CAREERS AND ED "People are very confused about what's safe to eat as far as mollusks go." Champion monkeyface eel angler Kirk Lombard offhandedly throws the remark out at his "find your own marine sustenance" primer offered by DIY food cabal ForageSF. For a moment I panic. My mercury levels! But then I remember: I'm on his San Francisco fishing tour because I have never, not once, even thought to harvest the bay's bounty on my own.
Isn't life in the city just like that? You never get out to Alcatraz, you never hit up Muir Woods — they sit there trying to catch your eye and you shuffle past, going about your routine. It's easy to duck the pressure of actually making the most of what the Bay Area has to offer.
But it's 2011 (only one year left till the end of the world!) and you need to get out there. Back to Kirk Lombard, who is gesturing to the rocky edge of the Marina Green, where on a good day you can find limpets and turban snails adhering to, and rockfish darting amid, the boulders. "You have to pound the shit out of them to make them tender enough to eat," he counsels. This referring to chitons, shellfish resembling centipedes that are plentiful in the Bay Area and can be popped off rocks to be enjoyed.
Lombard's class is an example of the utility of local expertise. At the tail end of many years with the Department of Fish and Game surveying the catch of Bay Area fishermen, he is also the creator of a blog (monkeyfacenews.typepad.com) that makes me wish I fished, which I must say has never happened before.
Other things that can be caught and eaten around these parts include the tiny, perfect-as-salad-topping limpet, the hideously ugly but reportedly nutritious cabazon fish, monkeyface eels (thrilling to hear Lombard discuss his record-holding pursuit of them) and California and blue mussels. Of these last two you are only allowed to harvest 10 pounds per day, an astonishing rule that seems well beyond my capabilities past, present, or future.
Lombard's walks take participants out on the windy, disconcertingly cold spit of land near the wave organ on the Marina Green. Our group of 12 meanders after him as he enthusiastically answers questions about feeding oneself on the seaweed and fishies of the bay. Lombard himself hasn't bought fish in years and tends to focus on smaller, quicker to mature species that are difficult to overfish. "I've found myself really embracing the smelt family," he reflects.
Having graduated from his one-time course, do I now stuff my rod in my Chrome bag every day before I leave the house? Are we munching monkeyface all the live-long day? Well no. But the beauty of Lombard's tours, and the following SF classes, isn't that they will revamp your life in one fell curricular swoop. It's that they just might open your eyes to a little more atmosphere, from mussels to mushrooms, architecture to enlightenment.
WILD SEAFOOD: SAN FRANCISCO FISHING TOUR
Next walk: Sun/16 2–4 p.m., $30
Register at www.foragesf.com
All hail the Mycological Society of San Francisco! Now more than 60 years old, the mushroom lovers club focuses on expanding the community's knowledge of our fungal friends — from the tastes and nutrition they provide to their scientific and aesthetic qualities. You can drop in on one of its potluck gatherings or beyond-informative Fungus Fairs, but why not start from the beginning? The society regularly conducts forays into nature to teach wannabe mycologists how and what to look for when they're tracking toadstools in the moist corners of the Bay Area — which, due to its temperate climate, happens to be a superlative spot to find them.