The Brady Bunch Challenge: Spicy Sweet Corn Ice Cream

Like butter drippin’ off a hot biscuit.

My particular friend and I have Brady-bunched our households recently, in a much less dramatic fashion than the TV show (he brings a near-teenager part-time, D, and I have a teenager, Sicily, who is full-time but who is also a working stiff with lots of friends and is not around as often as she used to be).

It has been challenging, which is an understatement along the lines of “That iceberg looks pretty big,” and “Is it dangerous that this zeppelin is filled with extremely explosive gas?”

It is hard to know whether the best way to do this is to rip the Band-Aid off and just shove everyone together with family-type events or to let things just happen.

If you have teenagers, you know both are loaded propositions. Trying to manufacture a new type of family can be saccharin and artificial, and teenagers tend to mostly want to hibernate in their own rooms. So if we force everyone to a nightly family dinner it might feel fake and super awkward, but when left to their own devices, the two teenagers tend to disappear to their respective rooms, emerging like hibernating bears for food and occasionally to wash a huge load of laundry and shower. This makes getting to know everyone in this new way difficult.

And then there is the challenge of nurturing and growing our own relationship in the face of surly teenagers, differing parenting styles, and the shit that is cohabitating with others (how are there so many freaking bobby pins and single socks in this house?!). How do you manage an adult relationship with children that is not based on those children?

If you are a parent who is still partnered with the other half of your offspring’s DNA, you have exactly zero idea of what I am talking about. That’s totally amazing, and I am truly happy for you in your relationship. DON’T WASTE IT.

If you have lost a spouse to divorce or death, and you have managed to pull your soggy, mangled heart off the wasteland of the floor that is your life and actually get out into the world and meet another person, you are in for a challenge that goes far beyond being vulnerable, confronting loss, and worrying about showing your naked self to someone new for the first time in ______ years.

Turns out, those things are easy when compared to navigating the treacherous waters of parenting someone else’s kid.

For the record, I will never be D’s mom. She has a mom who loves her fiercely, exactly the way a mother should. I don’t share the birth experience with D, and that in and of itself is a powerful connection that only a biological mother can feel.

Side note: I have an adopted brother. Adoptive parents can feel just as powerful a connection in a different way that is no less valid and potent. Don’t get mad and send me hate mail. I mean no disrespect.

But there is no way around it: I am an adult in D’s life, and she is a child in my house. Khristian is looking down the barrel of a 17-year-old teenager (my daughter) who lost a dad of her own and isn’t really looking for a replacement.

Do you see how things can become/have become/are becoming more complex?

Parenting is the worst best job when the kid is your own. I never wanted to be a parent. If I am being honest (which I always try to be), I am not a huge fan of kids in general (which is pretty funny since one of my callings in life has been as a teacher, both in a classroom and now on a yoga mat. But I digress.) So what do you call parenting when the worst best job applies to someone else’s kid?

How do you not be an asshole to a 12-year-old, or, at the very least, not feel like an asshole when you correct said 12-year-old in the same way you would correct your own child but when the 12-year-old is not, in fact, your 12-year-old?

It is complex. Add to this a biological mother who is struggling – understandably so – with this reconfiguration, and the layers begin to look geologic. I started this blog post a couple weeks ago, and as time passed things got more heated. For all intents and purposes, and even though D has moved in, I am an outsider to one of the main struggles in her former-family, looking in on a parental relationship that failed and continues to be problematic for the parents (and increasingly, for the child). The first sentence of this blog in its first draft asked which was harder: death or divorce.

When it comes to parenting the answer is very, very simple: divorce.

Divorced people who want nothing to do with each other are forced to interact when they share a child. That interaction will only get worse as the kid gets older and decisions get more complicated and more expensive. In contrast with Sicily, whose dead father is a keen and deeply felt knife-like absence on (increasingly predictable) occasions, Khristian’s former spouse is a keen and deeply felt knife-like presence in even the most mundane of daily decisions. These are the fogs of a former dynamic that don’t quite seem to be dissipating.

So in essence, as of now, it seems that the house is just not big enough for everyone who is here.

I talked to my therapist about this today (and I don’t care who knows). My particular friend, my sweet love – he is struggling. And so am I. I am angry, explosively so but with no proper target and no real right to be angry. I can see from the outside what I think should be done, but it’s not mine to do. And yet the center, as it is, cannot hold.

My therapist is pretty much right on with most things. Previous examples of her brilliance include the acronym SET when dealing with teenagers (Support, Empathy, Truth), an approach that revolutionized the way I dealt with The Kid when her teenager was hanging out. True to form, today she proposed that I approach the situation with this thing called “radical acceptance.”

Whereas depression says, “Nothing matters, so it’s pointless,” radical acceptance realizes that there is nothing to be done one way or the other; things just are the way they are.

In other words, there is nothing for me to do about the hovering presence of a former spouse.

Getting involved doesn’t help.

Having an opinion doesn’t help.

Getting angry/sad/bitchy about it doesn’t help.

I can listen. That’s about it.

And when I can’t listen anymore, I can even say, “Hey, man. I can’t hear this right now.”

Therapy is a fucking miracle sometimes.

In the meantime, there is always food. That constant thread.

The above-referenced 12-year-old is a big fan of ice cream (and the 17-year-old works at The Charmery in Hampden, bringing home samples after each shift). D is a talented maker of ice cream herself, but she has a palate that is, to be frank, picky, very selective , and difficult to please (it’s hard to compete with grilled cheese and tater tots). I made this sweet and spicy ice cream using corn harvested from a friend’s father’s garden on a whim, not wanting to waste either the corn (which I made into relish) or the cobs (which found their way into this recipe). D loves it, cayenne pepper and all.

I am not naive enough to think that ice cream – however delicious – will make this transition pain-free. As I write this, the adults in D’s life are still trying to get their shit together. All I can do, all any of us can do, is try to recognize that all of the conflict really has nothing to do with me and everything to do with a past that is still present for D and her father. Divorce is its own particular kind of hell, I think, a hell that expands and contracts with each passing year. This particular divorce comes with a morass of painful feelings that sit on our doorstep as we combine families. After supporting the people in my household through this, I figure the very least I can do is give them something sweet.

Spicy Sweet Corn Ice Cream

The first thing you taste is sweet corn, followed by a hint of vanilla and the scratchy burn of just a touch of cayenne. This is pretty much the best summer dessert ever.

Ingredients

4 corn cobs, corn removed (but don’t be too precious about it; you can leave some on there)

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups milk

1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

3/4 cup sugar, divided

6 egg yolks (make meringue with the whites, or give your dogs a treat)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 cup whole milk yogurt

Method

Place heavy corn cobs, heavy cream, and milk in heavy saucepan and heat until bubbles form on the edges of the milk. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Remove the corn cobs from the cream/milk mixture, scraping all of the delicious bits off the cob with a spoon before pouring the milk through a fine mesh sieve. Return the milk to the heat. Scrape the paste from the inside of the vanilla bean and add to the milk (or add vanilla extract, if using) and add 1/2 cup of the sugar. Heat until bubbles begin to form on the sides of the pan, stirring occasionally.

Combine egg yolks, salt, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and cayenne in a bowl. Use a whisk to combine completely.

This next part is where you might completely ruin your custard, so go slowly. If you have no experience with this sort of thing, go at half the speed you might normally go.

Using a whisk and whisking constantly, pour a thin stream of the hot milk into the eggs. You can pour a little and whisk, or pour a thin stream constantly; you are bringing the cold eggs up to the temperature of the hot milk (or close) so that you don’t make sweet scrambled eggs (BARF).

Once you have poured and whisked about a cup of the hot milk into the eggs, add the egg mixture back into the pan and return to medium-low heat. This is the second part where you might screw it up, so go slow and keep the heat low. Cook gently, stirring constantly, for about ten minutes or until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from heat and once again pass the custard through a  fine-mesh strainer. You need to chill this mixture before processing, but it’s important to bring the temperature down quickly as you have just created the perfect petri dish for bacteria (eggs and sugar and milk that’s warm). To do this, fill a large bowl (bigger than the bowl you have the custard in) with ice cubes and water, and place the custard bowl inside. Stir custard occasionally. When it has cooled enough to touch, remove from ice bath, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until completely cool (at least four hours but overnight is good, too, making this a great make-ahead dessert).

Chill according to manufacturer’s directions on your ice cream maker.

The Court’s Indulgence: White Bean, Sweet Pepper, And Arugula With Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

Court’s indulgence. This picture is blurry. It was a long day.

It’s not often that things on TV are pretty much exactly the same in real life.

Last week I sat on a jury for a five-day trial. The defendant was accused of 24 counts of crime, including first-degree rape and possessing a weapon when he wasn’t allowed to possess a weapon.

(Fun fact: the defendant’s last crime was prosecuted by Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 1993. Federal drug charge.)

I have never sat on an actual jury; I have been called for jury duty three times in my life, and mostly it’s just lots of sitting around and watching movies like How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days and Avatar. This time was different, and I was quickly seated as Juror #4 by noon on my first day of reporting, then sent home until Monday when the trial would begin.

Everything about the trial was pretty much what it looks like on TV: the dramatic opening and closing statements, the cross examination, the witnesses getting testy with the defense attorney, and, finally, conflict (and resolution) in the deliberation room.

Time seemed strangely fluid as well; hours would pass in the courtroom in what seemed like minutes, but in the deliberation room, every minute was an agony of waiting. At the end of the day we would emerge from our windowless room, cram ourselves into the elevator, and then emerge at the corner of St. Paul and Lexington, blinking against the too-bright sunshine of the late afternoon, at the height of rush hour to crawl our way home.

Of all the things that stuck in my mind that week, one in particular stands out. Whenever the lawyers had to gather something or find something that meant the action had to pause briefly, they would say, “Court’s indulgence,” and the judge would nod, indicating that she was cool with the wait.

“Court’s indulgence.”

I don’t know why, but I love this saying. It’s a respectful request for permission to pause while you gather your thoughts, something we could all use every now and then.

One day when I came home it was stuck in my head like a mantra, playing over and over as I fed the dogs and made dinner. On that night, it was hot outside and the back door was open, letting in a feeble breeze (and lots of flies, which drives The Black Dog crazy, an admittedly short trip). It had been an especially long day, nine to five listening to a case about rape and gun violations, and I wasn’t particularly interested in making something complicated for dinner or turning on the stove.

Court’s indulgence: I remembered my preserved lemons, which were ready and waiting.

Court’s indulgence: There were some small, sweet yellow, red, and orange peppers in the crisper, along with half a red onion and some arugula that I wouldn’t even need to wash.

Court’s indulgence: A bomb shelter’s worth of canned beans in the coolness of the basement.

Et voila. Dinner, eaten with the court’s indulgence, on the balcony in the back of the house as the evening wore on and the sun sank low.

White Bean, Sweet Pepper, And Arugula Salad With Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

Ingredients

2 tablespoons minced preserved lemon (rinse to remove salt and also strip away the squishy flesh)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup best-quality olive oil (it matters)

1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 to 1 teaspoon black pepper (I like a lot of pepper)

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

One large red pepper, chopped, or five small multi-color pepper, chopped

1/2 large red onion, sliced

Handful of arugula per salad

Method

Make things easy on yourself and mix this all in the same bowl. I used a medium-sized round white Corningware bowl.

Place first five ingredients in bowl and mix together. Add beans, peppers, and onions and stir to combine.

To serve, place a large handful of arugula in a bowl, then top with beans. If you feel the need, you can drizzle with more olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, but mix it all around and taste before you do that.

Beans are even better the next day, chilled and then brought to room temp before serving.

 

 

On Words, Love, And The (Im)Perfect Crabcake

(Im)perfectly delicious, hon.
(Im)perfectly delicious, hon.

So I have been avoiding words. Words like these ones right here.

And yes, I am aware that I just used the phrase “these ones.” #IBlameTheSouth

I don’t know what it is about words. I find them alternately an abiding comfort and a deep frustration. I have hurled them as invective, used them like a lover’s caress, and felt them/rolled them around in my mouth, through my heart, and on the page.

But sometimes of late words have [quite literally] failed me. I have said the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way.

I have received hurtful words from someone I love, most recently unintentionally (but intentionally in the past).

Sidebar: They both feel bad.

It’s enough to make me clam up altogether, which I am getting especially good at. Seems easier to say nothing than to say something I don’t mean or that will leave a lasting wound.

And then a few weeks ago I ran across this from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Fourth Mindfulness Training Guide:

“I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations.”

The idea is to monitor yourself and your words so that they are not harmful or rooted in anger or misunderstanding that will make things worse.

In short, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

Excellent idea.

Except we are all of us only human beings, yes? And as I like to [gratefully] acknowledge, this is a practice, not a perfect. I am still at the grasshopper stage, keeping my mouth shut and walking away.

But this is patently unhelpful in some situations where silence would only serve to deepen the rift or misunderstanding or hurt others, especially those who have had silence wielded like a sword in their past.

Which brings me to my recent connection of wabi-sabi as it pertains to humans. My particular friend lent me a book recently called Wabi-Sabi For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. Wabi-sabi is the Japanese philosophy/practice/way of life focused on accepting and celebrating the beauty of impermanence and imperfection in everything. That’s a thumbnail, but it gets to the root in a nutshell.

Richard Powell sums it up as this:

“Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

Certainly true for the wabi-sabi qualities in humans, human communication, and human relationships.

The trick here is to determine if you are willing to do the work anyway, to acknowledge the impermanence and imperfection and love (accept) all of that anyway.

According to Wabi-Sabi for Artists,

“The simplicity of wabi-sabi is probably described as the state of grace arrived at by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence.”

This is a far cry from the passionate, loud, and impulsive words being hurled around of late, in my house and in the rest of the world. Wabi-sabi requires more contemplation and reflection and acceptance, but the last is hard to come by. It seems that acceptance is the thing that allows the words or the art or the love to flow.

I have lost many words of late. I don’t know if that’s a reflection of my lack of acceptance, but it is certainly highlighting my imperfection. Wabi-sabi is the fine line between something starting and ending, that moment when there is a shift. Maybe that’s what is happening.

So what’s with the crabcakes? How is this wabi-sabi?

Well, to start, crabs don’t give a fuck about decay and imperfection; they are one of the few bottom feeders that I will actually eat, mopping up whatever’s rotten on the bottom of the Bay.

They accept whatever is lowered into the depths at the end of a piece of cotton twine. Throw a ripe chicken neck off a dock and you will invariably hoist a few crabs from the murky depths.

In this pairing, they are also a continuation of experimentation in my kitchen, which is a good thing, and they represent a foundational element in my life. I grew up in Maryland, crabbing off the docks at Assateague as a child and picking crabs in someone’s backyard at least once a summer every year. When I am feeling at loose ends, it is a great comfort to me to come back to these touchstones in my life when I can reliably remember feeling at peace and without struggle.

So along with these words, here is some food for you.

Maryland Crabcakes With Green Papaya, Carrot, and Jicama Slaw

With Pineapple Vinaigrette

Ingredients

Crabcake

2 tsp. Old Bay

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 T Dijon mustard

2 slices bread without crusts, torn into bits

1 T mayonnaise

1 egg

Optional: 1/2 tsp Worchestershire (I am not convinced, but many would say this is essential.)

1 pound jumbo lump crab

 

Green Papaya, Jicama, and Carrot Slaw

1/2 cup green papaya, shredded

1/2 cup  jicama, shredded

1/4 cup carrots, shredded

1 large jalapeno,  finely sliced (keep some seeds for heat)

a handful of fresh pineapple, julienned

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

juice of one lime

1 oz.  pineapple vinegar (recipe below)

2 oz.  vegetable oil (or other light oil)

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

small garlic clove, finely minced

1/2 tsp. celery seed

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Crabcakes

Combine Old Bay, parsley, mustard, mayonnaise, egg, and Worchestershire (if using) in a large bowl. Stir well to combine.

Add crabmeat and mix with your hands very, very gently. You want the crab to stay in big, fat, delicious chunks, barely held together.

Form into something resembling a cross between a meatball and a patty. For ease, I greased ramekins and packed the meat in there. Place in ‘fridge for 30 minutes while you make the slaw.

Heat a generous amount of butter (couple tablespoons) in a heavy frying pan. Place crabcakes gently in pan and fry until they have a nice crust and are warmed all the way through (about four minutes to a side.

Move to paper towels until serving.

Slaw

Combine the first six ingredients (green papaya, jicama, carrot, jalapeno, pineapple, parsley) in a medium bowl and squeeze the juice of one lime to coat the veg. In a small bowl, whisk together the last five ingredients (vinegar, oil, cumin, garlic, celery). Pour over vegetables and herbs, then season with salt and pepper.

Pineapple vinegar

In a saucepan, combine 8 oz. white vinegar, 8 oz. of fresh pineapple, and 1 tsp. of sugar. Bring to a rolling boil, mashing the pineapple a bit as it boils. Remove from heat and let cool, then strain to remove solids and place in ‘fridge.

Recipe notes

  • I used GF bread, but white bread is traditional, or Saltine crackers. If using Saltines, use about eight crackers.
  • JM Clayton crabmeat is the way to go if you are buying it. If you aren’t going to pick it yourself, don’t fuck around with crappy crabmeat in a can. This is an expensive recipe, to be sure, so save your money if you need to, but do it right. Or, do what I did and eat rice for a week for dinner so you can afford to test the recipe. #LifesFullOfTradeOffs
  • Fresh peaches make delicious vinegar as well. Swap the white vinegar for white balsamic and sub peeled, chopped peaches for the pineapple and proceed as above. Much more delicate flavor.
  • Turns out, I hate cabbage and cabbage hates me, so that’s why none is present. If cabbage loves you and vice versa feel free to add it in.
  • If you cannot find green papaya at your local Asian grocery store, feel free to use cabbage instead. It will change the flavors a bit, but using a lighter-flavored cabbage like Napa cabbage should keep things balanced.

 

 

 

 

This Is Not A Manifesto: Corn Dog Edition

This is not a manifesto. It's a corn dog.
This is not a manifesto. It’s a corn dog.

I love a good manifesto.

It warms the cockles of my heart when someone stands up and puts it out there: who they are, who they are not, what they believe. Things they might, in fact, die for if shit went south and got overly dramatic or fraught.

Take corn dogs, for instance.

I have an old friend who is almost like a brother who now mostly exists for me on Facebook. He was a great friend in person and is now a great friend online.

But he has gone his entire life not having ever tasted the ambrosia that is a corn dog.

How is this possible? In this day and age, with an abundance of corn dogs to be had, how can he have not eaten the greasy golden goodness of tube meat encased in sweetcrunchycreamy corn bread?

And back the fuck away with ketchup. Mustard only. #ThisIsNotAmateurHour

When I expressed my disbelief in this corn dog-sized hole in his heart (that was hitherto undiscovered) and my own love of corn dogs, he said, and I quote:

“I would’ve pegged you as anti-corn dog.”

A dagger. Like a dagger to the heart.

How can ANYONE be anti-corn dog? Is that even possible? I question the validity of the term itself.

And where on earth would he have gotten the anti-corn dog vibe?

This is not the first time I have run up against this sentiment. In my yoga teacher training, I routinely get asked for healthy recipes, and people there say they need to look at my blog when they are trying to eat something that is good for them.

Let’s go to the record: my last two recipes have been for cake and Nanaimo bars, a tooth-achingly sweet yet delicious concoction that serves very few and still manages to use an entire stick of butter in one of its three layers.

I make a coffee cake that uses two cups of  sugar and an entire bar of cream cheese.

The book that I just wrote features more dessert recipes than any other kind in any other section. By a lot.

Yes, the things I create are gluten free. But health food? They are not.

So it seems fitting to set the record straight.

This is not a manifesto.

I believe in eating well.

I believe in fresh food, cooked with love.

I believe in butter, lots of it, and heavy cream. I also believe in full-fat cream cheese and whole milk.

I love sugar. I don’t believe in sugar substitutes. If you substitute agave for sugar, do it because agave has its own delicious taste, but don’t try to fool yourself into thinking it is magically better for you than regular sugar. #DittoHoney

I think everyone should be able to eat something delicious when they come to my house, regardless of their dietary restrictions. Sometimes this means limiting fat, salt, and sugar. These are instances in which I will do whatever I need to do to make a person feel welcome.

If something makes you feel bad, don’t eat it, and ignore the haters. #IAmLookingAtYouGlutenShamers

I am not above a box of macaroni and cheese. Nor am I below it. Mostly it is somewhere in the middle, right behind my navel.

I have eaten an entire bag of chips for dinner.

I don’t believe in diets. I don’t believe in dieting. I don’t believe in “cheat days.”

I believe in moderation in all things, including moderation (thanks, Oscar Wilde).

I believe that cooking and feeding people is an art that everyone should have access to. So stow your elitist bullshit (like the $20 fried pig’s tail – are YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME – currently on offer at a local nose-to-tail hipster place that I won’t name but should).

And I believe that when you go to the fair or a carnival, GET A FUCKING CORN DOG.

So. Mike. For you, here is a corn dog.

Mike Kendall’s First Corn Dog

Note: Because I believe good food should be affordable, I won’t always use organic things. GMOs are up for debate, and I will not enter the fray here. HOWEVER. Because hot dogs are generally made of, as my friend Luke says, lips and assholes, spend your money on good ones. Either go to a butcher you trust, or at least go kosher. I like Hebrew National  (#SupportTheJews #MyFatherWouldBeProud) and Applegate’s uncured, no nitrates organic stadium dogs for both taste and texture. You can also use veggie dogs if you must; I used ToFurky’s vegan version of hot dog in testing.

Ingredients

One package of hot dogs

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour (gluten-filled flour works here, too), plus a little more to coat the dogs

1 cup cornmeal

6 T sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 egg

1 1/4 cups buttermilk (OR, easy cheater way: Add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to 1 1/4 cups of milk and let sit for ten minutes. Proceed as directed. #BOOM)

Vegetable oil for frying (a nice big bottle. #Yum)

Method

I use an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven for frying. If you have a fryer, that works, too. Heat oil to 350 degrees. I aim for about three inches of oil in the pot; you may not need as much. You do, however, need to heat it to 350. #Trust

Mix dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl.

Mix wet ingredients in a small bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until there are no lumps (I like a whisk for this purpose. Don’t be gentle; it’s not a baby bunny.).

There are two ways to go about frying up some homemade fair food.

Easy way:

Cut hot dogs into 2-inch pieces and coat in flour. Dip into batter, then remove with a fork and drop into hot oil. Fry until golden brown, moving them around as needed to ensure crispy goodness all over. Use tongs or a spider to remove to paper towels to drain.

Eat a ridiculous amount of these.

Less easy way (requires more attention and the purchase of sturdy skewers):

Pour batter into a tall drinking glass.

Skewer your hot dogs through the end almost all the way to the top. Roll hot dogs in flour to coat, then dip that dog into the batter.

Place in heated oil and fry that baby up until the outside is golden brown and delicious, about three minutes. Make sure to flip around in the oil so that all sides are brown.

Pro tip: As you lower the dogs into the oil, go slowly and swirl the top of the dog in the hot oil. This seals the batter so that it doesn’t fly off in all directions and looks more like fair corn dogs.

Remove from oil and place on paper towels to drain. Serve with mustard, or, begrudgingly, with ketchup.

I won’t lie: sriracha mayo is also delicious here, as is honey mustard.

Recipe notes

  • Leftover batter can be fried on its own and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Go for broke and top with a can of cherry pie filling or chocolate pudding and it’s like the fair has come to you.
  • Leftover batter also keeps in the ‘fridge for a day.
  • Add cayenne to your batter, a teaspoon or two, for a little spicy dog.

 

 

 

Local Ingredients: Maryland Blue Crab

Image source


It seems fitting that the first local ingredient featured on this blog is the “beautiful savory swimmer,” callinectes sapidus. Common name: the Maryland blue crab.

Some of my fondest memories are of summer backyards filled with brown-paper covered tables, mallets and claw crackers or heavy knives at the ready, bright red crabs covered in Old Bay piled in the center of the table. A grill warming up for burgers and hot dogs. Cold beer, sometimes a pool, and family and friends sitting down to hours of intensive labor for a few piles of sweet, delicious crabmeat. 

My uncle Ben (for real) used to pick crabs for hours without eating them, amassing an enviable pile of sweetly spicy crabmeat that he would eat with a fork at the end of the day as we all looked on. My dad once stole a forkful of that pile, and fisticuffs were definitely imminent. Only the presence of children prevented that, I believe.

I, myself, was a crabber in my youth. A length of string and a chicken neck, the older the better, tied to a dock and soaked for just a little bit, could make anyone a crabber. I spent many happy hours, sitting on a dock of the Bay (for real), patiently pulling up the string, hand over hand, looking for the moving shadow that meant a blue crab had hitched a ride.

Blue crabs range from Nova Scotia to Argentina in the western Atlantic Ocean, hibernating in the colder months in the muddy bed of the Atlantic. Jimmies, male crabs, are easily identified by their Washington Monument-shaped apron, the flap on their bellies, while sooks, the females, have a wider apron.

It’s a boy!

Identifying males and females is important for the protection of the species. While sooks are sold for eating, jimmies tend to be larger, meatier, and more delicious.

 
I may have lied just then. I eat the boys only because the girls make more crabs. Boys are necessary in the process, which includes a jimmy gently cradling a molting female until she completes her molt, impregnating her, then cradling her again as her shell hardens before he swims off in search of another girlfriend, but let’s face it: one boy can make a lot of baby crabs. 
A mama, also called a “sponge crab.” That orange “sponge” is unhatched babies.

In 2014, the commercial blue crab harvest was 35 million pounds, an amount considered “sustainable” by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee. Even though this is considered a safe amount of crab to harvest (with smaller crab fishermen and weekend warriors only bringing in a negligible amount), the blue crab is highly susceptible to pollutants and chemicals in their habitat. 


They are bottom-dwellers, bottom-feeders, corpse pickers: they like dead, rotting stuff for dinner, and they don’t really care what killed it. They remind me of a former bad boss, plus a few people I used to know. 
 
In short, they are nothing like what I normally eat, but SO DELICIOUS. 
 
It is important to note that while 50% of the country’s blue crabs come from the Chesapeake Bay, not all blue crab on offer is from Maryland. Cheaper crab can be had from Asian waters, and many restaurants will substitute that for more expensive crab from Maryland. And others who don’t know any better may prefer the lazy man’s crabs (Dungeness and Alaskan King) over the hard-won rewards of a Maryland blue crab’s labrynthian interior. 
 
But why mess with perfection?
 
The hibernation period of the blue crab (roughly from November to March) allows it to build up its fat stores, which results in a delicate, buttery flavor, unmatched by its larger crustacean cousins. Save those for things like quiche and crabcakes. 
 
The most authentic way to enjoy a Maryland blue crab is straight from the pot with a Natty Boh.
 
Purchasing notes: fresh crabs are best purchased right off the dock. Look for jimmies that are 6″ or larger from point to point. Don’t waste your time with smaller crab or sooks.
 
Cooking them is easy, and although some people fuss with fancy gadgets and the like, all you really need is a big pot with a lid, a Natty Boh, vinegar, Old Bay, and some aluminum foil. Thusly:
 
1. Use the aluminum foil to create a rope-like structure that you will curl and place at the bottom of the pot. You can buy a pot with a rack for this purpose, but unless you will also use the pot for canning, aluminum foil works just fine. You are steaming the crabs, not boiling them, and the aluminum foil curl lets them rest just above the liquid.
 
2. Crack open a Natty Boh (or a Pabst Blue Ribbon. No hipster, quadruple-hopped bullshit here) and pour it and an equivalent amount of water (or just below the aluminum coil). Add a splash of vinegar (white or cider), and bring to a boil. 
 
3. Add crabs. Add a layer of crab, sprinkle liberally with Old Bay, layer of crab, Old Bay, layer of crab, etc. 
 
Side note: You could use something other than Old Bay, but A) then you would be a moron, and B) that would be a ridiculous thing to do. So stick with Old Bay.
 
4. Place lid on the pot, then crack a beer for yourself and wait. Crabs are done when they are bright red, about ten or 15 minutes, or the time it takes for you to drink your beer. Which since Natty Boh is like barley flavored water, is about ten or 15 minutes.
 
Once they are done, what the hell do you do with them?
 
Maryland State Senator John Astle, a West Virginia native, knows how it’s done. 
Side note: the “inside stuff” is also known as “mustard.” Some locals eat the mustard, but I am not even remotely interested in this. Some people believe it is fat, but it is actually the crab’s hepatopancreas which filters impurities from the crab’s blood. So you would then be eating the impurities. #HardPass
 
Some people dip the crab in apple cider vinegar.

Some ignorant people ask for butter. #Unnecessary #WeAreOutOfButter

This year I cracked crabs on the front porch of Redwing Farm in Sinks Grove, WV. My uncle Steve and I drove down to the water that morning to pick up a half bushel, covered them with ice in a cooler (drain open; crabs will drown in fresh water), and eight hours later pulled them out of the pot to eat as the sun set over the ridge. 
 
It’s not too late to enjoy these beautiful swimmers, even if you don’t want to cook them yourself. As summer winds down and we look forward to the autumnal equinox, small boats are still out on the Bay, fishing for crab. The end of summer is the best time for crab; prices are down, sizes are up, and traffic on crab decks is light. 
 
Maryland blue crab is a true local ingredient and my penultimate summer food; what’s yours?