Shucking oysters from the brink of death – Kitsch ‘n Bitch ready to shuck

From the brink of death 10 months ago, Sue Frause is ready to celebrate life on Whidbey Island with a bit of vino and a few oysters.

Sue Frause

From the brink of death 10 months ago, Sue Frause is ready to celebrate life on Whidbey Island with a bit of vino and a few oysters.

The host of Whidbey Island Center for the Arts’ culinary series, Kitsch ‘n Bitch, is back for her fifth season Nov. 7 after a major health scare during the Langley Sea Float Scramble. She will be joined by a pair of oyster experts, one a Puget Sound professional and one a Freeland amateur oyster gardener, as well as Whidbey winery owners for her live show.

Returning to the stage was never in jeopardy in Frause’s resilient mind, though that very cerebrum nearly claimed her life.

As she was taking pictures of the Langley event, the journalist/travel writer said she saw one image suddenly become sepia toned. Her camera had no such setting, so she found that odd but kept clicking away to capture more images as hundreds of people scoured Langley for the glass orbs. Then another image was framed by crystal — another setting that hers and all other cameras do not have. She pressed down on the shutter trigger a third time, said she felt strange to a friend, then collapsed.

“It was like someone had pulled the plug and the volume had gone down 50 percent,” Frause said.

Frause experienced a brain aneurysm, a life-threatening ballooning in a blood vessel in the brain that leaked, which can cause a stroke. According to data from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 30,000 people in the United States report suffering a cerebral aneurysm every year. It is most common in people between 30 and 60 years old, but can occur to anyone at any age.

Thanks to her being surrounded by friends and family, she was tended to quickly and taken by emergency transport to a Seattle hospital for brain surgery to stop the bleeding. She was at the hospital for a couple of weeks and was unable to fly — a big part of her career as a travel writer — for a few months.

A prolific writer and social media presence, Frause returned to Twitter three days later. But as soon as she was medically cleared, she was jet setting for Mississippi.

Despite being at the edge of a fatal medical condition, Frause said she is still the same Kitsch ‘n Bitch who loves traveling, a good glass of wine and trying new foods among friends, neighbors and strangers.

And, even though the career writer will happily pen something about the wonders of Mississippi or the delights of Vancouver, Frause has no plans to write about her aneurysm.

“I’m not going to write a book about it,” she said.

She laughs off parts of the experience, now many months removed from the event itself, such as her quick recovery and social media activity. “I probably would have gotten better gifts,” if she had feigned greater illness, she laughed. Or that the surgery did not require her head to be shaved, though it did leave some “carvings,” as she described the scars.

“Talk about First-World problems,” she sighed.

“I got nervous when the priest came in … I probably kicked him out,” she added with a chuckle.

That’s why she’s back and ready for another round at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts stage in Langley. This time, she is going to tackle the fast-growing popularity of oysters.

Around Puget Sound, oyster bars have sprung up far and wide, with a particular concentration in Seattle. The Walrus & The Carpenter, Ballard Annex Oyster House, Barnacle, Westward, Anchovies and Olives, The Brooklyn, Dahlia Lounge, Shuckers, Elliott’s, Frank’s Oyster House, Seastar, the list continues in the Emerald City.

Bringing — or perhaps better, brining — expertise from Taylor Shellfish is Bill Whitbeck. Nicknamed “Oyster Bill,” Whitbeck is the Seattle-area sales manager for the Shelton-based mollusk company and co-author of “The Joy of Oyster.”

Adding a touch of local flavor to the guest list is Kevin Lungren, president of The Fishin’ Club of Whidbey Island and an oyster gardener in Freeland. Having grown oysters on his tideland for 25 years, he will lay out how anyone with a beach of the right kind can seed it for oysters.

In an interview for a feature about local oyster gardening in March, Lungren said little expertise is needed to get started.

“I think anybody can probably make a go of it,” he said.

Serving drinks for the evening to be paired with the oysters are Rita and Carl Comfort, owners of the Comforts of Whidbey winery outside of Langley.

Nancy Nolan will be the musical guest on the piano.

“I like to showcase the people here on the island,” she said.

Part of the show will likely include some gift giveaways, Frause said, and always includes the offer for the audience to taste what was prepared.

Frause, for her part, prefers oysters fried. Although, she admits, she is growing to enjoy some freshly shucked raw oysters on the half shell.

The show, like Frause’s palette, has grown and changed over the years. Back in September 2011, she remembered worrying that no one would attend the first show. She was wrong, but not by much. A couple dozen people filed in at show time.

“There were maybe 25 people,” she said. “Every host wants a full house.”

But the show must go on and, as it did, it grew. Given the recent popularity of oysters — fried, raw or Rockefeller — expect Oysterfest to be a hit.

Frause is already back in the rhythm of her travel writing and was off to Mazatlan for a few days. But, she said, she is always ready to come home and celebrate life, and food, in the Pacific Northwest.


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