Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lobster and Nopales Salad

We had just returned from a professional conference in Berkeley. I had given a couple of presentations and after the seven hour drive back to southern CA I was looking for a chance to relax, at least for a day. Early the next morning I made my way through the insanity that is L.A. traffic. Unfortunately, none of my buddies were able to make it, so today’s adventure was to be solely between me and the sea. The fog was somewhat thick, so as I suited up, I had to scan the horizon for evidence of the distant kelp bed.

            It was the last week of lobster season, and I knew this was my only chance. Kicking out across the calm waters I began scanning the reef below, making descents now and then to investigate the subsurface topography. The visibility was a hazy three feet, but when you’re hunting lobster (commonly referred to as “bugs”), the lack of vis is not really an issue. This spot was one of my favorites, when it was going off, but if you did not catch the crustacean migration at the right moment, it could be like a desert. Among the boulders I saw numerous sizable pebble crabs, and the sea hares were thick, but only one legal bug was seen. This one however, was a very nice lobster. I made up my mind as I put the big guy on my Banksboard, to kick back in and head back down the coast to another go-to spot.

            Not wanting to change out of my wetsuit only to repeat the process moments later, I laid down my dry bag on the seat, stepped into my car with mask and snorkel still around my neck and drove to the second spot…and boy was I glad I did. I took a beautiful grass rockfish for that night’s tacos (a truly delicious fish with great texture), and spent a great deal of time peering into caves and crevices at plentiful lobsters.
The vis here was great in comparison, at least 15ft, and I was having a blast! The bugs were out in force, with numerous juveniles seen, and many other mature bugs also encountered.  A few gave me the slip (anyone who thinks lobsters are slow has clearly not had one blast out of a cave full speed at 30 ft and knock the mask right off their face). But by the end of the dive I had 5 nice bugs on the board, I had seen giant kelpfish dancing together in the blades of marine algae, and saw two juvenile bugs spar a bit on the bottom a few feet from my face. It was a good day!

            That night I cooked up a batch of grad school staple fish tacos with a side of foraged avocado in the form of fresh guacamole.
The next day it was another Mexican favorite, lobster tostadas! But in this case we were blessed with another spring delicacy, nopales! The cactus pads of the prickly pear, known as nopales in Spanish, are a frequent spring gift in California that is as nutritious as it is tasty. 
 After removing the spines and cooking them in the way my landlord and his wife had instructed, I put together enselada de nopales, using foraged avocado, juice of a foraged lemon, onion, tomato, cilantro, and spices. Matching this side dish with the exquisite flavors and textures of fresh lobster tostadas, and we were feasting like no other on the California coast once more…for a mere $1.16 a plate to boot!

A point of advice-Don’t Dive Alone! I have been diving for 18 years, and I still do not recommend it. If you want to learn to freedive and spearfish, seek professional guidance. There are good divers who would be willing to show you the ropes all up and down the coast, but do not think for an instant this is something to just go out and try on your own! After all, the ocean is wild and unpredictable, and an environment that takes years to truly understand. You wouldn’t decide to take up rock climbing by going out alone with no ropes and just have a go at a 150 ft free ascent would you? Freedivers die every year in California, so please don’t add your name to the list. Try a performance freediving class, or at the very least ask a seasoned veteran to show you the ropes.   

-Finally, when life gives you lemons, squeeze them over your fresh caught lobster and take a bite! Remember, if you need a vacation and only have a day, go on a hunting or fishing foray, it’s an opportunity for adventure and you don’t have to go far, but I do suggest you get of the house and away from the car. Keep the old ways alive!----Kevin Smith

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