This weekend, I left the rainy, cold and stormy winds of Seattle and fled to the rainy, cold stormy, windswept ocean beach in the town of Moclips on the Olympic Peninsula. What I learned upon my arrival is that the entire area was getting ready for thousands of folks to throng to this surf-swept area for the second weekend of razor clam digging of the year. The following weekend's festival pits local restaurants against one another for the best clam chowder and an open competition for original recipes. Our local Seattle chef of great notoriety, Kathy Casey, was expected to arrive as the judge for the competition. Local residents compete also in their own event.

Having the good fortune to be staying at the Ocean Crest Resort, where third-generation owner Jess Owen is the part-time chef, I found out he's the odds-on favorite for the most original recipe: Razor Clams with Artichoke Hearts and Hearts of Palm (see recipe).

OVERDIGGING

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) makes the determination of when the Pacific beaches, from Long Beach north to Kalaloch, will open for clam digging to prevent the overdigging and depletion of the clam population.

When a weekend dig is over, they assess how many clams were actually taken and then decide on the next date open for digging.

My naïve urbanite question of "How do they know how many clams were actually taken?" was greeted by knowing smirks, smiles and winks of the eye - "Those WDFW guys patrol the beaches checking diggers' licenses (one needs a license to dig) and peoples 'buckets (limit is restricted to 15 clams, irrespective of size), as well as counting the diggers themselves, and they know!"

The northern coastal beaches of Kalaloch have been closed for years due to overdigging, and the remaining Pacific Beaches are open on different weekends.

GOING CLAMMING

After a visit to the town of Ocean Shores Chamber of Commerce and to the visitors center, and conversing with several longtime residents of the region, this girl from the Bronx has become a quasi expert on this meaty shellfish named for its resemblance to a straight razor.

Razor clams are found in the intertidal coastal beaches exposed between the +3- and -2-foot tides. The WDWF opens the beaches during the lowest tide of month, when finding the razor clams is easiest. The clams are able to dig themselves down into the sand at about 1 foot per minute, so diggers must be quick on the draw after positioning their shovel with blade back to the water (the clams dig toward the water).

One of life's great moments comes during a night dig (there was only one this year; the next one isn't until next winter), when thousands of diggers with lanterns crowd the beaches looking for the little holes in the sand that tell them the object of their desire lies below.

PREPARATION

Once dug, the clam must be separated from its delicate long shell, and then the tough nose is cut off. Using scissors, cut up the length of the clam exposing the innards. Remove the lungs, guts and green stuff within until you have a clean clam.

At this point, most of the locals remove the tender "digger" for frying or sautéing and grind up the remainder for use in chowder. Us less-fortunate folk who are thrilled to have our 15 clams for the season just eat the whole thing, longing wistfully for the next weekend of digging.

For a more detailed description of cleaning razor clams, go to www.wdfw.wa.gov/fish/shelfish/razorclm/razor9.htm.

Karen Binder owns the Madison Park Café. She can be reached at mptimes@nwlink.com.