Camino de Santiago

21 01 2018

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




A Grateful Harvest: Scalloping in Nantucket

14 11 2012

So here I am in San Francisco waiting for Dungeness crab season to start tomorrow, but I really wish I was out east, in Nantucket to be precise.

I would like to call myself a scalloper… HA!  I have been scalloping exactly twice on what were sure to be the two nicest and warmest days of the season, so although I do appreciate the grueling nature of the industry there is no way I really understand the extent of the cold days with freezing icy wind gusting as the loyal scallopers trudge away to get scallops on your table.

My mother loves scallops, but as a kid I was never a fan, I found them chewy and mostly flavorless.  Most of the time you see scallops in a restaurant they are breaded, overcooked and way too big.  I was not intrigued by them until I worked at Rubicon and Jardiniere with Traci Des Jardins.  Des Jardins is famous for her truffled scallop dish, a heap of creamy and buttery mashed potatoes in the center, that relies on some amazingly flavorful tubers, surrounded in a delicate yet hauntingly flavorful truffle nage and finally garnished with a ring of golden seared scallops.  A “nage” by the way means “in the swim” how amazingly appropriate right?  Anyway the dish was and is absolutely delicious.  Another thing I learned about scallops around the same time was the term day boat, meaning that the boats harvesting the scallops return each day to port to offload them.  It’s a pretty important distinction as scallops do not live as long as clams or other shellfish once caught.  They must be shucked while live and either kept on ice of flash frozen which of course changes their delicate texture.  Having quality scallops as an ingredient of course makes the dish that much better.

Fast forward to last year, December 2011, when I had the opportunity to scallop with my friend Bruce, a commercial scalloper on Nantucket!  Nantucket Bay Scallops are famous internationally due to their very delicate texture and pure sweet flavor.  I find other scallops to be more neutral in flavor and with less of that fresh salty tang of the ocean.  With wine we talk about terroir, but oyster and shellfish purveyors and writer have now coined the word (not sure who to attribute it to, but it’s clever!) “merroir” meaning that oysters, clams and of course scallops taste distinctly different depending on where they originate.  Just like wine the maritime “weather” and climate have a lot to do with how the shellfish grows, the microorganisms, sea life and micro-elements and minerals in the water also affect the flavor in ways hard to define.  Since bivalves filter water to eat they are conduits of flavor even more than grapevines.  They really are made of the fine mixture of what the sea diffuses into them more than any creature I can think of!  As a result of the unique characteristics of Nantucket, Nantucket Bay Scallops garner a higher price per pound due to the limited supply.  The price varies annually but this year’s season opened paying scallopers $10/lb with retail prices ranging from $14-$17.95.

Nantucket regulates scallop fishing in order to preserve the next year’s harvest.  Many consumers actually scallop with their families but there are strict guidelines as to days allowed, quantities and permits are needed.  Also every scallop harvested either commercially or recreationally must have a raised annual growth ring to show it is one year minimum in age or fit a size requirement.  This ensures a healthy population to spawn for the next season.  Recreational scalloping starts October 1 annually.  During the season you will see entire families in their waders working the shallows with inter tubes that suspend wire baskets, raking in up to a bushel a week.  The commercial season begins November 1 and runs until March 31.  Scallopers can harvest up to five cases per day, which can bring in about $400 for that type of haul.  That said, the scallop season is what many commercial scallopers rely on as their only source of winter income, and there are days that are easy and scallops are plentiful, but there are days that are rough both in terms of weather and the catch.

Our day began very early as I was picked up before dawn to get out on the water.  It was unseasonably warm for December 2, which was also the first day of the annual Christmas Stroll.  We headed out in a truck with a big rusted out flatbed, no stranger to seawater.  I was outfitted in Grunden’s orange pants and some waterproof boots, a heavy sweater and Carhaart jacket, orange waterproof slicker, glove liners and large orange gloves and a warm hat as we set off from Nantucket harbor just before dawn.  Scallopers have to wait until 6:30am to start scalloping, so most like to be at the area they plan to dredge by then.  The cue to start is the horn of the first Steamship ferry as it leaves Nantucket for Hyannis at 6:30am.  The whistle blew and we started working.  The process is relatively simple but time consuming and takes a good deal of strength.  The dredges are released behind the boat in groups so as not to get tangled up and the boat moves slowly along as these weighted nets scrape the bottom of the harbor.   When it seems enough time has passed they are cranked up onto a sorting table and emptied of hopefully scallops.  When the first heaping dredge full of the sea came up and was dumped on the table it included everything imaginable, sea stars, eelgrass, rocks, clams, fish, mud all writhing around and soaking wet.  And the most amazing thing, as the first haul was emptied onto the sorting area, a heap of scallops chattered away as they snapped open and shut repeatedly in the early light of dawn.  It was my job to help sort through the mess and retrieve the scallops, all at the same time while checking to be sure they had the growth ring and were old enough.  I had trouble believing that normally Bruce does all of this solo, it’s a lot of work, and quite honestly having me there was more of a hindrance than help as he had to coach me quite a bit.  “Is this one old enough?  How about this one?”, I’d say to which he’d reply, “Make a decision!”  Master of efficiency, he commented that I should never have to touch one scallop twice, it either goes in the basket or over the side.  We took a pause after we had reset the dredges and he shucked one for me.   He turned the scallop smooth side down.  The smooth side is the one normally resting on the bottom on the sand, so it’s clean of algae or muck.  Grabbing the scallop knife from in between some of the worn wooden boards on the boat, he stuck the scallop knife between the hinges of the shells, slipped the knife all the way around while pressing it up on the top of the shell to unhinge the muscle as cleanly as possible, popped up the shell and discarded the ring of eyes around the edge, scraped off the internal organs and finally removed the bottom part of the muscle.  It was amazingly fresh and delicious, almost magical.  It could not have been a more perfect bite and moment.

We scalloped until about 9:30 which was not that long considering we were able to fill our 5 permitted boxes.  We headed back to the dock, unloaded and then headed to get a coffee and deliver the scallops to Nantucket Seafoods.  They have a small market but generally the scallops we harvested would be shucked that day and sent next day air to restaurants around the country.  Part of our batch was actually going to San Francisco!  I got home exhausted, took a nap, showered and headed into town for the festivities of Christmas Stroll.  The streets were aglow with lighted trees and every store was decked out for the holidays.  Scallop shell lights were hung all over the town and strands of them were for sale for about $100-$199 a strand!  I sat down at a wonderful upscale restaurant called The Pearl to get some dinner in the midst of a boisterous crowd of adults on a Santa crawl wearing hideous holiday sweaters.  On the menu there was a local Nantucket bay scallop trio of ceviche/crudo.  Remembering my first sweet taste of scallop that morning, I was mesmerized.  These could very well be the same scallops that Bruce and I had harvested just a few hours ago!  So I had to order them although they price made me cringe with a pang of guilt.  They arrived and had been handled in the most delicate way, taking care in all three preparations not to overshadow their texture or flavor.  I savored every morsel of what at most must have been four or five good sized scallops.  As I sat there fully engaged with the meal, I was struck by my incredible day, full circle from harvesting scallops that morning to sitting here with my glass of Gruner Veltliner and enjoying these delightful morsels in elegance.  $10 a pound and a lot of exhausting work for Bruce who was just at the beginning of a long and arduous winter of scalloping with many cold days ahead.  And here I was savoring a small dish costing if I recall correctly about $22-25, but crafted with the utmost respect and care.  I could not have been more thankful to enjoy both sides of the spectrum.  After I was warm with wine and my palate sated by scallops and other delicacies, I asked for the check.  After all my concern about the money I was spending after on my first humbling day harvesting scallops, I was told that some revelers I had befriended (not in ugly sweaters) had secretly paid for my entire meal and had already left.  So this Thanksgiving I will be toasting the fisherman and farmers who work tirelessly to bring food to our tables, all of those chefs and cooks who respectfully prepare those ingredients to give us great pleasure, and all of those who understand and remind me when I least expect it, that every moment of life is a gift.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To watch a video of scallops snapping

To watch a video how scallops are harvested

To order Nantucket Bay Scallops http://nantucketseafood.net/  

More info on scallops http://www.nantuckettodayonline.com/novdec09/scallops.html

What to drink with scallops?  With lighter preparations scallops are great with crisp whites.  I would love something like a Gruner Veltliner from Austria for a scallop crudo or ceviche, or a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc if you are making something spicy or citrusy.  If the scallops are caramelized with a slightly sweet preparation try an off dry aromatic white like the Schlossgut Diel Riesling Classic from the Nahe in Germany.  The great thing is with richer preparations (think mushrooms, truffle, red wine beurre rouge, etc, you can even pair scallops with Pinot Noir.  I am hoping to find some good options this Friday at Farallon’s Pinot Fest!  The consumer tasting is Saturday for tickets and information http://www.farallonrestaurant.com/pinotfest.html





Nantucket Off Season

20 11 2009

bclosedI lived on Nantucket for two full summers, the last of which I stayed well into the fall.  I loved Nantucket in the fall, the golden leaves, the quiet beaches, the subdued nature of town.  But with the fall came perils, for example, almost daily I’d need to run down to the ferry to say goodbye to yet another comrade headed off island for the winter.  Restaurants grew slim as they pared down their hours, and worst of all I had to stop ordering Guinness.  It just took too long to pour and settle and soon I’d often find myself surrounded by a crowd of lusty but otherwise harmless scallopers.

I guess those fond memories inspired me to retreat once again to Nantucket in the fall.  Some folks we encountered were confused as to why we would want to visit when then weather was turning cold and grey, but it was sublime.

Nantucket is an island about 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachussetts.  Known for a lucrative whaling industry, today the island remains a proud testament to tradition.  It’s cobblestone streets are mostly unchanged, and save for a Cumberland Farms and a Ralph Lauren outpost, most chain stores are shunned.  No stop lights and staunch dedication towards a traditional architecture means that most buildings look identical in their weathered grey shingles.  Nantucket looks pretty much like it did back in the day.  During the peak season (July and August) the town swells with visitors, but quickly the summer crowds and workers dissipate allowing one to appreciate a pristine and windswept vista in the late fall.  While late October can supply some pleasant Indian summer type days, by November the island gets colder and damper, but more serene.  Beach days become blustery rather than sunny.  Town is mostly shut down, few restaurants are open and those that are have limited hours, often seemingly determined by the whim of the owner on any given day.  Stores are open sporadically but the upside is the incredible sales, it seems the whole island is a bargain with room rates plunging and most retailers offering 20% on current issue items, but 50-75% on summer wares.

My husband and I headed out to the island by plane, a quicker and easier ride than the ferry since we flew east into Boston.  Off season can mean discounted rooms and a few of the larger hotels are really peaceful during this season.  The White Elephant is a quick but chilly walk to town near Brant Point.  Additionally they have just started renting their gorgeous White Elephant Hotel Residences which are available through December 6, 2009.  These are multi room apartments are outfitted beautifully and offer amenities including remote controlled fireplaces, kitchens with panini makers, wine cellars, amazing bathtubs, blue-ray, pretty much everything you need to enjoy Nantucket as if you lived there, also right in the heart of town.  Their Brant Point Grill stays open for most of the fall season and offers great food, but be sure to check exact dates.

Nantucket Christmas Stroll is another great time to visit but room rates bump up a bit due to the increased visitors.  It’s dreamy walking the streets decked out for the holidays and makes you think you have stepped back in time.  This year Christmas Stroll is scheduled for December 4 and 5, 2009.

Overall the island is always an amazing place to visit, but if you want to maximize your dollar and enjoy it without the mass of summer visitors and day-trippers then off-season is the way to go.

White Elephant Hotel Residences

http://www.whiteelephanthotelresidences.com/

View from The White Elephant

American Season’s Restaurant

80 Centre Street: Amazing.  The food is amazing.  I do not know what else to say!  The seasonal menu changes often and is uniquely not divided by appetizer/entree but rather by region into Pacific Coast, New England and Down South featuring dishes inspired by each region.  Lots of game and they also offer specials, and if the charcuterie is an option when you go do not miss it.  http://www.americanseasons.com/

Black-Eyed Susan’s

10 India Street: This small diner style spot offers some of the most amazing breakfast dishes.  I was incredibly fond of Susan’s grits, a small dish arrives making you wonder if it will be enough but the delectable combination of grits, ranchero sauce, cheese and hollandaise is just right, rich and delicious.  The Portuguese scramble with spinach, garlic and linguica is also a winner, hearty and delicious.  They are open for dinner too!  http://www.black-eyedsusans.com/

Easy Street Restaurant

Easy Street & Steamboat Wharf:  In all the years I visited Nantucket, it was not until this year that I stepped foot inside Easy Street Restaurant.  It always seemed a shame that such a convenient location had what was reputed to be sub-average food, but things have changed!  New ownership brings great food to a comfortable and convenient location.  We skipped the Lobster Trap this trip for a more reasonable New England Lobster Boil here.  For $20 you get a 1 and 1/4 lb. lobster, perfectly steamed, with drawn butter, Yukon gold potatoes and corn on the cob.  Wash it down with one of their selection of Oktoberfest beers and it’s heavenly.  Also do not miss the chowder, one of the best we had, as well as the  ridiculously priced 50 cent chicken wings.  I was frightened by the price but had to try them and they were deliciously crispy and seasoned well, quite a bargain really!  http://www.easystreetnantucket.com/

downeyDowney Flake

18 Sparks Avenue: If you want to see where the locals eat stop by the Downey Flake for a donut, breakfast and some coffee.  Owned by my friends and former managers from the Brotherhood of Thieves back in the day, Mark Hogan and Susan Tate offer truly reasonable fare at a great price.  The diner atmosphere is kitschy but its worth a trip and you can eavesdrop on how the scallop harvest is going.

LO LA 41

15 Beach Street:  The longitude/latitude coordinates of Nantucket this hot spot makes you feel as if you could be in SoHo.  Offering great Asian inspired food and a huge selection of sake and wine by the glass the atmosphere is chic without being pretentious.  http://www.lola41.net/inner.html

The Brotherhood of Thieves

23 Broad Street:  Although its not the same as I remember it, a visit to the island would not be complete without visiting the Brotherhood.  Although the food is lackluster, the curly fries are still good.  Similarly lacking is the extensive frozen drink selection I remember, but have a seat at the bar, grab a chowder and some fries and a beer and enjoy the dark wood and comfortable cozy atmosphere on a cold day.

Things to Do

Whaling Museum

A trip to Nantucket would not be complete without a trip to the Whaling Museum.  The forty-six foot skeleton of a sperm whale washed ashore on island on New Year’s Day and the gorgeous 1849 Fresnel Lens from the Sankaty Head Lighthouse are worth the visit alone.  Off season expect fun informative talks on topics such as the cranberry harvest presented by island locals.  They have a great gift shop too.  http://nha.org/sites/index.html

Drive out to Great Point

Rent a four wheel drive vehicle with an Oversand Vehicle Permit, deflate your tires and drive through the sand onto Great Point.  Off season you may see some locals fishing, or you may not see anyone the whole time.  We saw deer and a pod of about 30 seals dining at the rip of the point.  They peered over at us curiously and bobbed around in the water.

Visit Nantucket Vineyard, Triple Eight Distillery and Cisco Brewers

Sadly we heard that Cisco Brewers moved most of their brewing off island due to increased demand (always the dilemma, so successful that they cannot do it locally anymore), but that doesn’t make their beer less good.  A visit to the distillery/brewery/winery is always fun with sampling and tasting and sale of all their products.  Try to get some Pumple Drunkin Spiced Ale while it lasts, but for everyday I love the Whale’s Tale Pale Ale.  http://www.ciscobrewers.com/

Shopping

Nantucket Natural Oils (The Fragrance Bar)

5 Centre Street:  Maybe it is because I am a wine geek obsessed with the sense of smell, but I can’t help but gravitate immediately to Nantucket Natural Oils when I hit the island.  John Harding, the proprietor, crafts fragrances to rival those of the major perfume houses, but this is no infomercial “If you like Giorgio you’ll love X” type of place.  What is most special about the spot is the fact that all the products are made from 100% pure oil, rather than diluted with 80-94% alcohol and water like normal scents.  This means that they last longer on your skin AND in the bottle.  It is also a godsend for those that have encountered allergic reactions or professions where fragrance is shunned.  While I would refrain from wearing this to a wine tasting, Harding has first hand knowledge that nurses can even wear these essences without negatively affecting the hospital environment.  I know first hand that these oils do last.  I had a perfume made by Harding in Spring of 1995 which I wore all the time, I still had a half vial left when I inadvertently left the cap off and it seeped into my makeup pouch.  Luckily Harding has a system that remembers  each and every purchase so he was able to recreate this mix of Calyx with an addition of vanilla for me, now appropriately named Spring of ’95.  Whether it is for a custom blend or for a designer fragrance or aromatherapy mix this shop is not to be missed. Harding and his expert staff are happy to let you sample and smell to your heart’s content.  This year I bought some ambergris, an aromatic that comes from the regurgitant of whales after it has festered for years on the open ocean.  How appropriate for Nantucket right?  If you can’t make it to Nantucket you can find them online too!  Until November 20, 2009 they are having a buy one get one half off sale on fragrances, so buy some for yourself and a friend for the holidays.  https://nantucketnaturaloils.com/

Nantucket Bookworks

25 Broad Street: Borders and Barnes & Noble got you down?  This is the perfect remedy.  The Bookworks offers a great selection, great staff recommendations and even a pile of free books sometimes!  They also have a great selection of paper goods, toys, and tchotchkes.  Open seven days a week year round and often open as late as 10pm!  Great place to shop after your beer at the Broho (Brotherhood) nextdoor http://www.nantucketbookworks.com/

Cold Noses

Straight Wharf: A great spot to pick up a squeaky lobster for your furry friend.

Best of the Beach

Straight Wharf: Feels like summer all year long in this bright and airy shop featuring great pajamas, pretty housewares and aromatic candles.

Vis a Vis

34 Main Street: A very nice clothing boutique although not for the weak of wallet

The Hub

31 Main Street: A magazine and candy shop that also features gifts and postcards, the sign outside is where islanders share information about day to day activities.  Here’s where to find a winter rental, babysitter, carpenter, etc.

Nantucket Looms

16 Federal Street: Handcrafted items galore, gorgeous hooked rugs and weavings.

Nantucket Carving & Folk Art

167 Orange Street: Quarterboards, signs and amazing antiques out near the airport http://www.nantucketcarvingandfolkart.com/

The Sunken Ship

12 Broad Street: Although this corner is slightly desolate when the season is over and the Juice Bar is shuttered, the Sunken Ship is still a treasure trove for typical souvenirs, toys, and flags.   Always fun to browse.  http://www.sunkenship.com/

Epernay

1N Beach Street: Especially if you need to stock up your White Elephant Residences fridge you can drop into this cute shop only half a block away to see what they have available.  Selections are diverse and fun and reasonably priced.  You might find Amber Cantella holding free wine tastings at local restaurants like the Boarding House so you can try before you buy!  http://www.epernaywines.com/

Murray’s Toggery Shop

62 Main Street: The classic stop to buy Nantucket Reds paraphernalia.  “Reds” are a type of denim like fabric dyed a particular pink shade that fades to a gorgeous coral color and soft texture when washed multiple times.  Or of course the prepster in you may opt for the lobster pants.  http://www.nantucketreds.com/

Nobby Clothes Shop

17 Main Street: Need foul weather gear?  If there’s a Nor’easter on the way this is the place to go.  A great collection of Carhartt gear and everything you need to look like a scalloper.  http://www.nobbyshop.com/

Current Vintage Clothing Wine Home

4 Easy Street: If your significant other is sick of you shopping for clothes then come here and they can shop for wine at the same time.  They have an amazing selection of lesser known cult wines including Scholium Project!  Pretty cool to see that someone here knows what they’re doing.  http://www.currentvintage.com/