R.I.P. White Rooster

via R.I.P. White Rooster.

On the topic of noble but dead birds ….l. some great Cape Cod writing by Bethany Gibbons on Cape Cod Today.

”  Skunk? Big red Jimmy got nailed by an owl. Maybe he was out too early that snowy morning. Whitey Bulger flew the coop and went on the lamb. My daughter insists he may be still hiding out in the swamp somewhere, living the wild and free life. I doubt it. The evil Spanish Black Minorca lost his head to a stump and some Lebanese friends. I couldn’t do, but after living through civil war and that cheese (arish?) they leave out in the sun for weeks on a rooftop, they had no problem doing the dirty work. I just couldn’t have a 5-year-old lose and eye to a wicked bad rooster.”

I’m so impressed that her rooster will live on in many a saltwater fly pattern.


What could be finer?

  1. There is no wind at 8 am so I am about to go for a pleasant fall scull around the harbor.
  2. The dogs are frightened and avoiding me because of my bellicose behavior at 1:30 am when J.D. Drew homered to bury the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the second game of the ALDS.
  4. I am on vacation. Ten days of being and nothingness. It’s time for the Fall Run and I am off to the Great Backside Beach to stand in foamy surf, sling eels into the darkness, and ponder my existence while staring across the Atlantic at Portugal.
  5. I am going to cook a roti de porc au lait for my dinner tonight.
  6. Perhaps I shall seek bivalves in the mud later today. Must check tides.

So, whereabouts this coming week? Going nowhere. How to contact me? Don’t. Blog probabilities? Low, except to lie about fish I haven’t caught, and to gloat about the BoSox.

Toxic Tomalley

Ben at Walking the Berkshires and the Cape Cod Times (and its excreble daily video show CapeCast) are sounding the tocsin over that-which-should-not-be-eaten, Tomalley, or the vile green goo found inside the bodies of lobsters.

Apparently lobsters, who personify the term, “bottom feeder”  are utter scavengers who dine on whatever lands on the bottom, store a lot of toxic crud in their tomalley, which is essentially a two-organs-in-one deal for the lobster, playing the role of both liver and pancreas.

Lobsters lying in state
Lobsters lying in state

Sorry, but I don’t know about you, but I tend to use my liver to deal with stuff like toxins. Indeed, back in my glory years when tequila shots were my bane, anyone who ate my liver, Prometheus style, would have been struck dead faster than a spy biting on the cyanide molar implanted in their jaw.

My mother, a native of the New Hampshire sea coast, gets more mileage out of a lobster than a parasite. We’re talking Outer Limits/Twilight Zone sort of behavior — with much meticulous sucking and picking away until there is nothing but a red husk on the plate. She is one of those whack jobs that declare “tomalley” and its nasty red twin, “coral”or the roe, to be a delicacy. Ben’s mom apparently is the same way. Me, I believe tomalley is a soft, meconium sort of substance that one usually finds on a dock after a flock of sea gulls meets the fleet on a hot day.

So when the State of Maine health department and then the Massachusetts BOH declare tomalley to be bad for you, I’ve got to ask: “Who in their right mind ate it anyway?”

Check out the photo on this Cape Cod Times story. Hungry? And my respects to anybody who would brush their teeth with tomalley, you are my hero.

Reel-Time changes hands

Reel-Time.com joins the NameMedia Inc. family of niche community sites – Reel-Time Forums

I won’t get all weepy and sentimental, but my first web project — Reel-Time: The Internet Journal of Saltwater Fly Fishing, has been sold after 13 years of private operation by myself , my co-founder Thorne Sparkman, and editor/webmaster, Mark Cahill.

The site goes to Name Media, the Waltham, MA domain company founded by IDG’s former CEO, Kelly Conlin.

I was a founder-emeritus for the past five years, backing out of the partnership with Thorne as my interest in the site waned and my ability to fund it declined along with my interest. I came up with the concept and name in 1994 when Chris Locke (co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto) asked me to write a series of columns on the impact of the Internet on journalism for Internet-MCI, one of the first major portal plays. In that column I basically made a version of the Long Tail argument, saying the infinite scalability of the net would lead to the dominance of niches. The syllogism was that a website about fishing would not be as successful as one about fly fishing, which in turn would be less valuable than one about saltwater fly fishing, etc.

So, as a strawman, I discussed the theoretical business plan of a site called “Reel-Time” as a play on “Real Time” — another business plan I had kicked around with Mitch Kapor in 94 when we thought there would be an interesting place on the net for a 24 hour, real-time news site.

So, over sushi one night in NYC, my fishing buddy Thorne Sparkman (who worked in digital at Time Warner Electronic Publishing) and I agreed to launch an actual site called Reel-Time. We registered the domain, spent a week at my place on Cape Cod coding the first HTML, hacked an email archive tool into a crude discussion/community forum, and launched via word of mouth on the USENET fishing forums.

Was it a success?

Sure. Here’s what I got out of Reel-Time:

  1. I never got paid a dime. Seriously. 13 years. Not a penny. I suck as an entrepreneur.
  2. I met a ton of great people.
  3. I was given the challenge to launch Forbes.com on the basis of my experience launching Reel-Time.com
  4. Everything I know about dealing with online dickheads, flamers, lusers, and the tinfoil turban club I learned at Reel-Time
  5. The knowledge that if you want to ruin something fun, make a business out of.

Mark Cahill, the man who kept Reel-Time ticking, helped broker the sale with Name Media and will continue to drive the site. Me? I watch on, glad that something that started in my bedroom in 1995 will continue to live on past my inept management.

“When Reel-Time.com, the Internet Journal of Saltwater Fly Fishing was started in 1995 by Thorne Sparkman and David Churbuck, the internet was still in its infancy. Over the years, Reel-Time.com has grown to become the premier destination on the web for Saltwater Fly Fishermen, offering vibrant forums, up to the minute fishing reports, and informative articles.

“That success came at the expense of a lot of work and investment by Thorne. Indeed, over the years there were a great many people who put in a lot of hard work, from David and I spending many a sleepless morning in front of the computer cranking out Fishwire reports, to the Forum Moderators, whose selfless efforts are one of the prime reasons for our success.

“I’m pleased to announce that today begins yet another stage in the Reel-Time.com journey. The site has been acquired by NameMedia, Inc. of Waltham, MA, a major player in the emerging field of niche community media.

So, what’s it all mean to you”

First Bluefish of 2008

This morning Mom said she’d take a bluefish if I happened to catch one, so Fisher and I finished up the yard work around five on Sunday afternoon, dug out a couple rods, tied on some wire leaders and poppers, and headed down to Hooper’s Landing for a short row out to the boat.

We zipped out of the harbor and to the end of the channel to Last Red, the final channel marker. The wind was kind of snotty out of the Southeast (“wind east, fish bite least”) and the waves were tough enough to make the going wet and footing difficult, but I passed a couple slicks, smelled melons, and said, “I smell bluefish.”

The slicks are caused by the bluefish (pomatomus saltatrix) feeding on bait: the bluefish bite the bait, the bait releases oil, the oil makes smooth patches on the surface. That oil smells like melons (according to some noses). We cast a few times, optimism was low, but we stuck with it and I saw a fish dart under the boat, spooked off of the lure by the sight of the hull.

I finally hooked up, landed the fish, gave it a kiss, and threw it back for good luck. The second fish wasn’t so lucky, and went into the bucket. I fileted and skinned it, and Fisher and I took it to my mom to finish her Mother’s Day with a fish and some flowers (we planted morning glories around the lamppost).

All is well in my world when there are bluefish in Cotuit.

The Mashpee Herring Run

I stopped by the run on Route 131 this afternoon on my way to Logan. There was a few kids waving nets at fish that weren’t there. Indeed, with the usual harbingers in full force — dandelions and forsythia — I expected to see some alewives making their anadromous way into Mashpee-Wakeby Pond on their way inland on the Mashpee River from Popponesset Bay and Nantucket Sound beyond.

Alas. There were none. They’ll be here in a few days. Temps hit the 70s tomorrow and the squid are right on their heels along with the stripers. Here’s a link to my herring post from last year, one of my favorites. And here’s a quick video of what a herring run looks like today. (All the state’s runs are closed until further notice so these fish can start to recover. They are getting the snot kicked out of them by pair trawlers working offshore.)

Consider this my Earth Day Post.

A fishing tradition keelhauled in Chatham

A fishing tradition keelhauled in Chatham – The Boston Globe

Dinghy Wars erupt in Chatham. We have a problem here in Cotuit – but it’s not dinghies per se — we’ve got knuckleheads parking full boats in the grass.

“Locals say it is about Chatham’s soul being eroded by newcomers with thick wallets, newcomers whom they refer to as “wash-ashores.””The problem that I have with it is, these people come down here and say, ‘Oh, look. Isn’t it cute? Isn’t it wonderful? Look at that cute little fisherman out there working hard,’ ” said Sean Summers, a Chatham native and local selectman. “Then they buy in and say: ‘We’re going to do things my way now.’ “

Comes down to one flaw in the Commonwealth’s laws. Property owners own their beach all way way down to the water. Most states they own to the high tide mark. This makes for a massive pain in the neck and constant battle over rights. I predict — in my lifetime — a repeal of the low water ownership and a rollback to the highwater mark. Until then, watch the washashores break out the bolt cutters and start putting the dinghies on their beach some place else.

Me? I chain mine to a chainlink fence on a public beach and get there in the middle of March to stake out my spot. Sooner or later I guess I’ll have to get a permit for that too.

On Chowder

I cooked a clam chowder this past weekend, converting a bucket full of quahogs into the only food remotely resembling ethnic cooking in the Chatfield-Churbuck ethnography. Jokes about Wonder Bread and mayonnaise tastes of WASPs aside, there are few foods blander than clams steeped in milk with potatoes, onion, and salt pork.

This is the comfort food of my childhood, a big deal that involved my father and grandfather working through the ritual of clamming (always done barefoot, without rakes) in the harbor, gauging the clams through a ring to make sure there were no undersized specimens, then letting them rest under the grape arbor in old green canvas buckets so they would expel any sand and get cleaner before the shucking. The shucking was done outdoors, on the wooden steps of the porch, with bottles of beer at hand and an enameled bowl to catch the meat and clam juice. Yellow jackets hovered but were ignored. Both men would gently lift a clam out of the bucket and then, with a mighty but precise effort, slip a wood-handled clam knife into the hinge and on inside of the shell to pop the two muscles and free the meat with a circular flourish from the white and blue shells. My job was to take those empty shells and throw them around the driveway to be crushed by the tires and gradually bleach bright white in the Cape Cod sun.

A stubborn clam which resisted the knife was called a “mad” clam and was set aside to relax before a second effort was made. Clams were never — as I am guilty of — boiled or steamed open. I don’t recall the knives ever slipping and gouging into bare hands (no one wore gloves), no matter how many bottles of beer were involved, something I wish I could claim for myself, having completely impaled my hand on one occasion.

The clams used for a chowder are big ones – shells the size of a man’s closed fist – not the dainty littlenecks one would serve raw on the half-shell. Such clams are called “chowders” and tend to live in deeper water, requiring the extreme low tide of a full or new moon to reach without submerging oneself to pull them out of the muck.

Inside the kitchen a bag of yellow onions and a bag of Idaho potatoes were peeled and diced in a big mess of peels and tears. (lazy people leave the potato skins on). Chowder was generally made in bulk, not in small batches, so the kitchen was taken over in a big display of manly cooking skills, an anomaly for my young mind which was that the kitchen was the domain of my mother and grandmother, not two big beer drinkers in dirty shorts.

Another memorable sight was the appearance of the evil meat grinder, a seldom used tool which was used to grind the clams into chowder-sized pieces. The Cusinart has condemned the meat grinder to history, but nostalgia demands that I declare clams that are ground up by hand and not whirred into a formless paste simply taste better.

A large Alzheimer’s-inducing aluminum pot, scavenged from some civil defense bomb shelter or army camp, was set on the stove. Into it went a pound of diced salt pork – fatback to be precise – a primal meat from the 19th century, when whalers would pack away barrels of the stuff to provide protein and hasten the arrival of scurvy during long voyages at sea. Every time I go to the grocery store looking for fat back I half expect to see it missing, discontinued because Ishmael has passed away and isn’t shopping at Stop & Shop anymore.

“However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits, and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favourite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expedition: when leaning back a moment and bethinking me of Mrs. Hussey’s clam and cod announcement, I thought I would try a little experiment. Stepping to the kitchen door, I uttered the word “cod” with great emphasis, and resumed my seat. In a few moments the savoury steam came forth again, but with a different flavor, and in good time a fine cod-chowder was placed before us.

We resumed business; and while plying our spoons in the bowl, thinks I to myself, I wonder now if this here has any effect on the head? What’s that stultifying saying about chowder-headed people? “But look, Queequeg, ain’t that a live eel in your bowl? Where’s your harpoon?”

Fishiest of all fishy places was the Try Pots, which well deserved its name; for the pots there were always boiling chowders. Chowder for breakfast, and chowder for dinner, and chowder for supper, till you began to look for fish-bones coming through your clothes. The area before the house was paved with clam-shells. Mrs. Hussey wore a polished necklace of codfish vertebra; and Hosea Hussey had his account books bound in superior old shark-skin. There was a fishy flavor to the milk, too, which I could not at all account for, till one morning happening to take a stroll along the beach among some fishermen’s boats, I saw Hosea’s brindled cow feeding on fish remnants, and marching along the sand with each foot in a cod’s decapitated head, looking very slipshod, I assure ye. ”

Moby Dick

The salt pork was rendered for a few minutes until each little cube was golden brown and the clear fat was smoking – smoke detectors would have gone off had the house had them then, and I set them off every time I make a chowder. The fatback cubes were set aside to drain their grease onto a folded brown paper bag, and hands were slapped if they tried to pilfer away a piece.

Into the pot went the onions, and a few minutes later the potatoes, cooked for ten minutes and stirred to keep it from sticking and to coat everything in some pork fat. Down went the heat, in went the clams, with their juice or liquor, and the base was simmered for an hour to trick the potatoes into tasting like clams.

Gallons of whole milk – none of the sissy skim stuff – were poured in, and the result was carefully watched, for nothing ruins a chowder faster than boiling. Three or four cans of evaporated milk were added for richness (never make the mistake of adding the sickly sweet condensed milk used for pies). For three or four hours the vat simmered, flecked with spots of yellow pork fat, and at bed time the cover was put on and the pot parked in the boat shop – unrefrigerated – to settle down and really develop a flavor.

The next afternoon was a chowder party. Cousins and house guests, neighbors and friends, were invited over to sit at tables in the back yard and be served bowls of the stuff. A few pieces of the crisp salt pork were floated in each bowl, and plenty of oyster crackers were served to thicken the soup for those who liked crackers. Stuffed quahogs – aka “stuffies” – were served, along with raw littlenecks and big steaming bowls of steamers. It wasn’t a clambake – it was a chowder party. It is the single Proustian smell and taste of my Cotuit childhood and it makes me happy to see my kids tuck into a bowl of what is basically hot clam-flavored milk, the best paternal DNA proof I could hope for.

So, to recap the recipe: salt pork fatback diced up and fried, peeled and diced Idaho potatoes, diced yellow onions, whole milk, evaporated milk. That’s it. No spices, no flour, no corn starch, no tomatoes. Versions such as Manhattan Clam Chowder were derided as soundly as the New York Yankees. Introduce something like celery, or anything green – from parsley to sage – and you’re not making a Cape Cod clam chowder. It pains me, to no end, to enter a restaurant and order clam chowder and end up with a horribly thick mess that tastes like it came out of a commercial food service can designed to serve 200 people. Thicker is not better when it comes to chowder. Thickness is added by crushing up crackers – like Melville’s pounded ship biscuits – not by some gag inducing colloidal suspension made with cornstarch. My rule – if you see green stuff – parsley, any herb – it’s ain’t chowder. If you can coat the back of the spoon – it’s not chowder.

What is chowder? Well, I could bullshit you and say it comes from “chow” – but no, I think the most probable etymological theory is that the term came south from the French Canadian Maritimes as chaudiere – or cauldron.

My chowder would never win one of the chowder contests held around the region. It is way too thin for most people – an alien experience – but every so often, very rarely if ever, I have found the real thing in places like Wimpy’s in Osterville (not any more, they went thick and out of the can), or the late Sandy’s in Buzzard’s Bay at the foot of the Bourne Bridge.

Whatever. I know how to make it and now you do too.