Friday, July 5, 2013

Baltimore Spice


Thought for the day:  Anyone can love a perfect place. Loving Baltimore takes some resilience.   [Laura Lippman]


On Tuesday, I asked if y'all thought a city could have a personality. What can I say about Baltimore? It definitely has personality. And attitude. Lots and lots of attitude, hon. Even though we moved away from there more than forty years ago, part of my heart is still up there. Matter of fact, Baltimore is where my book Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade takes place.

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.

                   


For better or for worse, Baltimore is also known for the kinda spice found on its infamous Block. Ah, yeah, that's where a long line of well-known strippers have performed over the years, and where decades and decades of soldiers and sailors drooled and spent their cash. At one time, this section of Baltimore Street may have had a certain amount of class. Maybe. Back in the sixties, I walked through the Block in broad daylight to get to where I had to take a civil service test. I was curious about the gaudy looking joints, but not curious enough to slow down and take a good look.

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.




82 comments:

  1. You crack me up too. As do the small fry's assertions.
    Re the self-promotion you weren't doing. It is working. Drat you. I am obviously going to weaken and buy Hot Flashes. Soon, despite lying to myself and saying no more until the un-read pile was only in double digits. I hope you are proud of yourself...

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    1. HA! Wearing ya down, huh? (Why yes, I'm terribly proud...) Thanks, Sue.

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  2. Never apologize for indulging in a little self-promotion - - it's definitely the best kind of promotion.

    I've never been to Baltimore, but the delicious essence of it is colorfully captured in your book. The older I get, the more I appreciate armchair traveling. Thanks for taking me there and showing me around.

    By the way, I love crab cakes but I never heard of Old Bay. Rumor hazzit that I had an affair with Ben Gay (okay - - so it wasn't funny!).

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    1. Thanks. I'm much more comfortable promoting other people than yammering about myself.

      When we first moved to GA, it was a shock to discover stores down here had never heard of Old Bay, either. Now, all our grocery stores carry it. Might be at your stores, too. Reeeeeally adds exactly what a crab cake needs.

      Ben Gay doesn't have nearly the minty fresh taste one might expect... (Kind of an inside joke. In one of the earlier drafts of my book, Pearl accidentally puts Ben Gay on her toothbrush. It made me laugh, but I had to cut it, because I didn't want Pearl to come across as a complete ditz.)

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  3. Delightful post! Hot day, crabby, needed the humor, thanks! And Happy Fourth!

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    1. Thanks, dude. Glad ya liked it. I hope you had a super 4th. It was kinda wet here, so instead of grilling outside, we steamed a mess of crabs. (US? Go figure!)

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  4. I hope you had a happy 4th of July Susan...

    Kids really do say the darnedest thing... you gave me quite a chuckle there :)

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    1. 'Twas lovely! I hope your was, too.

      Glad you liked the kiddie comments. Yeah, they definitely blurt out whatever comes into their little heads. Gotta love 'em!

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  5. Hi Susan .. crab cakes yummy - all crab = very yummy!! Now I know where Baltimore is .. that solves that problem for a while!! Delighted your hubby confirmed your thoughts - I might in the next day or two download your book - I have the note ... I'm getting technologically brave - I need a radio ham around!!

    Loved the stories though .. the kind of things my mother would have loved to hear and then chuckle over .. happy Fourth of July - cheers Hilary

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    1. Absolutely! Some restaurants have a lot of nerve calling those things they sell "crab cakes." They oughta call 'em "fried seasoned breading."

      HA! Still haven't downloaded the book yet? To tell the truth, I'm kinda glad to hear it. I was afraid you'd read it, but weren't mentioning anything about it to me because you didn't like it! If you have a problem, send me an email, and I'll try to help.

      Cheers!

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  6. I'm just going to stare at that crab cake picture for a while and dream ;)

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  7. LMAO love what kids blurt out
    I pity the poor octopus with that many testicles about
    Crab cake you can keep though
    Blah at my show

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    1. Oh dear, you don't like crab?
      How can that be?
      Oh, well. No problem...
      That leaves more for ME!

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  8. I visited Baltimore once, had some awesome seafood on the Harbor Front, I believe its called, and took in an Orioles game.

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    1. Cool! I'm guessing that was probably after the Inner Harbor renovation and the new stadium was built at Camden Yards. I used to be an avid Orioles fan, so I went to hundreds of games at the old stadium, but have never been to the new one.

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    2. Cool! I'm guessing that was after the Inner Harbor renovation, and the construction of the new stadium at Camden Yards. As an avid Orioles fan, I went to hundreds of games at the old stadium, but I've never been to the new one.

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  9. I'm with Bobby; why don't fish drown!

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  10. One of my all-time favorite television shows takes place in Baltimore ("The Wire").

    I am a seafood connoisseur so I may have to take a trip there someday :)

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    1. There have been a few good shows set in B'more. That's okay. Atlanta can claim "The Walking Dead," a show about transplanted Baltimoreans who are suffering from steamed crab withdrawal syndrome. (Not US, of course. We had some yesterday!)

      It's possible to get some pretty darned good seafood in the south, too. Except for the oysters. Nothing can beat Chesapeake Bay oysters. They have a natural salty taste. But, by all means, go to Baltimore if you have the chance. Lots of neat stuff to see there.

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  11. You are hilarious, Susan. Hubby and I just got back from a visit to Baltimore. We spent most of our time in the Inner Harbor area, where we were staying while visiting family. The crabs were fantastic.

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    1. Thanks! I'm always happy to make ya laugh.

      I'm so glad you enjoyed your trip to Baltimore. Most of our B'more family and friends have died, so no telling when we'll get up that-a-way again. (sigh)

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  12. Oh great! Now I'm going to be singing "Good Morning Baltimore" from Hairspray all day.
    Well, I guess there's worse things, huh?

    Gonna go get me some crabs.
    ~Just Jill

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    1. HA! Yeah, it could definitely be worse. Ever hear the song, "Crabs for Christmas"? (Ohhhhhhh, OH! I want crabs for Christmas. OH! Only crabs will do....) It's a uniquely Baltimore song, but there are several renditions of it on Youtube. THAT song has a way of worming itself into my head. Oh yeah, and then there's the time our pastor caught me singing while I was cleaning the church. Not a biggie. I was always singing at church. Only THAT time, I'd just been listening to our daughter's "Grateful Dead" tape, so I was singing, "... riding that train, high on cocaine..." Luckily, our pastor had a good sense of humor.

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  13. I had crab cakes for supper yesterday and they were AWESOME. Lobster cakes are pretty good, too :)

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    1. Yum, good for you! I can imagine how good genuine lobster cakes are. I've had store-prepared ones, but I'm sure they aren't even close to being as good as they are in your neck of the woods, where lobster is as common as chicken.

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  14. Why, yes, a crab cake done correctly should have almost nothing but crab in it!!! Baltimore is a fun city. Love the Inner Harbor.

    And Kylie cracked me up. Emily Richardson better watch who she crosses!

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    1. I'll betcha you've heard some pretty good comments from your students over the years, too. You should write a book! Oh, never mind... you already HAVE!

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  15. I'd love to visit Baltimore. Sounds like the food is great! Speaking of food, I happened to have a mouthful of potato chips when I started reading those kids' comments. Never laugh with a mouthful of chips. Now I have to clean up my laptop.

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    1. Yes, Baltimore has some fantastic food... seafood, of course, but also Italian, German, Greek, Polish, and Jewish delis with some of the best corned beef and smoked whitefish you ever put in your mouth. Sorry about the chips, but hey! It coulda been worse. You could've had a mouthful of smoked whitefish. Or beer!

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  16. Loved this post.
    The book inserts fabulous and the kids comments cracked me up.
    When my oldest son was in pre-school he started collecting baseball cards and loved the Baltimore Orioles. We never found out why but he did. That is all he talked about the Orioles and Cal Ripken Jr.
    What is so funny is that is the year the Orioles won the World Series. They were not picked to win so if we had listened to Oriole crazed son we would have won big in Las Vegas.
    Great Baseball Stadium and the best food ever.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

      Gee, sounds like your son knows how to pick a winner, eh? I hope he held onto his collection. When I was a kid, I had a bunch of baseball cards, including some early '50s rookie cards, but like a dummy, I didn't hang onto any of them. (Much to MY son's dismay.) If your son has some Ripken rookie cards, they could be worth something.

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  17. Real crab in it? Woot!

    Kids do say funny things, I witness it all of the time. :)

    I like the croissant crab. He's cute. :)

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    1. Abso-doggone-lutely! Gotta be the real thing, baby.

      Yes, kids are a source of endless entertainment. Some of our grandkids are natural comedians.

      Thanks! I made those crab sandwiches for lunch one day, just to get a chuckle out of my husband. (And it did!)

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  18. You can go to many restaurants and order crab cakes and many of them are good. However, if you have not been to Baltimore, you have not tasted the perfect crab cake. I first tasted mine 40 years ago when I met a friend for life who came from Baltimore. In the summer, she would have buy a few bushels of crabs, put out the picnic tables, line them with newspapers, and invite all the neighbors over for a crab feast. Oh, how wonderful those parties were. Yep, Baltimore brought to me a wonderful friend and a love of those ugly looking crustaceans.

    I always have a can of Old Bay in my pantry, and, yes, I do put some in my scrambled eggs. Um, um good.

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    1. Actually, anybody can make perfect crab cakes if the crab meat is good and fresh. We steamed crabs yesterday, and I fully intended to pick some meat and set it aside to make cakes, and darned if we didn't (urp!) eat 'em all. Oh well. Next time.

      Ah yes, we had a huge screened-in back porch at our house in B'more, and that was the perfect place to hold crab feasts. We had an enormous Department of Recreation picnic table out there. (Believe it or not, I can't even remember how in the world we got that thing.) It could easily seat twenty people. It also made a great place to clean fish when our neighbor came home in the wee hours of the morning from a fishing trip. He didn't feel like messing with them, so he'd call us. Heck, my hubby was still in the Army, so we did NOT turn down free food.

      Really? Okay, so MAYBE I'll give Old Bay a try on scrambled eggs. It just sounds so... wrong. But I trust you.

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    2. Give it a try. What would be the harm, one egg, no biggy. Just don't overdue the Old Bay. A little dab will do ya.

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    3. Next time I scramble eggs, I will definitely add a wee bit of Old Bay.

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    4. Okay, so you were right, and I was wrong. We had blueberry pancakes, sausage links and scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning. Scrambled eggs with a couple dashes of Old Bay. It was GOOD! I don't know that I'd want it in my eggs all the time, but it was definitely tasty. How about that? You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

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  19. I love Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Of course, that's about the only thing about Baltimore I love. ;)

    And kids really do say the darndest things.

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    1. Everybody seems to be smitten with the Inner Harbor and all of the neat things to see and eat there. Fort McHenry is a pretty neat place to visit, too. (And it isn't in the same direction as the Block...)

      Yep, they do. And some of us never outgrow it.

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  20. LOL at the kids' comments!

    I've never been to Baltimore, but one of my Facebook friends lives there. She mentioned once that it's nicknamed "Smalltimore" (because everybody seems to know everyone).

    I've started your book, but I'm a slow reader (I read my books like I eat my chocolate - I savor them). I'm enjoying it so far - as soon as I'm done, I'll leave a review on Amazon.

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    1. I never heard that nickname for Baltimore before, but I reckon a lot of things can change in forty years. (Go figure.)

      Super. I hope you enjoy the book all the way to the end, and I'll look forward to seeing your review. Thanks! (I read like I eat chocolate, too... I'm more of a piggy gulper speed eater.)

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  21. The crab cake made me hungry, and the croissant crab made me smile :)

    We had such a great time in Baltimore last year. I'm ready to go back.

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    1. Something about seeing and thinking about crabs just makes ya wanta go to Baltimore, doesn't it? I'm ready to go back, too, darn it. No telling when that might happen again.

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  22. I lived in Baltimore when I was little in 1968 or so. I passed through there a couple of years ago and it was unrecognizable from what it was like in the 1960s and 70s.

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    1. Yeah, the changes are pretty startling. Some buildings from the '50s and earlier are still standing, but their surroundings have changed so much, it's as if they'd been transplanted onto foreign soil.

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    2. The part of Maryland that I really loved was Annapolis. I remember it being a wonderful place to stroll about.

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    3. I love Annapolis, too, especially the Naval Academy.

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  23. Ok, I'm trying Old Bay in my eggs. I'm proficient at lobster but woefully inexperienced as it comes to eating crabs. I'd like to rectify that some day. LOVE your snippets!

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    1. Okay, that's two of us gonna give the Old Bay in eggs a go!

      If you wanta get more proficient at eating crabs, you're just gonna have to get them more often! I'm not all that good with lobster, either. I couldn't tell you that last time I bought any live ones. The tails are so much easier to deal with.

      THANKS! I'm really glad to hear that!

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  24. Those kid comments totally cracked me up! I like your crab croissant. Very creative!

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  25. Bubba would fit right in with those kids, wouldn't he?

    Thanks. It was very tasty, too!

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  26. Hey Susan,

    I know you've been eagerly waiting for one of my highly collectable comments. It has been a while since I darkened your blog's doorstep, so to speak. You know how it is, all this multitasking and signing autographs for our adoring fans. Ah, the life of a celebrity, eh Susan.

    It seems like a dolphin breathes through a politician. Fifty shades of crabs, perhaps. A title for a book? You've got me wanting to go visit Baltimore. Baltimore and your book, what a combo.

    Be well and y'all have a pleasant Sunday.

    See, no fish puns! Will you let me off the hook?

    Gary :)

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    1. How about that? While you were here, I was over on your blog reading about the wee folk... Great minds obviously think alike.

      You have a loverly Sunday, too. Yeah, I'll let you off the hook... just for the halibut.

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  27. Great post. We never go to Baltimore without getting a meal with crabmeat. One of my former students is a policeman in the city so I know it has its attitude side for sure.

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    1. Yes! I'm glad you understand what I mean about the in-your-face attitude. It is definitely there.

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  28. Love the fancy-faced sandwich! :)

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  29. My husband loves crab cakes, but we are not able to find the taste that he did years ago in Maine.

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    1. I've never had crab cakes Maine-style, so I don't know what their secret ingredient is there, but it's hard to go wrong with Old Bay. (And I don't have any stock in the company, or anything!)

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  30. You know, I got married the first time in Baltimore City Hall in 1965. I don't know why, since we lived in Princeton. Perhaps it was easier to get a license there. Then I sailed on the bay many times and remember it as being very crowded with sail boats, so pretty. I do remember the crabs, the crab cakes, so good.

    And then there was The Wire. Not for everyone, but certainly the best TV drama ever as it depicted the many difficult aspects of life in any large city in this country.

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    1. Maybe your first husband just LIKED Baltimore! Seriously, I don't know if there were any differences in license requirements between MD and NJ or not. Whatever the reason, I'm glad you got to experience sailing on the Chesapeake... and those wonderful blue crabs.

      I keep hearing about "The Wire", but we don't get that cable channel, so I've never seen it, darn it. Sounds terrific, though.

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  31. Another wonderful post! I can't wait to read your book, Susan.

    I've been to Annapolis, in 1975, but I don't think that we went to Baltimore. When I think of Baltimore, I think of Anne Tyler and all of her books.

    The kids quotes are so funny! Thanks so much for stopping by to see me.

    Kathy M.

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    1. Thanks! Glad to hear it, and I'm looking forward to you reading it, too. Hope ya like it.

      Ah, another Anne Tyler fan! I LOVE her books.

      No need for thanks. It's always my pleasure to stop by your place.

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  32. Wonderful, tasty treat of a post! Thanks Susan!

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  33. Clever! And the parting picture--too nummy to eat.

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    1. Thanks! And no, it was too nummy NOT to eat!

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  34. My mouth is watering at the thought of some of those crabcakes! Love the snippets from your book, too! The kids comments were way too funny--I was seriously just wondering the same thing about mermaids. Like, really. :)

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    1. I have a feeling a few people may be inspired to eat some crabcakes in the near future. I'm hoping to get some live crabs today so I can steam 'em and pick 'em for cakes. I reckon my mouth is watering for them, too.

      Yeah, how DO mermaids...

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  35. This entire post is overflowing with personality. My favorite: "Why the fish don't drown I don't know." Susan, I just unleashed several loud guffaws. Thank you!

    xoRobyn

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    1. Thanks! Glad ya liked it, Robyn. Guffaws provide excellent exercise, dontcha think?

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  36. Cities definitely have personalities. I did like Baltimore's personality better 40 years ago, but any place with those crab cakes can't be all bad!

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    1. I suppose Baltimore's personality has changed a bit over the past forty years, but for the most part, it still feels the same to me. Looks different, for sure, and lots less smog and overall pollution than it used to be, but the people still feel the same to me. Then again, since so many of those people from our pasts are no longer... maybe it's only my memories that haven't changed. And the crabs and crab cakes are still the BEST!

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  37. Baltimore is a wonderful city! I especially love the downtown area. I also have Old Bay seasoning in my pantry. It's good on everything.

    http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

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    1. Yeah, I think so, too. As a teenager, my friends and I would get all dressed up to ride the bus downtown. Man, times sure have changed. All right! Another Old Bay fan! My kinda gal.

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  38. We are at the shore right now and my Hubs is dying for some good sea food.

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    1. Well, you're definitely at the right place to GET it! We had steamed crabs (again) yesterday, only this time, I used some to make soup, and picked some to make crab cakes. (It's impossible to eat too much seafood...)

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  39. I almost stopped reading at Crab Cakes, my mind went wandering as my mouth watered...then i kept going and laughed at the kids sayings. I love the crab croissant.

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    1. I'm glad your salivating didn't keep you from finishing the post. HA! (Would it upset you too terribly to know we had crab cakes for dinner last night... made from the meat from crabs I steamed myself...?)

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