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.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

And I don't like the way his boys keep lookin' at me

First in a possible series of meditations by my husband, who, drunk and bored and in Detroit, typing with two thumbs on a Blackberry, is funnier than I am on my best days.

Begin transmission:

About 1971 and i was maybe 6 when my father took me and my brother jim to a Cleveland Barons game at the now demised Cleveland Arena, a facility which then Cavs coach said, "led the league in cars stolen from the parking lot." I have only the dimmest most impressionistic memories of being there. I don't kno who they played. If the won. Were thy in the NHL then? I believe so, if briefly. Smoke. The players circling the half ice before the game, ominously, like ravens. The Zambomi (of course). I liked the logo, i can't remember it precisely but there was a monocle involved. Now that i have kids i realice i almost certainly fell asleep, a least on the ride home. It is a wonderful memory full or warmth and protection in the presence of menice, the unknown. Kernal of childhood.

Well that was the last time i watched this much hockey. (One period so far. . If redWings win, locals go bananas. That would be cool. I may burn a car myself...) i am at a fairly pthetic rooftop bar (there is a portapotty up here) in the decimated heart of downtown detroit. The Greektown casino wafts soullessly over us, its fabulous blue translucense ethereal, detached, other, safe: which is rather the point. (It is beautiful though.) Down on earth, bright red wheels-withiwings shirts dominate. My chums up here are tattooed, edgy, teeth are at a premium. Chants of Go Wings and Lets Go Red Wings pop up, not at the many tense moments, taut pauses, during course of the game itself but in spasmodic outbursts during the commercials. We are, it feels, biding our time. I am told this would be the 5th championship in last 12 yrs. Besting the Yankees Red Sox Patriots during that period. Probbly have to go back to Jordan's Bulls to match it. Before that, what?, Russell's Celts. Did Gretsky win that many? Well now pburgh scores people are yelling 'fuck you.' Ok. That's fair. I hope they lose. I hope they both lose. How's that for fuck you. Althoug, burning that car would be cool.

The pointless 'People Mover' whirs by. It is a little two car monorail train that connects this crappy part of downtown with similarly other crappy parts of downtown culminatiing (arguably) in the gargantuan cylindrical blue and bankrupt GM headquarters. Like so many (all so far) of the urban rejuvenation efforts here it reeks of trying to hard, forced. At once outsized in unfulfilled ambition and puny in the face of the forces marshalled against it, the empty skyscrapers, and streets. The crowd is warming up now. Cheering for what seems to be (to the uninitiated) spectacular play of the goalie. (Another flashbaack. Not long after the Barons game, i read ' Roger Corzier Daredevil Goalie' about a RedWing, mde me the man i am today.) (Hey pess the attack. Shouts of 'Keep it in.' 'Shoot!' Actual applause how quaint, you would never hear hat t football o basketball.

The game is dizzying. Brought to you by the Marines - what does that tell you?
Use of the word 'outlet' as a verb is fun, as in '... outletted to Grvrnidki...' Up and back. The players are, in interview pregame etc, so unostentatious. Bearded, hockey being more or less a delay in that crane-operator career they were pursuing. the blur of it all. Another People Mover, empty i can see. They've popped on these bright construction lights now up here. Harsh. I realize, as the sun is set, there are no other lights up here. So thse offensive glaring orbs outshing the omnipresent flatscreen. A couple of sets of christmas lights would suffice, boys, at a tenth the cost. Just like the portapotty. Cheap. Poorly executed. Like the gm bldg, overkill, faux gaudy, uncomfortabl w the need for scale and pace.

I'll never make it thru the third perod. The poet wants to say something about preserving the moment of uncertainty and hope, perfect, medias res, letting the bull live, leaving it like those Barons, loved and unknown, forlorn (and monocle'd), just colors and and exotic lingering cigar incense. But in fact i am just too drunk and my thumbs are cramping up. Routine hockey injury i am sure. Go Browns :b

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

East 55th and Euclid Avenue

In spring, I try to get them to let me cut their hair off. As an incentive, I offer to dye it if they like. It's only hair, and they're only children. Why not?

Today seemed like the perfect day for it - the house has recently been professionally cleaned in preparation for a Big Event on Saturday, and I'd like to keep it nice until then. Plus, they're off to see their uncles and aunties this weekend in the middle of tick territory, so short hair seems like a good idea.

Let's set this up:

This is their winter look. Well, Mao usually wears a shirt under his biker jacket, but I'm talking about the hair. That kid has such thick hair he's been compared to a) Danny Torrance and b) David Cassidy.

This is what we did today:

Ohh, how I wanted to leave a long shock on top, but once I started cutting, he just wanted it ALLLL off. I felt it too - I came very damn close to running those clippers around my ears and across the back of my neck. It would feel SO GOOD to get some of this stuff off my neck.

He wanted just one orange racing stripe down the side. Understated, is our Mao.

And the other?

Wanted to look like "Syndrome with a mohawk."

Eat his dust - that's MY boy.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

In me own words by Graham Roumieu - review

I don't do this often. But I gotta.

I was at Book Expo in New York last weekend, tramping around publishers' booths, telling them what a white-hot children's literature blogger I was and how they should send me free books all the time (some of them bought it - suckas), when I stopped in at the Manic D booth, ostensibly to look at the new Francesca Lia Block, but mostly because they were not displaying a single book about the rain forest or the solar system or bullying, except maybe one about how bullying can be a lucrative career choice for tween girls.

Anyway, I picked up this book and laughed my ass off. Despite my feet hurting A LOT and my shoulder carved into ruts from the 50 lbs of books I was lugging around in a tote bag. (Confidential to China MiƩville - OH MY GOD YUM.)

Ok. Listen. I not know where all you morons come from but holy water no hurt Bigfoot. Garlic and Crucifix also no. Fire, pitchfork, Silver bullet Ok. Cryptonite do nothing. It not even real. Please stop sending letters asking "What you vulnerability? What Bigfoot?" Like I tell. What next me bank account number? Why not you invest time in moving out of Parent basement? Maybe have sex or something.
It's Bigfoot's autobiography. Bigfoot is afraid of digital watches and Irish people. He never went to Vietnam. He's a nifty dancer and a would-be screenwriter and he mourns his pal Denis, who I think was a hamster. And I tell you all this and YET! Still not spoil!

The book is written and illustrated by Graham Roumieu (Cat & Gnome, A Really Super Book About Squirrels). It may be the only book I actually purchase for myself this year. When I read it aloud to my friends and co-workers, which I have done like three times tonight (Storytime? I got your Storytime RIGHT HERE), I use my Drunk Cookie Monster voice. What voice will YOU use?