We’ve Got Crabs


While I was home in Virginia, a truck carrying thousands of live crabs overturned on Interstate 64 at the Croaker exit, which is about 9 miles from my house. Apparently Dave Barry already beat me to the most obvious joke (involving a tanker truck full of drawn butter) about this on his blog “A Funny Book to Have in the Bathroom if it’s 1991”. Oh, Dave Barry!

Though the accident was a waste of precious potential fodder for long lunches at the Commonwealth Club, it is also just great that Virginia’s maritime bounty is bounteous enough that we can festoon our interstate highways with backfin and call it a nice Friday. No reason to cry over spilt milk or (spilt crabs).

Now here’s some interesting information about crabs!

Here’s how to tell a male blue crab from a female blue crab:

Male Blue Crabs are called Jimmys, Female Crabs are called Sooks. All of this sounds better if you’re hearing it from somebody from Guinea standing right here in the parking lot of the post office in Susan, Virrginia.

You can catch a crab easily using chicken necks and string. That is a good way to pass an afternoon.


Here’s what a baby crab looks like, cuddly!

A softshell crab is a crab in its molted state (not a bobby or a peeler), and you catch them by walking around at low low tide in the waxing summer and poking a wire basket on a stick around in the spartina grasses. Softshell crabs can’t move once they’ve molted and will move you to ecstasy when lightly floured and fried and tucked into white bread.

Crab::butter>Nick’s tartar sauce>special sauce>cocktail sauce>fork

And lastly, to round out crab fever, here are some Mexican Crabs:

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Hooray for VDOT and the buttery roads of the sweet sunny south!


Cheese Makin’ Mama (with Sioux chef Nan)

We Made This Cheese

We Made This Cheese

I got back to Virginia Wednesday night, and from my arrival my ever-lovin-mama has been a-buzz with cheese fever. She and her dear friend Kitty went to a Cheese Making class in the Berkshires where they learned the best and easiest simple rusticated cheeses and their histories (carrying some milk in a camel bladder on the way to some midnight oasis made soft spreadable cheeses long before T.E. Lawrence hit the scene with a need for tea sandwiches). For dinner the first night she had prepared home-made labne, a divine middle eastern yogurt based cheese that we served with home-made pitas, red-pepper-babaganoush with capers, and Zaatar on the fly (herbs de provence and smoked paprika). Shukran Bisef!

In the world of make-your-own cheese, making fresh Mozzarella is like learning to play “Heart and Soul” for first time piano players. It’s relatively easy, incredibly satisfying, pretty soulful, and much more fun to do with a partner.


The first (and probably the most difficult) step in making the cheese is somehow procuring the milk. In 1924 the United States Public Health Service instituted regulatory pasteurization standards to reduce milk borne ilnesses (now known as the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance), meaning that all milk sold in certain states (including Virginia and New York) has been heated to more that 172 degrees, and all organic main line milks (Horizon Organic) are ultra-pasteurized, meaning that they’re boiled to within an inch of their life. The 99.9% of microorganisms that are killed in the pasteurization process are the little cellular devils that react to the added enzymes and make the cheese. It is illegal in most states for dairy farmers to sell raw milk, that is, milk that came fresh from the teat of the cow into your glass.

IMG_0529Through her powers of bedevilment and bartering, Mama found a great farmer across the Pamunkey willing to trade her some milk for some calf starter.

We drank some wine and then sipped some of the raw milk in cold clear glasses that were streaked with the sweet fat of the cream, which you can see at the top of the bottle here, rising to the top, as it is wont to do.

The raw milk was simply marvelous, as was the wine.

I painstakingly took pictures of all of the steps, though Mama said the whole time “don’t take my picture!”… it was well worth it… Here are the steps:

You need:

1 Gallon Whole Milk (not ultra-pasteurized)

1 1/2 Tsp Citric Acid dissolved in 1 Cup water

1/8 Tsp. liquid rennet dissolved in 1/4 Cup water.



Pour milk into stainless steel pot, and stir vigorously while adding citric acid solution.




Heat Milk to 90 degrees Farenheit, occasionally stirring (it’s OK to touch the pot bottom).




Remove pot from burner and slowly stir in the rennet solution (pour through a slotted spoon, slowly circling the milk to evenly distribute)


then stir using an up and down motion for approximately 30 seconds. This is the step where the rennet reacts with the good bacteria in the raw milk and curds start forming and separating from the whey. There are many awesome cheese puns/miss muffet references to put into the mix at this time, and we also highly recommend that you are listening to Memphis soul music at this stage, as Sam and Dave help set curds:

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Then, as Mama says, “Don’t touch it!” and let it sit for 5 minutes, not hours.


Check the curd, it should look like custard with a separation between curds and whey (if you’re using super fresh and awesome raw cow’s milk it’ll get curdier faster)

Cut the curd with a curd knife, horizontally, vertically, making sure to get the curd out of the corners, put the pot back onto the stove heating to 105 degrees Farenheit, gently moving the curds around with your spoon. Remove from heat and let sit (2-5 minutes, depending on how firm the cheese already is and how firm you like it, the longer it sits, the firmer the cheese).



Ladle the curds into a microwaveable bowl. Pour off as much whey as possible, pressing the curd gently with your hands. Microwave for one minute and drain off the whey again before stretching….



Now you stretch the cheese like taffy! You can put salt and/or herbs on it at this point, and form it into whatever shape you’d like (you can braid it or you can make bocconcini or you can make it into beautiful balls of cheese).



Whichever shape you pick, the cheese will take that on when you plunge it in ice water.



.Then if you’re fortunate enough to be in a temperate climate (such as Virginia in October), and you have had the brilliant foresight to plant a straw bale garden which is still producing sweet 100’s this late in the season, take a flashlight outside and pick a bunch of fresh tomatoes and thai basil. And, of course Bon Appetit!


Published in: on October 23, 2009 at 3:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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