How to Choose Your Fishmonger

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Disclaimer:  I grew up inland.  Utah and the surrounding area aren't exactly fish country, unless you have the funding to buy a pole and license and do it yourself.  My grandfather despised fish for that exact reason.  Every now and then I remember my grandmother buying vague cuts of whitefish at the counter at Albertson's (do all Albertson's smell vaguely like old fish?).  It got breaded, fried, and then served with mashed potatoes and gravy, so that my grandfather could pretend it was not fish. 

Up until recently, the time I did spend in coastal areas was with the Big Store mentality, i.e. go to Costco and buy a giant bag of flash-frozen pre-cut identical fillets that were farmed in Southeast Asia.  Nothing wrong with buying frozen fish.  Especially if you happen to be inland or don't cook often enough to go through a fish.  However, there are some scary issues cropping up with farmed fish, especially the stuff from Asia, so choose wisely.

The past couple of years, though, I've been learning about how fish used to be done, when fish meant going to your local fishmonger.  I can thank my husband for this:  he spent two years in Japan, and got used to some insanely good fish.  That meant that the first time we walked into the little Asian market in Japantown, San Francisco, I stood there and stared at the fish counter.  No fish smell.  None. Zero.  It smelled like ocean water in there.  Fish doesn't have to smell like fish?!

The rules:

1)  Fish should not smell like fish! 

If your fish smells like fish, it's old. Nothing you do will improve it.  Whole fish should have bright eyes (not sunken or dull), shiny scales without patchy or discolored places, bright red gills, and smell like the ocean. Fillets should also smell fresh, with no cloudy liquid.  Also, smaller and/or lower on the food chain contains less mercury:  skipjack tuna versus Albacore, for example.

2) It's almost always easier to buy sustainable seafood locally.  Organic doesn't mean much in terms of seafood (since wild-caught is healthier and more sustainable), but Marine Stewardship Council certified does.  You can also check out the great Seafood Watch program from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

3) Find a fishmonger or local seafood market.  A real one, not a guy at the meat counter at the grocery store.  Obviously, this is harder to do these days, and it can take some hunting.  Go in (smell the air!), strike up a conversation.  Ask what's fresh that morning, how it was caught, what's in season.  Like most small farmers, bakers, beekeepers and anyone who loves their craft enough to stay small, a good fishmonger will be chatty and enthusiastic if you come in with a friendly and curious attitude. 

Looking for fresh fish in the Bay Area?  Here are some options I'm going to be trying soon (if I'm missing a good one, leave me a comment!).

San Francisco Fish Company

Right off the docks at pillar point in Half Moon Bay. I hear that the Harbormaster suggests calling at around 9am the day you're going to be there to see what's available.  Fishfone 650-726-8724.

Mission Market Fish and Poultry

Cook's Seafood in Menlo Park

Race Street Fish and Poultry Market, San Jose

Many Bay Area farmer's markets also have fish stands...all rules apply!  Good fishing!

Felicia Day Goes to Clockwork Couture

This morning on The Flog, Felicia Day did a Steampunk photo shoot.  Between her and Clockwork Couture's beautiful things (so much fabric envy right now), it was a must share.  

Who is Felicia Day, you ask?

Codex on The Guild.

Previously, the love interest Penny on Joss Whedon's creation, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

Obviously, geeky will regret it if you don't take a look!

St. Walburga's Day

From the blog Logismoi. Full article there discusses Walpurgisnacht and Dracula mythos.

Happy May Day!  I've found something new this year...I've often heard the term Walpurgisnacht used to describe the night before May's traditionally a time in Northern and Central Europe (most often it would seem in Germany, Norway, Estonia and Latvia) when big bonfires are held, and parties thrown.  Most of these traditions date back to the Europe's witch hunt era, and the feel is often similar to Halloween--a date six months later.  In Bavaria it's know as Freinacht, and pranks are played as well. 

Saint Walburga traveled from England to Germany to proselyte sometime around the year 748 A.D, and became a very powerful and influential Abbess.  She was known for healing, and even after her death was said to have a healing "oil" rise from her grave(the reason for the flask she is often shown carrying). 
Oldest known image of Walpurga, from the Hitda Codex.

In addition to the flask, she is sometimes shown with a book to represent her writings, as well as heads of grain.  The story often goes that she fed a starving child using only three heads of grain, however this tale seems to be a later addition.  There is some fascinating evidence that the Saint became a stand-in for an older Germanic grain goddess, taking on the role of "protectress of crops"

This is the point where it gets complicated, though, since the older goddess is often only referred to as Walpurga.  She is often linked to the Wild Hunt in this form;

"Nine nights before the first of May is Walburga in flight, unceasingly chased by wild ghosts and seeking a hiding place from village to village. People leave their windows open so she can be safe behind the cross-shaped windowpane struts from her roaring enemies. For this, she lays a little gold piece on the windowsill, and flees further. A farmer who saw her on her flight through the woods described her as a white lady with long flowing hair, a crown upon her head; her shoes were fiery gold, and in her hands she carried a three-cornered mirror that showed all the future, and a spindle, as does Berchta. A troop of white riders exerted themselves to capture her. So also another farmer saw her, whom she begged to hide her in a shock of grain. No sooner was she hidden than the riders rushed by overhead. The next morning the farmer found grains of gold instead of rye in his grain stook. Therefore, the saint is portrayed with a bundle of grain." (Rochholz,Drei Gaugtinen (Three Local Goddesses), 1870, p. 26-27)

For more such quotes, linked to a pagan perspective, this article on Frigga's Web is excellent.     Many Asatru and similar groups now honor Walpurga because of this mixed history.  For more about May Day celebrations, and traditions such as maypoles, the may queen, and the U.K. tradition of Morris Dancers, go here.