Monday, June 22, 2009

Back of my neck gettin' dirty and gritty

We got crabs this weekend. My husband and I, and my mom and dad, even our kids. And if you live in Baltimore you know that this didn't entail some kind of creepy Roman orgy situation - it entailed... well, I took pictures. SFW, really.

I'm not too sure what came over me Saturday afternoon. Maybe it was the Baltimore Facebook phenomenon of somebody changing their status to "CRABS TONIGHT!" and two dozen friends leaping in to comment, "Where are you getting them?" "How much for #1 males?" "Is the truck on Rte 97 still there?" I swear, you'd think it was code for really good marijuana. Huh. Maybe it is. I've always been a little slow about drugs.

We have recently decided that this summer is Vegetarian Summer. Why not? We don't eat a whole lot of meat anyway, I think the kids should see what it's like. Oh but they are pissed. I am not sure why - I'm not sure they can accurately identify what in their diet is meat in the first place. So we placated them somewhat. We assured them they they could have burgers on the 4th of July, hot dogs at the pool, and ribs whenever anyone offered them some.

Also, we explained to them that we would, of course, be following the dietary regime known as "Baltimore Vegetarianism." We learned about that one night out with Bob's brother Joe, a lifelong vegetarian who was experiencing a major attack of the wavers when confronted with the spectacular, cannonball-sized crab cakes at the restaurant around the corner. Baltimore Vegetarian is similar to Baltimore Kosher. Crabs don't count. In our case, fish don't count either.

Best crabs are always off a truck

This is the crab truck near the pool. Bob pointed it out last year, commenting, "I guess that's one of your no-no's." (I have rigorous and complicated rules about where food should come from. The Peruvian rotisserie chicken on the streetcorners in our old neighborhood in Brooklyn was an Absolutely Not.) I surprised him when I gave it an appraising glance and said, "Actually I bet that's a good place to get crabs." Live crabs and corn. Buy them off a truck.

Live crabs. You can buy cooked crabs from a store, usually one called "Captain (Insert-Salty-Sounding-Name-Here)". But it's nothing to cook them at home, and you get to have live, slightly dangerous invertebrates in your house.

Mao peeked in at these, a bushel of jimmies (males), with their sharp claws and carapaces, and when they did a big convulsive clacking squirm he jumped a little and grabbed my hand. He denies it. He's almost eight and I bet that's the last time he'll ever grab my hand like that.

Here's how you hold 'em

It really is blue

The crab guy showed them both how to hold a crab. I have never done such a thing with my bare hand, and Bob, who is from the Cleveland suburbs, nearly fainted. My dad likes to tell a story about how a crab speared his uncle right through the thumbnail with one of those claws. When a crab has clenched its claw, separating the claw from the crab has no effect. You have to bash the two pincers apart with a hammer. Freaky little alien beasts. Yeeeuch.

We bought two dozen and got a few for free (to my Baltimore friends - the truck at the corner of Woodbourne and Perring Parkway, $40/dozen for large males, 2 dozen for $74) and met my parents at my house. They brought their crab pot, but any extremely large pot will do, you just need to make a platform at the bottom so that the crabs don't get wet. In the pot goes about 8 cups of liquid, mostly water, a couple cups of vinegar if you like, some people swear by beer.

The beasts go in the pot

In Florida, I have heard, they BOIL crabs. Let us not speak of it again.

And get coated with salt and crab spice

Despite having lived in Baltimore for, oh, 7 years now, we haven't had crabs that often. Having little kids put the kibosh on eating crabs for a long time - you cannot tend a baby when your hands are completely encrusted with Old Bay. That shit is mostly salt and cayenne pepper. The last place it should end up is on a baby's face. Or, god help him, inside his diaper.

Old Bay is the crab spice that everyone knows about, but purists make their own spice mix, and philistines like me pay the guy at the crab truck a buck for a bag of miscellaneous red-orange dust. Some crab spice mixes have more black pepper, some have more cayenne and paprika. You just have to give it a sniff to see if it's to your taste. And you have to really load it on. Plus rock salt.

The men shuck the corn

Twenty minutes should do, during which time the boys can shuck the corn. In our family, there is always some discussion about "what else" we should have, because "nobody fills up on crabs". Most everyone agrees with corn. You can eat it with your hands and it's a vegetable. Some people believe in tomato wedges, for scraping the steamed spice mix up from the outside of the crabs, oh yeah, that is GOOD to eat... and if you're at a restaurant eating crabs there may be french fries or something. But in my opinion, "what else" is - more crabs.

Time out to rooster-ize the boy

We also had time to slick up Zhou's mohawk for his grandparents' benefit, and to demonstrate the Time Warp. My kids are 6 and 7, and I am here to tell you, there is nothing inherently dirty about the pelvic thrust. It's the cutest thing you've ever seen, in fact.

Here they come!

This is the point at which I stopped taking pictures for a while, because I got all crab-gooky. Please note, however, who is first at the table, mallet at the ready.

6 years old and already a pro

Not to be outdone, his brother, at the age of six, not only uses tools to get at crabmeat (I myself am strictly a hands-and-teeth hunter-gatherer), but has also inherited his grandfather's tendency to brag. "Look at this! Is this the backfin?! It's so big!" Both the kids ate, must have been, four crabs apiece, stayed at the table until the last claws were excavated, asked for more. I admire that commitment. They would have been the members of the tribe to have tried oysters for the first time.

They could get used to this

My dad accepted a beer (or four) from our cooler and observed, "Since when have you two (referring to my husband and myself, noted beer snobs) started drinking Miller Lite? In cans?" Hm. Yes. Well, the answer is: Bob's lost a bunch of weight working out, and one day he just sort of realized that he might reach his weight loss goal a little faster if he tried drinking light beer. I gave it a try when I realized that "blue beer" (we kind of can't bring ourselves to call it "Miller Lite") has way less alcohol than fancy beer. I love me a Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA, but one of those and I am no good for the rest of the morning. Plus? The recycling? So much lighter and less clanky!


Zhou, gazing over my shoulder right now, sighed, "I wish that picture could come alive... so I could have those crabs, those delicious crabs."

Happy solstice, from Baltimore.