A waning summer’s waist-high tide and slowly setting sun framed the French girl’s legs flailing in the air — her body upside down, bikini bottom visible through the surface of the pristine and brackish waters of Vineyard Haven. Time and again with eyes closed and breath held, one of our daughters’ numerous visiting and vacationing friends excitedly foraged in the mucky sand with bare hands — regularly bursting upright, hand thrust in the air clutching a quahog and shouting to the rest of us, “I have won!” With an accent that we could all enjoy forever, she was probably exclaiming: “I have one!” Either way, triumphant.
My brother, having recently fled NYC to become a Martha’s Vineyard transplant and part-time, shellfish-permitted clam whisperer, guided seven of us from our large holiday household to his secret sweet spot, where that first day’s haul would set the stage for what we playfully dubbed “Clam Week 2020,” every day inspired by sunshine, friendship, escape, nature and, of course, the low-cost (free!) component of feeding so many, with half being unemployed and managing uncertainty.
We had hit the road a day earlier in an attempt to put this world’s growing struggles in our rearview for at least “a minute.” We committed to letting go: the unknown, the anger and dissension, and endless, gnawing noise. We came together from other “faraway” places such as England, Brooklyn, West Concord and Nashua. It wasn’t long before the first rule of our vacation was proposed: “No COVID talk.” Amendments were added along the way: “No politics” (thankfully!), and then, oddly, zucchini made the list. For the record, there was a lot of squash on hand. “Enough with the zucchini already.”
When the first edict was proposed by my middle daughter, it sounded like a great idea, though ultimately it proved a challenge. How could we avoid recognizing that the beautiful farmhouse we found at a greatly reduced price only a month in advance was available because the previous renters-to-be canceled due to … that thing I can’t talk about. Or, furthermore, that we discovered this opportunity because the house we had originally secured months ago, pre C-word, was suddenly canceled by the lessor due to same-same. “We’re so sorry.” The story continues. …
Our regularly scheduled vacation housemates reside in infected Florida with a new baby. In canceling their own vacation, space was created for others to join and, in fact, all of our group’s ultimate availability was made possible thanks to you-know-what, including one who was a mere four days from his actual Broadway debut before the lights went out.
It has been more than 14 years since all three of our incredible daughters were living locally at once. They are currently working for our restaurants at a time when it could not be more “lifesaving.” This improbable, unintended consequence became a huge reason we moved forward — a rare all-in family vacation born of outrageous times.
Grateful for each day, and also for that freshly brewed pot of coffee, we shuffled one by one into each morning’s kitchen, where soon began the daily banter of which beach we would visit, and then, inevitably, the plan for dinner! As restaurant owners and passionate supporters of those in our industry, it felt wrong that these frequent conversations all but ignored our favorite places to eat — annual traditions falling by the wayside as most were offering “takeout only,” if they were even open. Alas, Clam Week 2020 raged on, tucked away on a hilltop with a house full of food enthusiasts. We further foraged an abundance of wild raspberries on the property, for fresh-baked clafouti or a simple syrup, complementing daily menus with herbs from the huge garden and by supporting local fishermen and farmers. Each day culminated in the communal kitchen — our rotating gourmands directing the picking, shucking, chopping and mixing. “I’ve got the mignonette,” “I’ll bake some bread,” and “Who can whip up a roux?” — most meals beginning with super-fresh chilled clams on the half shell!
Did you know that mollusks (hard- and soft-shell clams, oysters, etc.) can be frozen whole and taken out of the freezer to be consumed at a later time? The stuffed ones, too! Or that yesterday’s leftover clam chowder — either the bacon or the caramelized garden fennel-base versions — can be reduced as a seafood cream sauce for a white clam pizza on freshly made dough? On and on it went, great collaborations, conversations, love and laughter.
As our vacation sadly came to an end, and with some time to kill before our ferry home, I suggested we stop for lunch. “How about fried clams?” Garnering no such support, we boarded an earlier boat and armed ourselves with a Dunkin’ iced coffee — rested and ready for our return to battle.
Scott Plath, along with his wife Kathleen, owns Cobblestones of Lowell, moonstones, in Chelmsford, Mass., and Stones Social in Nashua, New Hampshire. Scott possesses a deep well of humorous and insightful stories, which are available here >>>