Saturday, April 26, 2008

Life on the water, then and now....

It's been a good Saturday morning so far. We started off by going to our favorite breakfast joint, a little guilty-pleasure café that's attached to a small motel in downtown Rehoboth. We've been going there so long we know the maîtresse d'/proprietress, Bev. She greets us with hugs and while we pig out on frittatas and omelets she fills us in on the news about how business is doing in this tourist town. So far, not so good. Small business owners and large alike are noticing a reduction in their early-season receipts; they blame the tight economy and gas prices.

They have a point, of course, at least about the gas. Filling our 4 5-gallon gas cans to have on hand for the boat is more of a major outlay than it used to be--and gas prices here tend to be at least 20 cents cheaper than at home in DC. The cheapest we found here was $3.41 per gallon of regular. At home it's more like $3.65, at least when we left. Who knows what it will be when we get back? We try to fill up here and then run around at home on the gas we get here. We do so little driving at home, that's usually an achievable goal.

When we got back here to the trailer we took a beautiful boat ride to check the crab pots. I've caught less than a dozen in 24 hours, and some of those are too small to keep. I'll give it another day and if not many more make an appeaerance I'll just let them all go. This is a bit early for crabs, but this time last year I was catching enough to steam and use. More evidence of the depeletion of the crab fishery. (Crabbery?)

Fishing and crabbing were big parts of our family summers when I was a little kid. Both my parents, DC natives who grew up next to the Potomac and who also vacationed with their families into the wilds of the Chesapeake wetlands and its tributaries, were water-folk at heart, and wherever we vacationed, water and its fish were nearby. Depending on where we were, fishing either in the far, rural reaches of the Potomac River or the Chesapeake, in half a day we would bring home enough fish to make a good meal. My father and I cleaned the fish, and then my mother fried them up very simply, in flour, salt and pepper, and butter.

I wish now I had savored those meals more, because Steve doesn't like those little saltwater fish at all; I haven't had that simple feast in years. He'll eat crabs, but only in small doses, the ocasional crab cake. Homemade crab cakes are a rare delicacy for most people, and I have a good recipe. When we have company here, I like to serve them, but that means if we have a lot of company, that's too much crab for Steve. This calls for one of the many little compromises of married life; it's led me to experimenting with freezing crab meat. The first year, I simply put the picked meat, as is, into freezer containers. Thawing that batch in mid-winter yielded tough, dried-out meat much too strong in flavor to be palatable. Last year I tried freezing it in water. The thawed consistency of the meat was good, but it lost its flavor. This year, if I get enough to preserve, I'll try freezing it in a flavored brine. Maybe that's the trick!

Crabbing was a major highlight of my childhood vacations. We would tie chicken necks to lengths of string and toss them over the side of the pier. Soon, the string would become taut and appear to be floating out to sea. That meant a crab had grasped the chicken neck and was there for the taking--if you were careful! You had to pull the string in very slowly so the crab wouldn't notice it was moving. It always felt like you were catching a monster! String in one hand, a net in the other, you carefully scooped the crab off the bait as it became visible at the surface, and into a bushel basket it would go with its compadres. We'd catch at least a bushel in a day that way. I've tried crabbing off our pier here, but this is a small body of water. It's mostly a nursery for baby saltwater wildlife of various kinds...the crabs I've caught have all been too small to keep. Thus the boat rides out to bigger water. It's a tough job, but somebody has to take those glorious early morning rides on the mirror-smooth water......

Life is sweet.


Cuidado said...

A brine is the answer and the secret.gduwo

Ralph said...

Thaks for confirming my suspicion, Cuidado. Now, what's gduwo?

Mark said...

Ralph - you now have me jonesing for steamed crabs! I will have to just put Old Bay on something!
Have a great weekend, guys!


Anonymous said...


Good to hear that you are enjoying the weekend. Loved the essay on crabs and seafood. Growing up on Long Island meant loving seafood - although, maybe not as much as the MD/VA Bay folks.

It is on my "list of things to do" to visit a real crab house, the ones with newspaper etc.

You stirred up a touch of being homesick. I miss the seafood restaurants and the ease of finding good seafood at the supermarkets.

Thanks for Deacon Blue. Steely Dan, for me, was always my "radio band". No reason - just thought they always sounded best on the radio.


Ralph said...

Good morning, Linda. Glad I stirred up some memories for you...go treat yourself to a good seafood restaurant sometime!

Interesting to read your reaction to Steely Dan. For me, their music when it was new was obviously meant for the college crowd and I was already past college by then, so it was something I was periferally aware of but didn't pay a lot of attention to. A lot of my "discoveries" come as a result of re-visiting music I blew off earlier. Steely Dan is in that category. Not long ago, I gave it a listen with disinterested, fresh ears, and only then was taken by their originality and the freshness of their sound. They were such a given part of the musical landscape for so long you don't think of them as "fresh" any more, but they were once!

Anonymous said...

We did softshell crabs, ate the whole thing, and partied with hard shell crabs and beer in Diehl, MD with over 40 friends the whole weekend. Later I kept my boat docked there as we loved the country atmosphere and wonderful friends we met, still have even today. But the hard shell crabs were the easiest to catch and the most fun to eat. And the beer . . . well yeah! I mean YAY!

Anonymous said...

Did I misspell Dealh? It's been al ong time.

Ralph said...

Z&M, it's easier than you remember. It's just "Deal." It's an island in the bay. I ahdn't hear that name in years and years. I had an aunt (mother's sister) who used to go there.

I LUV soft shell crabs but have never tried to catch them.

Ralph said...

Mark, unfortunately the crabs didn't work out this time. It is a bit early, but still, I hope it's a not a sign of things to come this year.