We Go to the Ocean to Work

Once upon a time, “going to the ocean” meant swimming, beach combing, laying in the sun, reading, and generally just being lazy.  While those days aren’t completely lost forever, more often than not – now that I’m married to a fisherman – “going to the ocean” really means going to work.  This last weekend was one of these times.

Our fishing boat has just finished the 2013 crab season and she needed a little scrubbing in preparation for the next few months of sitting idle.  Trust me, you don’t want bait chunks rotting in bait bags or crab juice fermenting in the fish hold for too long!  The boat is currently residing in Westport, Washington (which is also where she fishes out of) but we live in Bellingham, which is a four or five hour drive away.  We could have just sent Zed down to work all weekend by himself, but why not make it a family trip instead?  Zed is soon headed up to Alaska for the summer, so we need to fit in as much family time as possible now.

So Thursday after school we loaded up the truck with kids, dogs, and supplies and hit the road!  We didn’t pull into the Westport Marina until after 11pm, but the kids were still awake and so excited to climb into their own bunks.  Sleeping on a boat is kind of like camping, but with all the conveniences of home.  Kind of like a floating RV, I suppose.

Walking down the ramp to our boat

Walking down the ramp to our boat

We spent the next three days scrubbing.  Scrubbing garbage cans, scrubbing the dump box, scrubbing the deck, scrubbing bait jars.  I got the lucky job of climbing down into the fish hold and scrubbing out old crab gunk (since it was Father’s Day, I accepted the job readily).

Hard at work on the F/V Robin Blue

Hard at work on the F/V Robin Blue

And for the first time ever, we had both boys working with us, getting stuff done, and not complaining!  For a four year old and a six year old this is a major accomplishment.

scrubbing the deck

scrubbing the deck

I even got a video of the work party in action, complete with a sweet soundtrack.

We made sure to keep our little “vacation” fun by taking ice cream breaks, walks on the beach, and exploring the town.

at the top of the watchtower, overlooking the marina

at the top of the watchtower, overlooking the marina

It might not have been the most relaxing weekend vacation we’ve ever taken, but we got to spend it as a family.  It felt good to have all four of us working together as a team and actually being productive!  Our boys had a great attitude the whole time, and I can see that they will one day be hardworking men (deckhands?).  I’m a proud mama!

Trout Fishing the Blues Away

Somehow a month and a half has passed since my last blog post… yikes!  I have no idea how that happened.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I have been in a bit of a funk lately because things are not going well on the fishing front.  It has been a disappointing crab season and I didn’t really feel like talking (or writing) about it.  It’s a lot easier to talk about good news, but there hasn’t been much of that this season.  Now, as the season draws to a close we are struggling to scrape together a Plan B that will tide us over until the next dungeness crab season.

I suppose that’s just the nature of the industry – ups and downs.  Even long time fishing veterans tell me the roller coaster never ends when you fish for a living.  Everything can seem fine and dandy until a bad season combines with boat troubles and really knocks you on your ass.

But on a brighter note… we went trout fishing with our boys for the first time!

Atticus with his pole

Atticus with his pole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, it was raining on opening day (isn’t it always), but the kids didn’t seem to mind.  They were too excited about catching their first fish!  After much tangled line and flying hooks they stared to get the hang of casting.  The waiting for a fish to bite was quite a bit more difficult for them.  6 and 4 year olds just aren’t know for their patience.  They had to keep reeling in their lines every couple minutes to see if they had anything.  But, by the end of the day we had six trout in our bucket.  The boys were just beside themselves with excitement and pride and I made sure to thank them several times for catching food for us.  They are now officially fishermen, just like their dad – my little providers!

Atticus and Larkyn with their catch

Atticus and Larkyn with their catch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did the classic trout fry with the trout – dredged them in flour, salt and pepper, then fried them in butter.  Pretty tasty!  We went back out and caught a couple more this weekend.  Not quite enough for a meal, so I’m going to smoke them and make them into a dip.  One of my favorite food blogs, Savory Simple, just posted this recipe for Smoked Trout Dip, which looks amazing and would make two trout go a whole lot farther than if I just fried them up again.  I’m brining the trout right now in a mixture of water, salt, sugar, garlic and pepper.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

I promise I won’t let another month and a half go by between posts this time – and hopefully next time I’ll have some GOOD news to share!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belgian Mussels with Ale

Mussels are a shellfish that don’t get nearly enough praise.  Not only are they delicious, they are also incredibly nutritious, affordable, and sustainably farm raised.  With only a handful of ingredients, mussels can go from fridge to table in under 15 minutes.  They are just as high in protein as red meat, but way lower in fat, saturated fat, and calories.  Mussels are loaded with healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, B Vitamins, and essential minerals.  And, I can always find live mussels in the grocery store for four to five dollars per pound (but there are several mussel farms in Washington State, so I’m sure they aren’t as easy to locate in other parts of the country).

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mussels growing wild on a rock

Don’t confuse shellfish farming for fish farming.  Farmed fish (especially salmon) pollute the environment, consume vast quantities of fish meal. threaten wild fish, and contain contaminants.  Farmed shellfish, on the other hand, are incredibly low impact.  Because farmed mussels filter feed from seawater, no fish meal or oils are required to feed them.  Diseases are rare, so no chemicals or drugs are required to treat them.  They are grown almost identically to how they would naturally grow in the wild and this makes them incredibly healthy and environmentally friendly.

But enough about that, lets get down to cooking them!  Cooking mussels is ridiculously easy. They only take a few minutes  and they let you know the minute they are done (they open up).  This is a traditional Belgian recipe using Belgian ale, but honestly, any type of good quality beer would work fine.  The beer really compliments the brininess of the mussels in this recipe, so don’t leave it out!  We bought a big bottle so we could drink what was left with our dinner.

This is the bottle of beer I used for this recipe

This is the bottle of beer I used for this recipe

Belgian Mussels with Ale

  • 3-4 pounds of live mussels
  • 3 TBSP butter
  • 1 medium shallot, chopped
  • 1 bulb of fennel, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 TBSP fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cup Chimay, or other Belgian ale
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 TBSP fresh parsley, chopped

Soak the mussels in a large pot or bucket of water for about 20 minutes prior to cooking to purge them of any sand, then rinse them, scrub them, and remove their “beards,” the hairy parts that are sticking out of their shells.  If any mussels are opened at this point, throw them away.  Healthy live mussels will be shut tight.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet or stock pot (one that has a lid) over medium heat.  Add shallots, fennel, salt and thyme and saute until soft and translucent (3-5 minutes).  Pour in the ale and bring to a boil.  Add the mussels and cover with the lid.

Cook covered for about 5 minutes, or until mussels begin to open.  Remove the lid and remove any opened mussels with a slotted spoon and place them in a separate bowl.  As every mussel opens, remove it immediately.  After ten minutes, throw away any mussels that haven’t opened.  Add another tablespoon of butter and some pepper to the sauce left in the pan and raise the heat to medium-high, stirring constantly until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 3-5 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir in the fresh parsley.

Pour the sauce from the pan over the mussels and serve immediately with a loaf of crusty bread.

mussels with ale 2

This recipe serves 4 to 8 people, depending on how many other dishes you are serving

Cheers to this lovely little bivalve for being so healthy and delicious!  It was a huge hit with my family and our dinner guests.

Crabbing on the Coast 2013: A Photo Update

This is just a super quick visual update – some photos Zed took while fishing for Dungeness crab last month.  These were taken during one of the only brief windows of good fishable weather we have had this season.  The weather has been terrible, but spring is on its way, RIGHT?!?!  (Ugghh, I don’t really want to talk about it, which is the main reason this post consists of mostly photos.)

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the view from the captain's chair

the view from the captain’s chair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to try to look on the bright side.  Bad weather means no fishing, but bad weather also means that Zed gets to come home and spend time with his family!

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photo 127

 

Spontaneous Family Time

I’m sad to say, our family hasn’t spent much time together since we bought our fishing boat last year.  That’s just the way it goes for fishing families, especially when a new operation like ours is struggling to find its feet.  Zed has been gone crabbing for a month now out on the Washington coast and the kids and I miss him terribly.  We probably won’t get in much quality family time until Zed wraps up the Dungeness crab season, but we have no idea when that will be.

our boat tied up in the Westport harbor

our boat tied up in the Westport harbor

So, until we find ourselves with an excess of time and money on our hands, we must make to most of our situation and seize every little opportunity we have to reunite, even if only for a few hours.

Zed called me last week to say the weather was too rough to fish, but he couldn’t drive home because he had some repairs to do on the boat.  Would I like to drive down that evening with the kids and visit for a day (and bring him some clean laundry)?  I mentally ran through our schedule for the next day before mentally crumpling it up and throwing it away.  Yes!  I don’t care if I have to take both kids out of school for a day, skip Atticus’s Kung Fu lesson, reschedule a playdate with friends, cancel the art class I teach, and drive for 5 hours in the pouring rain through Seattle rush hour traffic.  Our boys need to see their dad and I need to see my husband!

I stuffed some clothes in our bags, crammed our two giant dogs in the back of our station wagon, and the five of us (including the dogs) hit the road!

All loaded up and ready to go

All loaded up and ready to go

5 hours (and a few potty breaks) later we pulled into Westport, a busy fishing port on the Washington coast.  We were all exhausted but it was a wonderful reunion nonetheless.  It was 9:30 pm by the time we checked into our hotel, so we all passed out pretty quickly.  Judging by the sounds of Zed snoring, I think it was the first good sleep he’d had in a while.

This was the view of the ocean I woke up to in the morning

This was the view of the ocean I woke up to in the morning

While Zed worked on the boat the next morning I played in the hotel pool with the kids.  We all met up for lunch and then tagged along as Zed ran errands for the rest of the day.  The kids were SO excited to hang out with their dad and visit our boat in the Westport harbor!

hanging out on the deck of the Robin Blue

hanging out on the deck of the Robin Blue

And before we knew it, it was time to head back home again to get ready for school the next day.  Before getting back in the car for the long drive home we took a stroll on the beach to stretch our legs one last time.  Flat sandy beach = happy kids and dogs!

a kid and dog paradise!

a kid and dog paradise!

The moral of the story here is that, no matter how busy you are, you have to put family first.  It is too easy to get caught up in paying bills and forget that our family is the whole reason why we work so hard.  If no one in the family is happy, what is the point of working so hard?  Even in the fishing world (especially in the fishing world) parents need to take a break and spend some time connecting with their kids and spouses.

a glimpse of the sun as we left the beach

a glimpse of the sun as we left the beach

Moments like these are never regretted.  We will never look back on family time and think, “if only I had spent more time fishing and less time making memories with my kids!”  I have, on the other hand, heard too many older fishermen look back on their careers and regret all the missed moments they never shared with their children.  When those moments pass – when your kids are grown – there is no way to get them back.

Zed on the beach with his boys

Zed on the beach with his boys

Even though we spent more time driving than visiting with Zed, I would do it again in a heartbeat, just to see my three guys together again.  Money can’t buy that kind of happiness.

Celebrate the Chinese New Year with Crab

For those of you who aren’t already aware, today (February 10, 2013) is Chinese New Year!

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Lion dancers in Seattle’s Chinatown, photo by Joe Mabel

Chinese New Year is a very important traditional Chinese holiday honoring deities and ancestors and it  is celebrated with lots of great food like fish and dumplings. Dungeness crab is a Chinese delicacy.  In fact, most of the crab Zed catches on our boat is sold and shipped to China.  On this Chinese New Year I thought it would be appropriate to post a Chinese recipe for Dungeness crab.  (Also, I just love Chinese cuisine!)

This is a simplified recipe for Ginger- Scallion Crab. Traditionally one would start with live crabs, but because it is so much easier to find cooked crab in markets in the United States, my recipe starts with cooked crab.  Make sure you give your crab a sniff before you buy it.  It should smell fresh and sweet, and not fishy or funky!  I always trust my nose when it comes to buying seafood.

Ginger-Scallion Dungeness Crab

  • 2 – whole Dungeness crab, cooked
  • 1 – bunch of scallions (green onions), cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly (about 10-12 rounds)
  • 2 or 3 – cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 – TBSP vegetable oil
  • 3 – TBSP soy sauce
  • 3 – TBSP rice vinegar (rice wine, or a dry white wine will work too)
  • 1 – TBSP corn starch

Clean your crab and break it into sections.  Separate each leg, and then break each leg into two or three pieces.  This will make it easier to fit everything into your pan, and will also ensure that the flavors of the sauce get into more of the meat.  (You can even crack the larger leg and claw pieces a little with a mallet or crab cracker so that more of the sauce can get in)  If you aren’t sure what to do with a whole crab, you can ask your seafood market/counter to clean it for you. But it is a very simple process, and here is an instructional video on cleaning a Dungeness crab, just to prove it.

In a small bowl mix together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and cornstarch.  Set aside.

Heat up the oil (medium heat) in a large wok or deep pan.  Add ginger slices, garlic, and scallions.  Stir continuously for 3-5 minutes, or until everything smells delicious and looks softened.  Add the soy sauce mixture and stir, then toss in crab pieces.  Keep stirring, using a large spoon or ladle to constantly spoon the sauce over the crab as it cooks.  The crab is already cooked at this point, but you want to get the crab hot and get as much of the flavor into the meat as possible.  After a few minutes the sauce will be thickened and you can turn off the heat.  Pour the crab and sauce onto a platter and serve!

For a more authentic version of this recipe, visit the blog “Eddy’s Kitchen” and check out his Pan Fried Ginger and Green Onion Dungeness crab, 干炒薑蔥蟹

a cooked dungeness crab, waiting to be cleaned

a cooked dungeness crab, waiting to be cleaned

To usher in the Year of the Snake, I offer this traditional auspicious greeting that I feel is very appropriate for the Blue family this year:

一本萬利Yīběnwànlì – “May a small investment bring ten-thousandfold profits”

Happy Chinese New Year everyone, and welcome Year of the Snake!

We’ve Only Just Begun!

- Just a brief update on our Dungeness crabbing situation -

The F/V Robin Blue, along with Captain Zed and his crew, made it down to Westport, Washington on January 24, just in time for the start of the 2013 Washington coastal crab season.  That was less than two weeks ago.  A few obstacles have presented themselves already, but nothing Zed can’t work around!  One deckhand badly sprained his ankle after the first trip.  Luckily we had a fisherman friend lined up to take his place.  A mechanical issue prevented the hydraulics from functioning (meaning they couldn’t haul pots) during the second trip. Zed has been working on it for the past couple days and it is almost fixed!  Some bad weather here and there (normal for this time of year) will hopefully get better by later in the week.

Dan, Rick, and Sam setting pots on the first day

Dan, Rick, and Sam setting pots on the first day

We are a little disappointed and a little frustrated by the obstacles that have been preventing Zed from getting out there and kicking some serious crab butt… but we are happy with the number of crab we are getting when everything is actually functioning.  Overall, we are grateful to be where we are today and we are looking forward to a productive rest of the season!

And stay tuned for a delicious Chinese dungeness crab recipe, coming later in the week…

My boys, doing a little "whale watching" at the Squalicum Harbor

My boys, doing a little “whale watching” at the Squalicum Harbor