A crabby good time

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

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.

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