Monday, December 21, 2009

Dungeness Crab Weather

In northern California, there are essentially two seasons, the wet and the dry. The temperature around the San Francisco Bay area doesn't fluctuate much throughout the year, so we mark the passing of time by the period when the rains begin and end. Around the end of October it starts raining on and off every few days and continues with sunny breaks between the storms until the end of March. We welcome the rain as it turns our hills from brown to bright kelly green in a few weeks and gives us the Sierra snow pack that we use to drink, bathe and cook for the rest of the year.

In early April, we typically have two windy weeks that dry out the grasses that grew so luxuriantly on the hills during the winter and turns them to the "golden" brown of the dry season. Normally, we then have seven months of dry season when it simply doesn't rain until October again nears its end.

Since I moved to California, Christmas Eve has always meant a feast of Dungeness crab. These large, orange and white crabs with the sweetest of meat mark the start of winter for us here and are another reason I look forward to the rainy season each year. This year, we had our first crab dinner on our pre-Christmas Eve, about a week early. My Beloved's daughters were both going to be away for Christmas, Sarah with her husband's family in Boston and Katie with her boyfriend's family in Texas, so we celebrated early with a warm crab dinner and lots of presents. I'm always in favor of having more than one celebration of a major holiday.

We were joined by Katie's Mom, who brought the soft Italian white wine she had enjoyed in Sorrento with her twin sister and expert knowledge of how to clean crabs. Katie and André supplied the salad, the crabs and the two huge pots of furiously boiling water flavored with Zatarain's Shrimp and Crab Boil into which they dropped the wiggling crustaceans. I'm such a wimp that if I had to kill my own dinner, I'd become a vegetarian. I watched in awe as Katie and André calmly discussed boiling times and cooling times after they clapped the lids on the crabs in the steaming cauldrons.

Once the crabs were cool enough to handle, Tina and Katie showed us how to remove the top shell and the gills, and how to separate the rest of the crab from the undesirable and unmentionable parts inside. Tina hails from Maryland but normally has no Southern accent - when she's cleaning crabs, however, her voice takes on the soft lilt of her birth state. She learned this skill with Maryland's famous blue crabs, and apparently learned it from a Southerner.

The result was this enormous bowl of delectable crab parts ready for the crackers and picks at each place on the table, some delicious cold noodles dressed with garlic butter and Parmesan cheese, and a light, green salad.

After dinner, we had an orgy of gift giving that created a huge mound of wrinkled wrapping paper and made us all wonder where the recession had gone. When My Beloved and I left to drive home, reliving the highlights of the evening, there was a light, misting rain that shined the streets.

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9 Comments:

Blogger dancingmorganmouse said...

What a wonderful way to celebrate. (I, too, am too wimpy to kill my own food).

Monday, December 21, 2009  
Blogger Kailyn said...

I must admit I was puzzled but then remembered that you usually buy your crabs cleaned and cracked. I learned on blue crabs one long ago summer in Virginia. Now I think it's part of the fun of having crab.

My friend Marin, a fourth generation Californian likes to have her crab on Christmas night. The way I figure it, we have about one more month to enjoy the stuff. Which reminds me. Time to pop over to Berkeley for that great garlic crab.

Monday, December 21, 2009  
Blogger Greg said...

Crab with three sauces our favorite. Melted butter,mayo, and cocktail. Sourdough bread and you're in heaven.

Monday, December 21, 2009  
Blogger namastenancy said...

What a beautifully written piece. Really, I think that you should collect your "better" written pieces and put them in a book. There are a lot of self-production places on line where, for a very modest price, you can have your book typeset, printed and bound. I'll bet that your family would LOVE to get one of these as a Christmas present. In fact, it should be a family tradition because you are a fine writer as well as a marvelous cook (and Mom to the engaging Cora)!

Monday, December 21, 2009  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

If you're too wimpy to kill your own food, you should just eat plants. Really. [/lecture]
Anyway. Crabs! Dungeness. We're having them for Christmas Eve too, roasted with chile, garlic, butter and lemon. Dusted with parsley.

Monday, December 21, 2009  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Morgan, it really was fun and I'm glad I'm not alone in my wimpiness.

Kailyn, I have to admit it was most interesting to see how to clean a crab. And, yes, that buttery garlic crab at the SeaBreeze is heavenly, even if it's guaranteed to clog one's arteries.

Greg, we usually don't run to sauces over here - just crab, sour baguette and butter for the bread and sometimes a dish of steamed whole green beans to pass around and nibble with crabby fingers. The pasta was a new twist and very tasty.

Nancy, you're kind to say so but I can hardly get my family to read my deathless prose on line, much less read a whole book of it. Guess I'll stick to the electronic version. It does give me a warm glow, however, to know that you approve. Thanks for the sweet words.

Monday, December 21, 2009  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Cookiecrumb, I have often thought so - the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

That's the sad part. The flesh is weak. Who do we think we are?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Cookiecrumb, well, but, you see, I think that the flesh being weak is the _good_ part. I'm all about indulgence.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009  

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