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Yellow perch are the first panfish of the emerging spring season

My rod tip was arced over so hard that the tip entered the water off to the side of the skiff. The drag on the tiny spin reel was groaning as it released a few yards of four-pound-test mono into the current and an unseen fish made its best effort at an escape. I pushed my slender stick up high to avoid fouling the line on the brush tips poking out of the water where the fish was heading.
    The water boiled as the fish neared the surface at the far shore. A glint of gold flashed against the morning rays of the sun. Bingo, just what I was hoping for. A yellow perch was on my line. Then another broach and a pair of flashes. Bonus: Two yellow perch were on my rig.
    Yellow perch are closer to gold or brass than yellow. They are also known as ring perch, neds or yellow neds. No one I have ever spoken to has an explanation for the ned part of the name. The ring aspect is due to six to eight, vertical, bright-olive stripes along the flanks of the delicious fish that give it the appearance of being ringed. In other parts of the country it is known as the raccoon perch, the lake perch, the American perch and the ringtail.
    Whatever you call it, the fish is the first panfish of the emerging spring season. It was once significantly more numerous than today and far more popular with anglers. But the Bay population has suffered over the years from commercial overfishing and the silt and lawn chemicals released from residential and commercial developments around the headwaters where they spawn. Of late, their numbers have been recovering due to Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ efforts at restricting commercial harvest so that our 300,000 recreational anglers could be apportioned half shares with the three-dozen or so netters that continue to harvest them.
    In February, yellow perch begin ascending the Bay tributaries, seeking to spawn in the freshwater sources where they were born. They feed on worms, insects, larvae, grass shrimp, minnows and other small fish and live in the more brackish waters of the Chesapeake during most of their life.
    This fish has a unique spawning characteristic. It releases its eggs encased in a long accordion-like membrane designed to hang up on rocks, brush or any stream structure that ensures the roe do not settle to the bottom. If the egg sacks do not remain suspended, they are far more likely to become covered with the silt and chemical residue that washes into the streams in the spring rains and much less likely to hatch out.
    The traditional angling method for ring perch is a light spin rod armed with a shad dart or two suspended under a casting bobber and tipped with grass shrimp, worms or small minnows. Four-pound test mono is just right for the task, but an angler can get away with up to eight-pound in a pinch.
    Fish the first of the flood around the shores of the headwaters or the last of the ebb at the deeper holes. Or fish whenever you can as the runs of perch during the spawning season are unpredictable.
    There is a nine-inch minimum size limit with a possession limit of 10. The citation size is 14 inches, and the state record is two pounds three ounces for tidal areas and three pounds five ounces for non-tidal.
    Scaling, eviscerating and beheading the fish will result in the tastiest preparation, but filleting the fish makes the end result boneless. Baking, broiling or breading and frying all result in a great meal. The traditional approach is a crispy coating and hot peanut-oil frying.
    The results are all the same: a delicious treat made all the more tasty because it’s the first fish dinner of the coming spring season.

Now show us where Bay Weekly takes you

We haven’t had such fun with squirrels since the days of the great Bill Burton. The dean of Maryland outdoor writers, Burton chronicled his battles of wits with bushy tails, as he called them. He patterned his story-telling on the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies formula. Despite the contraption he installed to deter them, he’d usually come out the loser while his squirrels got fatter, smarter and happier.
    The game has changed. Since Dennis Doyle’s Sporting Life column of January 12, much of Chesapeake Country has been playing Where’s the Black Squirrel. Everywhere seems to be the answer.
    You’ve recorded sightings in Pasadena, Gambrills, Arnold, downtown Annapolis, West Annapolis, Eastport, Edgewater, Mayo, Galesville, Tracys Landing, Dunkirk, Lusby and St. Mary’s County. Plus D.C., Landover Hills, Cheverly, Kensington, Montgomery County and beyond.
    It’s getting so a person can’t go anywhere without seeing a black squirrel.
    Not to be outdone, the white squirrel has also joined the game. We’ve had reports from near and far, including Washington, D.C., Olney, IL, Brevard, NC, Marionville, MO, and Kenton, TN.
    White squirrels, at the risk of turning Queenstown into a tourist haunt, abound through the town, writes correspondent William Hopkins from Annapolis. There is even one on the town Crest of Arms seen in the town hall at the traffic circle.
    I have seen five to six at a time, mixed broods (both white and brown females with mixed-color babies, but never a pied in brown or black and white.
    I’ve enjoyed Where’s the Squirrel as much as you have for I love seeing Chesapeake Country — and the wider world — through your eyes.
    Now I’m hoping you’ll expand your range.
    Besides squirrel hunting, would you show me where else Bay Weekly takes you? As we’ve seen, smart phones make it so easy.
    I’d like to see you picking up Bay Weekly — and shopping in the stores where you get your Bay Weekly. Our hundreds of distribution partners give Bay Weekly free space. In return, you’d help us show them that Bay Weekly readers are their customers, too.
    I’d like to see you enjoying events you learned about in Bay Weekly. Hold up your paper and snap a shot while you’re visiting Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater to hear Bert Drake talk about climate change. Catching the Ruth Starr Rose art exhibits at Mitchell Gallery or Banneker Douglass Museum in Annapolis. Joining the crowd in Bay History Museum in North Beach to hear Chesapeake Country writer Mick Blackistone talk about his book Just Passing Through.
    I’d especially like to see you, Bay Weekly in hand, doing business with the advertisers whose support keeps us publishing week after week. Show me your picture enjoying the music at Pirates Cove in Galesville, The Old Stein in Edgewater or Anthony’s in Dunkirk. Carrying out your lunch at Bowen’s Grocery in Huntingtown. Shopping for historic treasures at Second Wind Consignments or Vintage Stew in Deale and Then and Again Antiques in Annapolis. For whimsical reuses at The Shops at Ogden’s Common in Port Republic. Browsing Turn Around Consignments, also in Deale. Buying new tires at Granados Automotive Center.
    You get the idea.
    I’d love it, and so would our advertisers.
    Send me your pictures. On Facebook and in our pages, we’ll show the world how Bay Weekly brings us together in Chesapeake Country.
    I’m waiting to see you.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Wick’s one-man killing spree goes international in this fantastic action flick

Former mob enforcer John Wick (Keanu Reeves: The Neon Demon) declared war on the New York branch of the Russian mob after a mobster’s punk son killed his dog and stole his car. After wiping out a large percentage of the population of New York, John Wick returned home to retire from the blood and guts business for good.
    That didn’t work out.
    He’s no sooner home than another shadowy underworld figure comes calling. Santino ­D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio: Dalida) holds Wick’s marker, a blood promise to perform a task. If Wick refuses, a price will be put on his head. If he accepts and kills the head of the Italian mob, a price will be put on his head.
    Stuck in an impossible situation, Wick does what he does best: kill every person he comes across. His blood-soaked journey takes him from the catacombs of Rome to the subways of New York.
    This sequel has as much action-packed swagger as the original and twice as many headshots. It’s pure chest-heaving, popcorn-eating adrenaline. Second-time Wick director Chad Stahelski is a former stuntman who understands how to stage and shoot gonzo sequences. The film opens on a brutal fight involving guns, cars and knives. Pacing is frenetic, but the fight is shot in a way that builds tension while showing what’s going on. Often, action movies throw explosions and clashing metal together in a murky blend of sound and fury. When you watch Wick, you’ll know precisely where every punch lands and probably be as breathless as Wick when the fight is over.
    In his second outing, Stahelski stretches a bit as a storyteller with some tremendous results. Cinematography is a little more artistic. Dramatic sequences between fights are a little smoother, and the shadowy underworld that revolves around Wick is expanded. The crime world and rules that govern its mayhem are fascinating. Stahelski leaves plenty of room and interesting stories for a sequel.
    The film also offers Keanu Reeves his best outlet yet for his talents. Wick’s wry aloofness covers Reeves’ occasionally wooden delivery. He seems to have found his niche snarling at baddies before kicking them in the gut and shooting them in the head.
    John Wick: Chapter 2 isn’t layered; it’s a cacophony of bullets and blows made for buckets of popcorn, cheering audiences and a big screen. If you’re a fan of great action with a clever but uncomplicated premise, John Wick: Chapter 2 is the bull’s eye.

Great Action • R • 122 mins.

Now’s the time to get it right

Step 1 to a productive garden is getting the location right. Plants perform best in full sun and well-drained soil. You can improve other aspects of a garden, but there is no substitute for full sun and a soil that drains properly.
    Next, prepare a soil test. Your soil may do fine for grass and weeds, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for gardening. The pH, nutrient concentration and organic matter in soils are important and can be improved.
    Follow the instructions at A&L Eastern Laboratories of Virginia: www.al-labs-eastern.com. Expect results by mail within five working days. Replies by email take even less time. Add my email to the form — DR.FRGouin@gmail.com — for personal recommendations from the Bay Gardener based on the results.
    Plan for proper irrigation. I am a big supporter of trickle irrigation because it irrigates the plants with 80 percent less water than overhead methods. Since the water is placed just within the root zone of the plants, it is not irrigating the weeds between the rows. Plant foliage also remains dry, reducing the spread of diseases that can occur when plants are irrigated from overhead.
    Vegetable gardens should receive one inch of water per week. Allow a trickle system to run for four to five hours with four to five pounds of pressure in the irrigation line. When irrigating with sprinklers, place a tuna fish can on the soil in the middle of the irrigation area. When the can is full, you have applied one acre-inch of water.

Plant Spacing

Tomatoes: 21⁄2-3 feet

Peppers: 2+ feet

Okra: 18 inches

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower: 12 to 18 inches

Corn 6-8 inches

Lettuce: 6 inches

Bush beans and peas: 2 inches

Root crops such as carrots, beets and parsnips: 1⁄2 inch
-1 inch, thinned to 2-21⁄2 when seedlings reach 2 inches

    Buy a hoe and keep it sharp to stop weeds in their tracks. Cultivation should be shallow so as not to damage roots of crops or to expose dormant weed seeds. Garden soils are loaded with weed seeds accumulated from previous years. Most weed seeds can survive for years; exposure to even a few seconds of sunlight stimulates them to germinate. Thus the less you disturb the soil, the better.
    Simply scraping the hoe on the soil surface to separate the top of the weeds from their roots is all it takes, unless you have waited until the weeds are knee-high.
    Plan for adequate spacing. Annual plants grow rapidly. If they are crowded, the plants will spend most of their energy competing for light, water and nutrients and less energy in producing a crop.
    Plan your planting by the sun’s course. If your garden rows run east to west, plant lower-growing crops on the south side of taller-growing species. In other words, plant the green beans on the south side of the corn or tomatoes and the lettuce on the south side of the green beans. If the crop rows run north to south, it does not matter how you arrange the crops because the sun travels from east to west, resulting in uniform lighting of all plants.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Alex Perez knows how to reel them in

There is an old axiom in fishing that is as true today as when it was first coined, probably centuries ago: Ten percent of the anglers catch 90 percent of the fish. Those words came to mind as I canvassed local fishermen.
    Few anglers have caught consistently over the past month, but some who did reported not just a fish or two but exceptional catches. They also had the pictures to prove it. Among the notables is Alex Gallardo Perez, an accomplished Chesapeake Bay angler at just 22 years old.
    Beginning at the age of five at his birthplace in Wilmington, North Carolina, Alex was schooled in the angling arts by his dad, Candelario. Alex angled extensively for redfish, seatrout and flounder along the Atlantic seaside, but his first fishing memories are of Acapulco, Mexico, his father’s birthplace, where he and his family vacationed summers.
    Surf-fishing the Pacific with a light eight-foot rod, young Alex tangled with ocean panfish, snook and roosterfish on almost every trip. His first trophy fish was a 150-pound yellowfin tuna hooked off of Acapulco when he was a boy of nine. He fought the fish to boatside by himself, but his dad and uncle had to help him get the beast into the boat. Alex has been an almost fanatical angler ever since.
    After the family moved to the Annapolis area about 14 years ago as his dad expanded his construction business, Alex began to pursue rockfish (best so far, 43 inches), white perch (a 13-plus-incher), yellow perch (15 inches and over two pounds) and largemouth bass (seven pounds). His biggest catch to date is a sand tiger shark of about 111⁄2 feet and 400 pounds, caught and released two years ago in Ocean City.
    These days Alex fishes almost exclusively from his 12-foot Hobie Outback kayak, as it gives him excellent access to most Chesapeake waters as well as enabling him to fish well up in the tributaries and launch just about anywhere he can see water.
    Alex lure-fishes for all the Bay species, casting and trolling crank baits and spinner baits as well as jig fishing and, occasionally, live bait. He also competes in freshwater bass kayak tournaments with the Mid-Atlantic Kayak Bass Fishing Series. His first full season, just last year, Alex won the Rookie of the Year award.
    He attributes his success to consistency and determination, fishing from morning till dark on his free days and even before and after work at Anglers Sports Center in Annapolis. He explores the waters thoroughly, often finding concentrations of fish overlooked by more experienced anglers.
    “People get used to fishing the same areas the same ways and forget that fish can change their habits from year to year and begin showing up where they once didn’t frequent,” he says. “An angler has to remain flexible and innovative and never take anything for granted.”

Peter Pan’s fantastical origins — with crackling one-liners, slapstick staging, flatulence and actors in drag

“If you like your Peter Pan with crackling one-liners, slapstick staging, actors in drag and flatulence, then Peter and the Starcatcher is for you. The one-liners are no surprise, since the children’s book on which this 2012 Broadway Tony-winner was based was co-written by humor columnist Dave Barry. What is a surprise is that the broad humor of this production works well, even though the story is a prequel to the angst-filled Peter Pan we all know and grew up with. That’s a testament to the fine cast that 2nd Star Productions and director Mary Wakefield have assembled.
    The Broadway production featured adults playing the kids’ roles. 2nd Star has a dozen age-appropriate actors, with most playing many roles in this nicely paced and cleverly staged version. It’s all convolution and fun, providing a clever telling of how Peter Pan came to be, from the dark — quite literally — first act at sea to the bright second act on an island where the characters’ ties to Peter Pan unfold.
    As Molly, the intelligent and courageous 13-year-old girl set adrift in 1885 on the rickety ship Neverland, Kelsey Meiklejohn anchors the production with an authority that belies her age. She commands the stage with a physicality and vocal power that keep things moving apace. The well-traveled, precocious Molly is aboard with her nanny (a witty yet nicely underplayed Zach Roth). When she spots one of three nameless orphan boys sold to a seaman, we begin to see the future story take hold.
    As the boy soon to be named Peter, Michael Bannigan is also compelling, bringing us the angst of a young Peter whose mistreatment by grownups leads him to never want to … well, you know. Molly’s mother, Lady Aster, is a very effective Jeanne Louise. Steven Kirkpatrick gives us the wildly clumsy yet funny pirate Black Stache, the precursor to you-know-who in the future Pan story.
    The real stars here are the ensemble, who do everything the less-is-more script calls for, from holding up rope as a door to carrying two model boats that illustrate the pirate ships in the story, to wearing yellow dishwashing gloves to indicate birds. At one point we watch Molly fly, and while we can see the two cast members acting as a lever, we don’t care because it works. It’s all highly synchronized with nary a glitch to be seen, which in turn keeps the humor coming and the story moving.
    This is not a musical in the traditional sense of the word, but there are songs, and they are very nicely delivered. At one point the cast gives us just a glimpse of a beautiful choral number that leaves us wanting more. That’s where the intelligence of this show lies: It keeps moving.
    So, bring the kids? Sure, if they’re, say eight or nine or older. What kid doesn’t like Peter Pan — or a fart joke?


Costumes: Mary Wakefield. Set design: Jane Wingard. Music design: Patrick Hughes.
 
About 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission. Thru Feb. 24: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, plus Feb. 25 3pm, Bowie Playhouse, Whitemarsh Park, $22 w/discounts, rsvp: www.2ndstarproductions.com.

See a lost world; meet an Admiral; dig your Roots in Haley style

How much do any of us know of our history? Keeping up with the propulsion of the present is hard enough without carrying the baggage of the past. So we tend to leave it behind.
    Black History month makes February a deliberate time for remembering. At Bay Weekly, we use it to try to learn stories that are farther out of history’s spotlight, as history didn’t used to be written in black as well as white. Over the years, the heroes of black history — Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman — have become pretty well known. Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they have celebratory days, books and movies, statues, parks, even U.S. currency named in their honor.
    To find everyday life, you’ve got to dig deeper. But you don’t have to go farther.
    In this week’s paper, St. John’s College art educator Lucinda Edinberg introduces us to Mitchell Gallery’s current exhibition, Ruth Starr Rose: Revelations of African American Life. In it, you’ll be see a culture as richly portrayed as Tahitians in Paul Gauguin’s paintings and American Indians in the paintings of George Catlin. You’ll see in full vitality what Eastern Shore African American life looked like a century ago.    
    Like Gauguin and Catlin, painter Ruth Starr Rose opened a window into a world that would otherwise have been lost. Like them, she stood outside the culture she portrayed. Ruth Starr Rose was white, a woman and an assimilated rather than native Marylander. Perhaps her difference gave her an unprejudiced view. Certainly it opened up a dialogue still elusive today — black to white, white to black.
    I listened in on some of that dialogue at both Mitchell Gallery and across town at Banneker Douglass Museum, where another Ruth Starr Rose exhibit gives a second take on her work.
    At Mitchell Gallery, art historian Barbara Paca told a full house of not-so-young arts supporters how the privileged, upper-class painter of black life in Maryland had fallen out of favor. After Ruth Starr Rose’s death in 1965, she was accused of racism, as if what she painted couldn’t be true or taken seriously. Paca has taken on the job of rehabilitating the artist, including organizing the exhibition you’ll see through this month at Mitchell Gallery.
    I hope you will see it. The images lent to us for this story are shadows of the originals on display.
    At Banneker Douglass Museum, I happened in as outreach coordinator LeRonn Herbert was introducing the artist and a roomful of her paintings, sketches and lithographs to a busload of African American high school students on a field trip. They saw a pair of self-portraits of the white woman artist, as colorfully painted as her black portraits. Perhaps just as strange was African American life of the last century, with trains, chariots and Jeeps leading processions into heaven. Or 20 smiling women picking crabs.
    I’m glad to be able to see these sights. Ruth Starr Rose painted the life force as well as life scenes, putting you in touch with humanity across time and beyond race. Their recognition is timeless.
    But we all know it’s a good thing to be recognized in your own time. For that, this week’s paper reports the story of the newest Admiral of the Chesapeake, Eastern Shore black waterman Eldridge Meredith. Captain Meredith is the 101st Marylander and fifth African American to be so honored.
    “The predominant image of an African American working the Bay is oyster shucking and crab picking,” explains Vincent Leggett, director of Blacks of the Chesapeake Local Legacy Project and himself an Admiral of the Chesapeake. “To be recognized as an admiral, with its rich connotation, is something many people couldn’t wrap their head around.”
    The more we see, the more we understand.
    Learn to understand more of your own history in this issue as well, as Chris Haley, director of the Legacy of Slavery center at the Maryland Archives, gives a lesson in researching family roots.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com

A stirring drama about how little we know the ones we love

Julieta (Emma Suárez: Hazing) is preparing to move to Portugal with her boyfriend when a blast from her past detonates her plans. Julieta runs into Bea (Michelle Jenner: We Need to Talk), her daughter Antía’s (Blanca Parés: Pasión Criminal) former best friend. Bea mentions running into Antía and her children while on vacation.
    The news is devastating to Julieta, who reported Antía missing 12 years ago.
    Julieta falls into obsession trying to work out why her daughter would abandon her with no explanation. As Julieta gets closer to madness, she chronicles the story of her relationship with Antía, searching for clues as to what went wrong. She begins a letter, detailing her past, hoping one day it will heal their rift.
    Based on a collection of short stories by Alice Munro, Julieta is a moody, fascinating drama from Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (I’m So Excited!). Almodóvar specializes in telling women’s stories in movies about women, with predominantly female casts. Julieta is no exception, and Almodóvar takes pains to explore the ways that women relate and care for each other. He spends a lot of the movie exploring themes like grief, shock and love.
    Almodóvar also brings his signature style to the film. Color palates are vivid and camera work elegant. An Almodóvar film is an exploration of artistic film as a medium, each shot composed like a painting.
    Jumping through time allows multiple actresses to play each role. Performances blend seamlessly, creating a story chronicling the evolution of four relationships. As middle-aged Julieta, Suárez is stunning. Her Julieta is a broken woman who pieced her life together after Antía’s disappearance, only to have it disassembled. As young Julieta, Adriana Ugarte (Palm Trees in the Snow) offers a beautiful performance of a woman who can’t quite cope with life after a trauma. The two actresses work together to create a single fluid portrait of a woman battered by life.
    You’ll find a few flaws. The overlying mystery raises more questions than it answers, and Almodóvar never fully delves into the mother-daughter relationship at the center of the film. It’s one of the rare films that may have benefited from an extra half hour. Still, Julieta is well worth the trip to D.C. or Baltimore for a screening.
    A mystery film about how well you know the ones you love, Julieta is a beautiful study on the natures of female relationships.

Good Drama • R • 96 mins. • with subtitles

Cleaner air may be leaving your plants hungry

Billions of dollars have been spent making the air we breathe cleaner. We may be breathing better, but soil tests indicate that gardeners and farmers will have to add sulfur (S) to the list of nutrients that need to be added as a fertilizer.
    One of the major components in polluted air was sulfur dioxide. That airborne sulfur dioxide provided a continuous source of sulfur for good plant growth. We can also blame some of the sulfur deficiencies to the more highly purified fertilizers being applied. Older fertilizers contained sulfur as a contaminant. Now, few high-analysis fertilizers and water-soluble fertilizers contain sulfur. However, low-analysis fertilizers such as 5-10-10 or 10-10-10 are still often blended from nutrient sources contaminated with sulfates.
    In plants, sulfur is very important in the synthesis of amino acids and proteins. Researchers found that the addition of sulfur to deficient soil increased the yield of seed crops such as corn and soybeans by 10 to 20 percent. The addition of sulfur was also beneficial to the growth of cold crops such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. In reviewing soil test results, I have also noticed that sulfur levels in Southern Maryland are dropping.
    If soil test results indicate deficient or low levels of sulfur, it can be applied in various forms: pulverized, wettable, flowable, granulated and iron sulfate. Choose from other forms as your soil test indicates.
    Should your soil need phosphorus, purchase only single-strength super phosphate.
    If your plants need nitrogen, purchase ammonium sulfate.
    If the soil is in need of potassium, purchase potassium sulfate.
    If your soil needs calcium, purchase calcium sulfate.
    If the soil is in need of magnesium, purchase Epsom salts.
    Compost made from organic waste harvested from areas low in sulfur will also be low in sulfur. However, compost made from seafood waste or biosolids will be rich in sulfur. The nutrients in compost are totally dependent on nutrients in the feedstock being composted.
    You do not want to add sulfur if you are growing onions and garlic, as it will increase their sharpness in flavor. To grow mild onions, select a soil that contains nearly deficient levels of sulfur. Vidalia onions — grown only in Vidalia County, Georgia — are mild because their soils contain very low levels of sulfur.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Chesapeake oysters and rockfish

The way to anyone’s heart on Valentine’s Day is through their stomach. That means seafood in our neck of the woods.
    The recreational season for rockfish is closed, but the commercial season is in full swing. Caught in the cold winter waters of the Chesapeake, these stripers will be extra fresh and tasty. Purchase one generous fillet for each guest. The flesh should be firm, never slimy, and have a pleasing smell with a slight sweet edge.
    My favorite appetizers are oysters, well chilled and on the half-shell. A dozen oysters will do for two people.
    Rinse the oysters well and scrub them with a stiff brush; otherwise some of the grit may get transferred onto the meat. Opening an oyster is easier than it looks, and you don’t need specialized equipment. I often use just a flathead screwdriver and a stout glove for my left hand as I am a righty. With a gloved hand, hold the oyster firmly against a wooden or similar non-slip surface with the domed side down and insert the screwdriver or oyster-shucking knife. Dig it into the hinge and give it a good firm twist until the muscles that hold it closed are separated.
    Next insert a slim, sharp blade or the oyster knife between the two shells. First, angle the blade up against the flatter side of the oyster to cut through the muscle holding the meat to that part of the shell. Then remove the top shell and do the same to the lower half. Be careful not to spill any of the oyster liquor. Carefully place the half-shell on a plate covered in crushed ice.
    Inspect the oyster for bits of shell or debris and carefully pick out any you find. Never rinse an opened oyster, as this washes away the flavor. Put a half-dozen on a plate and cover with plastic wrap if you’re not serving them immediately. Lemon and Tabasco are my favorite condiments, though many like a simple horseradish or cocktail sauce.
    Rockfish can be quickly and reliably rendered with a type of pan broil. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Slather the fish in olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and ground pepper. Place the fillets in a hot, heavy skillet — cast iron is ideal — and quickly brown on one side. Then turn, adding more oil if necessary. After about a minute transfer the pan to the oven for about 15 minutes. The fillets are done when they flake firmly.
    Just before serving, anoint the fillets with melted lemon butter; then dust with paprika and chopped fresh dill. Large steamed carrots served in four to five inch sections are especially good this time of year. Cooking them in large pieces preserves just an extra bit of the sweet, earthy flavor.
    Yukon gold or red-skinned potatoes diced, steamed until they’ve just become tender (about 10 minutes) and sprinkled with parsley are also an excellent side dish, as is steamed, fresh spinach, drained well and anointed with a bit of mustard vinaigrette.
    For desert, try my quick Cherries Jubilee recipe that has pleased friends and family over the years. Place shallow bowls with generous ice cream servings in the freezer before dinner to make things quicker. After everyone has eaten and the plates have been cleared, open a can of cherry pie filling. You may want to conceal the can to maintain a bit of mystery.
    In a shallow saucepan, melt two tablespoons of butter; add most of the pie filling. Gently stir until combined, then add in the contents of a mini bottle of cognac or brandy (one and a half ounces) and mix again. Serve the bowls of ice cream, then pour more of the liquor over the cherries and carefully light on fire. Pause for effect before ladling out the still burning mixture over each ice cream. Bon appetite!