I dip my paddle and pause in the late morning stillness. A hundred feet away a head emerges, dog-like and sleek, counterpoint to the barely rippled water. Moments later, as if by magic, another head appears. Two sets of dark mud-puddle eyes look at me for a few seconds and then, as quietly and mysteriously as the two heads appear, they slip back beneath the water’s surface and disappear.
We left on the falling tide, eager to catch the current. Out on the boat ramp, a family unloaded their tiny power boat piled high with crab pots: wire boxes fitted with bright object to lure the spidery crustaceans. An old woman fairly screamed at a younger man who was – at least according to her – doing it all wrong. With laconic resolve, he continued in his way and before long their boat was seabound. We put in the kayaks and were off and alone, just us and the seagulls screaming on the distant sandy shore even louder than that old woman.
After lunch on the sunny green stretch of lawn to leeward of the lighthouse, we headed back down the bay, hugging the coast. The sea was calm, flat and glassy with just a whisper of a breeze. The only sounds were the splash of an oar, the cry of an indignant bird, the faint motor of a biplane doing aerial stunts in the far off sky.
And then another dog-like head broke the water, looked around, dipped back down. And another, and another: each head wet and bewhiskered. We had slipped in amongst a pod of harbor seals, numbering at best guess 200, with 15 or 20 animals in turn rising to check out our strange boats at any one time and then just as quietly dipping back below the surface.
We hardly dared to breathe.
As we floated along, we could hear faint crying sounds, as if the seals were talking to each other about us. In their way, the seals were as curious as we were about them.
Back at the campsite, we pulled on jackets against the chill and fired up Coleman stoves. While we munched on crackers and truffle cheese (my son’s absolute favorite), we cooked an excellent meal that combined the essences of the day: the sea, the shore and the chance of the unexpected adventure.
It all comes together right here.
Dungeness Thai Curry Pasta
Serves 4 to 6, depending on appetite
For best results, let seafood sit in curry sauce for 2 hours or as long as overnight
8 ounces Dungeness crab meat (or a 1¾ crab, cleaned and picked)
8 ounces large cooked prawns
1 – 13.5 ounce can of lite coconut milk
1½” piece ginger root
2 large jalapeño peppers
1 bunch (6 pcs.) green onions
1 large lime
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 pound medium shell pasta
Water for boiling
Prepare seafood: Pick crab meat over to be sure there are no shells, and put aside a few choice pieces of leg meat to grace your final presentation. Pull the tail shells off of the shrimp. If cleaning your own crab, select a fresh crab between 1¾ and 2 pounds that has a stiff shell. Reject any crab that has a ‘plastic’ feel when you squeeze the legs.
Make the curry sauce: Shake the can of lite coconut milk; open it and pour into a quart-sized container.
Peel and grate 1½” of ginger root. Remove tops, seeds and membranes from 2 large jalapeño peppers and finely slice remaining pepper. Chop the bottom 6” of a bunch of green onions. Grate the zest (outer 1/16” of the green skin) of a large lime.
Add these ingredients plus the salt, Balsamic vinegar and brown sugar to the coconut milk, and whisk together. Reserve the rest of the lime for later.
Marinate the seafood: Pour the curry sauce over the seafood and set aside to marinate for 2 hours or more.
Separate the sauce and seafood: After marinating, separate the seafood from the coconut milk sauce. Either by squeezing or straining, you should end up with nearly 2 cups of sauce, with a bit over a pound of seafood, ginger, onion and pepper remaining.
Cook the pasta: Boil at least 2 quarts of water, and cook shell pasta for a minute less than instructions (about 8 minutes). Drain and set aside.
Heat the sauce: Meanwhile, bring a 12” sauté or frying pan to medium heat, add the coconut milk sauce, and take to a rolling boil.
Drain and divide pasta: When the pasta is cooked, drain well and divide among 4 bowls. Pour the hot coconut milk sauce evenly over the pasta.
Finish the seafood: Bring the pan back to temperature and toss in the seafood. Turn burner up to near high, heat the seafood as quickly as you can and then divide equally among the bowls. Finish with any seafood you have held back for presentation. Squeeze lime juice over the dishes.
Serve hot with fresh bread, and pass around any stories you might have about seals, their deep dark eyes, and the ways they communicate. In case you might need to know, Captain Vancouver plied these waters in the late 18th century, and even then recorded strange vibes.
We’re really not alone, after all!
Curry Note: You may find it strange to hear this called a ‘curry sauce’, because there are no dried spices involved. According to Tom Stobart, however, the whole idea of a curry is in the process of melding flavors in the cooking – not, as so many Americans assume – in the spicing.