Happening upon a sign like this is a bit like stumbling upon manna thrown from the heavens... "Wait, wait, wait! What did that say?" I scream as if there was a four-car pile-up behind us as we zoom past. "Great. Another dirt road, dead ends, & weird people," sighs my husband when we're on our way to somewhere in the middle of nowhere, do-nothing vacation. And then he admirably puts on his blinkers, turns the truck around & indulges my obsession.
I seriously love this guy...
I also believe that at the end of the day, there's a real joy in making a fruitful connection with someone at the source of outstanding locally-produced vegetables, cheese, meat, bread or the likes, and then make an inspired meal from something just plucked out of the ocean or the earth--it's enough to balance out the uncomfortable moments & a few failed 'Operation Locavore' missions. Independent farmers can sometimes be quirky, intense, a little in-your-face--mostly in a good way. That's probably why they can keep doing what they're doing when they're up against the odds. They ain't growing soybeans or commodity corn.
So at the beginning of the week here on San Juan Island, we were headed out to Roche Harbor & I saw this sign post. After Ken took care of business in the village, we jagged at a fork down the road through a gorgeous stretch of homes until we came to an unpaved road at the bottom of Westcott Drive & thought ourselves to be lost once again on one of my foodie quests. "I'm sorry, Ken," I apologized in frustration. "My gut told me to take this road." "Yeah, well my gut told me to go down the other road," Ken grumbled as we turned the truck around. "Well, maybe your gut shouldn't listen to my gut next time!" I grumbled as we sped back up the hill. "Maybe my gut's a little crazy!"
So we headed down 'Ken's Guts Drive' and lo & behold it dead-ended at an even more incredibly gorgeous home that perched above the cove with a wooden sign that read, "Private Property. No Oysters Here." Let's just say that we didn't come home with any seafood that day.
Turns out, had we gone just a *little* bit further on Westcott we would have found Westcott Bay Sea Farms, but this just gave me the excuse to drag my 'Feather' (another wounded bird from the working world who came to join me for a few days on my San Juan Island sojourn-- yes, I made her pick an 'island name' for herself) for a field trip where we would pick up some clams & mussels for our inaugural lunch. Really, F., you should be a photographer who documents exotic places as your next vocation if you ask me...
So while Ken was back to Seattle life, Feather & I set ourselves to the task of rounding up some serious mollusks, but I have to say a self-serve seafood stand was a first for me. We headed to the office.
"Is there a scoop?" I asked earnestly. "Nope," The Office Lady said (who reminded me just a bit of the owl in those old "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie-Roll lollipop?" commercials.) "Use your hands."
And so what is that pile of rubber boots for, I wondered to myself but dared not ask. Do we need to go wade out into the bay like a couple of Virginia Woolf's?
Bubbling tanks before us, we each took turns sticking our hands into the ice cold waters for some ultra-fresh catch. "My god that's COLD!!!" "Look at how red your hand is!" "Here I go again, ahhh!!!" I guess I like to torture my guests when they're along for a nice trip to the islands, & oh yeah, a blog.
As we found out later from a friend who lives here, you just lift the baskets out of the water & grab what you want. Thanks Office Lady, you could have told us that much.
So after the drive back to Green Hollow, Feather began to settle into her temporary nest as I prepared a late lunch for us--a recipe I've seen Ken prepare many times over, but since he's so good at it, I'd never made it all on my own. Thank goodness I'm often his sous chef so I had an idea of the proportions & pulled a rabbit out of my hat. Or maybe it was an oyster...
All I can tell you is that these were absolutely the freshest, sweetest, tenderest clams & mussels I've ever eaten. It would be hard to do them wrong. And I'm so proud to have done them right, Office Lady. I wish we could have taken you back to the cabin for a few glasses of wine & a bowl of Portuguese fisherman's stew. Heck, you might have taken the rest of that gloriously sunny day off, only to hand out copies of my recipe on our next visit. Salud!
750 ml was a fanciful little wine bar down in Portland's Pearl District that Ken & I discovered years ago which has since now come & gone... Too bad since they perfected the art of cataplana, a Portuguese steaming vessel in the shape of a clam shell. Legend has it that fisherman would cook up their catch right on the beach after getting off work in the Algarve, a region where free-thinking conquerors caved in to pork-loving ways. Maybe the fishermen kept a little linguica in their pocket & a classic dish was born! Here's my off-the-cuff San Juan version:
Serves two hungry chicks on vacation
3 pounds mixed clams & mussels (clams soaked for a bit, mussels de-bearded)
1/2 a shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
glass dry white wine or Manzanilla/Fino sherry
1 tsp zested orange peel
3 generous pinches saffron, crumbled
2 knobs butter
2 Tbs chopped Italian parsley
Get a knob of butter sizzling in a shallow saucepan, then throw in your garlic & shallot, taking care not to brown them but cook until they become fragrant.
Have your white wine or sherry ready to rescue your garlic from bitter over-browning, & pour it into the pan, creating an appetite-inducing smell. Add your stellar shellfish, crumble saffron with your fingers into the pan along with some orange zest, & place a tight-fitting lid on top, checking from time to time until almost all shells burst open (there might be a few duds.)
Sprinkle with parsley & serve with hearty bread for soaking up the nectar.
Westcott Bay Sea Farms: 904 Westcott Drive Friday Harbor, WA 98250