What We're Reading

Fisherpoetry & The Art of Storytelling


By Nick Mendoza

You’ve probably never heard of the annual FisherPoets Gathering, but this unique event, with community at its heart, has been growing in size and popularity since its founding 20 years ago. Indeed, one might raise an eyebrow at the idea of fishermen and fisherwomen from across the country ascending a stage to perform prose, music, and storytelling for three days, but sink into the essence and quality of what takes place at FisherPoets and you’ll quickly be reminded of something. Fishing, like storytelling, is as old as mankind. Subsequently, this community is very talented at both.

“Fishing, like storytelling, is as old as mankind.”

Held each February in Astoria, Oregon, where the mighty Columbia River meets the even mightier Pacific Ocean, FisherPoets delivers exactly what the name promises—and so much more. Astoria is a picturesque coastal community with a legendary maritime history. A dozen or so venues around the town host each evening’s readings (a bit like SXSW, but also nothing like SXSW). These venues range from cluttered local bars, where rowdy patrons loudly knock their glasses in approval, to a spacious Cannery Museum, to the grand and regal Liberty Theater. All of them fill to capacity for each evening session. The performers and patrons of FisherPoets are as diverse in character as the venues that host them. On stage and in the crowd are the weathered faces and worn XTRATUF boots of fishers who have seen their fair share of rough seas and Alaskan winters.


You also notice the crowd sporting their smart glasses and Patagonia vests, who made the trip out from Portland or Seattle to soak up the essence of FisherPoets. In this way, I feel the event is the best kind of coming-together of community. For many fishers, coastal-dwellers, and Tall Ship sailors that have attended the gathering for decades, this is a chance to share and reconnect with their people. They discuss last season’s catch and predictions for next year, but they also take this time to organize and stand together against existential threats to their livelihoods and the fish they depend on. This year, for example, many attendees wore “No Pebble Mine!” t-shirts and planned action against a proposed mining operation that would threaten one of the most important remaining salmon runs on earth. For the newcomers, lured in by the charm and mystique of this world, it is an opportunity to know your fishermen, and to better understand the lives of hardworking people who bring food to our table—their joys, their emotions, their trials and tribulations.

“It is an opportunity to know your fishermen, and to better understand the lives of hardworking people who bring food to our table—their joys, their emotions, their trials and tribulations.”

The first poem I experienced at FisherPoets, arriving late Friday night, was read by a 20 year old woman from Bristol Bay, AK, born and raised on a salmon Troller. In beautiful prose, her poem described how her fisher-mother “gave her daughters to the sea.” To this day, the hair on my neck still stands on end when I recall the last line of her poem, which asks the question: “Did my mother really give her daughters to the Sea, or did she give the Sea to us?” Those wouldn’t be the last shivers I’d feel that evening. Shortly after, there was a Coast Guard veteran with a 15 minute, heart pounding account of 7-seconds in his helicopter that were almost his last—a close call during the rescue of a cargo ship in a raging gale.

You could have heard a pin—or a fishing hook—drop in the room of 200 patrons as he described the gyrations of his aircraft as its blades skimmed the surface of Force 5 seas, kissing that line at which ‘all is lost’ before miraculously stabilizing, elevating, and ascending to safety. The only thing I could hear was my own elevated heart rate, drumming behind my ears. My emotions would continue to be piqued in three dozen readings and performances I attended over the weekend.


When I take a broader lens in considering why a gathering like FisherPoets is so special and so important, it brings me to a realization. These spaces, where people can come together to share openly, listen patiently, let go cathartically, and empathize thoughtfully, are increasingly rare. It breaks stereotypes, opens hearts, and all at once serves as the cement of a broad fishing community, a foundation for its persistence, and a friendly window in from the outside. There is a lesson for all of us at FisherPoets.

Nick Mendoza is the CEO and Founder of OneForNeptune, which makes healthy, sustainable white fish jerky that is traceable back to the fish, fisher, and fishery where it was caught.

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey Recipe

The holidays are upon us. Often this time of year inspires weeks of personal reflection and heartfelt nostalgia while simultaneously evoking a need to scribble out a long list of resolutions. The top of my list for 2013? A juicing cleanse to kick off a healthy new year! But who am I kidding? Now is not the time to start said cleanse- there is still a whole week left in 2012 to indulge in sugar-toned gluttony and deep-fried tastiness!

Here is a recipe from Coronado-based author Jill O'Connor to get you through the holidays with a bit of chocolatey, liquor-laced cheer!

Grown-Up S'mores from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor

Serves: Makes 15 S’mores


For the chocolate filling: 8 large egg yolks 1-½ cups confectioners sugar sifted 2 tablespoons white crème de cacao 2 tablespoons Kahlua 2 teaspoons Cognac 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1/8 teaspoon salt 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter 2 tablespoons Dutch-Processed cocoa power 12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped 1 ½ cups heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

For the marshmallow fluff meringue: 3 Large egg whites Pinch of Salt Pinch of cream of tartar ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 cup of marshmallow fluff

For the graham cracker crust: 3 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs ½ cup (1stick) unsalted butter, melted 1 tablespoon granulated sugar


Preheat the oven to 350°F.

To make the crust: Combine the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and granulated sugar until will combined.  Press into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan.  Bake the crest until starts to brown and become crisp, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

To make the filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and confectioners’ sugar together in a large bowl until they are thick and the color of butter.  Beat in the Cognac, crème de cacao, Kahlúa, vanilla, and salt.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat and whisk in cocoa powder until smooth.  Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate, and stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  Let cool slightly, then gradually beat into the egg mixture.

Fold the softly beaten heavy cream into the chocolate mixture just until combined.  Spoon the chocolate cream over the graham cracker curst, smoothing it evenly with a spatula.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very firm, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

When ready to serve, make the meringue: Using an electric mixer set at low speed, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the salt and cream of tartar and beat at medium speed until soft peaks form.  Beat in the vanilla.  Add the marshmallow Fluff to the egg whites a little at a time, beating constantly until stiff peaks form.

Carefully cut the S’mores into 15 large squares.  Place each S’mores on a dessert plate.  Top each with ½ cup of the meringue in a large dollop.  Use a small kitchen torch to carefully burnish the meringue until tipped with golden brown.  Serve immediately.

Food and the City

"At some point, this industrial tack that we've been on, we're going to fondly remember the end point of that and realize 'you can't eat that.' And that little green square, as seen from the air, to me is the first space, the first move. As soon as we can get that back to green, that's going to have a huge ripple effect. When we get it back green, it's going to accelerate everything." ~John Quigley, Environmental Activist and supporter of South Central Farmers I have to admit that I am only half way through Jennifer Cockrall-King's book, Food in the City. I have been stuffing it into my farming bag, on top of my pruners and gloves, next to my compost-stained notebook documenting volunteer To-Do tasks at the urban farm where I work. With this book in dirty hands, I actually wish the bus ride to and from downtown was longer! Cockrall-King has gathered information from many recent publications about the urban farming movement as well as documented her own visitations to city-bound plots across the northern hemisphere and synthesized her findings in this highly informative book.

Often optimistic but sometimes heartbreaking, she paints a green-tinted picture of the incredible potential of urban farming to change our food system, our politics, our lives. She also illustrates the challenges that have been faced, such as the plight of the South Central Farmers in Los Angeles: After the 1992 race riots the community built an amazing garden on public land. In 2007 the government quietly sold it off to a new owner who bulldozed the farm and has not "improved" it since the destruction five years ago. The land sits empty, a chain link fence preventing farmers from growing food for their families. It is stories like this that makes one shake their head in bewilderment among all of the otherwise inspiring examples of community cohesion and fortitude.

This mixture of hope and call to action engages the reader as Cockrall-King wanders through the farms and gardens of cities such as Detroit, LA, Chicago,London, and Toronto. My bus rides have been full of scribbled notes in the margins, sighing (South Central Farmers), and smiling (farms surviving and championed in urban centers across the globe) as I adventure with her, vicariously sampling peas and amaranth on my way to my own urban oasis and living classroom. This book is a journey into literal urban jungles well worth taking.

Join Slow Food Urban San Diego and the Food Justice Committee from 5:30 to 7:30 PM at the Price Building in City Heights room 640 to meet Jennifer Cockrall King, author of Food an the City: Urban Agriculture and The New Food Revolution. Following a discussion including local food advocacy and justice groups, the author will be available for book signing.

For more information about this event, click here.

Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook


The tomatoes of summer are among us: the deep pink Brandywines and green shouldered Black Krims, the sunny orange Valencias and norm-defying Green Zebras! We stroll through farmers markets with an abundance of choice for flavor, size, sauce-ability. We savor each bite, nothing more than a little salt needed. But come winter? The heirlooms we cherish are absent from our favorite farmer's stall and we must ask ourselves: Do I dare try a supermarket tomato?

Barry Estabrook's Tomatoland could help you decide but it may mean going tomatoless through the darker months.

Estabrook delves into the the history of the multi-billion dollar, year-round tomato industry and explores the decline in taste of the ancient fruit as well as the increase in human trafficking to work in pesticide drenched fields. From green tomatoes bouncing off the asphalt (and frighteningly surviving) in front of him, to the brave work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, to the optimistic future of better tasting supermarket tomatoes, Estabrook paints a picture of the industry through personal experience and in-depth interviews with those at the heart of the issues.

So savor those heirlooms while you can because once you know the true price of a Florida winter tomato, you'll most likely pass on the Caprese salad come January. That is until we win the battle for better tasting, more humanely grown and harvested, not so perfect blushing fruits. It's worth the fight!


What We're Reading: Confetti for Gino by Lorenzo Madalena

by Pasquale Verdicchio Lorenzo Madalena’s Confetti for Gino was a Doubleday Book of the Month Club publication in 1959. The only other edition after that was a paperback Gorgi Edition published in England. That is what I found and first read of this book, on the island of Formentera, Spain, in 1979. Confetti is a fictionalized version of the everyday life in San Diego’s Little Italy of the 40s and 50s. The events and relationships described within it are true to those that took place there, and they reflect the relationship of what was then called “the Italian colony” to “American” society. When I arrived in San Diego in 1986 to teach at UCSD, and started to look into the history of the Italian American community, I realized that the novel I had read a few years before represented an important document. My search took me to the SD Library and eventually I found a couple of copies of the novel through booksellers. Convinced of the value of such a book, I brought it to the attention of my publisher, Guernica Editions. It’s taken a long time to come out, but finally, through the sponsorship of the San Diego Italian Film Festival, Confetti for Gino has been issued in a new paperback edition.

Confetti should be of interest to everyone because it is a very real document of one of San Diego’s premier communities--one that figured so prominently in one of the city’s main industries: fishing. The story told is that of Gino De Marino's identity struggle. A rough and tough tuna fisherman, Gino is an ex-serviceman who returns to San Diego from the Pacific Theatre at the end of WWII, takes over his father’s fishing boat, and tries to make a living. As a serviceman he clearly fits into a San Diego landscape that is still familiar to us today: a mix of civilian and military industries and traditions that comingle and live side-by-side, even as they sometimes seem light years apart. Gino represents that sense of double-identity, as a serviceman returned to civilian life and as the son of Italian immigrants attempting to integrate more fully into “American” society. Part of his struggle is represented in the novel through Gino’s attraction to a woman who is antithetical to his community’s standards. (Most of all, she is not Italian.) What makes Gino a character that anyone can easily identify with is that his struggles are the real, everyday struggles experienced by anyone trying to make something of their lives, no matter what their background.

The pull of two different traditions, cultures, and societies is a fundamental point of focus of the book; enmeshed in this are all the relationships that move through and between those worlds and their pull on Gino. His allegiance to his family, his brother, those he cares for, and his allegiance to his own needs and desires, constitue the central challenge of the novel and illustrate one man's attempt to live in his society while remaining true to himself and his family's history. Confetti for Gino gives us an opportunity to look back and to get a taste, not only of a time gone by, but of a dimension of one of San Diego’s neighborhoods that might not be as evident today. San Diego’s Little Italy has opted for a different type of development today, one a little more distant from its own culture. Confetti for Gino represents a tessera of a mosaic that requires resetting, an ingredient of a communal recipe that can bring back some of its original flavor.

Confetti for Gino is a valuable rediscovery. While, as Ken Scambray has noted, “Madalena’s detailed descriptions of the food and folkways of the Sicilian community are intended to be his resistance to the overriding themes of assimilation and conformity of the 1950s. [And that he was] acutely aware that social policy makers at the time refused to acknowledge the reality of Americans’ diverse ethnic identity.” It is also true that in today’s globalized existence a book such as this refocuses our attention on manifestations of local culture and knowledge, and in the inherent differences that are the rule rather than the exception. I would say that rather than describe the struggles against or for assimilation, Madalena attempts to describe a struggle toward integration. This is possibly what Madalena shared with his character Gino. While Madalena fished only sporadically, he knew the culture well from his father’s activities within it, and from the many friends in the community who also worked as fishermen. Fishing represented the life-blood of Little Italy at the time, but Madalena also lived a struggle for integration in his personal life. He was not alone in choosing a life outside of fishing, but that didn’t make it any easier. He held advanced degrees that reflected his interests in writing and teaching, a fact that possibly distanced him from his community and flung him closer to the outside world. Both Lorenzo and Gino were of immigrant families, both lived in San Diego’s Little Italy, both fished, and both struggled with their identity and their desire to integrate more fully into American society without giving up too much of their Italian identity.

Confetti for Gino by Lorenzo Madalena (Guernica Editions, 2011); Postface by Pasquale Verdicchio, is available through Amazon, or through Small Press Distribution, Berkeley (http://www.spdbooks.org/Producte/9781550712247/confetti-for-gino.aspx), as well as San Diego Italian Film Festival events as long as copies last.