"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Gift of the Crab

Hope’s best friend’s dad took the girls out to check his crab pots today. Of course I instantly told her to offer the Dad goat cheese for a couple of crabs. She rolled her eyes a little and said she would. 

Then she started texting me photos. Photos of a giant cauldron of crabs boiling in seawater. 

“Mom we got SO many crabs! And we’re going back out!”

“Don’t forget!” I wrote. “Goat cheese! Or ham! Or maybe some grass fed beef?”

More photos. More crabs. Big crabs! Hope learned to clean a crab. Hope sent pictures of herself eating big handfuls of snowy white crab, but no word on whether or not she was bringing any home.

“My right arm? My firstborn child?” I texted. And then “you’re killing me, smalls!” 

When she finally came home, she shook her head. 

“Sorry mom, they didn’t want to part with any crabs.”

“Really?!” I was surprised, but not THAT surprised. I mean, no matter how many dungeoness crabs I had, I’d still find it difficult to give them away. Maybe they were for a big event. Lots of people have crab parties on the beach this time of year. 

“Bummer!” I said. “I was really hoping....” 

“Sorry mom, But I could only ask him once, you know” she said, a little witheringly. 

“I know, I know. It’s fine,” I answered, but not really feeling fine. Dungeoness crab is the absolutely best seafood on earth. Fight me. 

Then the door opened and her best friend came galloping in holding an ice chest and both girls dissolved into giggles. 

“Gotcha, mom!” Hope teased me. “How could he NOT give you crabs? I showed him our text thread. You were THIRSTY for crabs.” 

Four big crabs, already cooked and cleaned. I didn’t even have a chance to give him anything in return. Hope’s friend is spending the night, so I can send her home with something. 

Not my right arm, though. I need that to hold the nutcracker. 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sweet Corn and Sweet Memories

If you’ve never had sweet corn Mexican style, you really have to try it. When I was a child, we rolled our fresh boiled ears of sweet corn on top of a cold stick of butter, unwrapped and set on the table for that purpose. The hot corn melted a deep divot in the butter, making each subsequent ear easier to baptize. Then we sprinkled the ears with salt and went to town. 

There’s nothing wrong with that “recipe.”  I believe it was Garrison Kieller, in his wonderful memoir Lake Wobegon Days, who first asked the question “yeah, sex is great, but have you ever had fresh sweet corn straight from the field?” I will not go on record as to my preference, but I will affirm that fresh sweet corn bathed in butter and sprinkled with salt is one of life’s great pleasures. 

The kind of super-sweet hybrid corn we enjoy in the states  was more or less unknown in Mexico until very recently. Traditionally, all corn grown in Mexico for human consumption is what we know as “field corn” and generally used as animal feed. A little more scientifically, it’s known as “dent corn” for the little dents that develop in the center of each kernel as it dries. This is the corn that Mexican families grow, dry on the cob, twist the kernels off and store in buckets, and eventually turn into nixtamal and grind into masa to make the staple Mexican food, tortillas, all year round. There are literally hundreds of varieties - white, yellow, green, blue, red, black, and speckled. 

While most of the harvest is let to mature and will be used as described above, some of it is picked “tierno,” or “tender,” and eaten fresh. It is nowhere near as sweet as our hybrid corn, but it has a toothsome chew, and a satisfying heft that fills you up as sweet corn does not. It’s a complex carbohydrate, for sure. 

In Mexican Spanish, a fresh boiled ear of corn is called an Elote. It’s one of the most common street foods, served slathered with mayonnaise, squirted with fresh lime juice, sprinkled with chile powder, and rolled in grated cotija cheese. The same assemblage of flavors can be served in a cup, made up of the kernels of corn cut from the cob and then dressed with the same toppings. In this form it’s called Esquites, and it’s my absolute favorite Mexican street snack. 

One of my finest memories is sitting on a wrought iron bench in Oaxaca’s zocalo on a fine summer evening, eating esquites and watching dozens of well-dressed couples of a certain age dancing to the music of a marimba band. One of my greatest ambitions is to be one half of such a couple, on a fine summer evening a score of summers hence. And lord, I hope there will be esquites to revive me after I tire of dancing. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Blackberry Blessings

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Preserving Log Update 8/1/19

Just a quick list to try and record most of what I've done this spring/summer before I forget:

- Cheese - approximately 20 lbs hard storing cheese. I'm not counting chèvre or other soft cheeses because those get eaten right away. Some of the hard cheese has been given or traded away, but I still have about 12 pounds in vacuum sealed 1-pound packages in the small fridge.

- Salsa - about 6 quarts. Really want to make more but I broke my fancy expensive blender canister. by leaving a spoon in it. Frustrating because I have plenty of ingredients for another 6 quarts right now, and I'm not sure what I can do with all those tomatoes instead, without a blender.

- Plum butter - on the stove right now.  A friend invited me to get plums from her tree, which is nice because we don't have any this year. I don't know what kind of plums these are - small, round, red, and sweet fresh but very tart when cooked down and pureed. I had to add quite a bit of sugar. The tree itself is gorgeous; very tall, and the leaves are as purple as the plums. Making about 8 pints, which is probably more than we can use. I would prefer to dehydrate, but these plums are clingstone, and when I try to pit them they turn to mush in my hands. I am dehydrating one load whole, pits and all, just as an experiment. But so far they've been in the dehydrator three days and no signs of getting dry enough yet.

- Pickles - two gallons kosher dills

- Six loaves zucchini bread in the freezer. I use James Beard's recipe (with less sugar) and its delicious and it freezes beautifully. However that only used up two zucchinis and they're six more on the kitchen table.

-Eight quarts frozen raspberries, two gallons frozen strawberries, 1 gallon frozen blueberries. Theres still time for more blueberries, and of course blackberry season is just starting. I want to lay in several more gallons of berries.

- ICE CREAM! good way to use up extra milk and eggs. I borrowed an ice cream maker from the Gleaner's Pantry and make two quarts of raspberry ice cream, and two quarts of rhubarb-vanilla (my rhubarb plant is still going strong). That reminds me -

- 5 bottles rhubarb wine. I tasted it when I bottled it and it was pretty decent. Hoping the bottled stuff turns out well after a few more months.

James Beard's Zucchini Bread

I reduce the sugar and oil both. by about 1/3, without ill effects. 


    • 3 eggs
    • 2 cups granulated sugar
    • 1 cup vegetable oil
    • 2 cups grated, peeled raw zucchini
    • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
    • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts


    1. Beat the eggs until light and foamy. Add the sugar, oil, zucchini, and vanilla and mix lightly but well. Combine the flour, salt, soda, baking powder, and cinnamon and add to the egg-zucchini mixture. Stir until well blended, add nuts, and pour into two 9 x 5 x 3 inch greased loaf pans. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for 1 hour. Cool on a rack.