Bye Bye, Beantown. Hello, Music City.

I'm sitting amongst a pile of boxes tonight, packing up all those last little items that seem to sit around until the last minute of a move. We leave Boston on Thursday morning and head off on our next adventure: Nashville, Tennessee. It has been an unforgettable past few weeks as we've tried to squeeze every last ounce of fun out of our hometown before the big move. But it has also been painful and sad and very, very emotional. Every day brings a new set of people to say goodbye to, a new "top ten reasons why we love Boston list," and a new reason to sit down and cry. We are so unbelievably sad to let this city go.... but also anxious and excited for what's about to come. As for that announcement I promised in my last post, I can finally let you know that I've signed a deal for my next book project: A seasonally inspired New England cookbook with Chef Jeremy Sewall. Jeremy and I go way, way back to the days before Island Creek, back when he first moved to Boston to open his then-restaurant Great Bay. He now owns Lineage in Brookline, consults as the chef at Eastern Standard, and is partners with Skip Bennett and Garrett Harker at the Island Creek Oyster Bar (where Great Bay once lived). Jeremy and I joke that we're now "committed for life" with this project and partnership and celebrated, fittingly, with a magnum of champagne and a toast with his staff at ICOB.

I could not think of a more suitable chef and friend to write my first cookbook with and I am so excited for the day when we can finally show it off. The book will be published by Rizzoli in October 2014.

Most importantly, this project will bring me back to Boston often. We have a lot of work to do and food to cook. Jeremy and I work well together electronically but will have plenty of excuses to put our heads together and eat. Which means I'll be up here as much as I possibly can -- and cramming in as many restaurant meals with good friends as time allows.

As for our last few days in the city, they have been, in a word, epic. This past weekend, I had the absolute pleasure of helping to coordinate another Friends For Haiti event, a fundraiser that supports the work of the Island Creek Oysters Foundation. It was a wild and memorable Duxbury weekend, starting with a feast at Jane and Bob Hale's house and ending with a post-event, late-night session at the Winnie. The event was the best we've ever hosted with an outstanding group of guests and plenty of fantastic food.

Last night, our very dear friend Nicole Kanner of All Heart and Eat Your Heart Out fame organized a going away party at the Oyster Bar for us, followed by a rowdy toast with the Publick House team at Dave's old bar. All told, we consumed way too many drinks, gave several mediocre to terrible speeches, and hugged and cried our hearts out. For Dave and I, it was the perfect end to world-class run.

And now, we really do say goodbye. Or at least, see you soon. Boston: You have been our home and our haven. You have treated us like family and you have nestled your way into our hearts with undying devotion, enthusiasm and loyalty. We met here, built our careers here, started our family here, and we will take the friendships we've fostered here wherever we go. Thank you for everything, Boston... Nashville, here we come!

Two tasty spring farm tours

Despite the slow down of book events, I still managed to lose track of time this spring. Is that a symptom of motherhood or age? We did manage to find a few quiet weekends after all the traveling we did this winter, but many of them were punctuated by really enjoyable book events. A signing at the Somerville Winter Market; a class on merroir at Formaggio; a dinner with the Slow Food Seacoast group; the Nantucket Wine Festival. Every week brought another reason to plug the book and meet a group of fun-loving oyster fans.

There were, of course, plenty of opportunities to eat oysters. And I even managed to visit the farm on two occasions - one educational, one momentous. A few of the highlights, in photos.

The ICOB Farm Tour

It started with a gorgeous morning on a perfect low tide.

The farm crew helped out, giving ICOB servers, chefs, and bartenders a lesson on upwellers... well as a how-to on culling, counting, washing and bagging.

Dana and Chris gave the staff a primer on the ICO brand, but I'm pretty sure the audience was only half paying attention...

... because they were all thinking about the farm's new hatchery, which Gardner led them through as he educated them on the intricacies of algae and oyster spawning. His analogy of it being "a little bit art, a little bit science," resonated with everyone.

We wrapped up the day with a panel of oyster growers, like Christian Horne, Joe Grady, and John Brawley from ICO plus Russ and Mary-Kate Sandblom of Sunken Meadow Oysters, Jon Martin of Moon Shoal, and Eric Brochu of Big Rock Oysters. The take away? It's harder work than you think it's going to be; family is the biggest support system these guys have; and one of their favorite parts of the job is being out on the water on a gorgeous day from sunrise to sunset.


The Family Farm Tour

When my Uncle Jim Williams (one of the first to teach me how to eat oysters) came to visit in April, he specifically requested a farm tour, which we happily obliged. Will Heward took us out on a nice drainer tide for a look at the lease and a lesson on growing oysters.

Jim took some time to pay respects to the local wild life...

...and got a lesson in how to pick oysters by hand.

Charlie and Dave stayed on the boat, soaking in the sun.

I think it's safe to say that Charlie and Jim enjoyed their first farm tour...

...but more importantly, what came at the end. Jim's appreciation for the work that Will, Skip, and the gang put into his afternoon snack was only made richer by who he got to share it with. (P.S. Thanks, Hewie!)

The holidays are for oyster (and book) lovers

What better time to eat a couple dozen oysters than with friends and family over the holidays? We were down in Hilton Head, South Carolina over Thanksgiving where my parents have officially settled in for the long haul (Thanks, Mimi & Pop Pop, for another unforgettable holiday!) and managed to get several dozen Island Creeks into the mix.

We slurped most of them back on the half shell but also threw a handful on the grill where, after they popped open, we doused them in butter and Mexican hot sauce. It's one of my favorite no-fail recipes from chef Ken Oringer. We also made an herbed oyster stuffing again this year but for that, we used South Carolina oysters. I stopped at two grocery stores before snagging the last two dozen at the Piggly Wiggly. Apparently, South Carolinians go crazy for oysters on Thanksgiving.

I also got some exciting news over the holiday: Shucked is going into its first reprint! That means there will be plenty of copies for you and your loved ones (hint hint). I'll be out and about signing books over the next few weeks, starting on Monday night at the Hotel Commonwealth (check out the flyer below) so come on out and get a signed copy.

SHUCKED: Life on a New England Oyster Farm, now available!

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

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

Find the book here:

The Big Week

There are weeks throughout the summer that just happen. The tides hit. The seed gets graded. Farm work gets done. And this was one of those weeks. Ages ago (last Sunday), we hit a 6 am tide to do some hand picking and set cages. It was foggy and rainy but the crew was in high spirits. Because, of course, it was Sunday. Despite having to sacrifice a few hours of restorative weekend sleep, we were happy to be out there getting the work done.

Monday, we went out again. The weather turned a little nicer, the tide lasted a little longer, and once again, we got it done. We spent some time walking over and around the seed we planted last fall and those tiny little guys are absolutely cruising in size. Thinking back to all the washing, grading, and planting last summer, it was awesome to see this year's crop doing so well. After the tide, the seed crew washed some seed, moving in and out around the rowers and trying desperately to keep them from falling in upwellers or tripping over silos.

Tuesday: The tide went out even longer, came low a little later, and officially drained the bay. We had a photographer with us and Gardner and I finished setting cages (the most gratifying feeling in the world is seeing all 300 cages set and the project-finishing fist bump).

Wednesday: It was another long tide but the water came screaming back quickly. Still, we managed to get a ton of crates picked and put on the float for the weekly number.

On Thursday, the crew went out to the back river to get our lines squared away for the river bags. We'll have seed ready to deploy back there as early as next week so it was a scramble to get the lines set and ready to go. Skip also got one more batch of seed -- this time, a group of triploids, which (hopefully?) will be his last... for now anyway.

Friday was the day. The Big Grade. Our first of the summer and a successful one at that. It always happens around Father's Day, Skip reminded me. We were three weeks in to seed (where did those weeks go?) and the babies were ready for it. We started by grading the biggest stuff, from two different hatcheries. The result was decent - a mostly full tote of quarters (oysters that are a quarter-inch in size) which we can start putting out as early as next week. Eva and I spent the day remembering all of those little tricks and motions that make the grade go easier. Dumping that first silo into a tote takes muscle memory. Then it was figuring out our system with the three-person grade, then remembering what it feels like to stand in front of a tote of water under the glaring sun for 8 hours, and finally, the feeling of immense satisfaction at tightening the last bolts and closing all the upwellers for the night. Getting it all done in one day, feeling like we've finally kicked off the summer, and knowing that we've got a million days just like that to get through before it all gets planted this fall.

And suddenly, it's Saturday. I'm up at 5:30 (because to my body, that's sleeping in), I can feel every little muscle tweak, I'm nursing a half ripped toe nail (stupid upweller doors), and all I can think about is seed. How much we got done yesterday and how much there still is to go. My parents are in town for the weekend so Dave and I are taking them to the farm for a tour today.

Because even at the end of a Big Week like that, all I want to do is go back.

Flirting with restaurants, fish, and Virginia oysters

Thanks to our friends at Food & Wine as well as the Boston Globe, word got out last week: Island Creek is opening a restaurant. While I have to admit I've known about the project for awhile, it didn't sink in until I heard people talking about it publicly. Finally, the announcements have been made and I can breathe a sigh of relief for not spilling the beans. (For the record, the foodie gossip in me was going bananas trying to keep that one from you guys. Consider me a vault.) Come August, Kenmore Square will have the world's first Island Creek Oyster Bar complete with a menu by Jeremy Sewall and a staff and dining room overseen by ES proprietor Garrett Harker. Of course, there are plenty of other details about the space that I'd like to share (grumble grumble) but I will hold off until the partners behind the project say it's time. Please take my word for it: Oyster lovers will be thrilled.

Still, the farm is the farm is the farm and things are chugging right along this spring. We're seeing more and more growth on the oyster seed from last year and, despite a few headaches with the most recent crop (the 2008 seed hasn't been as productive as the growers hoped), the oysters are as plentiful as ever.

In fact, with summer on our heels (despite today's 40 degree temps), it's time for Island Creek to start selling fish. The past few summers, they've expanded their product line, selling locally caught, quota-managed fish directly to their restaurant customers. The guys at the farm are psyched since it means being able to show off all the great fish you can find off the coast of the South Shore. And chefs love it because it's freshly caught and they know exactly where it's coming from.

So, on Friday afternoon I picked up a call at the office from fisherman Mike Lundholm (who sells exclusively to Island Creek); he announced that one day into the black fish season, which opened on April 15, he had pulled up about 100 pounds and was delivering to the shop later that night. Were we ready, he wondered? I floundered a little, looked at Lisa and shrugged, asking, are we ready? We'd have to call him back, she said. We called Shore who was on his way out of town for the weekend: Were we ready for 100 pounds of tautog? Yup, he assured us, we'll be ready. And so, fish season at Island Creek is officially underway. What this means for the wholesale arm is that they'll be getting Mike's catch delivered to the shop daily; the guys will then pound the pavement to put it out to restaurants. In fact, I ran into CJ and Chris on Friday night at Erbaluce at the end of a long day of deliveries. They'd been talking tautog with chefs all day. And tautog is just the beginning. Fisherman Mike will be bringing us his black sea bass, fluke, and stripers as soon as those seasons open up too. It's a pretty sweet program for the farm and it's been great to see how they put it all together.

We've also got a trip to Virginia coming up -- Skip has known the guys behind the Cherrystone Aqua Farm for years and starting about two years ago, those guys tried their hand at growing oysters. We tasted the results last week and despite my loyalty (ok, obsession) with New England-grown oysters, even I was impressed. I'm partial to cold-water oysters from the northeast because the salinity alone gives them a flavor profile that's tough to match. But the Misty Points (from VA) had a lot of salinity and even a little sweetness at the end, similar to Island Creeks. They're a different looking oyster of course, more elongated and spindly but they're full of meat.

I spoke to their production manager, Tim Rapine, about how they've been growing them out and he explained that their oysters only take about 10-14 months to get up to 3 inches. The warmer waters make the oysters grow a little quicker and by the time they reach 14 months, they're about the same size as ours are at 18 months. Island Creek has started selling the oysters up here so Skip, Shore, Chris and I are traveling down to see their farm in early May -- I'm looking forward to reporting back after we see the operation.

Back to the tide... but for what?

This would be an incredible weekend to be an oyster farmer. Gorgeous weather, incredibly long tides, a million excuses to be on the water (for work, of course).

And yet, it's been a struggle. We've had one of the rainiest months in the history of Massachusetts -- we picked up 13 inches of rain in March alone. It's unheard of. Skip was interviewed about it in the Boston Globe this week:

Shellfish beds were ordered to close earlier in March, but were reopened after testing found no contaminants.

“Generally, we might see one rain closure a year, but this is crazy, back to back,’’ said Skip Bennet of Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury. The closure could not have come at a worse time, he said: The full moon has created ideal tides for harvesting the shellfish.

“It’s a little frustrating because we wait for these great tides, but we’ll be closed right through them,’’ Bennet said.

We were closed last Tuesday and aren't expecting to be open until early this week. But we can still take advantage of the tides. Shore and I (just a couple of suits) went out with Skip's crew on Thursday morning -- my first time out since December -- to walk the lease and check on the seed. It felt incredible to get back out there and hear nothing but the quiet and the wind.

Of course, Shore and I got shit for only coming out on the tide when the weather turned nice. Shore got even more for arriving to work in a brand new, sparkling clean set of waders. But he quickly got them muddied up after a few hours out there.

Kidding aside, we were put to good use and helped Skip's crew as much as we could. Of course, it doesn't really help since we can't harvest oysters until next week. But even a few hours out on the water reminded me that my time to rejoin the farm is coming up quick.

Until then, I've got my hands full with the farm's next big announcement. Stay tuned... details are on the way tomorrow.

The business of farming

And just like that, we're planning Oyster Fest again. Shore and I sat down with this year's committee two weeks ago which means the process is underway --we've got just over 5 months to pull the 3,000 person beach party together. I'm not losing sleep over it yet. But talk to me in August.

Thankfully, we're using a similar set up to last year (tent size, footprint, general schedule and set up) with a few new tweaks (new headlining band, updated list of chefs, a little more control).

But right now, I'm thinking about the pigs.

Last night, CJ and I shucked oysters for the VIP room at Cochon 555 (I went to as a guest last year). We had the good fortune of meeting a potential pig farmer as well as a number of cool Johnson & Wales culinary students who very kindly donated their time. CJ repaid them by giving them a valuable shucking demo - we even put a few behind the raw bar.

It was good to get back there and shuck for a crowd again. Sometimes I get weighed down by all that we have going on but once you're standing back there, it's nothing but you and your crew, shucking as quick as you can (and looking up now and then to see some smiling faces). We've got loads of raw bars coming up: Save the Harbor this Wednesday, CentralBottle's $1 Oyster Night this Thursday, the Nantucket Wine Fest in May. My job is to coordinate the logistics of all of our events. Well, at least that's one of them. I seem to be wearing all kinds of hats these days.

As I shape and reshape this experience, my role is constantly shifting. My time in the office has been eye-opening. Being so closely connected to the nerve center of this tiny machine and directly involved in big discussions, I've gotten full exposure to every part of Island Creek. We're having in-depth conversations about who we are, where we're going and how we stick to our core. This winter, Shore and Skip have been crafting Island Creek's purpose and core values. We've initiated a rebranding campaign (hiring the very cool and talented Oat Creative, who are a pleasure to work with) and we're pulling together a structured sales and marketing program. Though the company, Island Creek Inc. has been operating for a few years, they've been so busy getting the job done that they haven't had time to do things like put a mission statement on paper or take a closer look at their logo (the first one was scribbled on a napkin). This year, I've been lucky enough to catch them while they slow down, take a breath and figure out where to go next.

Of course, everyone pitches in wherever they can. So in between setting up events, I'm visiting restaurants for sales, ordering new tshirts and raw bars, doing quality control in the shop, and yes, sometimes taking out the trash. But so is everyone else in the office (even CJ who provides levity when he's not making deliveries).

But that's what makes it fun. It might be a small business but there's a lot of heart and soul. And plenty of work to be done.

One year and counting.

For those keeping track (hi, Mom), this week marked my one-year anniversary with the farm. My supposed end-date, in fact. I meant to give this whole project a single year. But, as with many of my big ideas, plans have changed.

Turns out, I found a place that I like going to every day, where my work and contributions are appreciated and where the people I work with genuinely love what they do. It's everything I thought I would find and so much more. So I've committed to at least another summer and maybe a little fall. Strategically, this works out well since it'll lengthen my stay to about 18 months -- and that just happens to be the typical life cycle of our oysters. Fitting, no?

So many things that started out feeling foreign to me are now natural parts of my day: commuting 45 minutes to work; driving down to the harbor just to make sure it's still there; understanding what makes a perfect three-inch oyster; hearing the chickens squawk just outside our windows; that unmistakable briny sweetness of every Island Creek.

It feels good to have these consistencies now, to know a place and a product so well that they're rooted inside me. I wouldn't still be here if it hadn't resonated so deeply. More importantly, I'm thankful I took the risk. Not once have I looked back.

And here we are, back at the International Seafood Show, getting ready for spring. Pretty soon the water will warm up and the seed we planted last fall will start showing signs of growth. I'm looking forward to hitting the tide and seeing how all our babies have handled the winter. What's better is that I'll be around in September to see the first of it come out of the water.

Whether or not that will signal some sort of exit strategy is still up for debate. But that's a long ways off. Until then, I've got seed to watch over.


Up until a few weeks ago I'd never eaten a freshly laid hen egg.

I've bought plenty of eggs directly from farms at farmer's markets. And I've ordered dozens of dishes with farm-fresh eggs at locally focused menus (Craigie on Main, TW Food, Straight Wharf Restaurant). But fresh, right-from-the-coop eggs? Never.

And now, I'm flush. Or I should we. Our office and the crew at Island Creek are literally swimming in extra eggs. We have six lovely chickens (lead by the large black-feathered mistress, Rachelle) who have been laying like fiends. Billy Bennett checks their pen a few times a day (as do Cory, CJ, and Skip whenever they pass by) and step into the the office carefully cradling 2, 3, sometimes 4 eggs gingerly in their palms. Defying all chicken myth (I'm hearing more and more these days) that hens only lay when there are 14 hours of sunlight or with the help of a heat lamp, our girls are on a speedy daily rotation.

Perhaps its their diet. Billy feeds them razor clams, which they love. They also peck away at the oyster shell driveway picking up whatever meaty bits they find along the way. The result has been really durable shells that are actually tough to crack. And the yolks are a deep, marigold yellow - unlike anything I've ever seen out of a grocery store. As the color promises, they taste richer too. Dense and earthy. Almost meaty when cooked. Even raw, they're thick and don't ooze easily, more like a lava than a watery trickle.

The other day, Cory confessed that he picked up a faint "fishy" flavor to the eggs. Not sure I'd agree with him but I love that there's that possibility. What I love even more is that I've gotten so close to my food that I can literally pick an egg out of a coop (or an oyster off the flats) and eat it for breakfast. Can't wait to get started on the ICO garden.

So long, farewell.

I came to the end of a mini-era last week as I said goodbye to both Berg and A2. My constant companions on the farm are off to bigger adventures; A2 is headed home to New Hampshire where he'll be working with his father as an environmental consultant (so, you know, he can actually use that degree). Berg, meanwhile, is leaving next Monday for a 10-week trip to Tanzania where he'll be working on behalf of the Island Creek Oysters Foundation and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to start building a shellfish hatchery on the island of Zanzibar. (Check out details on how and why this is happening here.) While I've known for awhile that both would be moving on, it's hard to see these guys go, especially since they've been such a large part of my farm experience so far.

Seeing as it was A2's last day on on the farm, I spent Friday afternoon with my crew (or what's left of it), counting and bagging on the float. I'd been jonesing to get back down there ever since moving into the office so when the guys asked for help, I was happy to throw on my boots and a Grunden jacket again. The oysters have changed, believe it or not. The guys have been pulling up those mesh bags we put down late in December and inside, our oysters are a different shape and color than the were when I left the farm. Some were slightly lighter and more golden than the deep green our oysters get when they're grown directly on the floor while others were elongated and spindly instead of round and flat. It's amazing what a difference a few months in the bags will do to the shells. Inside, though, the meat still tastes the same: briny and sweet with a firm, chewy bite.

It was a great way to end what turned out to be an epic week. It started with the Oyster Stout launch party hosted by Eastern Standard last Monday night, which was followed by tastings at Harpoon Brewery on Tuesday and Thursday and an oyster and beer dinner at B&G Oysters on Wednesday. We drank and ate our fair share and also had a number of opportunities to connect with IC fans and our friends at Harpoon. Everyone at Island Creek has pretty much fallen in love with stout brewer Katie Tame, who is a natural in front of crowds. She and Skip did a great job playing off each other for the crowd at B&G on Wednesday night.

We ended the week a little ragged but still found the energy to toast A2's farewell with one last beer at Shop Friday (a farm tradition of beers and scotch at one of our grower's shops).

So what's next? As for me, I've decided to stay on the farm for a little while longer. If it isn't obvious from my long rambling posts, I've kind of fallen in love with the place -- and the people aren't too bad either. As of now, I plan on staying through the summer to help Skip with the seed for another season and to help the guys plan Oyster Fest (mark your calendars: September 11th). It'll give me a chance to enjoy another summer on the water and to watch the seed we planted last fall grow up into big, tasty, edible oysters. After that, I guess we'll see.

So this is my way of saying stay tuned. Because the ride ain't over yet...

Beer and Raw Bar Madness

There are a million ways a raw bar can go down. As a shucker, you're hoping it's a leisurely pace with oyster lovers cruising by the boat in between socializing and snacking on other appetizers. You shuck until the boat is full of half shells, then fill in oysters as the crowd comes and goes.

This was not the case last Sunday at Sel de la Terre during their annual Pig & Oyster Fest. No, I think it's safe to say that we got crushed that night. Skip, CJ, Asia, Chris, and I were behind the boat and must have had about 150 people enter the room at the same time (there was a line out the door before we even started). Plates in hand, the crowd descended, mercilessly snatching oysters out from underneath us before we had time to catch up. We shucked as quickly as we could but for two full hours, the masses waited, plucking six oysters at a time before letting another person squeeze into their place to do the same thing.

Thankfully, the guests were nice. No one complained or looked annoyed (though I did detect a few longing glances from folks at the back of a line five deep). But for the shuckers, it was hard both working at that pace and gauging whether the crowd was happy. We sold out of 2200 oysters in 2 hours. Definitely a new record. Afterwords, we took the edge off by downing a few whiskeys with our new friend, Louie the Pig.

Every raw bar we do has its own vibe. At restaurant parties like this, where oysters are the focus, the crowd can be ravenous. They've paid a set fee to walk in the door and they expect to get their moneys worth. Other times, when the raw bar is set up amongst multiple food stations and guests have a number of options, our pace is slower and we have time to talk to everyone. It's a tricky balance but one I'm slowly learning how to control.

My office role has me handling the raw bars that we do, both for events like Sel and for the upcoming wedding season (yes, you can hire us to come out and set up a raw bar -- just say the word).

This week, we're about to get our fill of raw bar insanity. And it's all thanks to (drum roll please) the release of our OYSTER STOUT! We spent Friday morning at Harpoon Brewery while they bottled up what turns out to be a very impressive version of stout made with oysters.

We had our first taste in the bottling room, amongst the clanking of glass and the noisy machines, around 10 a.m. Fresh from the tank, it was a treat, full of chocolate and roasted smokiness. I could actually smell the ocean on it. The brewery then put us to work capping the bottles with gold foil (Skip worked the bottling line like a champ.)

Later, Nicole, Dave and I split a bottle at home to really get the taste. Dave, a lovably stubborn beer snob, took a few deep whiffs, putting his nose deep into the glass and declared it awesome. With each taste, the smokiness increased, the faintest hint of seawater came through and the stout improved.

The real test, though, occurred last night at Eastern Standard when we drank the stout (from a growler we snuck in to the restaurant) with a plate of Island Creeks. Suddenly, the beer changed. The chocolate notes faded to the background. The oysters woke up a blast of minerality and then the smokiness came roaring through. One oyster, one sip. It really is a magical pair.

To celebrate the beer's arrival, we're throwing parties with Harpoon all month. Between restaurant parties and Brewery room tastings, we'll have raw bars all over town. I highly recommend making it to one of these parties -- or tracking down the beer at your nearest retailer. Drink it with oysters or on its own. And if you make it to one of our raw bars, do us a favor and say hello. Tell us what you think. We'll be hard at work shucking. But we always have time to chat and have a beer.

Pain's Last Tide

At the start of this project, I decided it would make sense to move into the office towards the end of my year in order to better understand how the company runs as a whole. Last week was my last official week outside on the farm -- and my last week on the tide.

For now, anyway.

We spent some time getting back up to speed after Christmas weekend. The company had sold a ton of oysters over the holiday and needed bags from our crew ASAP, especially in time for New Years. But we also had our eyes on the tide: There were just 60 or so cages left to bring in and Berg wanted to get all those bags that we'd laid out flipped so they weren't drowning in the mud.

But despite good timing, the weather was a factor, as always. Monday afternoon's tide was rained out. Tuesday's was risky because it was well below freezing and the windchill put us down into the single digits. But Chris, Will and Berg hustled before it got too low and pulled all but 9 cages out with a few bitter-cold runs on their own. By Wednesday, we were looking at a somewhat milder day (in the teens!) and a tide that coincided with sundown. After spending the day culling, we headed out with some fresh gloves and a couple extra layers under our waders. It was a minus .9, which meant we'd have plenty of time on the flats to get the bags flipped. We started with the bags we'd tied together with a system line, flipping them out of their pockets of mud to give the oysters on the bottom some breathing room. We'd put about 600 bags out there, all full of oysters that had repaired themselves in the warmer weather and were now laying dormant for the winter. The system lines are there to help us if the bay ices over -- we'll be able to pull up 50 bags at a time with the hauler. So it's our safeguard as well as a contingency plan. We'll be able to harvest, even in the bitter cold, plus it gives us a couple thousand oysters to pull up if we need them in a pinch.

We still had about 400 bags to tie together: A tricky feat when your gloves are the size of an astronaut's and the air is biting cold. Chris and I laid the lines down on the bags while Will went at the zip ties bare-handed. But as the sun started to set, the temps dropped and the winds picked up. We were racing the cold, pulling our gloves off to get each tiny plastic tie zipped shut, and wincing at the air exposure. I could get about five bags tied before my hands went numb. As we kept moving, it got down to two bags. Pretty soon, I was leaving the gloves on and doing my best with the big, bulky fingers. (The guys did a much better job fighting the cold.) We got about halfway through the bags before the water came back up. By about 5:30, with a massive full moon rising above us, we were back on land -- dry but not nearly warm. As I drove back to the office for a round of shop beers, the thermometer in the car read 19 degrees. Ouch.

The oysters can stand tremendous cold bouts like this. But whenever we leave oysters on the float overnight, we keep them off the ground on a palette (sorry, Cory) and keep a tiny electric heater going.

During the day, we use Mr. Heater, a propane-run space heater. And yes, I'm the one who begged to use it most. So much so that the guys called me pro-Pain for most of the winter.

Keeping us warm along with the heater was our trusty new coffee maker, donated by my Mom and Dad. Handy on the days when it's too cold to make a run to Frenchie's.

Thursday was New Year's Eve day and my final day on the float. We culled in the morning, then washed and bagged after a long lunch at Tsang's. The snow started around 10 that morning -- by lunchtime, we were looking at a few inches. But that didn't stop Berg and Chris from running out to pick up those last 9 cages. Believe it or not, we got all of them out of the water on the last day of the year. I can't think of a more fitting end to the season. Or a better occasion to celebrate.

loading up in the snow

I ended up spending New Year's with my crew at a party thrown by Eastern Standard (where we shucked) and later at the Publick House where I brought the guys up to visit Dave, who was working. It was quite the party and a damn fine way to wind down my final week on the farm.

So now what? I'm onto a new adventure as Office Girl. I'll still be blogging (from what I hear, things can get pretty exciting up at the office...sometimes). I got through Day One (not nearly as challenging as my first Day One) and am happy to be holed up inside a warm office while there's still snow on the ground.

But... I already find myself missing my crew, the float, the water. And oddly enough, the smell of oysters.

I must be hooked.

A very Duxbury Christmas

I honestly thought I could get through my last few winter weeks on the farm without a single snowstorm. I'm also that girl that never thought it would rain on her wedding day and got married outside on the beach.

Naturally, it poured.

And we got 22 inches of snow in Duxbury this past weekend.

The snow made for a picturesque ride down to the farm on Monday, especially since Berg made the call to put us on the tide at 6:45 a.m. We arrived to find the sun rising over the snow-covered beach and our Oysterplex trimmed in icicles.

There was a lot of busy work involved with that much snow. A2, Quinn (who's back in town for a few days on winter break) and I ran up to the shop to grab the farm truck only to find it completely snowed in. We shoveled it out (at one point, Billy Bennett stopped to watch us shovel and yell out: "Not what you signed up for, was it Erin?") and ran it back down to the water so we could pick up the cages, which Berg and Chris had hauled out of the water for us. We made a few trips, getting several dozen cages out and stored away in the process. Our short day ended when the tide came up -- we celebrated our mini success with a big breakfast at Persy's.

Last week, we had purposely put a massive pile of bags into the cooler so that we could all take some time off for Christmas. Last Thursday and Friday were impressive: Despite sub-freezing temps, Pops (who is also back for winter break), Will, and Berg washed a ridiculous number of crates so we could load up the truck and get this huge stack of oysters packed away. Hopefully Santa is delivering a few bags like these to you and yours this week.

Monday was also the Island Creek Christmas party, a raucous affair that started at 4 pm and ended well past midnight. We set up a raw bar in the shop and a liquor bar in the office which made for a number of freezing-cold sprints from one venue to the next.

It was a wild night for the whole family. Skip pulled out half a case of champagne which went down like water with our glass perron. A2 found out that despite a lot of practice, he still can't beat Skip in a shucking contest. And late, late into the night, we all came face to face with Don Merry's ferocious dexterity with a hose. Dave and I left the scene soaking wet and laughing our heads off around 11:30.

This week, Dave and I are spending some time in Knoxville with my Murray side of the family (the 15-hour drive went well - our usually carsick dog, Rex, managed to pitch a no-hitter). While we won't be eating any oysters (my expecting sis-in-law Allison wouldn't be allowed to eat them anyway - yay!) we've got plenty of snowy Duxbury memories to get us through the week. Plus, I know somewhere in Charlotte, our friends the Williams are shucking and slurping a few dozen Island Creeks on our behalf. (Thanks, Jim!) Also looking forward to a visit from my sis Shannon and her husband, Brian, so we can toast the upcoming arrival of their new, adopted daughter Gracyn. Yes, 2010 is looking to be a very baby-filled year.

Speaking of babies, the Wall Street Journal did a nice job capturing the story of Island Creek in its infancy in this blog post (unfortunately, they misspelled Skip's name... but the rest of it is accurate and fun to read).

Finally, a quick note of thanks for keeping up with Shucked. Through the ups and downs, the seed, the harvest, and the cold days of winter, it's been an absolute joy to chronicle, especially knowing you're out there going through it all with me. Here's hoping your holidays are filled with family, love, and plenty of Island Creek oysters.


What goes down before the bar opens? Soon, Island Creek Oyster Stout

About two weeks back, on our last warm-ish day before the bitter cold set in, Skip's crew convened at the office after work. It was 4:15 p.m. and the sky was dark. Skip presented us with an oyster farmer dilemma: What does one do between the time the sun sets and the bar opens? We were done with work, we'd put in a full day and we were ready for a brew. The Winsor House wouldn't open for another 45 minutes. Skip's answer: Warm Bud Light. (Random fact about Skip: He likes his beer warm.) But more often than not, the farmers I work with enjoy heartier beers, especially ones that pair well with our 'sters. So it only made sense, Skip told me a few months back, that Island Creek and Harpoon Brewery had decided to pair up to brew Harpoon's next 100-Barrel Series, Island Creek Oyster Stout, a heady, dark beer brewed with our very own oysters. The guys are pretty stoked: They get to pair their creative energies with another local institution, one who supported us at Oyster Fest and who we support by drinking gallons and gallons of their IPA.

Island Creek Oyster Stout due February 5th, 2010

Last week the brewer Katie came down to check out the grant -- she's still working on her test batches (that's actually chocolate stout in the bottle) but will be brewing in January. The beer launches on February 5th so keep your eyes on local beer menus.

While we were out there (it had been awhile since my last trip to the grant) we actually got some work done too (riiiggghhht.... work). We've been prepping for winter by stashing some oysters into mesh bags that will lay on the bottom of the grant. We connected all the bags together with system lines so that if there's ice (fingers crossed there won't be), we'll be able to pull the bags up easily. Out on the tide last week, we got about 200 bags connected. As we zip tied everything together bare-handed, Skip cried out: "Hey office girl - no gloves?"

tying our mesh bags together

the last of our cages, coming out this week

As we'd hoped (prayed, begged for, desperately needed), the last of the seed came out of the water this week. Berg pulled the very last of it today and Skip will get it planted tomorrow. No more dirty bags, no more cages (except the ones we have to pull)... We can all breathe a little easier. Berg especially (that stout can't get here soon enough).

Friday was our first below-freezing day and of course, we weren't ready for it. We got to work to find our hoses completely filled with ice (we defrosted them in the shower at the Maritime School) and spent the day tackling the temps and high winds.

Despite running out of propane for our space heater midday we survived the coldest day of the year. And while the temps are already much lower than they were my first day, I'm feeling a lot more prepared this time around. Maybe it's the fact that the office is calling my name in just a few short weeks. Or maybe I'm just plain used to it.

If you can't handle the heat...

After my day at Per Se, Berg texted me: "If you can't handle the heat you can come back to the farm." Ah, Berg. Always good at handing me a dose of reality. Honestly, I was ready to get back. Our trip to NY had left me with stars in my eyes - we'd eaten at Craft, visited the Food & Wine offices to chat with Kate Krader and Kristin Donnelly, who wrote a great blog post about it, and spent the day (and night) at Per Se. An oyster farmer can only handle so much. My first day back, we were on the move once again. The float came back to land (if you can remember waaaay back, it's been on the water since April.).

Now we're anchored next to the dock by the Maritime School which means we're hooked up to electricity and running water and we're within spitting distance of the bathroom. (Hooray!) We like our new little nook. When the tide's high, we can see over the wall that shields the dock from most high winds and waves and during low tide, like the epic drainer we had last night, it feels like we're hidden away from the rest of the world. Nice little place to be for the winter.

We celebrated our first week with a few swigs of Harpoon from a growler Skip brought down. We used our sustainable ice bucket just for the occasion.

our sustainable ice bucket

hey look! it works!

We've been lucky to have a mild fall and early winter so far. There are rumblings that this might be a "less-than average" year for snowfall - here's hoping that's true (though, Skip admitted that the oysters do like the cold for a little while).

And believe it or not, we're nearly done with seed! I'm sure I sound like a broken record - we wanted to have it all planted by the end of October. But we depend on good weather and the tides to get access to the lease and neither have been on our side this fall. But Skip and Berg planted more of it yesterday and we're hoping to get the final cages emptied and planted by next week. Once that's done, we can get our cages up to storage and call it a year. Just in time for Christmas.

As for me, my time on the farm is winding down - incredibly hard to believe. The plan is for me to come off the farm and start working in the office on January 1st. I know, I know - Erin, you're turning into a suit! (And conveniently, right in time for whatever cold snap we might get.) But that was my plan from the beginning and I'm sticking to it. I need to see how the company runs things from the other side. It's a missing piece on my farm-to-table path so I'm looking forward to learning a new aspect of it all.

Yes, the guys are giving me a hard time about it. They've even come up with a new name for when I call it quits on the farm: Part-Time Pain.

Wild October weather and... finally, I'm heading to Per Se.

I woke on Friday morning to find that the weather was doing exactly what it did my first day of work: wet, snowy, slick, and cold. This isn't typical for mid-October but we are, after all, in New England. The snow came down even harder this afternoon -- Dave and I watched from our living room as the Pats slid all over the field tromping the Titans on a snowy Sunday. Friday ended up being a wash. We got to the harbor and watched the sailboats bob sideways while Berg and Greg bounced out in the bay on Morris's boat in the rain only to find that they couldn't land on the float. The waves were too high for us to be out there so we ended up at the shop working on some farm-gear upkeep for most of the morning.

This time of year is tricky for the crew. We're all anxious to get the seed planted and get our cages out of the water but with the weather last week, we only made it out on the tide once. We did manage to get a solid night of celebration in - we finally had our crew outing in the city. The guys all took a limo up from Duxbury; Catie and Maggie met us after work/school; and Eva took the train up from Brown. We started at Post 390 for a couple beers and oysters and then moved on to Toro where we ate incredibly well: foie gras with pear chutney, roasted bone marrow, garbanzos with chorizo, smoked duck legs, our oysters with a citrus-y foam, kobe burgers, paella, and of course, a perron of cava.



We ended up at Eastern Standard telling stories and laughing uncontrollably. As always, it was a wild night out with the crew - one we definitely needed after all that hard work this summer (thanks, Skip).

We've got some work ahead of this week but I'll be taking a short break from the farm to head to Chicago with Matthew. We're going out for the Shaw's Crab House Royster with the Oyster this Wednesday where we'll check out the ChicaGourmet's Hall of Fame dinner and spend a few days doing sales calls. The guys at Island Creek are always part of the event (they're serving our oysters on Thursday night at the Goose Island beer dinner) and we're looking forward to seeing our bud Rowan Jacobsen along with (hopefully) some other oyster notables.

And now, the really good news. I just got word that on Nov 12, I'll be heading down to NY to stage at Per Se (talk about burying the lede here). We very kindly asked chef Jonathan Benno if I could come down for an afternoon and watch as Thomas Keller's famed New York restaurant prepares one of its signature dishes, Oysters and Pearls ... which just happens to include Island Creek Oysters. Thankfully, he's agreed. We had a visit from one of the restaurant's chefs this summer (it was part of a couple-week long educational program where the chef went around the country stopping at Per Se's various purveyors to work for a few days); I'm looking forward to retrieving the favor by spending a day with chef Keller's kitchen staff. I'll be trailing the fish butcher and at the canape station plus I'll get to hang out for a bit during service. Skip and Shore will head down with me to do a pre-meal presentation for the staff and later that night, the three of us will sit down for dinner (my first at Per Se).

I'm trying hard to contain the nerves that comes with something like this. For any chef, spending the day in Per Se's kitchen is a treat. For a non-chef, oyster farming writer (that would be me) it's just plain unexpected. Since learning about Island Creek's relationship with Thomas Keller's restaurants, I've been salivating over the idea of getting into the kitchen to see what they do with our oysters. After all, the whole point of spending this year on the farm was to watch an ingredient go from seed to table. Finally, after months of nurturing, planting, harvesting, and handling our tasty oysters, I get to see what happens to them in the hands of one of the country's most revered chefs. And then, more incredibly, to taste them while sitting alongside the guy who grows them.

Not bad for a girl on an oyster farm. Right?

The Off Season

What happens on an oyster farm when things slow down? We find more to do. It's not that we're at a loss. We planted some more on Tuesday during an early morning tide and more today during a mid-morning tide. If all goes well, we'll have all of our seed planted/distributed by the end of next week (fingers crossed for good weather).

This week, though, the wind blew like mad. Tuesday was a brutal day -- we rushed out to tide after a 5:30 a.m. arrival, got out to the cages in the dark and the tide just. wouldn't. move.

We had some water to play with so we got our seed bags out of the cages (something A2 likens to pushing and pulling a crinkly dollar bill out of a vending machine only, you know, 100x the size) and loaded onto the boat. Then we waited for the sun to rise and the water to keep going out. Only, it never really did.



Skip, somewhat frustrated, explained that we were under a high pressure system (as evidenced by the crystal-clear sky -- we could still see Orion's Belt) and that, usually, the tide moves the right way with those conditions. But what we were experiencing felt almost like a low pressure system. No movement (the air, pushed down by that low pressure, keeps the water from moving anywhere quickly) which meant no time to shake and plant. Regardless, our bags were loaded up so we went back to the float to start emptying seed into one of the boats. Skip and Berg would plant with the shovel after all. It wasn't a total loss. We got to watch the night fade away, the full moon lower and then, finally, the arrival of the sun right on time at 6:46 a.m. For Skip, it was the 4th moon rise/sun rise in a row.

There's a rhythm to our days on the float now. We wash and bag in the morning and then cull in the afternoons. The crew has little projects to work on here and there and we're usually in the zone. But I have the feeling all of that will shift, at least for me, in the next few weeks.

We've been hatching some travel plans for the fall since that's pretty much the only down time we have on the farm. Collectively, in the next month, we're headed to Chicago, New York, France and... Africa (and that's just for work). Matthew, Lisa and I will hit Chicago for the Shaw's Oyster Fest; Skip, Shore, and Berg are off to Zanzibar for some research for the Island Creek Oysters Foundation project (which involves starting a hatchery in Zanzibar); Matthew is heading to France; and Skip, Shore and I are working on a trip to NYC to visit Per Se.

It's not going to be easy leaving the float here and there. But, as Shore puts it: this is the way things go in Oyster Land.

This little piggy came from Island Creek

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. DSC00341

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

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

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.)

From sunset to sunrise.

Phew. What a week. I swore I'd be better about posting. But these last few weeks have had me scrambling between life on the farm and everything else. Not that I'm complaining. I can't decide what I'm more grateful for: the fact that my job keeps me out on the water all day or that it has almost completely removed the computer from my life. It was another typical, summery weather week. Some sun, a few showers, and one massive storm that hit on Thursday night. Luckily, the beginning of the week was clear. Chef Jeremy Sewell brought his kitchen crews from both Lineage and Eastern Standard, along with some friends, out to the farm for a tour and dinner. They started on the docks with a look at the upwelling system and then made their way out to the tide to check out the nursery. Eventually, they landed on the float where they cracked open some Harpoons and waited for dinner.



Skip had been out early that morning pulling up his lobster traps and digging steamers for his guests. The haul was huge and he'd been on the float that afternoon setting up for dinner. Apparently, when Skip hosts a float party, he goes all out.



He and Shore pulled together a great meal with little more than a few steam kettles, some sea water and some rock weed. And, of course, plenty of melted butter. The kitchen crews were clearly impressed... and probably more than happy to let someone else take over dinner for the night.


After dinner, and a few more drinks, the crowd got a little rowdy.

Jeremy contemplates the water

And before we knew it, they were all in the water.

...but not for very long.

Exactly how it should be, Skip said.

The crew had to catch a bus back to Boston but a few of us hung out on the float for my first sunset from the water.



And, of course, it was followed a few short days later by my first real sunrise on the water. We had a big drainer week and on Thursday, we made it out on a 6 a.m. tide just in time for the sun to come out.


We spent both Wednesday and Thursday on the tide pulling in plenty of hand picked oysters and cleaning up the nursery a bit. The cleaning went quickly since there were so many of us. Looking down the row of cages at our army of a crew made it feel like effortless work. But we still managed to get ourselves caked in mud.


Thursday night's storm had Skip down at the water at 3:30 a.m. where he said he could hardly stand up due to the wind. The waves were crashing up and over the docks where our upwellers live. One of our boats actually got ripped off the dock but thankfully, he was there to pull it back in. Friday morning there were sailboats up on the rocks by the Maritime School and the harbor looked disheveled in general. We didn't make it out on the water that day but still managed to get some organizing and work done at the shop.

Yet another busy summer week. But oddly enough, I'm starting to get used to it all.