The Blue Chair Blog

It's not just about the novel


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Stalking the wily razor clam, again

Pacific razor clam, Siliqua patulaSpring in the Pacific Northwest inevitably brings thoughts of razor clams, or at least it does if you have ever dug them or eaten them and live within striking distance of Long Beach Peninsula, Grayland, Ocean Shores, Copalis, or Kalaloch.  Fifteen years ago, I rented a house with some of my cousins and went clamming on Long Beach. It was such a successful event (135 clams in on the first day!) that I put up a little web page about it, which miraculously still exists out there on the Internet. But I’ll relive the experience here, too. After all, it’s Throwback Thursday. My timing is pretty good, too, because the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival is coming up this weekend, April 18-19!

If razors are unfamiliar to you, you are laughing at the notion that we were so happy about 135 clams, but note that the daily limit is the first 15 clams you dig. That’s because once its fragile shell is broken, a razor clam won’t survive. They’re called razor clams for a reason, by the way — those broken shells are sharp! Bear in mind that only two or three nice-sized clams make a fine meal.

Clammers as far as the eye can see

Someone once said that going after razor clams fulfills the human urge for hunting, fishing, and farming all at the same time. You have to be up early to catch a spring tide near its lowest point. It’s cold and there is likely no time for coffee. If you are doing it right, you will get wet and you will probably end up eating sand. You certainly won’t be alone. Oh, and those clams are several inches under the surface of the beach and they are not just sitting there.  They are trying to get away from you.

mark-kirbI won’t go into methods, but you can learn more here. Old hands often dig in the surf. Kids might sit down and dig high on the beach. Some folks like to use specialized shovels, some prefer clam “guns.” Just remember, everybody over the age of 15 needs a license.

If you are successful, you’ll have your work cut out for you cleaning your catch. I remember that we set up an assembly line to clean our 100 plus clams. Boiling water goes on to loosen the shells, followed immediately by cold water so they don’t start to cook. I like to use kitchen scissors but a sharp knife works, too. These WDFW instructions describe what to do.

The best way to eat razors? I recommend cleaning a few as soon as you get back from the beach. Their delicate texture and rich flavor is hard to describe but, once experienced, never forgotten.

Sautéed Razor Clams

Shopping list: eggs, flour, Saltines, oil, butter, lemon, pepper.

  • Beat up an egg or two for dipping and finely crush some Saltines to use as a coating. Heat a cast iron skillet to medium high
  • Once the pan is beginning to heat, add a little oil (olive, canola, etc.) and then a little butter
  • Dip each clam in the egg (you can dip in flour first if you want) and dredge it in the cracker coating
  • Sauté them for about a minute, then flip over and sauté the second side for less than a minute
  • Place on paper towels to drain of some of the oil
  • Serve as quick as you can, with eggs and toast along side if you like.
  • Seasonings if desired: pepper, a squeeze of lemon

That’s the way I learned to do it when I worked for the old Department of Fisheries about a gazillion years ago, reinforced over the years by my cousin Jill, who is just about the best cook I know. As for all those “extra” clams, the necks are are great for chowder. It’s hard to beat sautéing the rest (body and foot), though. You can freeze razor clams, but fresh is best. Sure, you can try some fancy recipe, but nothing you make will ever be as good as clams coated in saltines, sautéed when you and the clams are fresh off the beach.

Have you been clamming?  Plan to go? Got a favorite digging method or recipe? What’s your experience with hunting or gathering your own food? Please share in the comments!


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What’s up with that blue chair?

“Reading, writing, and thinking aloud from the house with the blue chair in front. Sometimes I sit in the chair.”

wisteriaIt’s early spring here in the Pacific Northwest and the weather is . . . changeable. Yesterday, which was Easter Sunday, I put the blue chair back in its accustomed place underneath wisteria blossoms that have yet to unfurl.

I write in earnest now. I think of myself as a writer. A part of me wishes so much that I had headed down this road sooner, my earthly goods tied in a bandana and suspended from the end of a stick. I would have set off whistling (except I can’t whistle) and never looked back. The novel that’s been in my head for all these years — I’d have leaned into it and at least had a manuscript by now.  I’d have been engaged in a writing practice that was meaningful and fulfilling, writing essays at least to myself. Perhaps I would have tackled memoir. I would certainly have had more time to read — classics, junk, the latest, whatever I wanted. Instead, I have most of a first draft, written over a ridiculous amount of time. But I do have that and I’m working consistently to move forward with it, too.

I’m taking myself as I am. I am sitting in the blue chair in my tiny front yard. I’m there almost every day if the weather allows, just as I was last summer. It’s comfortable, it’s symbolic, and I love the view along my curved sidewalk and over the bronzy-red Japanese maple to the tall hemlock spruce trees beyond. It’s a sheltered spot. I can daydream there, and I do, looking up at the clouds, and the tree tops, and the blue sky. Eventually, I will turn to the book I’m reading, or to my notebook, grateful to have this spot that grounds me. This year, when fall comes and the days are shorter, cold and damp, I will miss my spring and summer days in the blue chair, but what it gives me, a specific place in which to read, write and think, will linger on.