For my going away dinner in Nelson my dear and wonderful roommate implemented her culinary expertise in creating a fabulous meal for those of us gathered. Naturally, it had a seafood theme in order to pay homage to the place I have ventured off to. The entree of choice was mussels – steamed in a delicious white wine sauce and sauteed to perfection. It was my first time ever having mussels and, as we figured, it was a good time to start getting used to the idea of seafood. That is, of course, after I’d decided to begin eating sentient beings in the first place. I suppose my years of vegan and near veganism did what I needed them to and I’ve since been eating “happy” animals. How much more happy can you get than a life swaying with the ebbs and flows of rhythmic tides? Yes, seafood, I will be fain to eat you.
It befits the occasion of moving on to a new place here that a last meal be of mussels. Only this time these won’t be of mussels garnered in the frozen foods section of Save-On-Foods. No, these mussels will be ones harvested fresh from the Ocean Herself.
A couple of days ago I participated in a ocean walk with a group that started at the library. I’d heard about it in my gathering of facts, tidbits and events that I’ve come to do upon entering a new place. I head to information boards, whip out my day-planner, and write down anything that is of interest to me. Somewhere I came across this talk and walk that would lead me to the direction of the sea. I was happy to make it down to the beautiful library and slip in on a group discussion. The leader, a retired middle school teacher, was guiding the motley crew of us through a brief history of the area. There were older, retired folks, young women with children, and a general good smattering of tourists interested in learning about the sea. After handing out cards with the various seaweeds, birds, and crustaceans we would identify, we headed out to the harbour for some adventuring.
The card I had was for Blue Mussels. I patiently waited until we would locate some in order to flip it over and read out the information tidbits on the back – I always was a stickler for rules. Mussels – growing randomly in the sea, attaching themselves to sturdy areas so that the ceaseless waves don’t toss them around too much. I am so fascinated by the fact that food simply grows in the ocean. We found some soon enough, after learning that snails are actually called “periwinkles” and that there are two kinds, one brought down from Canada in the 1800’s and another native species. But wouldn’t it of eventually made it’s way down here anyway? Was it really brought down here in a way that is different than usual migration and dispersion? A mountain will eventually wear away to flat stone. Perhaps it’s the same sort of concept. Though I digress, and, as I read the card for information on Blue Mussels to the group ,became intrigued with the idea of eating this food from the sea. Upon my questioning, the person facilitating the event suggested that mussels near the inner harbour located as we were would not, in fact, be a good idea to consume though entirely possible. My mind shifted and spun. “Hmmm, I’m currently staying at a place on the ocean. There is an amazing beach right outside my door, I”m sure to be able to hunt for mussels there.”
The talk over, I said goodbye to my new friends, some of whom I would connect with later for some volunteering opportunities, and went back home to a home that was not to be my home for very much longer. For my last dinner there, I was going to harvest some mussels and serve them for the entree.
I went out at low tide which, perhaps simply to be a convenience for me, was also the loveliest part of the afternoon. Adorned with adventure shoes I set out to fill my plastic bag with shelled protein as much as had been advised would make a good-sized meal. Now, given my eating companion, this amount was a lot larger than I would have thought myself and certainly a lot larger than what was consumed by the five women present at my going away dinner in Nelson. But hey, these were free, a delicacy, and some men can simply eat!
I scampered among the rocks and seagrass, heading to the large boulders that protrude out of the mass of sea water even at high tide, beginning my search. The thing about rocks that are usually covered with seaweed is that adjusting that seaweed is going to uncover temporary homes for sea creatures.
Maine is a state with a majestic and rocky coastline. Unlike the long sandy beaches of the West, rugged islands are marked by Lighthouses keeping watch over sailors and blinking their steady lights into my window at night. At low-tide these rocks would become exposed were it not for the scads upon scads of seaweed nestled into each crevice. My task, then, was to tear aside these tendrils of green stuff – three different kinds in all, as I learned from my tide walk – and reveal the rocks beneath where mussels attach themselves to. The real fun began when crabs and other creatures would emerge out of the protection of the sea weed and scuttle along, falling from rocks and onto my toes.
I’d taken off the adventure shoes to get a firm grip with my own skin on the boulders I was climbing around. Leaving them at a place I hoped wouldn’t be susceptible to the rising tide I moved aside green slimy stuff and found one of three things: crabs, a place to put my feet to walk further along (stepping on the seaweed itself is rather dangerous and slippery. Who knows how deep it is until reaching it’s attachment to the rocks beneath?), or, and this was ideal, a grove of mussels. The crabs themselves were an unexpected part of the adventure. They varied in size from about the breadth of my thumbnail to a particularly uppity one that reached the width of my outstretched hand – pinky finger-tip to thumb-tip. He fell out of a particularly gnarly swath of rockweed that was growing up the steep cleft of a boulder and, upon seeing the size of his foe, immediately struck a threatening pose to oppose me. He scuttled from side to side, pinchers up, ready to attack. I myself jumped right into the match, with bent knees and lifted arms, mirroring the crustacean I saw in front of me. After a few side to side movements I laughingly dropped the game, picked up a few pieces of seaweed and playfully covered my adversary, knowing he would be so easily placated to have a layer of protection around him. The hunt for mussels continued.
I began to fill my bag. Eventually I made it back to my shoes which, I was glad to see, were not washed away into the sea. I wanted to go to one more spot and galloped over the sea grass and pebbles, finding Whale Rock and its friend Shark Rock. I looked around for a moment before asking myself “If I were a mussel, where would I grow?” I decided it would be right under Shark Rock and, upon lifting the weeds away was shocked to discover a veritable mussel-town. Since my bag was already relatively full I pulled only a few more choice shells from their bearded attachment to the rocks and considered my hunt a success.
The mussels were prepared with a lovely white wine sauce and complimented the ocean view on the porch nicely. Overall it was a very successful first mussel hunt and a great way to celebrate the last night in the cabin on Bay View Street.