A crabby good time
Marylander problem of the day: my thumbs are sore. Not from texting or gaming or manual labor, but from that most honorable of accomplishments for a Waldorf girl in summertime: picking crabs.
My family gathers for a crab feast every July or August — a tradition that has grown in recent years. My dad’s family includes generations of Washingtonians, and seafood appreciation has definitely seeped into the bloodline. Everyone wants in.
After meeting locally for years, we discovered a crab house in Lake Anna, Va., that was more conveniently located for the many branches of our family tree. I felt like a traitor crossing state lines for blue crabs, but it’s hard to argue with the beautiful scenery at Lake Anna.
Of course, going out to eat has gotten more . . . interesting since welcoming our son. Dining out with a toddler means at least one parent must have their hands free at all times. You never know when you’re going to have to chase, scoop up, calm or feed a child, and hands covered in gunk — barbecue sauce, ketchup, salt — will slow you down at a crucial moment.
Just who can order a messy meal is a topic of frequent negotiation in my marriage. We usually arrange this ahead of time. If Spencer wants to get ribs, I choose a “cleaner” meal: something I can eat with a fork, likely one-handed while passing Puffs to Oliver. And vice versa: I can get fish tacos with salsa down my arm while Spence opts for a sensible salad, ready to wrestle Ollie back into his high chair at any moment. It’s all about balance.
Going into Sunday’s lunch, Spencer and I hadn’t reached a consensus on what we’d be ordering. I wanted to pick crabs with the family, but wasn’t crazy about leaving Spencer to entertain the mini-man alone. I mean, I’m not a monster.
My husband hails from Western New York, so his love of crustaceans isn’t as ardent as mine. Early in our relationship, I’m sure I gave him the same smug introduction to eating crabs delivered to any visitor. I come by these lectures honestly: my dad does the same thing. We all want to prove we’re worth our salt, so to speak, and picking crabs efficiently is a badge of honor.
But if Spencer couldn’t get crabs, I didn’t want to burden him by ordering an all-you-caneat feast. So we both ordered respectable seafood plates where all the work is done for you. And that was fine. But not enough. I found a way around this dilemma: a little old-fashioned mooching. My parents were seated nearby with an empty chair directly across from Dad’s giant tray of blue crabs. When I finished my lunch, I went to start on his.
It started innocently, as so many things do: with Ollie entrusted to Spencer and my brother-in-law, I switched seats to, er, coincidentally wind up within arm’s reach of those Old Bay-covered beauties. I’d cleared having “a few” of Dad’s crabs with him beforehand, but “a few” became . . well.
In my defense, there were many crabs. So, so many crabs. Enough that several of us still came home with those damp, salty brown paper bags full of even more — and the lingering aroma of brine in my car was another souvenir of our afternoon.
Spencer didn’t get to pick crabs at the restaurant, but he got his chance later that Sunday. He spent a good 20 minutes getting out every bit of claw meat — something I don’t even bother to do — before turning over the responsibility of picking out the main meat to yours truly.
So there I was at 9 p.m., sweating profusely as I cracked shells seeking the good stuff. I probably missed chunks here and there, but my vision was getting blurry and thumbs stiff with overuse.
Spencer and Oliver visited me in the kitchen. “I don’t have the patience for that,” Spence observes, watching my pile of meat continue to grow.
I shrug, replying, “You just have to do it all by feel.” I separate a hunk of tender meat from its opaque, similarly-colored shell.
When we’ve had leftover crab meat in the past, we just made crab cakes. Everyone has a recipe and they’re pretty simple — a crowd-pleaser.
But I like to live on the edge. Seeking something decadent, I dedicated way too much time to finding the tastiest-sounding hot crab dip recipe on the internet — complete with cream cheese, sour cream, onion, Old Bay and more. My belt felt tighter just reading it, but life is short, you know?
Pick the crabs. Make the calorie-laden crab dip. All things in moderation.
It’s the Maryland way.