There is a saying in Baltimore that crabs may be prepared in fifty ways and that all of them are good. [H.L. Mencken]
Well, I can't say that I've had them fifty different ways, but I've yet to try any that weren't lip-smacking good. I mean, just look at this crab cake, wouldja?
It's a real crab cake, meaning it's made with luscious lumps of honest-to-goodness blue crab meat. Not a bunch of breading and vegetables. Yeah, sure, I like green peppers and celery and onions, too, but in the name of all that's good and holy, none of that stuff belongs in a crab cake. Crab meat belongs in a crab cake.
And this belongs in a crab cake. Yep, if Baltimore could be defined by a flavor, it'd have to be Old Bay. It's a must-have in every self-respecting Baltimore kitchen, not just for crab cakes, but for steamed shrimp and crabs, too. Some people even put it in their scrambled eggs, but um, I'll pass on that one.
Talking about taking a good look, in Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade, a busybody neighbor who lives across the street from Tindeco Wharf seems to get her greatest kicks from looking out her window and into the business of everyone she sees below. Mildred is particularly interested in Pearl's comings and goings, and insists that her husband get up from his easy chair and take a look, because she's sure that woman is up to no good:
Thornton looked out the window and grinned. "I'll be damned! Do you know who that is?" he said. "That, my dear, is Blaze Starlet. Classiest stripper Baltimore Street ever saw." He smoothed his eyebrows with some spit, and ran a hand through his hair. "I believe I'll go down there and see if that young lady needs a hand."
Mildred grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the window. "You'll do no such thing! I think we should both sit down and mind our own business."
Hiding a smile, he let her lead him back to the easy chair, which was precisely where he wanted to be in the first place. That oughta keep her away from that window for a while, he thought smugly.
Blaze Starlet. Damn, I crack me up.
Old Bay and the Block's brand of spice aren't the only defining flavors of Baltimore. Since it was a primary entry point for European immigrants prior to the opening of Ellis Island, ethnic neighborhoods and restaurants abound. If you've got a hankering for a particular European dish, there's a good chance you can find an authentic version of it. And lots of beer to wash it down, too. Neighborhood taverns, many of them owned and run by a live-in family, freckle Baltimore's landscape as abundantly as churches. And not all of them are, shall we say... showcases:
George steered his truck into a dimly lit gravel lot near the water's edge, and parked beside a dingy cinderblock building. Looked like Hoover may have been president the last time the place got a coat of whitewash, and the neon palm tree flickering beside the door was moaning a 60-hertz dirge, but the Budweiser sign in the window was all he really needed to see...
... Inside, the bar smelled like low tide, mixed with rancid cooking oil and cheap cigars. Limp curtains drooped at the windows, the chipped floor tiles bore evidence of use and abuse, and the tables and chairs looked like rejects from a last chance mix-and-match sale at the Salvation Army thrift shop.
It's kinda funny. After Smarticus read my book, I asked him if that Miller's Island bar George went into sounded like any of the places he'd frequented in the old days. He said, "Yeah. All of 'em."
Okay, just so you don't think this post is all about (ugh) self-promotion, let me leave you with a few smiles. Since Baltimore is on the water, and activities on the Chesapeake Bay and down the ocean are so much a way of life, the following comments, allegedly made by actual children, seemed rather appropriate. And heck, what do I care about appropriate, anyway? They're funny! Yep, it seems that kids do say the darnedest things. (Thanks, Pat!)
- Kelly, age 6- This is a picture of an octopus. It has eight testicles.
- Jerry, age 6- Oysters' balls are called pearls.
- Mike, age 7- If you are surrounded by ocean, you are an island. If you don't have ocean all round you, you are incontinent.
- Kylie, age 6- Sharks are ugly and mean, and have big teeth, just like Emily Richardson . She's not my friend any more.
- Billy, age 8- A dolphin breathes through an asshole on the top of its head.
- Millie, age 6- My uncle goes out in his boat with 2 other men and a woman and pots and comes back with crabs.
- William, age 7- When ships had sails, they used to use the trade winds to cross the ocean. Sometimes when the wind didn't blow the sailors would whistle to make the wind come. My brother said they would have been better off eating beans.
- Helen, age 6- Mermaids live in the ocean. I like mermaids. They are beautiful and I like their shiny tails, but how on earth do mermaids get pregnant? Like, really?
- Christopher, age 7- Some fish are dangerous. Jellyfish can sting. Electric eels can give you a shock. They have to live in caves under the sea where I think they have to plug themselves in to chargers.
- Kevin, age 6- When you go swimming in the ocean, it is very cold, and it makes my willy small.
- Julie, age 7- On vacation my Mom went water skiing. She fell off when she was going very fast. She says she won't do it again because water fired right up her big fat ass.
- Bobby, age 6- The ocean is made up of water and fish. Why the fish don't drown I don't know.
- James, age 7- My dad was a sailor on the ocean. He knows all about the ocean. What he doesn't know is why he quit being a sailor and married my mom.
Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.