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!

File:Seattle - Chinese New Year 2011 - 71.jpg

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

 

Looking Back on 2012-Looking Forward to 2013

Before we set our sights on the busy year ahead of us, I thought that now would be a good time to look back at all the craziness of 2012.

I’m not much of a believer of new year resolutions, trying to “start over,” or make huge life changes simply because the calendar year has changed.  Ideally I would like to continuously make positive changes throughout the year, but I do think the new year is a good time to reflect on the choices I’ve made in the previous year, and the successes and failures that have come about as a result of these choices.

2012 was a huge year for the Blue family.  We began the year separated – Zed in Alabama, desperately trying to fix up our newly acquired mess of a fishing boat – and me with the kids in Washington trying to hold everything together while watching from a distance as everything seemed to go wrong.

Read my blog post from January 2012, “Starting a New Life in 2012,” to get a sense of where we were.

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The Robin Blue in Shipyard, Bayou la Batre, Alabama

We were in a bad place, emotionally and financially.  We were trying to get our boat functioning enough to transport back to Washington state for the dungeness crab season (our main source of income), but we ran out of money and couldn’t afford to finish the repairs, let alone transportation costs.  Thankfully, our wonderful friends and family came to our rescue and loaned us enough money to get the boat from there to here.  The Robin Blue and her crew departed Alabama at the end of February, 2012.

Read my post, “Alabama to Panama: A Photo Journal” for some images of the voyage.

In the locks of the Panama Canal

In the locks of the Panama Canal

After two months of traveling and over 6,000 miles, The Robin Blue arrived in Bellingham, Washington at the end of April 2012, just in time to catch the tail-end of the dungeness crab season.  With all our newly acquired debts it was essential that we kept our boat working, so at the end of the coastal crab season, we switched over to tendering (taking deliveries from smaller boats) crab in the Puget Sound.

small fishing boat tied up to the Robin Blue, delivering crab

small fishing boat tied up to the Robin Blue, delivering crab

After tendering, Zed hopped on another boat as a deckhand to longline for blackcod.

Zed and the crew of the Pacific Hustler

Zed and the crew of the Pacific Hustler

And then our bank loan for boat improvements went through (finally!) so the Robin Blue was hauled out of the water and placed in the shipyard where she has spent the last month getting cut up, ripped apart, and welded back together.

The 2013 dungeness crab season is fast approaching (January 24th!) and it feels like a race against time to get the boat operating, pots rigged, and everything in place on the coast.  Most of the crab are caught in the first couple weeks, so if we aren’t ready to go in time…  Let’s just say a lot is riding on these next few weeks.  Like any kind of commercial fishing, it is exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Wish us (and the rest of the dungeness fleet) luck as we enter into a new season of crabbing!

One last look back… here are my top posts from 2012:

 

The Foolproof Fish Trick

“There’s a trick to cooking fish that few people see to know about.  Maybe that is why fish isn’t as popular in this country as it deserves to be – it is usually so badly cooked”.  – James Beard

This tip for cooking fish comes from the “Dean of American Cooking”, James Beard, one of the most influential chefs this country has ever seen.

What I am providing here, courtesy of James Beard, is a simple tip for determining the precise amount of time to cook a fillet of fish in order to prevent overcooking.  Overcooking is, by far, the most common crime against fish because it happens so easily.  And it is such a tragedy when a beautiful fresh piece of fish is converted into a dry hard chunk that fights its way down your throat.

Not that I am completely innocent of this crime.  I have overcooked more fish than I care to admit.  I only really started cooking fish when I began dating a fisherman (now my husband) and it took me years before I realized just how quickly fish cooks.  After one too many fish was forgotten in the oven until it was a barely edible mass, I overcompensated by hovering over the oven, checking the flesh with a fork every couple of minutes to test if it flaked apart yet.  If only I had known about this trick years ago, I would have saved myself from countless dried out fish and hours of my time.

The trick is: measure the thickness of your fish and cook it at 450°F for ten minutes for every inch of thickness.

That’s it!  This rule works for any type of fish, any size, whether it is filleted, whole, stuffed, or breaded.

  • Preheat your oven to 450° F
  • Line a baking sheet with foil or butter a baking dish and lay down your room temperature fish
  • Measure the thickness of the fish at its thickest section
  • Season your fish however you like (salt, pepper, lemon, and butter work for any fish)
  • Pop your fish in the oven and set your timer for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness

Something you might want to consider: if your fish is significantly thicker in one section than another, make a compromise and use a measurement halfway between the thickest and thinnest sections.  For example, if the thickest part of the fish is two inches and the thinnest part is one inch, use the measurement of 1.5 inches and cook it for 15 minutes.  Also, you can cook your fish from a frozen state, just cook it for twenty minutes for every inch of thickness instead of ten minutes.  And if you want to seal your fish in a foil “envelope”, just add 5 minutes to the total cooking time.  

my fillet of sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay

I tested this out myself with a fillet of sockeye salmon that I pulled out of my freezer the other night.  I thawed out the salmon, laid it on a foil lined baking sheet and measured its thickness.

Why does my hand look so wrinkly?

I drizzled it with lemon juice and generously salted and peppered it before placing a few pats of butter on top.  After my ridiculously old oven took forever getting up to 450° I placed my baking sheet on the middle rack and set my timer.  Because my salmon measured just a tad over one inch, I set the timer for 11 minutes.  I backed away from the oven and resisted the urge to open the oven door and poke it with a fork.  I wanted to make sure I was doing an accurate test of this fish formula so I didn’t open the oven door until my timer rang at 11 minutes.  I immediately pulled the salmon out and let it cool on the counter for about 10 minutes before cutting into it.

Success!  I am happy to report that the salmon was perfectly done – barely cooked all the way through, and still moist and soft.

Testimony to my success. If only you could taste it too.

As you can see from the photo above, the flesh flakes apart but is still semi-transparent and deep pink in color.  When salmon is overcooked the color of the flesh changes to an opaque, light pink.

In case you can’t tell, I’m really excited about my discovery here!  I’m excited that I won’t have to guess and worry over baking fish anymore, and I’m excited to share this tip with my readers.  As a fisherman’s wife, I get asked all the time for advice on cooking fish.  It seems that many people in my part of the country feel uncertain about it and I really do believe that most people would buy fish more often if they felt confident in their ability to prepare it.

Hopefully this post will encourage a few people to pick up a fish from their market and test out the “ten minute per inch tip” themselves (or maybe you already know this trick?).  Any readers that try it, please report back to me on your results!  I would love to hear how different types of fish turn out in different ovens.  Just remember, 10 minutes at 450° for every inch of thickness.  Happy cooking!

The Kindness of Others

It would be an understatement to say that the last few months have been trying. In fact, it would be an understatement to say the last few months have been an hellish mash of ulcer-inducing failures and sleepless nights. As it turns out, starting a fishing operation is not for the uncertain or faint of heart.

What initially seemed like a great investment soon turned into a nightmare as one problem after another reared its ugly head. Electrical problems, hydraulic problems, bearings, generators, and the list went on and on. Days turned into weeks which turned into months and it seemed like the repairs would never end.

Zed trying to stay positive after a day of grinding rust

The problem was, we had already purchased the boat and started putting money into improvements when we realized how much work the boat would need. By that time it was too late to back out. The boat was in Alabama and we knew we wouldn’t be able to sell it there “as is.” We had already received and spent two generous loans from a family member and a friend for boat improvements, so walking away from the project wasn’t an option. Our only option was to press forward and try to get the boat in working order and back to the West Coast, where it could start fishing and making us money. After refinancing all our vehicles, maxing out all our credit cards, then getting new credit cards, we were running out of funds. Our home hadn’t gone up in value since we bought it, so refinancing or selling weren’t possibilities. Banks aren’t giving out “start up” loans to new businesses. We started to feel hopeless about the situation.

But every time we started thinking our goose was cooked, someone would step in and help us out. Multiple friends and family members stepped in and loaned us whatever they could afford. Total strangers heard Zed’s story and gave him amazing deals on parts. The owner of the shipyard, Joe, realized the situation we were in and vowed to help us in any way he could. He provided his own time and labor, traded with Zed for parts and supplies, and gave Zed use of his tools.

The Shipyard Crew: Joe Gazzier, Zed, Victor, Kevin, Wayne, Kelly, and Jimmy

Two friends, Rick and Justice, flew down to Alabama from Alaska to help drive the boat around to the west coast. When more and more problems delayed their departure, they stuck around and helped Zed. When Rick and Justice realized the boat wouldn’t be ready to depart anytime soon, they could have dropped it and flown back to Alaska, but they stayed for two and a half more months. Day after day of waking up at dawn and working in the shipyard till night, these guys stuck it out, knowing we couldn’t afford to pay them. They gave over two months of labor and advice and moral support, just because they wanted to help and didn’t want to see us fail.

When the boat was finally ready to depart, we realized that Zed would need to fly home to make some more money. Rick and Justice offered to take the boat as far as they could and they flew in another friend, Mark, to help them make the journey. The three of them drove the boat from Alabama to Panama, through miserable weather, and through the stress and chaos (and near collisions) of the Panama Canal.

Mark and Dora the dog with the deck load of groceries, preparing for departure. Yes, those are giant Mardi Gras beads in the foreground (when in New Orleans... )

After safely reaching the Pacific Ocean, Rick and Mark were out of time and needed to fly back to Alaska, but Justice decided to stay on for the last leg of the trip. Zed flew down to Panama City to meet the boat as it came through the canal, and our dear friend Remo cut his vacation in Switzerland short to fly all the way across the world and lend a hand.

Remo and Justice, Zed's crew, in Panama City

Zed, Justice, and Remo just departed Panama City today on the F/V Robin Blue. They head North, for what will hopefully be an uneventful and “quick” jaunt to Washington State.

This is where she's been anchored for the last week, right next to the shipping lane at the base of the Panama Canal.

The point I want to make with this post is that we have had so many individuals help us out in so many ways throughout this whole process. Some were close friends and family, and some were total strangers, but everyone was cheering us on. I think that one of the reasons for this widespread support is because, essentially, we are trying to realize the “American Dream.” Tired of working for other people and barely paying our bills, we made the decision to take a risk with the hope that if we work hard enough we can better ourselves and become more self-reliant. I think that this struggle resonates with most people in some way or another: some share the dream, while others have been in our shoes and already succeeded in realizing their dreams.

Whatever their motivation for supporting us, I just want to give a great big THANK YOU to everyone who has assisted us in the last few months, whether it be financially, morally, or otherwise. We NEVER would have made it this far without everyone’s assistance. Unfortunately, we still have a long ways to go before we are “out of the woods.” I can’t yet say how this venture will turn out, but no matter the outcome I can walk away from this all with a renewed faith in humanity.

(as Zed, Remo, and Justice spend the next few weeks making their way up the coast of Central America and North America, please wish them safe travels and good weather!)

The Robin Blue is Headed Home!

After four long, long months of shipyard, the F/V Robin Blue is homeward bound!  A mountain of issues and necessary repairs had delayed this departure for months, but tens of thousands of dollars later and she is now a practically new boat, chugging toward the west coast.  She departed from her previous home of Bayou la Batre, Alabama last week and is headed for the Panama Canal.

Here she is in her former life, as the F/V Little Skinner

Before her transformation

Here she is after a few months of work and a new paint job!

That's our dog Dora. She loved hanging out in the shipyard.

Here she is, about to get put back in the water for the first time.

I was thinking, "please don't let it sink!"

She floats!

No longer the Little Skinner, now the Robin Blue

Here she is, all fueled up and ready to take off on her epic journey

All ready to go

At the moment the Robin Blue is somewhere off the coast of Mexico, but unfortunately Zed is not on the boat.  We completely ran out of money, so Zed had to fly home to go crabbing while his wonderful awesome spectacular friends Rick, Justice, and Mark drive his boat home without him.  It is a less than ideal situation for everyone, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

We are keeping our fingers crossed for the Robin Blue and the crew that the weather stays warm and calm, and that they make a speedy trip home.

In my next post I’ll write about all the wonderful people that have helped us out along the way.  There is no way we could have pulled this off without the assistance of so many friends and family members (and even some people that were total strangers).