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Feeling crabby

Written by Emmy on 5 August 2012

In mid-June, I took a break from the hustle-bustle of Manhattan and headed down to the shores of Maryland with my family. My cousins have a house just off the Chesapeake Bay, and we drove south for a weekend of sunshine, saltwater and seafood.

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We arrived midday Saturday and made a beeline for the water. My sister Alix, cousin Ruby and I endured a whipping on the back of my uncle’s jet-ski as he towed us around the bay on a tube. We collectively swallowed about half of the river in the process.

My interest in food has been cultivated since an early age by my family, and so a weekend with my immediate unit, cousins and grandparents meant a weekend where we spent a lot of time eating and, when not eating, discussing what to eat. Such discussions were fueled in part by mojitos, made with mint fresh from the garden. The making of said mojitos is an art form that my aunt and uncle have perfected.

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Seeing as we were in Maryland, the evening had to feature crabs. My uncle has a set of traps at the end of his docks that we peered into, but there were not quite enough squirmy little guys in there to feed us all. But the whole experience really defined local food; the crabs we did eat came from a roadside stand about two miles away.

We had a chance to meet them before beginning the evening’s process. Luckily none of us got too attached.

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In an effort to show us just how alive the crabs were, my uncle Steven sacrificed a small piece of his thumb. The crabs hang out in their box pretty quietly, but we shook their habitat a bit too violently and nearly had them running across the deck. But before long, we had them all safely inside a giant pot, where we sprinkled them with Old Bay, shook them around with a few other spices and vegetables for flavor, and then put them over an incredibly hot fire.

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After about 20 minutes over the smoldering flames, the crabs turn from blue to red and are ready to be served. For an incredibly hands-on dinner, the crab experience leaves minimal mess; we sat down at a picnic table we had lined with butcher paper, poured the pot of crabs atop the paper and dug in, with the plan to wrap all the limbs up in the paper once we finished.

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I spent a few summers living in Washington, D.C., and so had occasion to come down to the bay and try my hands at the Maryland natives. My aunt Lisa provided a tutorial for those members of the family who had not taken a crustacean apart in some time.

We demolished a good number of the crabs between the eleven of us. But we were still no match for all the little guys sitting on the table.

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The good news is that the crabs have a life even after being dumped onto the picnic table. We pulled their limbs apart and piled them into baggies that then went in the freezer. A few weeks from now, as crab season starts to slow down, they’ll become the base of a homemade crab dip.

As full as we were after dinner, there was obviously still room for a campfire treat. We loaded the flaming logs back into the pit, stuck marshmallows onto our official roasting sticks and crowded around the fire. I have a tendency to burn my marshmallows to a fiery crisp — I like them on the brink of charcoal status. Evidently so does my entire family, and so we lost a few good marshmallows in the process.

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The next day, we fit in a bit more outdoor time and seafood eating before heading back up to New York. It was a very quick visit, but a welcome escape from Manhattan and a wonderful weekend with family.

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