Clamming on a Weekday Morning
Pinky sunrise skid marks across a gray-blue morning sky heralded the day. I layered in sweaters and filled a mug with my daily concoction of Jasmine Pearl tea, its leaves unfurling with the goodness of an entire Meyer lemon plucked from our prolific tree, and a huge dollop of not-too-sweet sweet sunflower honey from a beekeeper in Washington State. The evening prior, I packed my old German tank with rakes and baskets and gloves, knowing there was half a joint in the ashtray and snacks in the glove box. Low tide was still a couple hours away, but as usual, my dear travel mate was running behind and I was getting anxious. As I’ve endlessly lectured, sunrise hunts, whether for antiques, pheasant, fish, or clams, need to begin on-time or one returns home empty-handed.
As we finally began our drive to the coast, the fingers of fog began pulling back their thick wet blanket, draped overnight onto the green Sonoma hills. A peaceful Tomales Bay eventually revealed itself, stippled with exposed mudflats and only the occasional flapping of a goose’s wings breaking the early morning silence.
Grabbing a rake, I shimmied down the embankment, which was covered in fat, succulent ice plants blooming neon pink. My old Danner hunting boots proved useful in navigating the rocky beach, although their camouflage design was lost on the bi-valves buried deep below my feet. The clams felt every one of my lumbering steps and most managed to dig themselves deeper and faster than my inadequate rake could give chase. I unearthed only four baby clams and had broken a sweat doing so. I even managed to pull a stomach muscle, as clearly they’ve become unused to having to forage for food further than the plate in front of them. Knowing Manila clams take three years to reach an adequate size, I carefully buried the four, tiny bi-valves back into the muck and scrambled up to the car to have a smoke and contemplate next moves.
I recalled Hog Island Oyster Company, a short drive up the coast, opened at 9am for those seeking a high protein breakfast or to fill a cooler with their briny trophies for later feasting. They also raise precious Manila clams from seed and it was there I scored two, beautiful pounds.
And they didn’t even ask to see my fishing license.
Late afternoon found the clams soaking in lightly salted water sprinkled with a bit of oatmeal, removing sand and grit. Their warm bath awaited, perfuming the house: flowering cilantro, fresh ginger, fish sauce, garlic, a whole cayenne, an oxidized bottle of Loire Sauvignon Blanc, and tender sorrel leaves. Crusty hunks of Della Fattoria ciabatta were grilled until just charred and rubbed with spicy green garlic bulbs. I pulled the cork on a 1999 Prager Chardonnay Weissenkirchen Smaragd from Austria; the edges rounded from age and its minerality mirroring that of the clams’.
We lit the candles and dunked the bread and refilled our glasses, saving the tiny clams for last, like children hoarding M&M’s.