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Friday, April 22, 2016

Hot Fat Blue Crab Spirituality

Yesterday was my birthday. As part of the birthday celebration, I had lunch at one of my favorite seafood restaurants - Crab Alley in West Ocean City, MD. It's about an hour from home. THE BEST crab cakes. Anywhere. Bar none. Ever. In the history of crab cakes.


Then again, just about anything on the menu is amazing.  I mean, you really can't mess up when you start with "right out of the ocean". As long as you don't over cook it or over season it, you're golden.

They are. Golden.

The prediction has been that there will be such a bountiful crop of Blue Crabs this year that, where they usually, "catch and release" the females, they are  hauling in the females and males. If they don't, we may have 'overpopulation' next year. And, really, how awful would that be? (/sarcasm)

Ever since I heard about a week or so ago that the Blue Crabs are running, I've been hankering for a half dozen of them, steamed in Old Bay. With a crisp, cold class of Chardonnay. Or, two. And, lots of ice water with lemon.

There's just nothing in the world like poundin' and pickin' and suckin' on a half dozen or so of hot, fat Blue Crabs steamed in Old Bay that have been unceremoniously dumped on your  covered-with-thick-brown paper table and given a wooden mallet a paring knife and a fork and butter knife as your only utensils.

I know this is going to sound like an exaggeration but it really is a "thin-place" moment - a time when you so lose yourself in the ecstasy of a primal sensory experience that you feel this - THIS! - must be a glimpse into heaven.

So, I got to thinking about the spirituality of hot, fat, Blue Crabs. I'm not sure anyone has ever put this into words but I have absolutely no doubt that those of you who know what I'm talking about will . . . well . . .  know exactly what I'm talking about.

Like spirituality, eating hot, fat Blue Crabs is a holistic experience, involving your body, mind and spirit. And, it is messy.  No joke.  The crabs come to your table steaming hot and covered with Old Bay seasoning piled high on a plastic tray - often similar to the ones some of us will remember from high school cafeteria - and then dumped, unceremoniously but usually with a huge silly grin on the face of your server - onto the table which was previously spread with heavy brown paper.

There are rituals in life that must be observed. This is one of them.

The second is like unto it: The only utensils allowed are a wooden mallet, a paring knife, a butter knife and a fork. The butter knife and fork are not for the crabs. They are for "The Sides". Two, usually. Like baked potato and coleslaw. Or, French fries and side salad. Which you won't be able to finish. Not unless you are ravenous.

Sometimes, applesauce will be offered as a "side". I have no idea what that's all about.

The central ritual is the actual Eating of the Crabs. Some people start with the two side claws. Others dive right into the belly of the crab. Other people will start with the legs.

The side claws can often be broken off at the joint and, sometimes, the meat will slide right out with it. Other times, you have to take your wooden mallet and crack it open and scoop out the meat with your finger or pairing knife. If the meat comes out with the joint, it can be dragged through some melted butter. Or, more Old Bay. Or, both.

Some folk here do like Old Bay with their Old Bay.  But, that's real hard core Eastern Shore.

The belly of the crab is where the "lump" meat is. It's the richest, sweetest meat. Which means, of course, you have to work hardest for it.

You have to "flip the top" and then crack into it. The meat is deep in the crevices of the cartilage.

Depending on how "fat" the crab is, you may be able to simply "pop" it out with your thumb or fingers. In any event, you'll want to make sue to explore every single crevice.

Mmm, mmm, mmm. That's some good eatin' right there.

And, yes, I eat the "stuff" in the shell. I don't care what it is or the way it looks. The taste is pretty amazing.

The legs are best broken off at the joint and then put up to your mouth where the meat can be sucked out.

Yes, that's right. You break it off at the joint and then suck. Don't worry if you make noise. Everyone does. It's part of the deal. No getting around it.

This is one of those times when to "suck" is a good thing.

Or, you can take out your trusty wooden mallet and crack it open. Then, take your pairing knife or thumb and scoop the meat out from the shell.

It's just as messy but not as noisy as the "sucking" method.

After you finish one crab, you start on the next one. Toward the end of the pile, you may sigh or allow a burp to escape before starting on your next crab. You may even have to get up and walk around.

Don't worry. You'll look at that pile and you'll think to yourself, "Good Lord, I can't eat all of that!" You'll be surprised how much you can eat. 

That's part of the joy of eating crabs.

You just take your time. Well, it takes a lot of time to eat a single steamed crab. Some people don't think the amount of time and work is worth it. Obviously, I disagree.

Take your time. Talk. Laugh. Take a drink. Burp. Get up, walk around. Start in again.

Be warned, however, that if you have a small paper cut or if one of the pointy ends on the claw or shell nicks one of your fingers and some of that Old Bay gets in there, it can sting like a son-of-a-gun. No joke.

So, don't go licking your fingers.

Most crab houses provide you with a plastic bucket for the "carnage" and a whole roll of paper towels.

Don't hesitate to use them. As many as you need.  As often as you need them.

Oh, and BTW, most crab houses count 13 as a dozen and 7 as a half dozen.

My kinda math.

So, I can hear your question: What has this got to do with spirituality?

Spirituality is not a spectator sport. It takes more than mere "active participation". It takes diving into the hot, steaming pile that life occasionally dumps on your plate and poundin' and pickin' and suckin' your way through it.

You have to have confidence and courage to be absolutely shameless about diving in. Shamelessness is a requirement. You dive in, naked and unafraid because you know people have been doing this the beginning of time and that this amazing feast is a gift directly from the bounty of God's creation. 

You'll find your own rituals to help you get through. You'll find that you pray what you believe and those rituals will further shape and form what you believe.

There's no right way or wrong way to do your rituals. Just your way. 

At some point, you'll think to yourself, "Dear God, there's no way I'm going to be able to get through this." But, you will.

You'll take your time, going through the pile, one by one. You'll talk to other folks. Laugh with them. Get up, walk around. Take a drink. Burp. Start in again.

Sometimes, some of the very things that make life tastier and interesting will get under your skin and sting.

Not hurt, really. Just an annoying, sharp sting that then throbs a bit before it suddenly disappears. You learn to move through that, too.

And you learn that the sweetest rewards are often buried deep in crevices and just around corners. Right there, hiding in plane site.  It takes some effort to get to them but, once you do, you know how to do it, the journey become part of the reward itself.

And, throughout the whole process, you've lost sight of yourself - where you begin and where you end - and yet, never been more fully aware of who you are and where you are.

You can learn a lot about your interior, spiritual life by paying attention to the common, every day things in life. 

I happen to think that our five senses - sight, sound, touch, taste, smell - are pathways into the "sixth sense" - that intuitive ability to have awareness about things that evade "normal" perception.

Nothing can activate all five senses like sitting down to a meal. I think that's exactly why Jesus chose a meal with his friends as the one way he wanted to be remembered.

Indeed, our spirituality is a "table spirituality" where we gather 'round to tell the stories of Jesus and the way his teaching continues to shape and form our lives - spiritual and individual and corporate.

And, I have to tell you, there ain't nothing like a tray of hot, fat Blue Crabs to awaken all of your senses and move you to a place of deeper gratitude for the gifts of God's creation.

Hot Fat Blue Crab spirituality.  I recommend it highly to be experienced often.

Don't wait for a special event like your birthday or for the crabs to start running.

You may think it's too much work and effort for what you get out of it, but I recommend you dive in right now and lose yourself in a primal "thin place moment". 

It just may change your life.  I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that it just might extend it.


JCF said...

Hippo Birdie Two Ewe!

David said...

Some of the very best writing I've read....... in a good while on the authentic life!
Brava (((((((((((((((Elizabeth))))))))))))))))))
BTW I hope you're not going to wait for an another birthday to revisit the Crab hut!
Oh, wait, it's Ms. C's birthday today? Go for it ladies et bonne appetite!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, JCF

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

David - We are going to try The Crab House here in RB on Sunday afternoon with some friends. Fingers crossed. Thanks for the b'day wishes.