Nighttime ‘Oyster Picnics’ Offer A DIY Taste Of Puget Sound

oystersOyster aficionados and hunter-gatherer types will want to hoof it to Seattle this winter for a moonlight adventure of the briny kind. Fifth-generation, family-owned Taylor Shellfish Farms is hosting its annual “Walrus & Carpenter Picnics” on January 8, and February 7, to support the Puget Sound Restoration Fund.

Taylor is famed for its sustainably-farmed Manila and geoduck clams (click here to read about my ‘duck dig at Taylor’s farm on the Olympic Peninsula), Mediterranean mussels, and four species of oysters. The company has other farms around Puget Sound, as well as a much-lauded restaurant, Xinh’s Clam & Oyster House, at their Shelton location.

The oyster picnics are held at low tide, and inspired by the 1872 Lewis Carroll poem, “The Walrus & The Carpenter (“O Oysters come and walk with us … A pleasant walk, a lovely talk, along the briny beach!”).” Participants depart Seattle on a chartered bus at 6:30 p.m., returning at midnight.

The evening includes DIY gathering and shucking (experienced shuckers are available for those who prefer to keep their extremities intact) of Taylor’s celebrated Olympias, Kumamotos, Pacifics, and Virginicas, which are paired with chilled wines. Chilled participants get to enjoy steaming bowls of Taylor chef Xinh Dwelley’s famous oyster stew prior to departure.

Tickets are $125; reservations required. For more information click here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user zone41]

Got Geoduck? An Epic Clam Dig On The Olympic Peninsula

geoduck clamIt’s a drizzly late March morning at Hood Canal, a fjord-like arm of Washington State’s Puget Sound two hours west of Seattle. The air is briny and pungent. Douglas-fir trees and fog-shrouded inlets dot the shoreline. Bald eagles soar overhead while dozens of harbor seals bob in the water.

Armed with a shovel, a hand trowel and a five-gallon bucket, I’m attired in hip waders and neoprene. I slosh through the shallow water — stumbling over oyster shells, tufts of eel grass and starfish — searching for telltale, two-inch, oval holes in the sand from which the tip of a mollusk siphon may protrude (a visual cue known as a “show”).

The elusive creature I seek is Panopea generosa (a Latin name that will seem far more hilarious when you check out the gallery below), the geoduck clam. At first glance, the geoduck is unarguably, hideously, phallic — there’s no polite way…ahem….around it.

Possessed of a leathery neck, or siphon, that stretches up to three feet in length, the world’s largest burrowing clam tends to freak Americans out. In Asia, it’s revered as a delicacy and aphrodisiac, yet it’s native to the waters of the Pacific Northwestern U.S.

[Photo credits: Langdon Cook]

%Gallery-151127%geoduck clamI, too, found geoduck disturbing, until I moved to Seattle, and found a small pile of it on my plate while dining at Spring Hill, award-winning chef Mark Fuller’s restaurant (recently rechristened Ma’ono). Dressed with a tart lemon peel relish, the meat was slightly sweet and briny, with a subtle, satisfying crunch. Fuller loves geoduck for its ease of preparation, and “mild, clean flavor and snappy texture.” He prefers to serve it raw, with some citrus, olive oil and a bit of coarse sea salt. The “king” clam is also used as sashimi, sautéed or hot-smoked.

Seattle forager, author (Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21th Century Forager, Skipstone Press), food blogger, and back-to-the-land Renaissance man Langdon Cook prefers geoduck in an Asian-inspired ceviche, marinated with lime juice, a touch of fish sauce and brown sugar, and diced red onion, Serrano chile and shredded, green (unripe) papaya or mango.

Since I love tracing food to its source, I asked Lang to take me ‘duck hunting. After catching the ferry to Bainbridge Island, we drove to the eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula; Hood Canal has a number of state parks with wild geoduck. While not seasonal, March is when mandatory harvest licenses are issued; you can obtain them here through the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. Low tides in July and August are ideal for geoduck harvest, because it stays light late, and the weather is at its best.

At Dosewallips Tide Flat (part of a lovely state park), we discovered the water higher than anticipated, but fortunately, we had Taylor Shellfish Farms manager John Adams to provide his considerable expertise. Instead of digging in sand, we’d be shoveling against the clock in heavy, sticky substrate. Despite this setback and even in drizzling rain, the aesthetics were spellbinding.
geoduck clam
When I finally spotted a show, after much difficulty and with the help of my geoduck-senseis, we laboriously dug a three-foot-deep pit adjacent to the clam in the gloppy, shell-laden substrate. Since it was my story, I had the glory of actually winnowing the recalcitrant little bastard out of its burrow.

Immersed to the shoulder, sodden and stinking of tidal effluence, I finally manage to extract the clam. I triumphantly fist-pumped my three-pound prize in the air, while its leathery siphon drooped to the side like a dehydrated tongue. We capped off the day by collecting a bucket of littleneck clams from the beach, and then Lang took me to his home in Seattle for a tutorial on removing the “gut ball” from a geoduck. Unsurprisingly, gut ball soup is also a delicacy in Asia, but I can safely say this particular food trend won’t be catching on in mainstream America. You can quote me on that.

I went home with my siphon (I generously left Lang with the shell and gut ball; he did, after all, do most of the digging), and made sashimi. You know what? It tasted damn good. So did the clam linguine that followed.

Puget Sound’s Taylor Shellfish, a fifth-generation, sustainable mariculture farm, is the world’s largest producer of farmed geoduck. They’re sold live at Taylor’s retail shop in Capitol Hill in Seattle or online, $24.95 per pound (minimum two pounds). To order, click here. The site also features a video on how to clean and prepare geoduck.

Gadling’s 2011 New Year’s travel resolutions

New Year'sIt’s that time of year again. A time when we all make certain promises to ourselves, in an attempt to make our lives more organized, our bodies stronger or leaner. We vow to spend more time with loved ones, give back to others, or ditch that cubicle job. And some of us…well, we just want to keep on traveling, any way we can manage to finagle it.

In the spirit of New Year’s, I asked my fellow Gadling contributors about their travel resolutions for the coming year, and came up with some of my own. Our goals are all over the map (no pun intended), but a common theme emerged. Despite our love of exotic adventures, most of us want to spend more time exploring in our own backyard (that would be the United States). That, and invent musical underwear.

Leigh Caldwell

  • Go on my first cruise.
  • Spend a weekend somewhere without Internet access, and, if I survive that…
  • Celebrate the Fourth of July with my family in Banner Elk, North Carolina, home of the quintessential small-town Independence Day. There’s a three-legged race, a rubber ducky race down a mountain stream, and a parade filled with crepe paper, balloons, and every kid and dog in town.

McLean Robbins

  • Quit my “day job” so I can do this full-time.

[Photo credit: Flickr user nlmAdestiny]New Year'sLaurel Miller

  • Get back in shape after a two-year battle with Oroya Fever (contracted in Ecuador), and climb a volcano in Bolivia.
  • Finally start exploring my adopted state of Washington, especially the Olympic Peninsula.
  • Visit India for the first time; see if it’s possible to subsist on street food without getting dysentery.
  • Learn to wear DEET at all times when traveling in countries that harbor nearly-impossible-to-diagnose diseases like Oroya Fever.

Sean MacLachlan

  • Get back to Ethiopia.
  • Explore Green Spain (the north part of the country).
  • Show my son a non-Western culture.
  • Invent an underwear stereo that plays cheap jazz music when subjected to a TSA patdown.

New Year's
Mike Barish

  • Drive cross country.
  • See the Grand Canyon (finally).
  • Finally learn how not to overpack.
  • And, for the fifth year in a row, I resolve to learn how to play the keytar (2011 has got to be the year!).

Darren Murph

  • Bound and determined to visit my 50th state, Alaska.
  • Dead-set on relocating a childhood friend of mine back to North Carolina, and then taking him on a road trip of some sort.

Meg Nesterov

  • Visit more places where I know people.
  • Be in more travel pictures and get my husband out from behind the
  • camera occasionally.
  • Take at least one guidebook-free and paperless trip. Okay, maybe one map.
  • Take better notes. I might think I’ll always remember the name of that fun-looking restaurant or weird sign I want to translate, but it’s easy to forget when you’re taking in so many new things.
  • See more of Turkey while I still live here. I spend so much time traveling to nearby countries, I have to be sure to see the landscape of Cappadocia and eat the food in Gaziantep before I go back to the U.S..New Year's

Grant Martin, Editor-in-Chief

  • Travel a bit less and work a bit more [Sure, Grant!].

Annie Scott Riley

  • Travel less alone, and more with my husband.

Alex Robertson Textor

  • More open-jaw travel, flying into one destination and traveling by land to another before returning home. It’s my favorite way to see a new or familiar territory–gradually and without any backtracking. I need to do it more often.
  • More thematic consistency in my travels. Instead of scrambling to meet whatever assignment comes my way, I want my travels in the next year to be focused on a region or two, and on a number of overarching questions or issues. I’m still collecting ideas: Remote European mountain villages? Neglected second-tier cities? The Caucasus?
  • Northern Cyprus. Have been wanting to visit since I was a kid. 2011’s the year.

New Year'sDavid Farley

  • To take back the name “Globetrotters” from the Harlem basketball team.
  • To introduce eggnog and lutefisk to southeast Asia.
  • To eat fewer vegetables.

[Photo credits: volcano, Laurel Miller; Grand Canyon, Flickr user Joe Y Jiang; Cappadocia, Flickr user Curious Expeditions; lutefisk, Flickr user Divine Harvester]

Sea kayaking off Washington’s Whidbey Island: easy Labor Day getaway

Another bald eagle. Yawn.
I had just completed a tranquil, one-hour paddle from Whidbey Island’s Dugualla Bay, to Hope Island State Park. This dollop of land is a 106-acre marine camping park, reachable only by boat. It boasts a hiking trail and just four stunning, primitive, beachfront sites hidden amongst ferns and old-growth Douglas-fir forest. As we approached the island, my guide, Simon, and I watched six eagles alight on the tops of the tallest firs. Maneuvering our kayak almost beneath one of them, we then spent the better part of an hour entranced by the giant bird of prey. Meanwhile, a curious harbor seal bobbed and dipped around us.

At 45 miles in length, rural Whidbey is the longest island in the lower 48 (Long Island having been ruled a peninsula). It’s just 30 miles from Seattle, making it an easy, economical, uncrowded alternative to the San Juan’s farther north (although Anacortes, on Fidalgo Island, off Whidbey’s northern tip, is the ferry dock for San Juan-bound visitors). Whidbey juts into Puget Sound like a bent, bony finger, its western coast also accessible from Pt. Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. Whidbey is one of the oldest agricultural regions in Washington state, and family farms, farm stands, and mariculture operations are still prolific on the island, although it’s also become a haven for artists. The only real-world distraction on Whidbey is the Naval Air Station in Oak Harbor, at the island’s northern tip.
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Getting there from Seattle is a snap, whether you drive or take a boat, although you should note that ferry schedules change seasonally. You can shoot up I-5, and head west on Highway 20, over the famed Deception Pass Bridge, or take the ferry from Mukilteo, as I did. A 20-minute ride landed me in Clinton, on Southern Whidbey.

From Clinton, I headed up the road to the artist colony of Langley to meet up with Simon, who guides for Seattle’s Evergreen Escapes, a sustainable adventure travel company. Like most of the island communities, Langley is a haven for creative types, and while summer and fall weekends and festivals bring in tourists, island life is easygoing and relaxed (the best time of year to visit, weather-wise, is September/October). A “whale bell” sits in a town park overlooking the waters of Saratoga Passage, to signal passing orcas and gray whales. If you’ve got an extra day on your itinerary, the newly-expanded Boatyard Inn is right on the water down at the Marina. Styled after an old cannery, the 12 charming, spacious units boast modern amenities, and decks and windows that offer unbeatable views of the Sound and snow-capped Cascades.

I only had part of an afternoon and one night for my trip, and so left the details to the folks at Evergreen. (FYI, there is also Whidbey Island Kayaking Company, which specializes in custom and short paddles, and whale watching trips (which begin in mid-March). It’s also possible to rent boats and equipment, provided you have a certificate from a certified instructor, or demonstrate proficiency at time of rental. A great resource for Washington tide charts can be found here.

I’ve done a fair amount of paddling, but didn’t know how to read tides, which is why I asked for a guide to accompany me. I prefer to be in my own boat, but due to time constraint, we decided a tandem was best, for easier on- and off-loading. We made the scenic, 40-minute drive north to Dugualla Bay, passing farmland and forest. Simon was knowledgeable, capable, and cheerful, and his tide tutorial during our paddle gave me the confidence to plan a return trip, sans guide. It’s an easy, straightforward paddle to Hope Island, but the scenery and wildlife are so amazing, we took our time. After we tore ourselves away from the bald eagles, we paddled to the take-out, only to discover six more landing in the trees near the campsites.

The roomy sites are elevated above the beach. There’s a rustic but well-maintained outhouse up an overgrown path, and rudimentary fire pits, and that’s it. The only thing marring the experience are the distant smokestacks near the port town of Anacortes, and the odd jet from the Naval Air Station streaking overhead. These are mere blips, however, because Hope Island is just so damn beautiful and peaceful. The other two sites were empty, and aside from a few trails through the overgrowth, there’s not much to do except read, daydream, watch the sunset (at 10pm in high summer), and stargaze. Do be sure to bring rain gear and a waterproof tent. Although sunny skies prevailed during our paddle, it started pouring in the middle of dinner (and didn’t stop until the early morning hours), necessitating the hasty set-up of a tarp.

As for dinner, Simon made an admirable stir-fry, followed by the ultimate in pie- a purchase from Greenbank Farm’s shop. Located en route to Dugualla Bay, it was once the biggest loganberry farm in the world. You know what makes for a really kick-ass pre-paddling breakfast? Leftover loganberry pie.

Early the next morning, rainstorm over, we put in and paddled half an hour to our take-out at Coronet Bay State Park’s boat launch. In front of us loomed Deception Pass Bridge, an architectual triumph that has helped make this area Washington’s most-visited state park. The pass connects the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Skagit Bay; at high tide, the waters rushing into this narrow passage get pretty hairy, so again, check tide charts if on your own.

Try to allow yourself at least enough time to walk the bridge and take in the view. You can also camp at Deception Pass State Park, which has miles of shoreline. If nothing else, grab some post-paddle clam chowder and souvenir smoked salmon to go from Seabolt’s Smokehouse in Oak Harbor; a fitting island-style end to a weekend on Whidbey. For more information on the islands, click go the Whidbey and Camano Islands vistors center website.

Enter to win a Washington State New Moon package

New Moon comes out in theaters tomorrow, and to capitalize on the excitement, Washington State is offering a New Moon themed package to one lucky winner as part of its “Experience More” giveaway. Each month from November to April, one grand prize and one mini-prize will be awarded.

The grand prize for November is two nights at the Quileute Oceanside Resort, located near La Push Beach (featured in the Twilight books), in a luxury oceanfront cabin with a Jacuzzi tub and fireplace. The package continues with one night at the Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles, two Twilight Tour tickets, and a complimentary fire permit and bundle of wood for a fire on First Beach.

A second prize includes a night at the Red Lion in Port Angeles and a kayak excursion on the Olympic Peninsula. Other prizes offered over the next few months include adventures in Leavenworth, Seattle, and Yakima Valley’s wine country.

To enter, just fill out the online form by April 18, 2010. Entrants must be 18 years old and residents of the US or Canada.