Rum, chowder, and Otis Redding: could a Saturday afternoon on the waterfront get any better? It was the first of what we hope will be an annual event, Litquake’s Words on the Waves, presenting a walkabout of eight readings presented on a cluster of Sausalito houseboats, followed by an open-air concert, cocktails, tasty eats, and tango dancing on the sunny South 40 Pier.
Originally, said Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, a writer and one of the event’s organizers, the idea had been to feature food as well as spoken words on each of the eight houseboat sites. After all, we love books and writers here almost as much as we love our sea-salt caramels. But trying to put writers, houseboat owners, and cooks together proved a little too challenging for the event’s first time out, and so food and drinks became part of the pierside party after the readings.
As the sun danced between teasing ribbons of fog and longtime musician and houseboat dweller Joe Tate strummed his guitar and spun yarns about Otis Redding (yes, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” was written here), houseboat dwellers Amy Butcher and organizer Hillair Bell squeezed limes into plastic cups of Anchor Out cocktails, created just for the event. Like a mojito without the mint, the drinks had a strong dark-rum base (what else for a crowd of literary pirates?) sweetened with ginger and kaffir-lime syrup, tarted up with lime juice and fizzed with club soda.
Behind me, landlubbers and pirates alike slurp down Walker Creek oysters from Washington, adroitly shucked by Martin Reed, Captain of I Love Blue Sea, an online fish company for chefs and consumers. A Bay Area local, Reed moved to Arizona to work as a management consultant, and realized that the rest of the country had nothing like the Bay Area’s abundance of fresh-off-the-boat, sustainable seafood. So, a little over a year ago, he started I Love Blue Sea, buying his products directly from fishermen and abiding by the guidelines set forth by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Reed’s favorite seafood items right now? Besides this batch of briny, ocean-splashed Walker Creeks, he favors Kumamoto and Kusshi oysters, plus local albacore, black cod, and halibut. And not that we’re lacking places to get great fish around here, but locals who order online can skip the shipping charges and pick up their fish at Radius Cafe at 7th and Folsom in Soma.
Prefer wine to rum? Maria Finn, houseboat dweller, author, and Words on the Waves organizer introduced me to Emily and Jay Kell of Verge Wine Cellars, pouring their 2007 Verge Syrah, made from organic grapes sourced in the Dry Creek Valley. Why Verge? Because they look for grapes grown “on the verge,” with room for nature to run wild. When it turns out that the Kells hail from Arkansas, where I spent some very enjoyable months living and cooking at the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, well, we could chat all day about life in the Ozarks. Only the scent of chowder inspired by Melville can lure me away.
And it’s good chowder, too, cod and clam, with milk, potatoes, bacon, bay leaves, perhaps even a little chicken stock in among the seafood–altogether more complex that the simple clam-or-cod soup served up by Mrs. Hussey of the Try Pots Tavern in Melville’s classic tome, Moby Dick. This one has been made by David Jones of Davy Jones’ Deli, a popular sandwich-and-more joint that operates at the back of the Bait Shop, a nearby convenience store. A little over a year ago, Jones convinced the shop’s owner to ditch his microwaved hot dogs and Costco potato salad for handmade, colorful sandwiches stacked high with local, organic ingredients. “We’re known for our beef brisket, our pulled pork, and our vegan wraps, all with housemade condiments, including our secret-recipe vegan aioli,” says Jones. Once a sea and safari cook who taught environmental science on ships, Jones spied a book about Sausalito’s houseboats, and, as he puts it, “For the first time I felt geographic envy. I said to myself, there I could be a landlubber.” He and his wife now live in one of the houseboats he once envied, running the deli and catering special events. His day to day clientele? “Gangsters, yoga moms, and the uber-rich, all rolled into one,” he says.
Sounds like a novel right there.