A couple of years back, we were driving down the road and spotted this old kayak with a “free” sign on it. So of course, because we simply don’t have enough hard-to-store gear lying around our house, we grabbed it. Since then, it has sat in front of the shop, alongside the crab pots, buoys, boat gear, rope coils, basketball hoop, assorted five-gallon buckets and other important stuff, adding to the Sanford & Sons decor of our property.
Now, as both kids have gained increasing interest and skills through paddling camps, the kayak lives again. We hauled it out from behind all the other gear, and Skyla and Weston spent a few hours scrubbing out the accumulated dirt, leaves and spiders. It cleaned up beautifully.
Meanwhile, I had to make a few modifications to the old ski racks in order to haul it. Nothing a hacksaw and a couple of ratcheting straps (Love ratcheting straps!) couldn’t handle.
Finally, we had it all together and hauled the old boat down to the beach under beautiful evening light made especially warm-toned by smoke from Eastern Washington. Skyla wasted no time in putting it through its paces and declared it “awesome.” She then gave Weston a quick lesson and he was zooming around the nearshore waters. Skyla was right: It is awesome. Huge thanks to the anonymous kayak donor!
To really top off the birthday celebration–I know, I was milking it–we headed into Seattle for a little time at the Burke Museum, some back-to-school shopping, and then…wait for it…DIN TAI FUNG! Kind of a tradition the last couple years, and I haven’t been back since the last birthday, but I’ve been dreaming about those soup dumplings for an entire year.
And they did not disappoint. Tender noodle wrappers that burst with ginger-y pork broth when you bite into them. Actually, everything at DTF is pretty mind blowing. We also had the subtle, delicate won ton soup, a lightly pickled red-chile cucumber salad, savory seaweed salad, crispy potstickers and the hand-cut noodles. And more soup dumplings. All of it with an exceptional intensity of flavor you just don’t experience anywhere else. Hard to believe this is a chain restaurant, but if you’re ever in the area, it’s more than worth the wait.
When we returned home, it was, of course, pie time. Did I mention this is The Greatest Pie In The World? Oh, man. The perfect ending to a fantastic birthday. And on that note, I think I better go jogging now.
My mom came up to celebrate my birthday with us, and we wasted no time in putting her to work. First on the agenda: My favorite pie in the entire world. Of course, it started with a picking session. I was concerned that the berries might be waterlogged or moldy after the hard rain we had Friday, but we went to our favorite cut-leaf blackberry patch and found them in perfect shape. (Cut-leaf berries are firmer than the ubiquitous Himalayas, so they hold their shape better for baking and and stand up to rain. They also have a more intense, complex flavor.)
Back at home, Weston learned the art of the perfect filling.
While Skyla absorbed the secrets of the perfect crust. Oh, that crust!
All three teamed up to put the pie together. Then we had to wait 40 minutes while it baked.
And voila! The greatest pie in the world. The crust: crisp, flaky and tender at the same time. The filling: tart and sweet. And with four helping hands, it was the fastest my mom ever made a pie. Meanwhile, I just kicked back, watched, learned and let my mouth water. What a birthday present. Thanks, Mom!
A brief commercial message: My mom’s pie recipe–it should really be called “The Greatest Pie In The World”–which she adapted from her mom’s recipe, will be included in the second edition of Closer to the Ground. Available in October.
Whenever possible, I like to include Skyla and Weston in some of the work I’m doing. It’s a way for us to share some cool experiences and give the kids a little bigger view of the world. Fortunately, the people I was working with on Lummi Island share that point of view. Birgit, who runs Patagonia Provisions, brought her family along, as did James, who’s the product manager. The kids wasted no time in becoming fast friends, and they quickly descended on the tide pools in front of the house we stayed in.
I also wanted the kids to learn more about commercial salmon fishing, so we went out to the reef-net “gears,” and spent an afternoon doing what we could to be helpful. That’s Josh, the reef-netter, teaching Weston how to catch and bleed fish from the live tank. Huge thanks to the kind and exceptionally kid-friendly crews aboard the reef-net boats.
Later that day, I borrowed the Wild Fish Conservancy skiff to take the kids sport fishing. But the sudden appearance of harbor porpoises changed the objective. We followed them all the way across the channel, and ended up at a seal rookery, where dozens of mother and baby seals were hauled out on the rocks.
On another day, Keith and Riley, from the Lummi Island Wild salmon co-op, took us on their new tender to pick up fish from the outlying reef nets. The trip also doubled as an awesome tour of all the San Juan Islands, and included a stop for ice cream at Roche Harbor. (The looks on all the yachtie’s faces when a huge work boat pulled in amongst the fancy pleasure craft and released a pack of barefoot kids into their midst was priceless.) That’s Weston, Skyla, Claire and Gracie holding down the fish bins aboard the Galactic Ice.
But every time we came back to shore, the kids went immediately back to the tide pools. They built elaborate “habitats” in salad bowls and buckets to temporarily house the critters they found. While Birgit and James (from Provisions), Kurt and Nick (from Wild Fish Conservancy) and Riley and Keith (from Lummi Island Wild) and I discussed how this union of a commercial interest, a fish conservation NGO and fishermen can help save salmon, and Darcy (filmmaker) shot b-roll for her video of the reef netters, the kids absorbed themselves in sea life. When I went to check on them, I heard Skyla and Gracie shouting, “We have to improve the habitat! We have to improve the habitat!” A fitting sentiment, I thought, for the meeting going on inside.
The kids and I spent a few days up on Lummi Island this week, checking out what is quite possibly the most responsible, environmentally friendly commercial fishing enterprise in the world. The Lummi Island reef netters employ an ancient technique, where a net is suspended between two anchored boats; when the target species enters, the net is raised to capture them. The way it’s done on Lummi really sets the bar for low carbon footprint, zero by-catch and the highest quality fish.
First, the reef net boats–or “gears” as the whole array of lead lines, boats and nets is called–are anchored in place for the season. The main netting location is just a few hundred yards offshore, so the only energy used to fish is the tablespoon or so of gas it takes to get from the beach to the “gears” by skiff. When the crew arrives on the boats, the nets are lowered into place and fishing begins. The spotter climbs to the top of a tall platform, the headstand, and watches for fish entering the net. When he sees the right species and number of fish, he or she–30% of the Lummi Island crew is made up of women–shouts “TAKE ‘EM!” The net flies upward, powered by a series of solar-powered winches, the captured fish are released into a live-well, and the net is re-deployed. It takes less than a minute and the boat is back fishing.
The zero by-catch starts with the visual spotting of fish entering the net. If non-target species approach, the net is simply left in place, allowing the fish to continue their migration. If, by some small chance, a non-target species is captured in the net along with the target species, it is released completely unharmed. But in two days on the gears, I did not witness a single non-target species inadvertently netted.
Finally, the quality of fish caught by this method is unbelievable. The fish go directly from the net into a live-well with no handling, and stay there until the crew is ready to start processing. Each fish is lifted from the live-well by hand, and bled in another well. (The presence of blood in salmon flesh creates the majority of off flavors.) It then goes directly into an ice slurry, nearly untouched and completely free of blood. Unlike gill nets or seines, the other main commercial harvest techniques used in the area, reef-net fish are not bruised, caught by the gills, or abraded during any part of the process.
On a cultural level, we found none of the macho, us-against-nature mentality that sometimes develops in other commercial fishing fleets. To a man (or woman) everyone we met on the Lummi Island crew was exceptionally relaxed, welcoming and kind, with a clear sense of responsibility for the resource, and pride in what they were doing.