Shucked: The Paperback

And so. Here we are, settled in to our new life in Nashville—maybe too comfortably, considering how little attention I've paid to the blog lately. It's been 9 months, we've bought a house in the Sylvan Park area of town, and both Dave and I are feeling invested in our work. Charlie is a mad man, almost 2 years old and fully running the show in our household. Rex, the family dog, is happier than he's ever been with his big fenced-in yard and air-conditioned house. It's a good life in Tennessee. And we're more than ready for visitors. There is still so much to learn about this town. Both in the music and media worlds, Dave and I feel ever-so-slightly on the fringe. But when it comes to food, we're making headway. The food writers in this town, especially, have taken us under their wings (thank you Thomas Williams, Chris Chamberlain, Jennifer Justus, et al) and we have discovered a number of fantastic little gems (putting together Nashville's 50 Best Restaurants and ranking the top 10  for Nashville Lifestyles this spring didn't hurt). Arnold's, Prince's Hot Chicken, the Catbird Seat, City House, Loveless Cafe... these are iconic for a reason. Need recs for your next visit? Shoot me a line and I'll give you the greatest hits.

Plus, I've found the oyster bar. Not the oyster bar, since other restaurants in this town have oyster programs, but "the" in terms of the one that I'll be frequenting for the selection, the service, and the atmosphere. The Southern Steak & Oyster (it's right there in the name) has opened their arms wide to me and, more importantly, to Shucked. This past Monday, the restaurant invited me to guest host their "Oysters In The Round" event, a new program that puts their guests in a somewhat "round" room to eat and discuss a range of oyster varieties.


Fashioned after the songwriter "in the round" nights hosted all over town, the event turned into an educational and convivial one. There are plenty of oyster lovers in Nashville... now it's time to get them access to more of this country's incredible oysters. The Southern seems to be one of a few spots that are actively pursuing oyster education—both for their guests and their staff.


I was honored to work with them on this and hope we can turn it into a regular event (especially if they all end with a lineup of oyster shooters made with barrel-aged tequila and chartreuse).


The timing is right, too: Shucked officially hits the market as a paperback this Tuesday, July 2. I'm guessing this version stands as a more appropriate beach accessory than the hard cover—you know, in case you were looking for a beach read.

Things are picking back up on the book front, actually. I'll be back in Boston for the Brooklyn Brewery Mash on July 14. Brooklyn Brewery works with Togather, a community of authors and readers, to present book events during their traveling beer series. Starting around 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 14, I'll be joining Graham McKay of Lowell's Boat Shop as well as the team from Island Creek upstairs at Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks to talk about the book and offer some fun commentary about life on the coast. If you're in the area, I hope you'll come out for a few oysters and a beer.


After that, I have plans to do another book event with Togather, this one virtual, set for July 22nd at 8 p.m. Log in, grab a glass of wine, and let's talk oysters, y'all.

In the meantime, please know that despite the radio silence, there's still plenty of oyster exploration going on in my world. Thanks to those of you who are still keeping track.

Where the North Wind Takes Us

If only life were as simple as it used to be. Posting items a few times a week, tossing out updates, securing art, and making it all read like a short, pithy little stories. Not so much these days.

But, there is news to share, which means it's time for a long overdue post. As if having a baby and producing, publishing, and marketing a book in one year weren't enough... we've decided to relocate to Nashville, Tennessee. I've accepted a job to be the managing editor of a pub called Nashville Lifestyles -- my family and I leave Boston in just 4 short weeks.

Now, if you've read the book, you might be thinking, "Gee, that sounds an awful lot like the career she left way back when to go do this oyster thing." And yup, that's definitely true. But... and there is a big "but" here... things are different now. (His name is Charlie - aka: Poseidon -- and if you haven't met him yet, he's pretty adorable.) Charlie is a major reason why I've decided to take this job and we, as a family, need to make this move. Not only will this move get us much closer to all of Charlie's grandparents, but it will bring some much-needed stability and yes, even a little bit of sanity to our lives.

We've been talking about a move to the South for years. For as long as Dave and I have been together, actually. Our parents are in Hilton Head, SC and Knoxville, TN. My sister is in Charlotte. We've always talked about raising our kids in the South and as soon as Charlie arrived, we knew we needed to make that happen pronto. This opportunity came up midway through the summer and after a phone interview and a whirlwind trip to the NL offices, I was offered the job and the decision was made. It's time. After 11 years in this city, I can honestly say that it is officially time.

The past year has been a trip. We went from living this non-stop, deliciously crazy, excitement-filled life to one that was suddenly dictated by a very sweet (and handsome) but very demanding little blonde dude. He's always up for an adventure, sure. But letting his mom drop everything to go work on a farm or, ahem, giving her the luxury of sitting down to dwell over the nuances of  blog post? Nuh-uh. The kid is not having it.

This is, of course, all completely fine because a year into Charlie's life, I can tell you that whatever he is doing, or picking up, or jabbering about, or pushing around with sticky fingers, or pulling himself up on, or watching, or sleeping in, or even breathing near is WAY more intoxicating than that old life we left behind. (I guess that's what all the fuss is about.) It is hard to imagine anything better in the world than our life with him. Even if that means life without Boston.

This year has taught me a few things about myself. The first, and biggest lesson, is that I desperately need structure. Structure makes me a better person, a better wife, and a better mom. It gives me the confidence that tomorrow will go smoothly and that Charlie will be a happier kid because of it. This new job will give me structure, as well as a creative outlet; it will give me a magazine to craft, and shape, and edit, and enjoy...much like a book would, only shorter and with more to offer the world on a regular basis. This job is a very good thing and I can't wait to get down there and get started.

But it will not be easy. I am not ready to say goodbye to this place or the people, who have become my family here. We are deeply rooted in this city: in its restaurant culture, music scene, media, and literary world. In its people, its politics, and yes, even its sports. We love this city and we always will. It will be forever burrowed inside of us and influence all that we do.

But all of this makes the move even more exciting for both of us. The promise that we will get to know a new city and hopefully have the opportunity to fall in love with it just as deeply as we did with Boston has re-energized us. Dave will be making his way in Music City -- a dream he's had since he first started teaching himself guitar in Knoxville -- and returning to his home state. I will be going back to a full-time career in media, a world I've missed (albeit sporadically) since leaving it that fateful day so many years ago. Yes, we'll be closer to family but we will also be closer to a life that we've always wanted for ourselves.

The only real question that remains is: Where will I get good oysters down there? Oyster bars? Brasseries? I'm open to suggestions...or perhaps a promise from my friends at Island Creek that they will one day open a Southern version of ICOB. A land-locked girl can dream, can't she?

For now, stay tuned. There is more news to follow (soon, actually) and plenty more oyster eating to be done.

From Shucking to Signing Books

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...

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.

An update on SHUCKED

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.

The Plight of a Pregnant Food Writer

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.

A big, fat, edible birthday

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.

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?)

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.

Speaking of oysters.

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

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.

Now what?

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.

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.

Oysters, East to West

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.

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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.

One final meal.

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...

Winding Down

In classic Island Creek fashion, my last few weeks on the farm have been packed with some incredible memories. That's right. One week and counting. I don't think I've made any official announcements on this site, so here goes: This spring, I got a book deal with St. Martin's Press. The book, titled SHUCKED, will be a memoir about my time at Island Creek, about leaving the real world to get my hands dirty on an oyster farm, and about my relationship with a farm, a town, and its people. Sadly, my time is almost up but the good news is that I get to take a few months off to write before my deadline in February. If all goes as planned, the book will be out next fall... just in time for peak oyster season.

I won't dwell on how weepy I've been or how I can't imagine a day without a high five from Skip, a smile from Shore, or a hug from CJ. Because while it's way too sad for me to put into words just yet, it's a happy reality for me to face. Not to mention, I don't have time to be sad what with the way I've been spending my days and nights.

This week, the insanity started at the Chefs Collaborative National Summit. I spent Monday sitting in on panels listening to some pretty incredible voices weigh in on the current state of our seafood supply. Chefs Jasper White and Ana Sortun were part of the introductory session and gave some entertaining commentary on how they got connected with local, sustainable cooking. A few of their comments:

Jasper: I was frustrated with the seafood supply so I started my own wholesale company. It was so much red tape, that was five years ago, but I did it so I could get control of my supply. I tell every chef, "you have the right to see what we're doing. Get up at 4 a.m., and come see what we do. Come to the auction, come see what it means to get 6,000 pounds of local swordfish in and what we do with it."

Ana: I think culinary schools should get back in touch with the seasons. At the school I went to [La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine], they had us rip up recipes that weren't in season. We cooked from what was available.

Jasper: [On sustainability lists] The focal point should be on environment instead of a single species. Keep the oceans clean. We'll figure out how to grow it. And we promise, we'll make it taste good.

My next stop was a panel called The Gulf Oil Disaster: What Will Become of our Domestic Seafood Supply? where the discussion was heated. Margaret Curole, an advocate for Louisiana fishermen, was hoarse from all of the speaking she's done since the spill, and was the loudest dissenter of the group. She was frustrated that certain fishing areas had been opened prematurely and even more frustrated with the promotions boards which are pushing for people to eat Gulf seafood. She argued that they are putting pressure on those fishermen to fish when the fishermen themselves are still seeing oil in the water. Chef Stephen Stryjewski, co-owner of Cochon (who, like a true New Orleanian, referred to my favorite bivalves as "ersters") explained that oystermen were losing most of their crop not from oil, but from the fresh water diversion the government approved back in May -- it was meant to save the oyster beds but all of that fresh water has done more harm than good.

After lunch, I checked in on a panel called Is Local Sustainable? A Look at New England Fisheries, where chef Michael Leviton sat down with three fishermen to discuss their reasoning for supporting local fisheries. Two of the fishermen have started community supported fisheries, one from Port Clyde, ME, the other down in Barnstable while Adam Fuller, a former chef talked about becoming a lobsterman with Snappy Lobster in order to open up the supply chain. Their message was: Get to know your local fisherman, learn what's in season, and buy local when you can. Leviton took it one step further, from the chef's perspective: Support the highest quality.

A final panel of the current state of food writing had me intrigued as Tom Philpott of, Corby Kummer of The Atlantic, Jane Black of the Washington Post (and soon to be author), Corie Brown of, and Francis Lam of, hashed out what changes they've observed in the world of food journalism. Despite the massive shift of media from print to online, each sounded optimistic about coverage as a whole. We're getting more news, more stories, and more politics... and seeing less of the fluffy, recipe-driven, cooking content (though, there's still room for that too). What I enjoyed hearing was Philpott's theory that the elite, holier-than-thou gourmands of the past have become story savvy (I'm paraphrasing). They want to soak in their foie gras... but not before finding out who raised it, packaged it, shipped it, and prepared it.

All encouraging news for someone who writes about food online and in print. Especially considering the project ahead of me.

Tuesday, Skip sat on a panel with fellow oyster folks Jon Rowley and Poppy Tooker. Our friend, author Rowan Jacobsen moderated the discussion, which ended with a tasting of east coast, gulf, and west coast oysters. Chris, Shore and I shucked for the group while Skip encouraged the audience to get to know its purveyors and buy from reputable sources.

Tuesday night, we put together a pretty epic oyster table at Eastern Standard: John Finger of Hog Island Oysters was in town so Chris, Shore and I sat down with he and Rowan, as well as ES proprietor Garrett Harker for one of the most luxurious wine dinners I've ever experienced. ES wine director Colleen Hein opened some insane bottles, including a mindblowingly rich H. Billiot brut reserve grand cru... an absolute stunner with our selection of oysters.

And, it was a perfect way to celebrate Bug's 26th birthday, which we did more of on Wednesday. Jeremy Sewall (chef at the new restaurant) very thoughtfully offered to cook for Shore's entire group of friends...inside the almost-ready Island Creek Oyster Bar space. It was the perfect ICO meal: sharing plates, standing at the table, dunking chunks of lobster into butter, passing the wine, and putting down piles of beer. I share these photos reluctantly -- and only because they take place in the kitchen.

Just wait until you see the space. Any day now... I promise.

The Fifth Annual Island Creek Oyster Festival

Well, it's officially over... and it has been for almost two weeks. Apologies (again!) for taking so long to get this to you. But truthfully, I don't think I'd fully digested all that occurred at this year's Oyster Festival until just now. But here I am, with a recap at last.

It was an absolute whirlwind, from the moment the tents went up until the very last oyster was shucked. While we kept the footprint and general scope the same as last year (oysters, Harpoon, 20+ chefs, super-fun bands) we'd made some improvements to the system. One of those was the addition of a serious volunteer program -- it produced more than 450 volunteers who did everything from teach our guests about recycling to working side by side with the chefs. We got them all under the tents on Thursday night for a little info session where Shore, Michelle Conway (our tireless volunteer coordinator and my new hero) and I filled them in on what to expect.

From there, it was straight into Friday for a long day of set up, a flurry of ticket sales and visitors at the office. On site, we got the signs hung, the tables set up, and put all the bones in place. That night, we celebrated with pizza and a few beers under the tent and welcomed a few friends who'd come in for the Fest (Nantucket buddies Seth and Angela Raynor & winemaker Jim Clendenen)

Saturday morning, we woke up to an absolutely brilliant sunny morning. After gathering all my last minute lists, supplies, and sanity at the office, I was out to the beach first thing. By 9 a.m., the place was buzzing with committee members who were anxious to get the final touches in place. Meanwhile, over at our friends the Hale's house (where I've had more than a few Will Heward-hosted dinners), chef Ming Tsai and the TV crew of his show Simply Ming got busy shooting a number of segments for his upcoming season (look for Skip, Shore, and Jeremy Sewall once the show starts up again).

By noon, the Fest space was starting to look like a party and I got to spend a few quiet minutes with the who'd arrived.

But before long, it was 3 p.m. and Fest was underway. The crowds arrived in droves. From the minute the party started, the raw bars were packed - we shucked 34,000 oysters over the course of the day! Our shucker volunteers were animals, a few of them even worked straight through the event. (Thank you, Mark Goldberg!)

Inside the VIP Tent, some of our superstar chefs, winemakers, and bartenders demo'd entertaining tips for the crowd; but Annie Copps and Jim Clendenen truly stole the show. The food lines snaked through the tent but somehow my parents (who were up for the weekend) managed to sneak in at least a few bites of lobster served up by the Island Creek Oyster Bar staff. (Curious yet?)

Around the Main Tent, chefs were putting out steak tacos, pulled pork sammies, oyster bloody Marys, lobster tacos, and razor clam ceviche. I walked through the crowd a few times, overwhelmed by the number of people, but they were all having a blast and raved about the food. Just as the sun was going down, I finally got a taste of my own -- a mini pulled pork slider from the guys at East Coast Grill.

Before I knew it, our band Joe Bachman & the Crew were on stage ripping it up for the crowd. Shore, Skip and I got pulled up there a couple times but the best seat in the house was right beside the stage. And while I didn't catch the actual announcement, I was pretty touched to find out that Shore went up there at one point and told the crowd that they'd named me the 2010 Island Creek Pearl. An honor I will never forget.

Of course, it wouldn't be an Island Creek Oyster Fest without a killer finale. Ours came in the form of the band playing Bon Jovi's Dead or Alive -- for Berg and the boys, of course.

And just like that... the party ended. After shuttling everyone out of the tents, we made our way over to CJ's for his historic after party. And look - we had the whole party bus to ourselves.

The after party was as wild as it's ever been. DJ Ryan Brown spun some tunes, the dancefloor was a mess, and someone passed out in the bushes. Just like high school...

It was yet another epic night in the history of Island I'm proud to say I helped pull off. We raised about $150,000 for the Island Creek Oysters Foundation, entertained 3,000 of our closest friends, and had a damn good time doing it.

So you think we'd give ourselves a break, right?

Not this crowd.

The following week, Island Creek hosted a pretty incredible oyster tasting at Eastern Standard. We invited a number of wine experts from around the city to sit down and taste 18 varieties of oysters with us. It was a wonderful array with oysters from across the country. A few stand outs (for me) were the Moon Shoals, Totten Virginicas, East Beach Blonds, Kusshis, and Hog Islands. Man, those West Coasters grow some fine oysters. My favorite moment came when Skip tasted the Kusshi -- he immediately turned to me and said, "I think I just fell in love with oysters again."

No higher praise from an oyster farmer, I'd say.

We'd asked all of our guests to take notes in order to put together a list of oyster language, one that would help the team at Island Creek expand its own vocabulary. The tasting came just in time - the previously mentioned Island Creek Oyster Bar opening is right around the corner. We needed some ammunition for the restaurant staff and with this tasting, are now awash in new terminology. Listening to Theresa Paopao (of Oleana) describe the buttery taste as not just butter but "lobster butter" was eye opening. We also had Nick Zappia of The Blue Room who chimed in with descriptions like "beefy," "toothsome," "lime green," and "full bodied." Each oyster brought out a new set of descriptors, giving us, the oyster growers, a new world of words to aim for.

Kai Gagnon from Bergamot, Liz Vilardi from the Blue Room and Central Bottle, and even Rebecca Alssid, culinary director of Boston University (a pioneer in the world of culinary education) were also at the table -- it was truly humbling. I did my best to capture as much of their knowledge as possible. For those that have read from the beginning, this was a tasting that I've been waiting 18 months to sit through.

Fitting, then, that it should arrive so close to my final days.

It's true. I'm leaving Island Creek in about three weeks. I'm not quite sure I'm ready to face that final day... so for now, I'll just say I'm ready to pack a lot in until October 15th.

Lucky for me, we've got a restaurant to open.

Tracking hurricanes

Mention a hurricane to an oyster farmer and you'll likely get a weather report. While mostly contradictory, these reports can be useful for their range of entertainment. Part meteorology, part superstition, with a healthy dose of gut instinct thrown in, weather predictions for a hurricane provide hours (and hours) of fascinating farm banter.

A casual polling of Island Creek growers resulted in these thoughts:

Mike George: "Bah. We'll get 40 mph, easy. But that's no worse than what it blows like here in the winter. And personally? I don't care. I've got 100 crates stacked up in my cooler right now."

Gregg Morris: "Of course it won't rain! I mean, it may rain a little. But not a lot. You know why? Because we prepared early. If I'd left my float on the mooring, we'd get a ton. It's free insurance!"

Skip Bennett: "Who's got a blender?"

Lisa Scharoun: "Good boogie boarding this weekend I bet."

Billy Bennett: "Oh, it looks bad. We'll probably lose power. Better get those coolers filled with ice."

And, of course, I picked up a few non oyster farming locals' thoughts, too:

Guy 1 at True Blue roadside bbq stand: "Whaddya think we'll get? 60, 70 miles per hour?" Guy 2: "Nah. 40 easy. Maybe if you're on the Cape, you'll see 75. But up here? 50 tops." Guy 1: "Humph. I'll bet it gets up to 60." Guy 2: "Yeah, like I said, 60 easy." Guy 1: "Nuthin' like a good storm on the haah-bah." Guy 2: "Got that right."

I love days like today. Despite the shaky predictions on wind gusts and jokes about hurricane parties, and even with Hurricane Earl barreling up the coastline, folks on the farm are in an easy going mood. Summer's winding down, the guys are taking a three-day weekend. And football season's right around the corner. Earlier this week, down at the harbor, things weren't so lighthearted though. In just under 36 hours, about 90% of the boats were taken off their moorings by nervous owners while the growers moved their big floats and loose gear over to the Blue Fish River for safety. I'd show you a picture but my camera's on the fritz. This morning, the harbor looked a little like this.

As for me, I've been neck deep in Oyster Fest planning so the weather only concerns me a little. Worst-case scenario, we get 6+inches of rain tonight which would put us in a rain closure, meaning our growers can't harvest for up to 4 days. Since we're about 8 days away from the Fest, I figure even with a closure, we'll still have about 48 hours to get 35,000 oysters out of the water in time for next Saturday's festivities. But, you know, no big deal. No amount of fretting or anxiety can stop a hurricane... so we'll just wait and see.

Speaking of the Fest, if you're wondering where my posts have been, you can blame it on that big ole 3,000 person party coming up next weekend. Between fretting about when our Duxbury raised pig will get slaughtered, keeping on top of our crazy number of volunteers, and wondering when our t-shirts will arrive, I've hardly had time to sleep, let alone blog. All that work, plus a few other things have been keeping me busy...sort of.

[vodpod id=Video.4368562&w=425&h=350&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]

Suburban Shepherds, posted with vodpod

I mean, can I really complain?

Just keep your fingers crossed for good weather next weekend. And hopefully, I'll see you on the beach.

Mud Runs and Oyster Diving: New Olympic sports?

It's safe to say that The First Annual Island Creek Oyster Olympics won't be the last. The festivities took place last Saturday in and around Duxbury Bay under a sparkling blue sky; the weather, the people, the events, and of course, the friendly competition turned it into a new tradition for the Island Creek Oyster family. The two teams, led by Skip and Mark, gathered on Don Merry's Oyster Plex for the first event: Oyster Diving. Each team member was allowed one dive to try and secure a yellow bag of oysters. With some snorkeling masks and a few suggestive hints, Team Bennett came out on top, picking up 4 oyster bags to Team Bouthillier's 3.

We moved over to Long Point Flat where the course was laid for an epic mud fling. Each team put 4 members on the field and lined up across from one another. Then, with PVC pipes in hand, the teams did their best to fling and flop each other into a muddy mess. They successfully muddied each other but we're still unclear on who actually came out clean. The victory went to Team Bouthillier's... despite the fact that they carried the muddiest player (that would be me).

Our next event, the mud run, may very well be the competition that kills us all. Each team put 4 runners on the course, with points going to first and second place. The distance was far, the runners were severely out of shape, and the mud proved a vicious foe. In the end, Scott and Blake Doyle crossed first. And, every player finished... barely.

Next up: The Oyster Sack relay race, wherein little Lila almost hopped her team to victory. But Team Bouthillier won out once again, putting them at least a dozen points in front of Team Bennett.

The day ended with a 6 (or 7) inning game of Whiffle Ball which Team Bouthillier cleaned up with a 4 to 1 win. The competition was fierce, especially as the teams started to expand (spectators became players as the game ran on), but in the end, Team Bouthillier took home the coveted Golden Oyster.

What really made the day was the group that came out. Those who played had just as much fun as those who watched -- though I suspect that the ones who watched have way more to chuckle about.

Big thanks to Samantha and Maya for pulling the day together -- happy birthday Sam!

Now, we start training for next year.

Surviving the summer

I'd forgotten that what it feels like to get through a summer work day at Island Creek. Between early tides, late nights, and Oyster Fest planning, the time I get to actually sit down and decompress has been shaved down to a few minutes a day. But, I can't complain. That's summertime on the oyster farm.

Hopefully you'll forgive the lapse in posts. But just to recap:

We had two successful float dinners in the last few weeks - one involving a few visiting editors from Food & Wine and their families (dinner: Jeremy Sewall's kickass chowder & heirloom tomato salad, lobster, steamers, steamer dogs); the other for the entire restaurant team from Lineage (dinner: lots of oysters and mignonette, Skip's on-the-fly razor clam, asparagus, and tomato salad, steamers, lobsters, and sausages).

We've gotten the process down pretty pat -- especially nice considering we're putting on a traveling party for anywhere from 15 to 25 people. They are always a success, no matter what the weather (as our F&W friends can attest) and almost always end up with some shenanigans or another (bridge jumping, in the case of the Lineage night).

We're doing fewer charity raw bars now that it's summertime but did make an exception for Mark Wahlberg and his brother Paul who threw a premiere party for "The Other Guys," which Mark stars in. It was a great party at Paul's new restaurant Alma Nove. Mark even ate a few of our oysters. Plus, we got to hang out with this guy:

Meanwhile, back on the farm, we said goodbye to Steve of Jeeves who has taken a "real" job in the seafood industry (he'll be doing sales for a customer of ours). His parting note to Berg put everyone in stitches... even the Bergman himself.

Work? What work? Oh, right. We do grow oysters, don't we. Actually, the past two weeks have been oysterless for Skip's crew (we're waiting to dip into the 2009 crop...a few more weeks!) So instead of harvesting, our daily work has been focused on one thing: The back river. For the first time since he started growing oysters, Skip had a barnacle set on his back river bags this summer. We went out to clean them last week and found a few of the outside rows covered in the little buggers.

barnacle-covered pipe

Once they set to the bags, they can reduce food and water flow, taking those two precious resources away from the seed. Skip and Berg reacted immediately: We needed to switch all of the seed over to new, larger-weave bags (the barnacles will most likely not grow back now that we're this far into the summer). The process takes time, even with the crew working in teams (pulling bags out, unpiping, pouring oysters into a basket, filling the new bag, repiping and setting back on the line), but over the course of two weeks, we've gotten almost every bag transferred over. There's something so satisfying about watching the clean bags line up behind you. You can practically see the oysters smiling.

This is also the time of year we start to see our crew disperse. Eva's last day was yesterday; others like Michelle and Maggie will be gone in a few weeks. And just like that, the seed crew will disband. We had our last grade this week, resulting in a tote full of tiny quarters and the very last of the runt seed.

Our upwellers are still full of seed which we'll keep clean for another week or so before the planting begins. Once we plant what's in the river, we can refill those bags with the seed from our upwellers. Personally, I just want to see the pumps get shut down... all in good time.

For now, we have bags to clean and plenty of events to keep us busy. In fact, later today, we're participating in the First Annual Island Creek Oyster Olympics! Five oyster-farm related competitions; 3 cutthroat teams; 1 peachy summer day. A recap post is soon to follow!

A lobster feast after a few long tides

A pile of lobsters for dinner?

It was the least the crew deserved after a week of drainer tides. So Will hosted a crew dinner at his place on Thursday night. He and Berg pulled up a pile of "lobbies" from their traps last week. The result? A feast of steamed meats that the crew literally devoured standing up.

We're not the only ones flush with the luxury meat, as this great article in NY Mag can attest (and we know a lot of guys that consider Old Bay their "secret"). But it sure was nice to see Berg's biggest catch, a 2 1/2 pounder get lumped into the feast.

Maggie and Eva contributed with a few sides, like Brussels sprouts and broccoli (which were also devoured within minutes of being plated), while Michelle whipped up a nice guacamole for the crew. My contribution? Brats for the grill, of course.

The girls and I had lots to celebrate that night. We'd officially shut down one of our upwellers (the dreaded 20s) earlier in the week and can probably count on getting the rest of the seed wrapped up by the end of the month. It's a far cry from last year's late August wrap up but one we're all a little sad to see coming. Just when we've gotten the dance down to a science (lift the silo, tip forward, steady the tote, spray the hose here, watch your feet, don't lose the wingnut...) it already seems to be ending. Hopefully, for those who make it back next year, the routine won't escape us over the winter.

This week also marked Dave's first hand-picking tide. We stayed with Maggie on Sunday night so we could arrive at the water for our 5 a.m. start time Monday morning. Dave kept up with the crew, as did Skip's daughter Samantha, and all in all, we picked a somewhat hefty number of crates. I did hear about some tight hamstrings later in the week but I think Dave was surprised at how enjoyable the work was. Plus, he got to see one of the week's most beautiful of my personal favorite perks of the job.

Best summer we've had in years

I've been hearing it for weeks. We're in the midst of the best season Island Creek has ever seen. High temps, crystal clear days, very little wind = perfect conditions for both the crew and the seed. The bay is packed with life, as evidenced by the schools of herring dancing across the top of the water near the docks every day. Terns flit around our heads while we grade and eels are swimming in our upwellers. We haven't had much rain which means there's not a lot of fresh water entering the Bay but the seed is still finding plenty of food. Last year at this time (the absolute worst season in Island Creek history), we were still a month and a half away from shutting down the upweller. On Friday, Skip hinted that we might be getting out of ours in a week or two. What a difference a year makes.

The temperatures are causing our seed to explode at a much faster rate. And faster growing seed requires a lot of extra hands. This year, Maggie, Eva, and Michelle have jumped on the seed crew, making my job as seed manager much, much easier. We've been grading every day for the past three weeks and have the routine -- and stimulating conversation -- down to a science. (Eva and I actually startled ourselves on the first day of grading when we realized we'd both forgotten how to tip a silo and what word we used for "subs." Luckily, we got our wits about us quickly.)

Skip's playing with a few other products this year, like clams and scallops. The clams are a nice touch - they've been hanging out in our upwellers so Michelle and I graded some a few weeks back. Such a difference from oysters! They're smooth and mostly pearly white so they slide through the grader like beads. So clean! So easy to work with! No, we're not turning into a clam farm. But I wouldn't complain if we did...

But who am I kidding? I'm an oyster girl. The seed is sharp and fickle and fragile. They're our babies. My crew mates are mastering their ability to identify which seed came what hatchery. We make a stellar team. Plus, being able to hang out with them for hours at a time makes the tedious, painful parts of the job (including toe injuries and a million tiny finger cuts) all worthwhile.

Other than the new faces on the seed crew, characters around the docks are all the same. Gustav, the resident cormorant, has been guzzling down whole, live eels while we grade. And just like last year, we spend the day dancing around DBMS students, teachers, and rowers.

Meanwhile, out on the float... actually, I have no idea what's happening on the float. I'm never out there these days (usually because I'm racing back up to the shop to work on Festival details). I hear it's tough times out there, though. We've dried up the lease, clearing it of almost all of this year's oysters after a busy winter. The guys are still pulling up crates but our cull and count has slowed to a crawl as the crew picks out the very best of what we have left. This coming week will give us a better idea of what's in store - we have a week of huge tides and plenty of time to examine our upcoming crop. Everyone is hoping that in a few weeks, we can start dipping into all that seed we planted last summer.

As for me, my time is split between the docks and the shop. I'm spending my "farm" time on the seed and when we're done grading or washing and the crew heads out to the float, I make my way up to the office to work on Festival details. Tickets went on sale last week! (Got yours yet?? If not, get on it.) It's a lot of back and forth and early mornings but so far, I think I'm doing an ok job keeping my eye on both. The seed gets my attention during the day while the Festival takes over my life at night. Yes, it's a ton of work but nothing I would give up or trade considering I get to use both sides of my brain and watch these two projects unfold in all the right ways.

What I haven't got is a lot of time for anything else. Chris has taken over most of the farm tours, raw bars, and marketing work I put in place this winter. Occasionally, he and the other suits make their way to the dock to play with the seed. (I kid. This was me about 6 weeks ago.)

But that's the beauty of seasonal work. We're at the midpoint of summer and my mind and body can feel it. Weekends are for resting. Or blogging. Or just enjoying a long, lazy day of air conditioning. Tomorrow morning, I'll be giddy to get back to work, back on the tide, and right back to tending seed.

A whole new crew

Summers on the farm, I'm learning, follow a fairly specific pattern. We've got seed in the upwellers, which we're washing three times a week (like last year), we've got a number of busy-work projects to get through before the seed gets planted (like last year), and our daytime hours seem to follow the same path of the sun, starting early and ending late (again, much like last year). But new crew members breathe new life into what could be a predictable routine. We may have lost Catie Moore and A2 but in return, we've added Michelle Wong, Gardner Loring, and Matt Titus, a new set of faces to get to know and work with.

This year's seed crew will be Eva (truly FOB this year) and Michelle who just finished her first year at UNH. Already a great team, the girls and I are fully into our seed practices, making sure the babies are clean and safe, keeping the screens on tight and making sure the silos are securely locked into place.

Despite our best efforts, Papa Skip is still going to fret. He's given up drinking until the babies are safe and secure... or at least until we're ready to start grading. (For his sake, I hope that happens as soon as next week.) It's a tough couple weeks to muscle through since every storm and southeasterly wind makes the docks rock and roll. We've only had a few scares (one last week had Skip sleeping in his truck by the dock) but once the seed gets big enough to keep from blowing around, we'll all sleep a little more soundly.

In the meantime, there's work to be done on the lease, like placing buoys and getting the cages set. The crew's been out there this week getting things ready. (We'll all be out there bright and early for the 6 a.m tide tomorrow.) The next two weeks are going to give us a nice lull before the seed is ready to go out -- we can get our gear set and and be ready to go once it's time to move it all into the nursery.

On the office side of things, Festival plans are coming along nicely. We seem to have an abundance of eager wine donors as well as a few new committee members, all of whom are doing their best to make my life easier. As this year's event director (mostly?), I'm spending most of my free time mentally problem solving my way through the entire Festival from start to finish. I wish I could say I've got it all figured it out but that probably won't happen until September 12 -- one day after the party's over.

I've also taken a few rare bursts of energy to get out to eat, tasting my way around the city's latest and greatest restaurants. Boston's been a hot bed of new food and chefs this spring. Two highlights this week were eating at Menton, Barbara Lynch's new Fort Point spot (the butter soup is mind blowing) and trying Tiffani Faison's new menu at Rocca (beet-cured tuna and tagliarini with mint and blueberries - try them immediately). But the best meal I've had in months came from our close friend Dante Cantelupo who is leaving Boston (and his post at Parson's Table) to open a restaurant/business with his family out in San Diego. As a going away gift, he prepared a seven-course feast for all of his friends at his home last weekend. What he prepared was a tribute to all of the chefs he's worked with over the years as well as a few of his own innovative touches. I was honored to see his duo of Island Creeks -- served on the half shell and tempura fried -- but even more pleased to sit back and let the chef do his finest work.

These are just a few of the highlights to what ended up being an unforgettable afternoon. Huge thanks, D. You have incredible talent and will be sorely missed.

Now, I'm off to bed at 8 o'clock on a Saturday night so I can be up and at 'em by 4. If I'm lucky, I'll be home with coffee brewing before Dave and Rex even realize I'm gone. Ahhh, summer.

Ready. Set. Summer.

It begins on Nantucket.

We're still a few weeks away from the official summer equinox but at Island Creek, the season is well underway. And it started, as always, at the Nantucket Wine Fest.

The weekend was packed with shucking, wine tasting, eating and islanding. For Skip, Shore, and the tag along crew, it's become an unforgettable tradition (from what we can remember, anyway).

The weekend started at the White Elephant where Skip did a demo with Angela and Seth Raynor (The Pearl, Boarding House and Corazon del Mar are all theirs -- a common theme through this year's trip) and Jasper White from the Summer Shack. Our oysters kicked things off but the demo was all about seafood. Seth made a ceviche while Jasper shucked an in-shell scallop on stage. We also got an introduction to Abraxas, Robert Sinskey's incredible seafood wine.

The rest of Friday was restful with a leisurely lunch at Corazon where we got to try Seth's tacos (the al pastor was a true gem, bringing me right back to my Mexico City days) and hang out at the bar with Ming and Polly Tsai. After lunch and a few naps, we reconvened on the roof of Skip's condo, another legendary tradition that this year, was quickly put to rest when the cops told us to come down. We blame our neighbors for the tip off.

From there, we scurried over to Straight Wharf Restaurant to help Chef Gabriel Frasca and his crew open their bar for the season. It was insanity from the start with free oysters and wine but we all crunched in behind the raw bar and kept the oyster loving people happy.

Saturday was our first day at the tents where we once again set up shop on the lawn. We were blessed with three perfect Nantucket days -- sunny skies and warmer than average temps -- as well as a fun crowd of fans dressed, naturally, in their Nantucket finest.

During our lunch break (a quick Lola burger and fries), we started a new tradition by powering up the tandem bike. It went with us everywhere, from the lawn to the Pearl and back again.

After another respite, it was over to The Pearl where Shore booked the private dining room for our crew. Big bottles of wine and shenanigans ensued but as usual, the meal was an incredible display. And, as you can tell, the scallop ceviche won my heart.

We somehow made our way downstairs after dinner to shuck for yet another restaurant party, wrapping things up sometime after 1 a.m. Sunday, of course, was a tough morning to tackle but we started off on the right foot with brunch at the BoHo Patio. (crumbed eggs! frites! the most amazing yogurt with Nantucket honey on the planet!)

That was, of course, followed by the final day at the tent where we were joined by Dave who arrived in time for the first glass of wine.

With hugs, we said goodbye to our weekend friends like Nicole Kanner and Lisa Baker but carried on with our final raw bar stop back at the BoHo Patio where Angela broke out the L.P.

And that, my friends, is Nantucket in a nutshell. Whew.

Of course, I came back, regrouped and got myself together because this was my first week back on the farm. The crew is back (Maggie! Pops! Quinn!). The farm is back to life (we're hand picking, putting in big hauls, and culling in the sunshine). And yes, it truly is summertime again since yesterday, we put our first seed into the upwellers (cue my summertime stress) just as the Opening of the Bay tall ship came into the harbor.

Skip got his seed from Maine in the afternoon which went right into a few silos. It's much bigger this year so we were able to put some of it onto window screen which will give it more water flow to start.

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more about "YouTube - Skip gets the seed settled", posted with vodpod

After this weekend, we'll have one upweller completely full (Skip's filling the rest of the silos today) and another one fired up by Tuesday. As Skip and I finished up, we looked at one another shaking our heads. Just like that, we're at it again. "Ok," he said grinning. "Day One is behind us."

Looks to be yet another crazy summer of seed. You ready?

Virginia is for oyster lovers

A week ago today, Skip, Chris, Shore and I were cruising across the waters off Cheriton, Virginia checking out Cherrystone Aqua Farm, a huge producer of littleneck clams who, in the last three years, has gotten heavy into growing oysters. Their facilities sit on Virginia's long, spindly peninsula that separates the Chesapeake from the Atlantic. Though the company was started as an oyster business back in the 1890s, the wild supply in that area has since been decimated. So the Ballard family started farming clams. Now run by Chad Ballard III, they've become one of the country's biggest and best clam farms. But a return to oysters was inevitable: The growing conditions are pretty near perfect for turning around 10 to 14 month old oysters at market size. They tried their hand at it a few years back and got up to speed so quickly that they'll have millions of Misty Point oysters on the market this year.

Our quick overnight trip introduced us to some of the characters that pepper the Cherrystone world, like Bubba (the Berg equivalent - though his bicep is probably rounder than Berg's head) who manages the early stages of the oyster growth on the bay side as well as Mike McGee, an oldtimer from Chincoteague Island who monitors the final oyster growout. As his colleagues told us, "The Mayor of Chincoteague" has probably owned every single business on the island at one point and now owns just about every shellfish lease there, too.

While so many things about their oyster farm reminded me of ICO (same surly, lovable crews; same lovely, waterfront landscape), there were a few really interesting differences. The first was how much space they had. The operation sits on three massive sites, miles away from each other and each has its own hatchery (hatchery!). They all sit right on the water, giving them access to a fresh supply which they use to pump over their seeds and to store their algae. It was incredibly impressive to see that they'd dedicated one whole hatchery, on the seaside of the peninsula, to oyster seed. They also have a ton of acreage for planting. We probably only saw a fraction of the clam beds, which are everywhere, but even the oyster sites seem to be pretty generous. As we kept saying during the visit, "imagine what we could do with all that waterfront space." Oh, to dream.

They have an on-water barge, like ours, but theirs is topped with their newest piece of equipment: A tumbler. This puppy is louder than anything but really treats the oysters well. They get tumbled through the chambers and sorted by size, just like our hand cull, and get a small beating in process. (Not a bad thing. Oysters need a little tough love at that age. It helps strengthen up their shells.)

Cherrystone starts its oyster seed in Cheriton in a rack and bag system similar to ours, only laid flat on the ground. As Bubba shook bags and talked about blue crabs, I realized that despite our resource and space differences, oyster farmers everywhere have the same concerns: oyster poop and predators.

Once the oysters are ready to be "finished," they're transferred up to Chincoteague Island, famous for the wild pony population that has existed there for years. Now 200 horses strong, the herd is monitored by the Chincoteague fire department but are completely wild and feed off the salt marshes (good eats but surely their doctors would take issue). When we found them, the new baby colts were acting pretty playful -- and though they're very much wild beings, clearly, they don't mind some company.

Down at the growout sites, we found more trays of oysters that were being finished and were near perfectly sized. The site was beautiful, nestled amongst flat, green marshes. This particular site sits right beside McGee's old duck hunting cabin set above the water on stilts. After checking out the finishing oysters, Mike gave us a quick lesson on how he shucks. The guy is definitely a classic (notice the way he chips off the shell, goes in the lip, serves it on the flat side of the shell, and never loses the stogy -- a true, Mid-Atlantic method).

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more about "Mike McGee shucking oysters", posted with vodpod

We also got a peek at his cabin (another treasure built as sturdy as Mike himself). While inside, Mike gave us the invite to come back for hunting season this fall. Don't be surprised to see another post on those adventures down the road.

Of course, we wouldn't expect a guy like to Mike to ride around the bay on just any old boat. Nope, his is another relic, called the Grenade, and he drives it at one speed: Fast.

Chris, Shore, and I, who were on the other boat, got a huge kick watching Skip, Mike and Cherrystone sales guy Tim Parsons zoom off leaving us in the wake. Skip barely got out alive but we made our way back more slowly, taking some time to stop and check out a wild oyster bed, of which there are several, set on one of Mike McGee's leases. I'd never seen a wild bed before (they're a dying breed) but Mike picks oysters from them daily, getting a couple dozen bushels each time. Harvesting is tough work and requires a tiny hammer and a strong back. Plus, wild set oysters grow with their environment, which means they're usually misshapen and elongated, like this guy.

Our tour guide and host, production manager Tim Rapine, wrapped up our trip with a stop at Sting Ray's for some barbecue. Afterward, we spent the rest of our long ride back to the airport sharing tips and ideas. Between swapping crew stories and discussing how to source a grading machine (a serious but worthwhile investment), our time with Tim was packed with information and new ideas.

And that was the best takeaway, really. Since every second of the whirlwind trip was filled with images and ideas, we can carry it all with us and maybe apply them somewhere down the road. Big thanks to Chad, Tim, Tim, Mike, Bubba and everyone else at Cherrystone, for opening up the doors and showing us around.