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!

The Moment We’ve Been Waiting For: Ready, Set, Crab!

Dungeness crab season begins on the Washington coast tonight at midnight (January 24, 2013), and for hundreds of Washington crabbing families (including ours) this is the most important moment of our year.  We have all spent months, if not years, preparing for this moment — rigging up crab pots, measuring lines, painting buoys, grinding rust off boats, painting boats, replacing boat parts — and it has all come with a cost.  The price to invest in the crab fishery is not cheap.  Between leasing or buying fishing permits, crab gear, and boat maintenance and repairs, we have all invested many many tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars.  Our blood, sweat and tears go into these fishing operations (literally), and if we have one bad crabbing season we could lose everything we have worked so hard for.

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The Robin Blue in shipyard earlier this month

We have essentially been preparing for this moment for the last year and a half and we now find ourselves at the point where we could begin to make money instead of borrowing and spending money. The excitement and the tension are indescribable.

The first “pick” (or “set”) of the season is an important one.  The entire coastal dungeness crab population is scuttling around out there, so the first set will likely be the best.  With every set the crab fleet makes from then on, the crab population grows smaller and smaller, and catches grow smaller and smaller, until it no longer remains cost-effective to continue fishing.  This year there are quite a few boats crabbing in the same area, off of Westport, Washington, so there will be some competition to set pots in the prime fishing grounds.

Late night at the dock, loading crab pots on to the boat

Late night at the dock, loading crab pots on to the boat

I apologize for my lengthy explanation of the crab season (especially for those of you already familiar with the process) but I really want to drive home the point that this moment — the first day of the crab season — is a very important and very scary moment.  I will be a nervous wreck for the next week, waiting to hear how the first trip went.  Unfortunately, I could be waiting all week if Zed is out of cell range.

As a fisherman’s wife, it is necessary for the maintenance of my sanity to keep myself from worrying about things that are out of my control (boats, weather, danger, prices, etc..).  Sometimes this works for me, but I have a feeling that this week my mind will be reeling out of control with questions like “what if he doesn’t catch any crab?” “what if it’s a horrible season?” “what if they get trapped in a storm?” “what if the (fill in the blank with any of the major parts we just installed) doesn’t work?”  I’m already biting my fingernails and the season hasn’t even started yet!

All I can do at this point is to wish my husband — and all the other crabbers out there off the Washington coast tonight — prosperous and safe crabbing!  And I will leave you with this message from the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association:

FOR THOSE FISHERMEN HEADING OUT TO SEA, WE WANT YOU TO KNOW YOU WILL BE IN OUR HEARTS AND ON OUR MINDS.
AS YOU RETURN BACK TO WORK, RISKING YOUR LIVES TO SUPPORT YOUR FAMILIES AND TO HELP FEED THE WORLD, WE HOPE YOU KNOW JUST HOW MUCH “COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN HELP ALL OF US LIVE BETTER”
MAY THE WAVES AND THE WINDS OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN BE CALM, YOUR JOURNEYS SAFE AND YOUR HARVESTS PLENTIFUL.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU, KEEP YOU, AND RETURN YOU TO THOSE OF US LEFT BEHIND. BE SAFE… GOOD LUCK…

 

 

The Best Crab Dip You Will Ever Eat!

I’m not joking. This recipe for crab dip is amazing and It has been serving us faithfully for many years now. This is a recipe that Zed has been making since before we started dating.  We made it together while we were dating.  We served it at our wedding.  We still make it for parties.  It is the real deal.

I believe that Zed first got the recipe from his old roommate, who got it from a cookbook called Kachemak Kitchens: A Taste of Homer, which is a compilation of recipes from restaurants and homes in Homer, Alaska. This recipe for Hot Crab and Artichoke Dip comes from Land’s End, a resort and restaurant in Homer. Over the years we have modified the recipe slightly to include more crab and more cheese (can’t go wrong with that).

This crab dip is the perfect appetizer for a holiday gathering and is sure to make you lots of new friends at a potluck.

this is the beauty I made dip out of today

this is the beauty I made dip out of today

For the crab in this recipe you can use any type of crab, but my personal favorite is Dungeness crab. I might be a little biased, but I think dungeness crab has the most flavorful meat of any crab I’ve ever tried. But feel free to use whatever type you have access to.

Hot Crab and Artichoke Dip
16 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
2 cups Parmesan cheese, shredded + 1/2 cup for topping
1/2 cup onions, finely chopped
2 TBSP garlic, minced
1/4 cup scallions, chopped
1 cup artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
3 cups of crab meat
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Tabasco sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine cream cheese, mayo, and sour cream in a big bowl and mix until smooth. Add onions, garlic, scallions, pepper, Worcestershire  and Tabasco and mix thoroughly. Add 2 cups of Parmesan cheese, artichoke hearts and crab and stir gently to combine. Pour into a casserole dish, cover with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese (or enough to lightly cover the surface), and bake until bubbling and golden brown. Serve with sliced baguette.

bubbling and golden... perfect!

bubbling and golden… perfect!

Warning: This crab dip is not very healthy! It is really rich and creamy. I have no idea what the calorie count is, and frankly, I don’t want to know. This is a recipe I only make for special occasions – usually only for holidays – and I am of the philosophy that holidays are a special time when you should eat whatever the hell you want and not feel guilty. So eat this crab dip and enjoy it, dammit!

Ok, if you really want to make this recipe healthier you can substitute some of the ingredients. In place of the cream cheese, use reduced fat cream cheese. In place of the sour cream, use either fat-free Greek yogurt or light sour cream. Use half the amount of mayonnaise and half the amount of Parmesan cheese. It will still be delicious.

For Christmas this year we have a nice relaxing day planned of hanging out with family and friends and eating.  (And hopefully eating this crab dip.)  I love Christmas in our house because we are the only couple with little kids, so our extended families come to us!  That means no stressful holiday traveling and our kids get to wake up in their own house and sneak down stairs to see what Santa brought them.  We basically just enjoy each other’s company and each other’s food all day – basking in the warm glow of our children’s excitement.

What about you?  Does your family have any traditional holiday dishes you can’t live without?

After trying this recipe there is a good chance you’ll want to add it to your annual holiday menu too.  Make this crab dip and wait for the adoration to start pouring in.  Could it have been his crab dip that made me fall in love with Zed all those years ago?  It sure didn’t hurt, I’ll tell you that much!

Trying to Find Balance

I just realized I’m way over due for an update on our family fishing situation.  Somehow the last month has flown by in a blur, but I suppose that’s what happens when you are frantically trying to keep your head above water!  So far we have succeeded, but I’m not going to lie to you – it’s been pretty anxious around here – barely making ends meet while Zed works his tail off running our new boat.

Zed wrapped up dungeness crabbing on the Washington coast for the time being, and moved on to tendering dungeness crab in Puget Sound.  For those readers not familiar with tendering, it means that Zed is not actually fishing for crab himself, but taking deliveries of crab from smaller fishing boats, which he then delivers to the crab buyers at the end of the day.

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

Zed took the photo above during an eight-day crab opener for the Tulalip Indian Tribe.

Traditional Tulalip canoe rowing past the modern fishing boats

Offloading crab from the smaller boat

sorting through the crab to weed out short or soft crab

dumping ice on the crab before delivery to pacify them and make them less aggressive.

At the end of this opener, we realized Zed had a few days before the start of the next opener.  It so rarely happens that Zed has any time off, so we decided we needed to take advantage of it and get in some quality family time.  Time to go camping!  We loaded up the car with tents and sleeping bags and left the rainy cold Northwestern part of the state, crossing over the Cascade Mountains into Eastern Washington, which has a dry and warm climate.  A three-hour drive took us from Bellingham, Washington (rainy and 54 degrees) to Winthrop, Washington (sunny and 74 degrees).  We found a quiet campground by a river, threw some rocks in the water, started a campfire, cooked some hotdogs, roasted marshmallows, and fell asleep under the stars to the sounds of crickets chirping and rushing water (and the kids giggling in their own tent).

an action shot of the rock throwing marathon

The next day we took a hike along a river through a field of wild flowers and a forest that had recently burned in a forest fire.

wild flowers along the river

Larkyn and I, stomping along

crossing a creek on a log

We had a great weekend together, and it reminded us how important it is to take time away from the boat and work and just enjoy each other.  The kids are growing up so fast and it would be a tragedy if their only memories of childhood are of their tired overworked parents.  I want their childhood memories to be of throwing rocks in the river and waking up to deer in our campsite.

As we have been warned by other boat owners, and are discovering for ourselves, work on a boat is never done.  There is always something that needs fixing, or fluids to change, or rust to grind and something to paint.  It really does take over your life, but hopefully we will be able to find that balance, where we can work hard but still make time to have adventures.

Home at Last: The Robin Blue has Landed!

FINALLY!!!  After four months of shipyard work in Alabama, and almost two months on the traveling on the water, the F/V Robin Blue has arrived at her new home of Bellingham Washington.

The red line is the route of the F/V Robin Blue

This map above shows the path of her journey, starting out in Bayou La Batre, Alabama on February 28, 2012 and arriving in Bellingham, Washington on April 29, 2012.  Total miles traveled: 6,100!  What an adventure!

The boys and I were in the harbor, waiting on the dock when they came around the corner and we spotted the boat for the first time!  I can’t even begin to tell you how excited we all were as she pulled up to the dock.  There have been so many times in the last six months when I doubted whether this day would ever come.  It has been an insanely long six months for all of us – Zed, away from home, madly working through all of the many obstacles that came at us – and me on my own, at home with the kids and dogs, trying to keep our lives and loans in order.

We were so excited to explore our boat for the first time and It feels great to have our family together again.  (By the way, that’s Justice in the above photo pulling the boat up to the dock – the only man to stay on the boat for the entire journey!  Thanks Justice, you’re my hero!)

The hard work is far from over though.  No relaxing yet!  Now we have to get her ready to fish so Zed can go out and try to salvage what’s left of the dungeness crab season.  I still feel stressed, but I can at least breathe a little easier knowing my husband and the boat are home at last!!!

Coming soon – lots of photos, videos and stories from the voyage!

Crab Spaghetti: Drowning my Sorrows with Food

Ok, I didn’t want to post anything until I actually had some good news to report, but I just realized it’s been a long time since my last post and I don’t want people to think I gave up on the blog.  So I’m posting an update with no good news.  Delays, delays, delays, and our boat is still in shipyard.  Frustrating, but I really think (fingers crossed) that it is almost done… for real this time… I swear.    The boat was sandblasted and primed before the clouds rolled in, so we are waiting for some sunshine and a fresh coat of cobalt blue paint.

Here she is, waiting for her makeover. Come on sunshine!!!

I really don’t want to talk about the boat or the crab season we are missing out on right now, so instead I’m going to post a crab recipe.  Because, how do I distract myself from unpleasant realities?  I eat!

This is a fairly simple recipe for a red spaghetti sauce, but with the addition of crab meat.  Delicious, trust me!

Crab Spaghetti

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium sized onion, finely chopped

6 cloves of garlic, chopped

3/4 tsp crushed red chile flakes

2 tsp dried basil, or about 8 leaves of fresh basil, chopped

1 tsp dried oregano (or parsley)

1 tsp celery seeds (you can use celery salt if that’s all you have)

1/4 cup half and half

2 – 28 ounce cans of whole peeled tomatoes, undrained

1 pound spaghetti noodles

1 to 2  pounds cooked and cleaned crab meat

salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium low heat, add onion, garlic, celery seeds, basil, oregano, and chile flakes.  Stir and cook until onions are soft and translucent, around 10 minutes.  Pour into a blender and add tomatoes (with the juice from the can) and half and half.  Puree until almost smooth (I like mine a little chunky still), then pour back into pan and continue cooking over medium heat for another 30-35 minutes.  Throw the crab meat in and cook for a couple more minutes, until the crab is heated through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add spaghetti noodles.  Cook noddles until al dente and drain.

Toss the noodles with the sauce and serve garnished with fresh chopped basil or parsley.

This is based on a recipe from Saveur magazine.  Here is the original recipe.

I wish I had photos to post of this delicious dish, but all it really looks like is spaghetti with red sauce.  It tastes WAY better than it looks.  You will just have to try it out and see for yourself.  If you live on the West coast, find yourself some fresh dungeness crab.

If you need a lesson on cleaning dungeness crab, watch this video from the F/V Refuge out of Newport, Oregon.

Enjoy!

Starting a New Life in 2012

Well, not a completely different life – we aren’t moving to France or changing our names – but starting our own fishing operation sure feels new and different.  Zed has been a deckhand for as long as I’ve known him (16 years!) so to switch occupations and become a boat owner is kind of a big deal.

It has been a difficult couple months for our family, especially being separated over the holidays.  We spent Thanksgiving apart, and then our first ever Christmas apart.  Yesterday was our oldest son’s 5th birthday, and Zed had to wish him a happy birthday over the phone…  We used Skype on Christmas so the boys could talk to their dad and show him their new presents.  And since Zed and I both have iPhones, we can use “face time” to have family video chats.

Atticus waiting patiently for a slice of birthday cake

In case you are wondering, Zed is still in Alabama working on the boat.  It turns out, converting a shrimper to a crabber is not as simple as we anticipated, but the work is almost done!

One of the major differences between shrimp boats in the South and crab boats on the West coast is the hold.  Where we have “wet” tanks that can be filled with water, most shrimpers in the South have “dry” tanks that are not water-proofed.  To convert our boat to a crab boat, we first needed to reinforce the hold so that it could handle the extra weight of all that water, and then we had to fiberglass the entire hold.  First, old foam needed to be ground smooth before new foam could be sprayed on.  This first photo shows foam being sprayed on all the surfaces.

spray foaming the fish hold

Here is Zed, getting ready to grind some foam.  Pretty attractive getup huh?

shipyard fashion

This next photo shows the foam being ground smooth.  Next will come the fiberglass.

grinding foam, dust everywhere!

Another necessary part of a crab boat is a dump box, where the crab are dumped out of the pots.  Here is our brand new dump box.

shiny new custom dump box

Exposed wires needed to be protected and water-proofed, so a solid run was installed from the lazarette to the engine room.

the installation of the housing for the wiring

Meanwhile, back in Bellingham a crew has been working daily rigging the dungeness crab gear.  Buoys have been painted, branded and tied, and line has been measured and cut. New crab pots were just delivered a couple days ago and sit waiting to be filled with buoys and lengths of line.

stacks of new pots

piles of line and buoys

Hopefully the F/V Robin Blue (yes, the boat is named after me) will soon be splashed into the Gulf of Mexico and headed to her new hometown of Bellingham, Washington.  We still have a lot of work ahead of us, including months of crabbing, but I’m feeling optimistic about our future and looking forward to a time (months from now) when we can relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

On that note, I wish everyone a Happy New Year, filled with new beginnings, fresh starts, and opportunity for a happier future!

Dungeness Crab for the Holidays

In our family we are currently gearing up for the Dungeness Crab season and the Holiday season at the same time, so it is only natural that I am thinking up some crab recipes to serve at Christmas and New Years parties this year.  Dungeness crab might not be traditional Christmas fare, but it doesn’t need to be the main course – bite sized crab appetizers served with some bubbly would be a nice way to keep your guests happy (just the thought of it makes me happy!).

This is a very simple recipe that could be prepared quickly,

I recommend using english cucumbers.  Want to make them look prettier? -top each cucumber slice with a little leaf of dill or parsley.  Any type of small cracker would work, but if you want to make these gluten-free, use rice crackers.  I have quite a few friends and family members who are gluten intolerant, so I would make these with rice crackers.

I’m working on some more holiday seafood recipes, so stay tuned in the next couple weeks …