Tuesday, September 9, 2014


I never used to like oysters on the half shell -- I think they are definitely a required taste that comes as we age and our palates mature (wow, could I sound more pretentious?). My dad attends the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival every year and has for what must be decades now. It is a swell time, full of delicious Cajun and Creole food and, of course, really fantastic music. When I was younger he'd always come home talking about what a blast he'd had. During my pre-teens and early teenage years I used to beg him to take me with him, always to be denied. Finally, I was promised that I could go when I was 16 -- or earlier, if and only if I ate a raw oyster first. I guess this was somehow dad's test that I was "ready" for New Orleans and all it had to offer. Dad loves oysters and I used to be so grossed out by them when he'd order some. So one evening during my fifteenth year, we're out to eat, just the two of us, and he orders oysters. I decide that this is my moment -- I just need to get one down and this could be the year I get to go to Fest! I bring the shell to my lips, tip the oyster into my mouth, give it a chomp as instructed by dad, and proceed to gag and spit it out. I couldn't do it, and I really, really tried. When I finally did get to go to New Orleans the next year, I tried frog's legs, alligator sausage, and had duck for the first time -- but no oysters.

That moment stayed with me for a long time and it was many years before I finally ate a raw oyster. And honestly, I couldn't even tell you when that finally happened. Sometime in the last few years, I'm sure. I must have been at dinner with friends who ordered oysters and gamely participated, having finally recovered from my traumatic oyster experience over a decade ago. And you know what? It was pretty good. Since then I have had oysters on the half shell countless times, and started to figure out what I like, which sauces and accouterments I enjoy, and so on. On my dad's most recent trip to California, we ordered some oysters as an appetizer, and he commented on how strange it was to see my finally eating them. It is hard not to when one lives in the Bay Area, surrounded by such awesome fresh seafood all the time.

Speaking of which, a new raw bar just opened up the street from me -- Jack's Oyster Bar and Fish House. I haven't been yet, but look forward to it now that it is officially "oyster season" (typically, months that end in 'r') -- chowder and a raw bar? Heck yeah!

And on that note, I leave you with this:

The Walrus and The Carpenter
By Lewis Carroll
(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

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