how to eat tuna

Some years ago, after reading about overfishing and the horrendous state of our oceans, I vowed to stop eating tuna. Certain species of tuna are on the brink of extinction, thanks to soaring demand and modern fishing methods. Plus, the "eating fish is good for you" equation has changed because of the presence of mercury in many fish, especially tuna. I decided to put tuna in the same category as veal and lobster -- animal products I no longer eat.

Alas, while I have no problem foregoing lobster or veal, tuna was a promise I couldn't keep. I don't know how long I lasted, but five years later I was writing about homemade vs. Whole Foods tuna salad. (If you're reading the old posts, there's an update here.)

Fish and shellfish are mainstays of my diet. We eat a lot of salmon (Pacific only) and shrimp, occasionally halibut, Pacific cod, squid, and other shellfish -- and I eat a lot of tuna. I joke that I'm going to turn into a thermometer. But I don't stop eating it. In fact I eat more tuna now than I ever did.

In an effort to ameliorate the ill effects on both my health and the environment, I've now changed from albacore (so-called "white") canned tuna to skipjack (strangely called "light") tuna. Albacore is much higher in mercury, and the fish are threatened; skipjack is lower in mercury and can be fished sustainably. Skipjack is also (supposedly) more ocean-friendly: if the label says "pole-and-line-caught," supposedly it actually is, whereas claims of "dolphin safe" albacore are likely false. Skipjack is also less expensive than albacore, although I don't find the price difference significant.

But changing from white to light -- from albacore to skipjack -- meant more than just a change in buying habits. Albacore is mild enough to use in salads with just a bit of dressing, and it needs very little help to become delicious tuna salad. Skipjack has a stronger, "fishier" taste. Most people would agree it needs more preparation.

I've been experimenting with this new tuna, and have landed on the Best Tuna Salad, more accurately called the Best Tuna Salad that I'm Willing to Make Myself.

I normally don't use measurements for something like this, I just throw everything together, but that's not very useful as a recipe to pass along. So this week I carefully measured, tasted, and measured again, and this is what I came up with.

The recipe is meant as a ratio, to be multiplied depending on how many cans you're making. I usually make three or four cans at a time. Be sure to use tuna packed in water, not oil.

For each six-ounce (170 grams) can of tuna, drained well to produce four ounces (120 grams):
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1.5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
If you're feeling ambitious, also add:
- shredded carrots
- minced celery
Combine all ingredients in food processor. (Personally, I can't eat this if it's blended by hand. I find chunky tuna salad unpalatable.)

This tuna salad is great on whole-grain toast with sliced tomato and cucumber, or my favourite, whole-grain crackers like Triscuits or Wheat Thins.

winter hike: beaver lake and port alice

We've had so many gloriously cold and sunny days! I don't know if that's unusual for January and February or if I was oversold on the rain, but I love it. The temperature will range from around -3C to +4C (mid-20s to about 40 F), which barely qualifies as cold, and combined with bright sunshine, is some of my favourite weather.

Last weekend, we hiked in the Beaver Lake Recreation Trail -- the first time I've ever hiked in winter. There was a dusting of snow and it was cold enough to wear a parka. The trail is full of interpretative signs about the forest, pointing out old growth, second growth, "managed", and other stages. The information is sponsored by the lumber company, so you have to translate the propaganda a bit, but it was still interesting to think about the woods this way. Plus because it was cold and dry, there were no (visible) mushrooms.

After the hike we drove to Port Alice, where one of my libraries is located. I had visited the library the previous week and I couldn't wait for Allan to see the location. The town is located on an inland lake (actually an inlet) surrounded by mountains, and it is breathtaking. I've never been to Scandinavia, but we saw fjords in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland, and Port Alice has the same feel. Our photos don't do it justice.

The town of Port Alice was recently a bustling lumber mill town, but since the mill closed in 2015, it has really struggled. Along with the Legion Hall, our library is a lifeline for the residents. The teens bus to high school in Port McNeill, but the 45 students in grades K through 8 will soon have a lot more library time.

Another wonderful product of the cold, clear weather has been the night skies. We'll pop outside on our deck or driveway, and the stars are so bright, and so many are visible! It's spectacular. Light pours out of the moon -- and I realize I've seen the moon, but never seen moonlight.

Allan and I often remember an experience we had in Mexico, seeing the night sky from a road deep in the rainforest, the sky positively alive with light and motion. But I've never seen anything like that close to home (at least not as an adult). One of these nights Allan wants to drive down Rt. 19 a bit and pull off at a rest area, where even the few streetlights in our neighbourhood won't be visible.

Waiting for a treat.

We thought this graphic was amusing.

This is off the long, twisty road to Port Alice.
Note the bare spot from "harvesting". The area is dotted with those.


things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #30

At the Port Hardy Library, we've been hosting visits from the local First Nations school, from the Gwa'sala-Nakwaxda'xw Nations. (That is pronounced GWA-sala Nak-wah-da.) The children have been engaged and enthusiastic, and although my contact with them is brief, I'm enjoying it so much.

Of course, I'm especially excited about strenthening the library connection for tweens and teens. We've been working on digital literacy, which I've made into a bingo game. (Librarians will turn anything into bingo.) It's been touching to see our regular customers -- many of whom are from the same community -- graciously forego some computer time to accommodate the students.

Last week, I attended an event at the Gwa'sala Nakwaxda'xw School for the first time. There's a lot of poverty among Indigenous communities, and the reserve in Port Hardy reflects that, a sad reminder that the legacy of colonization is with us every day. Knowing this, I was unprepared for the brilliance of the school.

The building itself was beautiful, with soaring ceilings and lots of natural light, filled with art in the Coast Salish style. The event was in the evening, and to my surprise, we all had dinner together. Adults were serving behind giant tureens of soup -- a choice of beef, chicken, halibut, sockeye, or vegetarian -- and handing out freshly baked buns, all cooked by the Grade 7 students. The boys and young men drummed and chanted, and a group of young women danced in traditional clothes they had made themselves.

Everyone was so warm and welcoming. Many of the students recognized and greeted me, and the teachers and other adults were just so lovely. As a settler on Indigenous land (as every non-Indigenous Canadian is), I am so conscious of being respectful and not wanting to offend or overstep. Vancouver Island is a very friendly place, and it's not that I expected anything else at the Gwa'sala School. But this extended beyond superficial friendliness; it was a genuinely warm welcome.

A very long time ago, I volunteered and then taught at a place called The Door in New York City. The Door provided education, counseling, legal services, health services, creative art classes, social supports, and nutritious (and delicious) meals to young people who were out of school. It was so much more than a school: it was a community. Last week I recognized the same feeling at the Gwa'sala Nakwaxda'xw School. It felt honoured and privileged to be witness to it.

So what did I hear? Drumming, chanting, the jingling of dancing metal beads. I heard Gila'kasla: welcome.

These mosaic fish are floating on a mobile.

Apologies for the poor image quality. The light was dim and I had only my phone.

These are drums the boys made from original materials.
I wish you could see the little guy in the centre of the circle.