Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Seabrook, or, A Crash Course in Razor Clamming

For the 3-day weekend of 11-11-11, my family rented a house in the little community of Seabrook on the coast of southern Washington. I mean immediate family, as well as grandma, first cousins, aunts, uncles, and a few friends- 21 of us total in 2 different houses. Coincidentally, it was just announced that razor clamming would be open for 2 days only on a small handful of beaches in this exact place!
By the time we got through the holiday traffic on I-5 and made it out there, it was later than we had planned. It was practically dark and almost dinner time, but my step-dad Larry and I couldn't be confined indoors for the night until we had at least attempted clamming. The only problem was, neither of us had ever clammed, and my uncle who was going to show us the ropes had already headed out. We didn't get cell signals in this stretch of coast, so there was no way to get in contact. Shrugging, Larry and I geared up for foul weather and decided to head out anyway, admitting that we were the blind leading the blind.

We found a beach, pitch black except the evenly-spaced dots of yellow lantern light from the other clam diggers. At least we are in the right spot. So with heads bent to the wind, and awkwardly gripping our flailing buckets and clam guns, we started walking across the beach toward the water. If you've been to the Washington coast at low tide, you know that this can be a long, flat stretch. It was dark ahead of us and dark behind us. It was the most extreme weather I've been in for a long time- the kind where the wind is so strong you can barely breathe, and driving rain has a way of finding any tiny cranny of clothing. Luckily it didn't last long, and by the time we got out to the shore, the rain had stopped and the full moon came out from behind the clouds.
We knew we needed to find the airholes in the sand, and in my head I was picturing compact, round black holes. We saw a few of those and dug, but to our dismay, nothing came up. We stooped over in the wind, eyes strained on the sand, til Larry said, with an intuition that amazes me, "That looks like something." It was just a faint dimpled crater, not an obvious dark hole. But Larry dug, and lo and behold, up came a big razor clam with its oblong yellow shell and long neck and digger foot at each end. It was sort of shocking at first, that the tiniest of clue could indeed yield a real creature living down there. It reminded me of digging potatoes, how you can't see them but you trust that they're there, and up from the darkness comes food. We dug for the next hour, until Larry reached his limit of 15, and I had a solid 10.

We got back to the house cold and tired, but happy with our catch. The whole family had arrived and convened for dinner, various carloads from Seattle and Oregon managing to find each other. Dinner turned into dessert, for which I had made nutmeg pot de creme. (Years ago, my grandma gave me a set of baking ramekins when I graduated college, which I thought was a completely useless gift. But I already loved eggy, custardy desserts, and found that with ramekins in my possession, I became a creme brulee making machine that summer.) This recipe is like creme brulee without the torched sugar top, and with nutmeg and vanilla and heavy cream tasted just like the holidays.
Then dessert turned into drinks and games and poker... but those of us who had caught clams had to clean them before any more fun could be had. My uncle showed us how to blanch them so that the shells would open and easily slide off. Here's a particularly big one with his neck stretched out. Then you have to gut them, and fillet them open to get all the sand out.
On Saturday morning we awoke to... you guessed it, more rain! I went for a soggy run on a back-road logging trail, where I saw no other humans but did see bear scat, a large 3-point buck, and a random hand-painted sign that said "My man Otis". The next few hours went like this: coffee, a group walk to the beach,
my 3 year-old niece in mini-human raingear,
clam chowder and fried razor clams for lunch, a dip in the pool and hot tub... all just distractions until it was time to go clamming again. Since we hadn't been able to go together the night before, we planned a group departure at 3:30.

Razor clamming is best 1-2 hours before low tide. The low tide was at 7:20 so going out at 3:30 was a little too early, but we were hoping to do some clamming in the light. We got down to the beach and saw similar dark black holes to the night before, and on the off-chance that they were clams, started digging... only to find sand shrimp! I had no idea that there were shrimp that lived under the sand. The seagulls overhead were happy with our find, but it wasn't of much use to us. The tide was still in too far for us to get to the clam zone. So I headed back to the house with my sister and a few others for a self-imposed "happy hour". We drank some wine and ate some brie and home-smoked tuna dip and felt fortified to head out for a second round.

There were about 12 of us out there clamming, so it was quite the family endeavor. As people reached their limit of 15 clams, they headed in, but of course those of us who had gone back to the house were a little behind in numbers. My 10 year-old niece was my faithful assistant, holding my catch bag when I couldn't in the whipping wind, and staying out as long as my step-dad and I did. My brother-in-law had already reached his limit, so he wasn't digging anymore, but he was scouting holes for us. He would call out, "Amber, over here!" or "Larry, here's one!" and keep his light trained on the tiny crater until we came over. That might have been my favorite time of the whole weekend- the working together, the inter-generational and almost tribal mentality of helping each other forage for food.
Later we had a pizza potluck and I made mulled wine. Then the music got turned up so loud that we could hardly talk, and the only thing left to do was dance. Cousins, aunts, sisters, mom, and yes, even my grandma couldn't help but shake it at the end of this wintery vacation day.


ElizaBeth said...

I want your family reunions to be my family reunions. Do you have any eligible cousins?

AmberAnda said...

I have two eligible cousins! They are 20 and 21, respectively... so not toooo terribly young. And they are nice guys and live in Seattle :)

ElizaBeth said...

I love that 10 years younger than me is not 'too terribly young' in your book, but I'm not sure I'm ready to get my cougar on...

AmberAnda said...

I just didn't want you to feel like I was passing any judgement if you did want to go for a younger man :) But you know, you are always welcome to come to any family functions with me, as a friend, no dating of cousins required! Or if you don't come, I can still bring you food from the occasions, such as razor clams or mouflon that is still eventually coming your way!