Tuesday, May 26, 2009


This is the story of my mom and the LIVE CRABS.

Well, the story as I know it, from what she tells me. I don't remember being in the car when this happened, but apparently I was an ignorant accomplice. One night, many years ago, my mother was driving her mom van in Minneapolis and we were going somewhere. Where we were going is not important. I have no idea where we were going, anyway. So don't ask.

So as we were going somewhere, we were held up by a stop light, and a small white car roared up beside our van. Bette glanced down and noticed that in the back seat of this small white car was a box clearly labeled LIVE CRABS. "I wonder where those crabs are going," Bette mused. The light turned green, and the white car accelerated. Bette reacted. There was only one way to find out. She hit the gas and followed the white car, diverting from her intended course of action. She simply had to know.

She followed the car left at 5th, right on 2nd, left again on 7th, down to Hennepin, left on 4th, around the block and into an alley. When the crabs reached their final destination at the Pickled Parrot in downtown Minneapolis, Bette was a little embarrassed to realize that the driver of the small white car had noticed her following him. He gave her a confused look. Probably wondered what she was doing. Who is this mom in a mini van and what does she want from me?

Me, circa 20 years later: "What were you doing, mom?"

Bette: "I don't know, sweetie. But I just had to find out where those crabs were going."

I can relate to that.

. . .

This is the story of me and the live crabs... and the battle for my soul.

Yesterday I had three live crabs in my sink and was pondering the extent of my ability to emotionally detach and throw them into a pot of boiling water as they struggle and thrash.

I was desperately fighting the urge to give them little nicknames. That wouldn't help my cause one bit. The water was taking an exceptionally long time to boil, given the off-balance size ratio of pot-to-gas burner. I even had two burners going. I gave myself a pep talk. I am excited to eat. Focus on that. Don't focus on the fact that they are kind of cute and one seems to keep winking at me. You're not heartless. Just hungry. Hungry for these crabs. Bath time, guys!

I had been psyching myself up for this for several days. I'd told my husband Nathan that all I wanted to do on Memorial Day was have a crab dinner. I wanted to sit outside. I wanted butter to drip down my arms and chin while I sucked the meat out of a large crustacean's leg that I'd crushed with my teeth. To me, that sounded like the ideal way to spend a day off.

My friend Genny and I spent that morning browsing Chinatown for fresh fruit for sangria, and live crabs for the feast. Genny knew what she was doing, and I needed serious help. I had never done this before. You can't exactly get large, fresh, live Dungeness crab in Midwest supermarkets. For $10 a pound, no less. And since lobsters were $7 a pound, we got a few of those, too. What the heck.

Once we had everything we needed and then some, we caught the subway headed back uptown to my place. It's a good thing boarding the 2/3 express train isn't like trying to get through customs. I would be hard-pressed to muster the chutzpah needed to explain to someone in uniform why we were transporting 3 live crabs, 3 live lobsters, a 30 quart stock pot containing bottles of brandy and triple sec, two small dogs (contraband from Genny's apartment), fruit, corn, and Scatergories.

It was one of those perfect days. Bright and warm, but not too hot. Sunlight danced on the floor of our brick patio each time a gentle breeze passed through the tree branches that canopied overhead. The doggies played. Genny showed me how to make sangria the Spanish way she was taught, and we sipped and relaxed and read books all afternoon. I didn't write down quantities of anything, but we sliced bananas, strawberries, oranges and apples, muddled them with a little sugar, lemon juice, triple sec and brandy, and covered that with white wine and 7-Up. And lots of ice. Best dang sangria I ever had.

Our stomachs told us it was time to start boiling the water around 4:30. We filled the big pot, added lots of salt and bay leaves, and turned on the flames. We had been checking on the crabs and lobsters periodically in their temporary plastic bag homes in my fridge, but decided around this time that they'd be more comfortable in the sink. Also, that way we could keep a close eye on them in case anyone was about to croak, because they'd have to get cooked pretty quick before their flesh turned into inedible mush. Fascinating creatures, I tell you.

Nathan: "Are they alive?"

Genny: "Yep - they're moving."

Me (a little too excited): "You should have seen these guys when they first came out of the big tank! Flopping and thrashing around everywhere!"

Nathan (looking at me sideways, like I'm nothing short of twisted): "Probably because they were thinking, I don't feel like getting killed today."

When the water finally reached a rolling boil, I found that I had worked myself up into a genuinely gitty frenzy about this whole experience. I felt a little bad. I certainly didn't want them to suffer, so that made me feel a bit less like a monster. But, in the end, I threw them in with sick, secret excitement, plopped the lid on top, and set my ladybug timer for 15 minutes before casually returning to my glass of sangria.

Am I heartless?

I legitimately mulled that notion over for several sleepless hours. While I am many things, I believe that I am not in fact heartless. I tried to make my future meal as comfortable as possible in the remaining hours of their lives. I warned them when they were about to go in the pot. When I ate them, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated what they were providing. It was an incredible and unforgettable meal. And I'd do it all over again.


Anonymous said...

When I was young our church went on many float trips. One of the families loved to make fresh crawdads for the group. We would all hunt during the trip down the river for the biggest crawdads we could find. Then in the evening they would get cooked and we would enjoy. (Not me of course!) All I remember is the screaming noise they would make when thrown in the boiling water. I hope that noise doesn't keep you up at night.

LOL! Mandy

Veronica said...

Ooooh, you're a mean one, Mrs. Grinch :) Them crawdads sound good.

Anonymous said...

Is that a picture of me? Winters are harsh in Minnesota and my skin IS a little dry.
Being kind to your food is important- read "The Compassionate Carnivore"- though I'm not sure that "warning them" counts.
I Love you, you wild child.

Genny Gomez said...

Well though you may believe you aren't heartless, Nathan and myself where afraid. The deep hypnotic look of death in your eyes towards those little innocent creatures, why they looked up at you and pleaded for their lives. Pure evil I tell you pure evil.

Veronica said...

First of all, Mom, warning them totally counts. Second of all, if you were listening carefully Gomez, there was no pleading. I said "Okay, bath is ready." They said, "Bout time, woman!" I will however agree with you that I am indeed pure evil.

Genny Gomez said...

Yes, yes you are. Just like Ted!!!

Max said...

You're a monster!