A week after things started shutting down because of COVID-19, I learned about the Anchovy Project, Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinki’s project to introduce local anchovies that were only two hours removed from the ocean to the San Francisco food scene. The Anchovy Bar not only survived COVID-19, it’s a hard reservation to get with limited outdoor seating, so I still haven’t been, but I’m looking forward to trying it.
This week, Eater published this fantastic video detailing how the anchovies get from the ocean to the restaurant:
I particularly love how a few people managed to create and improve a supply chain to make all of this possible. It takes a tremendous amount of vision and passion to do this. I doubt the demand for very fresh, local anchovies was very high prior to this project, and so building the supply chain to do this required faith and personal commitment. Now that it exists, demand has gone up and other restaurants are benefiting from their work. The more our attitudes change about seafood, the better it will be for our health and happiness as well as the ocean.
I made my NPR debut this morning talking about… seaweed foraging, of all things! Yes, random, I know.
Last year, my partner and I went up to Bodega Bay to visit our friends, Chad and Elissa. On a whim, I decided to see if Forage SF was offering seaweed foraging classes on the Sonoma Coast that weekend. Sure enough, they were! I had long wanted to take this class, but waking up at 4am to make the 90 minute drive from San Francisco deterred me. Since I was going to be there anyway, it felt like the perfect opportunity.
Chad and Elissa, who hail from Virginia, had never heard of seaweed foraging, and asked me lots of questions about it. I realized, to my amusement, that what felt like a perfectly normal thing for me to want to do might feel exotic to others. Going seaweed foraging didn’t feel any different to me than, say, going apple picking. I, like many Koreans, grew up eating seaweed soup and banchan. Furthermore, anyone who eats sushi also eats seaweed, which holds the rolls of rice and fish together, and salted sheets are ubiquitous in the snack aisle of many grocery stores.
I loved the class, which was taught by Heidi Herrmann of Strong Arm Farm. When I saw Chad and Elissa after the class, I gave them some seaweed to taste and gifted them some Turkish Towel, which you can use as an exfoliant for your own personal spa treatment.
Chad and Elissa were back in Bodega Bay this summer, and when my partner and I were making plans to visit them again, they suggested that we go seaweed foraging together! I was thrilled! Even though I’m still a complete novice, I had ventured out with friends a few times since taking the class and felt comfortable guiding others. Plus — as mentioned in the NPR piece — all of the seaweed found on the beach we were visiting was edible (although not necessarily tasty), so I wasn’t worried about killing anybody.
When Chad, who’s a producer at NPR, said he wanted to do a little audio story about our outing, I felt a little less comfortable. I didn’t want to come off as if I knew more than I did, which is very little. Chad assured me that it would be fine, and I trusted his storytelling skills. Coincidentally, when we got to the beach, we discovered that Heidi was there as well teaching another class. That worked out perfectly for the story. Chad hung out with Heidi and her class for a bit, getting good audio clips from someone who knows what she’s talking about, then joined me and Elissa for our own adventures.
I love how the final story turned out. It was amazing to see how Chad was able to transform an hour of raw audio footage into a tight, three minute story, and it’s such a gift to have a pro documenting your fun times together. I’ve heard my recorded voice enough over the years that I’m no longer wigged out by it. Still, I was amused by how excited I sounded about finding Turkish towel. What’s not clear from the story is that it was actually Chad who found it, and the piece he found was a beauty!
At the end of the story, Chad shares a story I tell about kimchi, which was part of a longer, rambling story that didn’t make it into the clip. After I took the class, my friend, Jon, asked me to bring him along the next time I went. Jon and his wife, Linzy, are both nature and food lovers, and it didn’t surprise me that they wanted to go, but it turned out that Jon had other reasons. Jon is part Welsh, and Welsh people eat seaweed! Specifically, Jon wanted to make laverbread, a flat cake made from seaweed paste and oats. A few months later, we managed to find a patch of laver at Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay, which Jon converted into these delicious cakes.
I had only eaten seaweed in Asian food, and it never occurred to me that anyone else eats seaweed, which of course is ridiculous. Lots of cultures live by the ocean, and every culture has learned how to take what’s close to them and turn it into something delicious. But in today’s world, everything has gotten homogenized, and so we miss out on wonderful things like laverbread.
Food connects us to place and to each other in beautiful, often surprising ways. Riffing on this got me talking about how global our food systems have always been, and how different cultures have influenced each other in surprising ways. Prior to the 1500s, Korean kimchi was mild, because they had not yet discovered chili peppers, which come from the Americas. Similarly, as Bill Buford explains in his book, Heat, Italian polenta was made of barley and there was no pasta with marinara sauce, because both corn and tomatoes also come from the Americas.
Let me know if you want to go seaweed foraging sometime!
For whatever reason, I’ve found writing hard to do the past few years, and this year has been the hardest. I’ve also been disinclined to think out loud, even though I’ve had a lot I’ve wanted to say and share, both personally and professionally.
Mid-way through the experiment, I reported:
What it’s been doing is helping unlock whatever has been inside of me. I’ve been precious about sharing what I’ve been thinking, not wanting to say them unless I can say them well and feeling paralyzed as a result. I’ve also found it overwhelming at times to try to blog. I guess things are crazy in the world right now, and it’s not only affecting my mental health, it’s hard for me to make sense of it all.
Blogging as a practice has reminded me not to be too precious. The less I try to say, the less overwhelming I feel. The more frequently I share, the less I have to worry about saying it all in one piece, which makes it much easier to write. Plus, even though I don’t think I’ve shown it yet, I’m starting to remember what it feels like to write well. I’m rounding into shape again, which always feels good.
The biggest surprise has been that sharing regularly has helped me re-engage with my broader community. I didn’t think anyone really followed this blog anymore, and because I’m rarely on social media anymore, the algorithms seem to have decided I’m not worthy of most people’s feeds. Still, some people are paying attention to what I’m saying, and getting to hear from them has been a treat and is also motivating me to write more.
After having finished the experiment, I’m not sure I have anything different to report, other than to say that I don’t think I had any breakthroughs after 30 days, and I want to keep exercising this muscle. I thought seriously about extending my project through the end of the year, but I opted against it for a few reasons. Even though it wasn’t particularly stressful, it wasn’t stress-free either, and I don’t need the added pressure this month. It also tires out muscles that I’m using for work right now. I can focus on developing these muscles more when work settles down.
In the meantime, I think the exercise still is helping me share more than I was before. This is my third blog post in December. I think a good pace for me is to be blogging about once a week, especially when those posts are more or less organic.
Maybe the most interesting thing for me was seeing what I chose to blog about. This wasn’t just a writing exercise, it was a sharing exercise. I aggregated all of the tags from those 30 days of blog posts and ran them through WordClouds.com to see if I could detect any patterns.
Not surprisingly, I wrote a lot about COVID-19 and the elections. It was nice to see that I wrote quite a bit about collaboration. This wasn’t my goal, but I admit I was curious to see how often I felt compelled to write about “work stuff” — the original purpose of this blog — especially when I had so many other things on my mind. I loved that I wrote about a lot about making — food and art and photography and stories in general.
Finally, I was curious about the people and places I wrote about. Here were people I knew whom I mentioned in various posts (not including my partner and sister, whom I mentioned often and didn’t bother tagging):
It’s been nine years since I and my family started eating duck for Thanksgiving. I have also happily introduced several friends to the concept, although surprisingly, I know of no permanent converts. Some (many?) of my friends actually like turkey. But I think the biggest factor is that culture, norms, and traditions are remarkably powerful.
I get it. My family ate turkey for over thirty years before converting. When I consider how much more I enjoy Thanksgiving now, and how much less stressful it is to prepare the meal, I marvel at how long it took us to make the switch.
I see individuals and groups struggle with this all the time. Goal-setting and strategy are more often an exercise in documenting what you’re already doing rather than a deep examination of where you’re trying to go and why. The latter requires that you make a choice, and making choices is hard.
Last year, I took care of my nephews in Cincinnati for a week while my sister and brother-in-law were on a trip. I decided to make it a point to work my way through their packed freezer, which had some truly ancient and scary looking items, including some cod that was older than my then nine-year old nephew and that had survived a move several years earlier.
Around the same time, I was reading Steven Rinella’s, American Buffalo, an excellent book about this iconic animal’s role throughout human history. At one point, Rinella mentions a mummified, 36,000 year old Steppe Bison in Alaska, and writes off-handedly:
Dale Guthrie, a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska, cooked and ate part of the animal’s neck. He reported it to be “well aged but still a little tough.”
I did a double-take when I read this line. It seemed wrong in more ways than one. I was also intrigued, so I did a little research, and I feel good about the overall ethics and wisdom of the move. It turns out that eating ancient animals is a thing, although Woolly Mammoth apparently does not keep well.
It made me feel a whole lot better about cooking that decade-old cod for my nephews. I ended up turning it into a tasty fishcake, which forever boosted their respect for my cooking abilities.