filled with watermelon liquid and accompanying straw filled with raspberry jam AND Bubbilicious bubble gum and piece of caramel-drizzled bacon served from a string. Also adored the "steak and potato" course with sous vide wagyu beef, potato crisp covered potato cream cube and involved a centerpiece that spewed dry ice and the smell of the grill (garlic, thyme, smoke) across our table in wisps of smoke. Oh, and there was a packet of powdered A-1. We managed to catch a little piece of it here.
Map Room, Chicago Another beer lovers' haunt, complete with volumes and volumes of National Geographics stacked in the bookcase. We hit this post-Alinea so our palates were fuzzy but the Guldenberg was a nice nightcap.
The Publican, Chicago Our final stop before the long car ride home. The design and decor are really unique with long, communal tables, tall, stiff-backed chairs and beautiful wood and brass fixtures. We were there for afternoon service (3:30-5:30) so didn't have the full menu or a big crowd but the space was filling up by the time we left. The limited menu was a perfect sampling of their easy, lighter dishes. We took in some frites (also offered with a poached egg - I'm seeing a midwest trend here) as well as some oysters (the chef's selection, decent but ultimately disappointing since they weren't our own) and the charcuterie plate (pork pie; duck liver terrine; spicy Spanish sausage; and a first for me, raisin mustard).
Eastern Standard, Boston
Ok, ok. Not on the itinerary but we did end our vacation here on Sunday night. Garrett Harker invited locally based friends that are originally from in and around the Maryland area to join him for an authentic Maryland-style crab festival and it was glorious. Newspapers, mallets, Old Bay, Natty Bo in the can, tasty crabs, and yes (YES!), TastyCakes for dessert (Mom, you would have loved it.) It ended with CJ laying face down on the table due to a self-induced food coma (he survived) along with us leaving in time to get a full night sleep and head back to work on Monday morning.
It is fantastic to be home but sadly, staring into our far-too-empty fridge makes me really want to go back to Chicago. Or at least crack open some Island Creeks.