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A little cause for hope and a lot of good eating

Oysters have been around a long time, in the vicinity of 500 million years.
    Arriving somehow in the Chesapeake, which came into being only 35 million years ago, oysters made themselves at home. In the prehistoric broth, temperatures were moderate, oxygen abundant and food plentiful for the filter-feeders. In synergism over the eons, thriving oysters both kept the Bay clean and made welcoming reef homes for many species seeking shelter and prey. For immobile creatures, oysters got a lot done.
    Longtime Baltimore Sun food writer Rob Kasper paints a vivid picture. “Up it came from the bottom of the Bay dripping mud and with all of these creatures on it, and when the captain popped it open, I was a little ascared,” the native Midwesterner says of his first encounter — aboard a skipjack — with a raw oyster.
    Reefs grew so enormous that Captain John Smith and the Europeans who followed him in big ships had to navigate around them.
    Oysters put Chesapeake Bay on America’s map.
    “They’re historic, they’re part of our tradition, wars have been fought over them,” says John Shields, whose family ran a seafood packing plant on Tilghman Island.
    In the bivalve’s heyday when as many as 17 million bushels were dredged from the Bay from October to April, refrigerated railway cars chugged them across the country to delight inlanders at least as far west as the Mississippi.
    Even in 2016 — with harvests of wild Bay oysters collapsed to a high of 400,000 bushels — Crassostrea virginica remains a talisman of bounty — and good eating.
    Shields, Kasper and I saw the vitality of that tradition last weekend at the U.S. Oyster Festival in St. Mary’s County, conceived by Rotary Club of Lexington Park a half-century ago and still going strong. (Read more in this week’s feature, How to Cook a Prize-Winning Oyster.) You might have shared the spirit last Sunday at Captain Avery Museum’s Oyster Festival.    
    Oyster festivals, roasts and dinners are favorite autumnal events in Chesapeake Country. On Sunday October 29, you can get into oysters at Calvert Marine Museum’s Aww … Shucks Oyster Social or St. Michael’s Oysterfest at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. On Saturday November 5, Deale Volunteer Fire Department takes its turn, serving all the oysters you can eat — on the half shell, steamed, fried, frittered and stewed.
    Despite all the celebration, oysters have been near to becoming just a memory in our Chesapeake, down to one percent of their historic range. Not so many years ago, in this very century, both Maryland and Virginia came close to giving up on Crassostrea virginica and repopulating its home waters with an Asian import. Surely that was the low point. In the last decade, both Chesapeake states have invested heavily and seriously in wild oyster recovery.
    Will it work?
    Oysters are adaptable survivors. They have “developed a wide variety of genes and proteins to help them deal not only with changes of temperature and differences in the salinity of the water, but also with their exposure to heavy metals … and the various harmful bacteria” to which filter-feeders are constantly exposed, Kristian Sjøgren explained in a 2012 article reporting that their complex genome had been mapped.
    Yet they can’t get up and go, so they are tremendously vulnerable to environmental influences, from low oxygen to imported diseases to the heat of such summers as this one.
    Thus the rise of aquaculture means an alternate future — for oyster culture, oyster eaters, the oyster economy … even the Bay, as aquacultured oysters are busy filterers even though they do not form reefs.
    “With oyster farming, I’m enjoying seeing a resurgence in how we enjoy Chesapeake oysters and how they’re sold, here and across the U.S.,” says Shields, cookbook author, PBS cooking show host and proprietor of Gertrude’s Restaurant at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
    A little good oyster news is worth savoring. That’s what you’ll find, along with savory oyster recipes, in this issue.


Speaking of Food …
    Send us your holiday cookie recipes and stories now for Bay Weekly’s Cookie Exchange, out on December 15: editor@bayweekly.com.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

This mystery never leaves the station

Rachel (Emily Blunt: The Huntsman: Winter’s War) rides the train to Manhattan every day. Sitting in the same spot, drinking clear alcohol from a water bottle, she stares at the passing houses. Two homes interest her particularly. One she shared with her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux: The Leftovers), whose new family now lives there. The other is home to Megan (Haley Bennett: The Magnificent Seven) and Scott (Luke Evans: Message from the King), a sexually adventurous couple idealized by Rachel.
    Megan goes missing, and Rachel may know something. She saw a man, whom she took to be a lover, with Megan on the day of her disappearance. The police, however, think Rachel is stalking her ex.
    The movie fails to capture the narrative urgency of the bestselling novel. Director Tate Taylor (Get On Up) copies the style of another bestseller-made-movie, David Fincher’s far superior Gone Girl, again with little success. With plot twists prioritized over character-building suspense, the female heroines are a particular disappointment. All are miserable women victimized by men.
    Blunt is muted and sad as Rachel, who slurs, stumbles and mopes her way through life. As Megan, Bennett is every femme fatale cliché in movie history, from the tragic secret to the insatiable desire. The men in their lives have all the power, and they use these women’s bodies and minds as they see fit.
    Taylor thinks he’s being clever, but you could figure out his reveal from the previews. It’s all dark and depressing, brooding and boring.
Poor Thriller • R • 112 mins.

Give your tackle a good cleaning

As much as we hate to admit it, this year’s fishing season is winding down. It’s suddenly colder, a lot colder than just a half-month ago. Fall’s remaining weeks will be punctuated by periods of frustrating, unfishable, windy weather. However this forced downtime can give the wise angler a head start on winterizing tackle.
    Looking about my study, cluttered haphazardly with an embarrassing number of rods and reels, I see that their once clean and glistening finishes have been overcome by the dull sheen of salt evaporation and fish slime. A few of the outfits have collected samples of amorphous unknown substances.
    Even rigs that I use until winter puts a full stop to fishing need a little maintenance during breezy periods. Renewing reel lubricants and checking drag smoothness can have critical impact in the remaining season, as the possibility of hooking a big fish that will test every aspect of your tackle is never better than at this time of year.
    Over my many seasons, I’ve discovered it’s best to begin the fall maintenance effort by giving everything an outside shower. I start by lining up every rod and reel I’ve used against my front porch and rinsing them with a soft spray from the garden hose, followed by a general soap-and-water scrubbing, then another gentle rinse.
    The rest of winterizing can be done in stages.
    After the general cleaning, use a stiff toothbrush or car-detailing brush dipped in a strong detergent (no abrasives, please) on the more stubborn areas of dirt accumulation.
    Next focus on each rod’s guide to ensure it is clean and has not been damaged. A cracked guide ring that can be hard to see will shred a line faster than a barnacle-coated piling.
    The best test for guide-ring integrity is pulling a short section of fabric cut from pantyhose through the ring. Any defect is snagged by its fine mesh. A damaged guide should be replaced ASAP; it cannot be repaired, and continuing to use a rod with a bad guide is a recipe for angling disaster.
    Then go over all of the rods’ reel seats, first removing the reel, then scrubbing the seat and its locking mechanism and giving it a good application of heavy-duty silicone. Don’t use grease; it will attract and hold dust and dirt.
    Wipe off each reel with a rag moistened with WD-40 as it’s a great solvent, then give it a light coat of silicone as well. Soak down the mono and braid on your reels with a line conditioner, a great antidote for the salt accumulated over the season. If you don’t use a conditioner, that salt will continue to suck the softeners and lubricants out of the line over winter.
    Next, scrub all cork rod handles with a wet sponge or rag (but never a brush) generously anointed with an abrasive cleanser. Rinse them well. When they are thoroughly dry, go over them with pure neatsfoot oil. That will repair the past season’s exposure damage and keep the cork young over the coming winter months.
    Finally, dress the male ferrules on any multi-piece rod by rubbing them with candle wax or paraffin. Thus treated, the sections will never stick together and won’t separate while fishing. Additionally, the thin wax coating will minimize ferrule wear.
    If you subsequently find that you have the need to use an outfit that you’ve already winterized, just think of it as a lucky break. You’re lucky to have another chance to fish again this season and lucky in the knowledge that your tackle is in first-rate condition and up to any challenge the fall finale might bring.

It’s all connected

Toe bone connected to the foot bone    
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the ­shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the backbone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone

Unless we want to end up as Hoarders on reality television, keeping house is work we do day by day.
    Put away the groceries. Wash the dishes. Sweep the floor. Harvest the last of the tomatoes. Bring home a pumpkin, plant a mum or two.
    The every-day chores roll in and out like the tides. Interplaying with their circadian rhythm are weekly chores … and on top of them monthly chores … and on top of them seasonal chores … and on top of them annual chores … and on top of them chores you might do every five years or 10 or once or twice in the lifetime you and your home spend together. Put them all together and you get some pretty complex harmonies.
    How much is your homestead asking of you this fall?
    I’m sorry to ask. But that’s the kind of devilish question Bay Weekly’s annual Fall Fix-Up Guide provokes in my head. The image dancing in my mind is appropriately seasonal for the month that brings us Halloween: It’s a skeleton, singing about the toe bone connected to the foot bone, the foot bone connected to the heel bone.
    Indoors, fall fix-up starts manageably. First comes the seasonal rotation of curtains and rugs. But of course the textiles coming and going have to be cleaned, stored and unstored. The windows under those curtains have to be washed. In the process, a little furniture has to be moved.
    That housekeeping done, I’d like the refreshment of some nice seasonal decorating. I’d like to say, Ha! fixed up for fall and relax until the Christmas season makes me a new set of suggestions I can’t refuse.
    But once the skeleton starts rattling, I see how one bone moves another.
    Starting in on fall fix-up reveals many more chores waiting in line for attention. They’ve been patient, at least a little patient, while summer kept us otherwise occupied. Now we see that the lawn needs more than cutting. It needs reseeding. That, as Bay Gardener Frank Gouin reminds us in this issue, is fall work. Of course reseeding doesn’t start with seeding; first you’ve got to prepare the soil.
    Heel bone connected to the ankle bone …
    So it follows that you can’t just harvest the last of the tomatoes. You’ve got to make compost of the vines, along with the late grass cuttings, in preparation for the certain addition of fallen leaves a few weeks hence. You’ve got to plant the fall garden. And then bulbs for spring — plus the longer-term investment of shrubs and trees.
    Ankle bone connected to the shin bone …
    Also jostling in line are chores that come due every year, like chimney sweeping and HVAC checking.
    Shin bone connected to the knee bone …
    Plus some of the chores that come due every so many years, like interior painting: Safe! Did that last year. Ever since, those freshly painted walls have been telling me it’s past time to pull out carpeting upstairs for replacement with hardwood flooring. That’s this year’s project, already started.
    Knee bone connected to the thigh bone …
    So exterior house painting will have to shuffle impatiently in line till next spring’s spruce-up. When I’m likely to have to deal with replacing two exterior doors …
    Thigh bone connected to the hip bone …

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

A stork and orphan connive to deliver a baby in this animated comedy

Storks have long had the job of delivering babies. But now they’ve left the strenuous and emotionally taxing baby business for box-store delivery. Partnering with CornerStore.com, storks now specialize in same-day deliveries. They’re cogs in the corporate machine.
    Except for Tulip (voiced by Katie Crown: Clarence), an orphan who hangs around the stork factory trying to help. Her heart is in the right place, but her head isn’t. Most of her inventions end as explosions. Junior (Andy Samberg: Brooklyn Nine-Nine) is assigned to fire her.
    Junior doesn’t have the heart, so he assigns Tulip to the abandoned Baby Orders room, where the higher-ups won’t notice the lonely orphan. The plan works until Tulip finds a letter from the Gardner family, requesting a baby. She dusts off the baby machine and creates an adorable tot to deliver to the Gardners.
    Junior is horrified. If management sees the baby, he and Tulip will get the boot. He resolves on a secret delivery. But office busybody Pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman: The Night Time Show with Stephen Kramer Glickman) has discovered the baby and plans to expose Junior and steal his big promotion.
    Can Tulip and Junior work together to get Baby Gardner home? How hard could it be to deliver one baby?
    For this week’s review, four-and-a-half-year-old Grace Kearns assisted The Moviegoer. Grace reports that Storks was funny. She liked Tulip’s curly hair and the silly wolf pack.
    The wolf pack was indeed the best part of the film. Voiced by comedians extraordinaire Key & Peele, the scene-stealing wolves played a goofy version of charades.
    The rest of the film, however, is a bit of a drag for those of us who’ve graduated preschool. Grace watched quietly, while your regular reviewer squirmed and checked her watch. The plot was overly complex, jokes often fell flat and characters seemed inconsistent. Worst of all in a movie written for younger audiences, there were no lessons to be learned or engaging songs.
    A few days later, Grace’s fondest and only memory remained the wolf pack.
    Buying a ticket may earn you a quiet child for 90 minutes, but don’t expect a lasting impression from this shallow, underwritten comedy.

Fair Animation • PG • 87 mins.

Reluctant osprey still have several weeks to enjoy Chesapeake fishing

“The osprey’s back again this morning,” wrote Ron Wolfe in early October. “This one, sometimes accompanied by another, apparently failed to receive the fall migration memo,” Wolfe, a fisherman, added. “I suspect it’s part of this year’s hatch and doesn’t want to leave the only home it knows.”
    Not to worry, advises Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Dave Brinker. “Birds are like people,” Brinker told Bay Weekly. “Some leave early, some leave late.
    “It really hasn’t gotten cool enough for most birds to start moving just yet,” he explained, noting that in the last week of September, “I saw osprey in New York, all the way up to Maine,” where he is banding saw-whet owls.
    “When the water temperature begins to cool, the fish are less active. Once the food source is hard to find, the birds will move on.
    So, Brinker concluded, “This bird hasn’t missed the boat just yet.”
    Compare previous years’ osprey migration patterns in ornithologist Rob Bierregaard’s long-term studies at www.opsreytrax.com.

Could these long-necked fish-eaters be a ­looming threat?

I noticed the first few cormorants on the Bay in the early 1990s, though I didn’t think much about their appearance at the time. Cormorants had been absent from the Chesapeake, their numbers driven down by pesticides, particularly DDT. The otherwise large populations stretching across the northeast coast down through Florida cushioned them from total exhaustion.
    Over the intervening years, since the banning of those pesticides, their numbers have been rapidly expanding to include a Chesapeake Bay population. The double-crested cormorant, the species now common throughout the Bay, is a large, heavy-bodied black seabird with a sharp beak (curved at the end for catching fish) and a small patch of yellow-orange facial coloring. During their nesting season, both sexes sport prominent white-feathered crests above their eyes for which they’ve earned their double-crested name.
    Airborne, they resemble a small goose with an even wing beat and often fly in large groups called flights. They are a handsome bird, with a slim head, long neck and graceful profile, Though cormorants have a slender profile, their necks are expandable and they can swallow fish 10 to 12 inches in length.
    As diving birds, cormorants can chase their prey, virtually any species of fish, deep underwater, swimming with the aid of their wings. They are able to stay submerged for minutes at a time and cover large distances underwater.
    Most birds are hollow-boned to aid in flight, but the cormorant’s bones are solid to provide strength as well as weight to help them dive. Their feathers are not completely waterproof, again an aid to diving, and that is also why you see the birds perched, holding their wings open to dry and enable them to once again get airborne. Perched and drying their wings, they have an ominous, dark appearance. Worse, say some commercial fishermen, is their appetite.
    Pound netters suffer particularly as the birds have learned to target their fish traps where menhaden, herring, alewife, perch and rockfish make easy pickings. Flocks can gather quickly and eat ravenously. One area waterman told me cormorants had gathered in the hundreds to devour thousands of small white perch that had become trapped in his pound net.
    Seeing large flights of cormorants this season, I wondered if they could become a problem for free-swimming fish. Maryland Department of Natural Resources confirms a resident Chesapeake population of some 4,000 nesting pairs. Those resident birds annually consume an estimated three million pounds of fish of all species. Northerly cormorants also make the Bay their southern wintering grounds — and bring their appetites.
    Adding to the problem is guano from nesting cormorants, which has killed areas of critical wetlands vegetation. Their presence has also driven other species of native Bay seabirds off their traditional and limited nesting grounds.
    Hunting cormorants was banned during earlier periods of population decline. So we may be seeing another surge in a bird population that can be unhealthy, particularly in sensitive areas such as the Chesapeake.

A short lesson on the difference between aerobic and anaerobic decay

A Bay Weekly reader cornered me at Christopher’s in West River, complaining that her compost pile stinks. She was composting in a rotating drum on an elevated stand. Her complaint: the contents in the drum were slopping wet and the odors so strong that her neighbors were complaining.
    She admitted that she had not read the directions on the drum. “What difference would that have made?” she wanted to know.
    The instructions for enclosed composting systems clearly state that when odors are detectable, add dry matter such as shredded newspaper, dry leaves, straw or hay to absorb the excess water.
    Composting is an aerobic system, which means that the microorganisms digesting the organic matter require a minimum of five percent oxygen. As composting progresses, moisture from decomposing vegetable matter is released into the atmosphere. Closed composting systems such as rotating drums or enclosed bins do not have sufficient ventilation to release that excess moisture into the atmosphere. Thus, moisture condensates on the inside walls of the container and accumulates in the organic waste being composted. When the moisture concentration within the organic waste exceeds 60 percent, oxygen is excluded and the system becomes anaerobic. When the organic waste becomes anaerobic, objectionable odors are generated by the anaerobic digesting organisms. Other by-products from anaerobic digestion are acetic acid and methane.
    The ideal moisture concentration for composting is between 45 and 55 percent. As most vegetable waste such as cucumber, potato, carrot, watermelon, squash, cabbage, lettuce, etc. contain between 80 to 95 percent water, it does not take much to overwhelm the system with excess moisture.
    Enclosed composting systems should be checked two to three times weekly and turned. At the slightest odor, add dry material and turn several times to incorporate it into the wet. Continue adding and turning the unit until the contents feel moist but not wet. At the proper moisture content, composting materials should feel like a moist sponge. If you can squeeze moisture from a handful of composting material, there is too much water. You can help rid some of the excess moisture by leaving the door open, but make certain that you shut it before turning.
    I used composting drums for developing formulas for composting garbage. Garbage tends to be dry, making it necessary to add water in addition to phosphorus and nitrogen. I was able to compost garbage in 30 days, and the drums often developed temperatures of 180 degrees. I turned the drums daily.
    Drums are useless in the late fall, winter and early spring. However, during the normal growing season, they are very efficient when managed properly.
    If your composting unit stinks, it is because you have allowed it to become anaerobic. Keep a supply of dried leaves, hay, straw or shredded paper nearby for immediate relief.


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

How you cope when rain won’t go away

October ranks high on my list of favorite months — third after June and July. But June and July are not always ideal. When they follow Shakespeare’s caution — Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimm’d — October rises in my estimation. It could climb to second in 2016, when June was splendid but July not so.
    So far, the weather gods are not cooperating.
    In its early days, October 2016 has brought us rain, rain, rain — and more likely coming.
    Hurricane Matthew will do far worse to poor Haiti, where weather routinely beats down a country and people already devastated by centuries of exploitation and bad government.
    Next, Matthew may come north for a visit.
    “The potential bad news for our area is that forecasters and models are predicting a path that brings this extremely powerful hurricane dangerously close to the East Coast of the United States,” Anne Arundel County advised early this week. “This storm should not be discounted.”
    Or Matthew may not call on us. With hurricanes you never know.
    Which can unsettle many an apple cart more fully loaded than mine with hopes and expectations.
    For one, the U.S. Sailboat Show.
    Thousands of people are converging on a mile and a half of floating docks. Surging tides below and rain falling from above — along with big winds blowing — is not the October scenario for which Boat Show organizers hope. They’ve balanced the odds of two good weekends — for the Powerboat Show follows on October 13 — for 46 years. Hurricanes have threatened, but so far they’ve all veered off. There’s been rain, like last year, when City Dock was underwater during setup, and water so high that people needed boots to see the boats. One year there were even snow flurries. But never a total washout. Not a species to be stopped by wind or water, boat fanciers turn out rain or shine. So the hatches — make that tents — are battened down and the lines strengthened. And the show goes on.
    One boat, however, won’t be showing off in Annapolis this week. That’s the Hōkūleá, a 40-year-old replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe, which is using traditional wayfinding to chart a course around the world. For two years, this Hawaiian canoe has been traveling the globe, covering more than 100 ports and 27 nations to spread its cross-cultural message of Mālama Honua — caring for Island Earth — by promoting sustainability and environmental consciousness.
    Wrapping up its journey along the entire Eastern Seaboard and through both the Great Lakes and Intercoastal Waterway, Hōkūleá planned to stop in Annapolis October 9 to 12. Until Matthew got in its way.
    The much-anticipated visit has been postponed, says Annapolis Green, sponsor of the visit, “due to the possibility that Hurricane Matthew may impact weather in the Annapolis area.”
    Beyond boat shows, we feel the pain of organizers of all sorts of outdoors events celebrating October’s often ideal weather: fall festivals, the Renaissance Festival, Patuxent River Appreciation Days.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Can a rag-tag bunch of ne'er-do-wells defeat an army of villains?

To rid himself of the Rose Creek townspeople impeding his mining operation, land baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard: Black Mass) offers an ultimatum: take the paltry sum offered — or die. To prove he’s serious, he burns the church and shoots a few men, women and children, leaving the survivors to pick up their bodies.
    Thus begins the latest take on two great movies, Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai, and John Sturges’s subsequent western classic The Magnificent Seven.
    Newly widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett: Hardcore Henry) won’t be intimidated and seeks to buy a champion to bring justice to Rose Creek.
    Her knight in shining armor is a man in black. Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington: The Equalizer) is a bounty hunter who had to be fast with his guns because of the color of his skin. He is touched by Emma’s tale, impressed by her spunk and independently invested in destroying Bogue.
    But to go up against hundreds of well-armed men, Chisolm needs his own army.
    Chisolm signs on six recruits: a gambler (Chris Pratt: Jem and the Holograms); a former Confederate sniper (Ethan Hawke: Maudie); an Asian brawler (Byung-hun Lee: Misconduct); a wanted murderer (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: Term Life), a former Indian hunter (Vincent D’Onofrio: Daredevil); and a Comanche (Martin Sensmeier: Lilin’s Blood).
    Can seven men turn a town of farmers into an armed militia?
    Director Antoine Fuqua’s (The Equalizer) remake takes strength from this diverse cast. By casting minority actors, and acknowledging their racial status in the post-Civil War West, Fuqua adds depth to the familiar story. Washington’s Chisolm, a man used to prejudice, has managed to thrive in this hostile environment, fueled by adversity.
    It takes team chemistry for underdogs to succeed in felling a greater power. This cast supplies it. Washington is in fine form as the stoic leader. Pratt, the gambler, adds comic relief, while the others fill in requisite western roles, from the drunken coward to the oddball mountain man. The cast clearly enjoyed working together, and their natural camaraderie draws you in.
    Fuqua’s only misstep is Sarsgaard, who as Bogue fails to be either physically or mentally intimidating.
    In spite of the poor villain, The Magnificent Seven is an enjoyable western with a modern, diverse twist.

Good Western • PG-13 • 133 mins.