Tag Archives: cape cod

Communing With The Crustaceans

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Our is largely a Jewish household.  Judaism, thankfully, is a somewhat flexible proposition, unless you’re a Fundamentalist (or, as we call them, Orthodox).  The rules laid down in the Torah, the base text for the Christian Bible’s “old testament” have been interpreted and reinterpreted over the last three thousand years or so, to the point where many of them are nearly unrecognizable, and others are simply ignored.  Kashrut, the rules for What May Be Eaten, have morphed over the millenia to the point where we now have Kosher For Passover Face Cream.

Roy, having been raised in an Orthodox household (although we are both officially Reconstructionist), is a bit more a stickler on these matters than I am.  As a result, I do not cook dishes that combine the muscle protein of mammals with the dairy products of those mammals (originally: thou shalt not cook a kid in its mothers’ milk).  It is kind of barbaric, if you think about it, to deck out the animal protein from a species with the fluid of life from that same species.  I can get behind this.  Mostly, and certainly with respect to what I cook in the house.  Also, I respect Roy’s choices by refusing to cook treif (Forbidden Foods) in the house, when he’s around and in the position of potentially consuming them.  I don’t cook pigs or shellfish of any kind in the house, when Roy is about.  What I do on my Private Time is my Private Business, but I’m certainly not going to violate his Spiritual Beliefs by confronting him with objectionable items.

That said, my firm and private feeling is that this world is full of tzuris (great grief, and grief-inducing events such as the recent explosions in China, and certain…elements…of the US political scene).  I do not, actually, believe in a Score-Keeping God, and I sure as hell don’t believe that – if we were brought here by some Creator – that Creator started off with a list of Things Off-Limits.  I respect the journeys of those who choose to grow spiritually through restriction.  I, however, am not one of them.

My feelings on the subject are that all of these exotic rules are intended, primarily, to foster spiritual awareness of even the mundane act of dining. And I thoroughly respect that.  The meat brought into our house comes from animals that were raised with kindness and respect, and slaughtered with compassionate focus on minimizing terror and discomfort.  I don’t actually care whether a rabbi was around to wave hands and deliver some kind of benediction.  If a critter met its end, wild with fear and having spent a miserable few weeks or months, it ain’t Kosher in this house.  Chickens eaten in this house dined on bugs, settled conflicts with other chickens using its god-given beak, and got to squabble like chickens do, when they’re left to their own devices.  And so forth.  Be Kind, is the first of the law in my personal books. Be Respectful Of Life, that’s right up there too.

So, given that I clearly play Fast And Loose with the incredible scaffolding of rules, regulations, and other complicated psychological issues erected around the Act of Eating by Jewish Law, we come to one of my many possibly heretical convictions:  Oysters are Kosher in Wellfleet.  Lobsters are Kosher in Maine.  Some oysters are also Kosher in Maine, and some Lobsters are Kosher in Wellfleet.  I am Eve eating the apple, and doing it several times a summer.

But.

But.

But.  This does not imply that I scoff at what I believe to be the central philosophical point of this fantastically byzantine set of Eating Rules.  No.  I respect that even more highly, and insist on maintaining a Spiritual Awareness of the most mundane act of dining.  Especially as it regards animal life.  After all, some other creature died so that I might eat it.  That other creature’s life ended and mine goes on, in part, because the creature is no more.

I’m the sort that doesn’t even like to trample ants on the sidewalk, and feels bad about killing yellow jackets, and feels uneasy that these hornets die because they’re a threat to my existence, given my major allergies.  It’s not their fault that I’m allergic to them, after all.  They simply behave according to their nature, just as a horse does when things get a little too exciting in their blind spot and they kick.  It’s not a reason to die, but death still happens.  I don’t take life lightly.  Unless it’s a cockroach, especially a Giant F***ing Flying Roach like we have in Houston, or Fire Ants, all of which I feel completely comfortable, for some reason, wanting to eliminate from the Great Laboratory of Physical Existence.  I don’t fully understand this, but will no doubt spend the next decade contemplating.  Anyway, with the exception of the roaches and the fire ants, I don’t take life lightly. So I feel, strongly, that if something has given its life for me, even if it didn’t agree to this deal, even if it wasn’t asked – especially if it wasn’t asked – I have a powerful Moral Obligation to confront my role in that arrangement.

Which brings me to the topic of how lobsters are kosher in Maine.

A cow, it dies to provide sustenance to…a hundred people, maybe, after taking into consideration all the bits and pieces.  Maybe even more.  A chicken, it dies to provide sustenance to four, maybe six people, removed at some distance from the act of giving up its life.

A lobster, it dies to provide sustenance to one.  One person, not at all removed from the sacrifice, but sitting feet away from the process.  One.  One lobster, one person.

This creates some difficulty for me.  It is much easier to ask, or expect, that a creature will give up its life in exchange for the sustenance of a hundred than for the sustenance of one. I experience a moment of intense discomfort when inspecting a tank full of crustaceans, and having to select one of them to die for me.  Not for nameless others.  I am, even though I hand off the actual chore to a cook, that lobster’s executioner.  It is difficult.  I understand the Cycle of Life, I take my place in that knowingly, and thoughtfully, but the fact remains: I am at the top of the food chain, and other creatures lose their lives for my dinner.  It’s just not as…direct…with anything else as it is with a lobster.

My approach to dealing with this discomfort is to recognize the sacrifice that another creature made, involuntarily, at my behest, and to honor that creature’s spirit as completely as possible.  I am told that – as a result – the experience of watching me eat a lobster strikes awe into the hearts of all who witness it. Other diners, my companions, the wait staff at the restaurant, you name it.

I honor that lobster’s spirit by refusing to let even a tiny fragment of it go to waste.  I honor that lobster’s spirit by refusing to engage in any distracting activity while I am communing with it in the act of dining.  For me, this is a Spiritual Act.

For everyone else, it is a breathtaking exhibition in focus, ferocity, and determination, apparently.  I scorn those individuals who eat only the easy-to-access meat in the tail and the big claws.  I scientifically dismantle my lobsters, consuming every scrap of meat in the walking claws, the carapace, the fins on the tail, the small segments of the claws, and yes – the tail and the claws too.  When I have finished with a lobster, there is nothing left but the shell.  And the tomalley, because I’m concerned about the concentration of toxins from the crap that people will insist on dumping into the ocean.  Other than that, there is nothing.

And woe betide any who expect conversation, attention, or any other distraction from my experience of communing with the spirit of the recently-departed lobster.  The chit-chat, the request for another beer or a refill on the water, the ordering of dessert, the demand for the check, all of this can wait for another time.  I reckon any critter that gave its life for me deserves my full, complete, and wholly-undivided attention while I’m assimilating its physical existence.   I don’t care how many people are struck dumb in wonder at this spectacle.  The lobster, honestly, is the only other being in my universe at these moments.

GREETINGS! From Glamorous Provincetown!!

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Well, Roy and I have embarked upon our Annual Post-Term Pilgrimage to the Cape.  “The Cape” for those of you who aren’t “lucky” enough to live this close to New York City, means “Cape Cod”.  “The Vineyard” means “Martha’s Vineyard”.  “The Rustic Wilds” means “The highly manicured grounds of cultural destinations like Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow”, and “The Sticks” refers either to any place in New Jersey, Westchester County New York, or – depending on just who you’re talking to – it may mean “Queens” or “Brooklyn”.  “Staten Island” doesn’t actually qualify for mention.

So we make an annual pilgrimage to The Cape as the Books are closed on the academic year, because – as great the anticipation of undergraduate students face with the prospect of a summer break is, the anticipation of university professors faced with same is that am0unt, raised to the eighth degree.  Thing is, undergrads either get to go home – in which case they wind up living with Mom and Dad, who treat our Man or Woman About Town as if they were once again 11 years old – or they wind up working summer jobs, internships, etc…all of which involve “work” and “uncertainty”.  So much nicer to face down a summer break when you know exactly what you’re going to be doing all term (enjoying life, and working albeit much shorter hours than when school is in term) and what you’ll be doing four months from now (fielding hundreds of e-mails from undergrads, grading mountains of cases, papers, and homework, and attending meetings).  I speak from a Great Deal of experience:  summers as a faculty member beat the living daylights out of summers as a student.

Unless, of course, you’re a student with a silver spoon, and you’re going to be spending your summer in the Alps, or serving Worthwhile Causes in a scenic yet non-fatal-disease-infested relatively-parasite-free jungle.

Speaking of parasites, I had a Good One this week.  Huey Not The Wonder Horse Today came up on Saturday morning with a strange bump on his neck.  My first thought, as a New Horse Mom, was “OH NO! IT’S A HIDEOUS INFECTION THAT IS GOING TO REQUIRE INTENSIVE VETERINARY CARE!!”  My second thought, as a Veteran Emergency Backup Parent of many children was “Probably a bug bite.”  I checked in with another woman who boards at the barn.  The Barn Owner, who as I have said before is a woman of rare common sense and evident disinclination towards Drama, would have been Choice Number One, but the time was not right, and the only other person around was Other Boarder.

“Hey, Other Boarder,” I said, “Can you take a look at this weird bump on Huey’s neck for me?  Is that a bug bite?”

Other Boarder generously checked it out and concluded that it was probably a bug bite.  But – in the way of Experienced Moms Everywhere – immediately went on to share a Perfectly Ghastly Horror Story about some kind of bizarre insects that bit her dog and laid some kind of egg in the dog’s skin. Other Boarder’s husband noticed that the dog was desperately trying to chew at some insect bite-like-lump on the dog’s back, summoned the dog, and gave the lump the kind of palpation that anyone would…

…only, in this case, he squeezed it and a parasite emerged from the lump. Some damned insect that lays its blasted eggs in the victim’s SKIN to have them hatch later, etc etc etc.

Naturally, as a New Horse Mom, I was INSTANTLY traumatized by this story.  I regarded the bump on Huey’s neck with Absolute Shrinking Horror, and could not escape the thought of some ghastly parasite emerging, alien-like, from this bump, with a yawning gaping scream.

Other Boarder regarded this evolution.

“Probably that’s not it,” she said. “Probably it’s just an allergic thing.”

Well, probably.  Probably covers a whole lot of ground, and as a statistician, I don’t know that I’m entirely comfortable with “probably”.  Fortunately, I had the opportunity to consult the Barn Owner this morning on the subject, and she thought it was “probably” an insect bite too.  Well, if I get back from vacation and find that Huey’s got a spare head, or there’s another creature that expects to share his feed bin, we’ll know that it’s not an insect bite.

In the meantime, I’m having nightmares about the blasted thing.  I can deal with a lot of things, but insect eggs hatching in my skin, my cat’s skin, my horse’s skin, my husband’s skin, or the skin of any creature with whom I am associated in any way?  NOT ON THE LIST>

Back to Glamorous Provincetown:  International Mecca for the Gay Man of Distinction.

There are lesbians here, but not in the impressive numbers that my new home-town of Northampton yields.  I can’t help thinking, sometimes, of Northampton as the Home of the Lesbian Soccer Moms.  Roy has a passionate fondness for the armies of Lesbian Soccer Moms.  He loves the idea of Provincetown (aka Queer City) but after a day or two he gets all creeped out by the vast numbers of men,  and has to duck in to soak up the EstrogenFest at Womencrafts, the Great Lesbian Bookstore of Eastern Massachusetts.

While Provincetown is about as “gay friendly” as it is possible to be – I always feel a right odd-ball, as a member of an actual mixed-gender couple when dining out there – I would say that it is “gay” rather than “lesbian” friendly.  Men (of any stripe) outnumber women (of any stripe) by a significant margin in this town.  I’m fine with this, because where Roy gets a Contact Estrogen High, I ❤ the energy of Gay Men.  It takes all kinds in this world, and my kind – to some degree – likes to slug down frilly tropical drinks while shaking some major booty to 80s disco.  A tendency to shriek, and to use words like “FABULOUS” in common speech, is a real plus.

So here we go.  The place we rack up in Provincetown is FABULOUS.  The rooms are FABULOUS – for instance, our bathroom has a whirlpool tub from which you can view the gas fireplace with one eye, while watching television with the other.  The pool is FABULOUS and has a FAB ULOUS spray thingy that arcs through the air – and is decorated with over-sized rubber duckies, one of which – I swear I am not making this up – is wearing a sailor suit.  WITH HAT.  It also, in what I always think of as a nod to Kinky Friedman, has a faux alligator head floating around in the pool.  The FABULOUS sauna is situated adjacent to a four-foot-tall Buddha head, which I discovered this afternoon, serves as a fountain.

It does not GET more FABULOUS than this.

The inn hosts a FABULOUS wine-and-cheese hour – this evening, held next to the pool with an honest-to-God Cabana Boy (I did say it was Fabulous).  And after – tonight – we found ourselves at Ground Zero Most Happening Spot in Provincetown (and although it is Monday, and completely dead here, it is something to say that you’re at the Most Happening Spot in Provincetown even so).  Why?  Because it is Restaurant Week (a much more attractive proposition here than it is in Northampton, when it is thelast week during which I want to dine out).  And our inn, which has a – yes – FABULOUS restaurant, and tonight is the night they chose to Unveil The Summer Menu.  Which – for us, and for all of the Provincetown Hip (not Hipsters, thank heavens), meant a stream of circulating (free) hors d’ouevres and a FABULOUS milieu.  It really was rather like being at a fun, fabulous wedding.

The vast majority of guests at this function were men, to no one’s surprise but Roy.

We renewed our acquaintance with a few Serial Guests of this inn – it was oddly  like the Pensione Bertolini – with the Vicar, the Lady Novelist, The Ingenue, the Chaperone, and the rest. And a few individuals who come to this inn at the same time every year.  Among whom we, now, apparently number.  It was a strange, unusual, fun, and – yes- fabulous experience to meet back up with the same people with whom we spent Wine and Cheese Hour last year as well.

And after that, we adjourned to the Squealing Pig (no, really, that is the name of the pub) for some of that Slimy Grey Gold from the Ocean Floor:  The Wellfleet Oyster.

This is never the Wellfleet oyster.  Or just the oyster.  Or even a Wellfleet oyster.

It is only, ever, The Wellfleet Oyster.

This, in my not so humble opinion, is the Finest Oyster ever to hatch in an oyster ground. Or anywhere, really.  Wellfleet Oysters are the perfect size – not too small, not so huge you feel as if you are inhaling mythical monster.  They’re the perfect flavor: oystery, but not delivering on the Ocean Floor Experience that you get with some oysters, and virtually all whole-belly clams.  They are lively without being excessively organic. They are the ideal oyster.

They are such an Ideal Oyster that I find I have to constrain my own behavior. I will consume them only in two places:  one the Cape, and at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station.  I will have to make a separate post sometime about that Oyster Bar, but it should speak volumes for that place that I am willing to consume The Wellfleet Oyster on the premises.  Otherwise, the closer the restaurant to Wellfleet, the better.  The best place, in my opinion, is to eat Wellfleet Oysters at the Wellfleet Bookstore.  I will say more on this subject later, but for now, know that when dining at the Wellfleet Bookstore, you are gazing out at the world-fabled Wellfleet Oyster Beds, right there.  And, inasmuch as the best possible place to dine on Maine Lobster is from a location where one can actually see the lobster traps, the best place in which to dine on Wellfleet Oysters is from a location where one can actually see the oyster beds.

There is a lot of information about why the Wellfleet beds deliver such a quality oyster. If you want to know, just google it:  wellfleet oyster.

So here we are, at the Squealing Pig, drinking the house draft, names “PigSwill”, and inhaling Wellfleet Oysters by the half-dozen.  Or, rather, I am inhaling these things.  Roy refuses to indulge for Religous Reasons.  My feeling is this:  If there is a God to care about thinks like that, s/he created the Wellfleet Oyster, and it would be wrong of me to refuse to experience them and to deliver praise where praise is due.  Dining restrictions cooked up by Desert Tribes don’t hold a lot of water for me.  Or, as a wise person once said, “It’s all relative.  Wellfleet Oysters are kosher…in Wellfleet.”  Let us say: Amen.

Looking forward to taking a zillion pictures of this unbelievably picturesque locale.  And, of course, inhaling a few more of God’s Grey Slimy Ocean Gold.

Recipe of the Week:

Drive to the Cape.

Stop at the Wellfleet Bookstore, or, if you must, travel on to Provincetown.

Find an establishment that advertises Wellfleet Oysters, in BIG LETTERS on the outside of the building.

Enter, and order a half-dozen, and a beer.  IPAs, Pilsners, and Lagers are the best.  Try to pick something local, or from no further away than Vermont.  Steer clear of Samuel Adams, because there are better beers to be had.

Wait while someone else shucks the oysters.

When they arrive, squeeze the lemon all over the Grey Slimy Goodness.  Check to ensure that oysters are free of the shell.  Inhale.

Order another half-dozen.  Rinse, lather, repeat, until the money is all gone.

What The Hell IS That? And Where The Hell AM I?

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I hate having thoughts like that when I’m behind the wheel.  Unfortunately, Ph.D.s as a group are known for a tendency to lapse into Deep Thought upon the least provocation, and to do so regardless of whatever they were doing before the Deep Thought Attack occurred.  If we’re lucky, all we were doing was having a cup of coffee, or watching a bird.  All too frequently, it happens in the middle of giving a lecture, or cooking dinner, or having a conversation.  Today, it happened while I was driving to work.

Fortunately, the first question was triggered by an onslaught of skanky old-school disco music erupting from my car speakers.  I’d been listening to the first copy of The Clash’s “London Calling” I’ve owned in twenty years.  The intervening decades had served, mercifully, to expunge “Lover’s Rock” from my memory banks, and it was extremely upsetting to find it filling my car.  Following hard on the heels of that rocky jerk to awareness was the second question, also fairly disconcerting.  A few moments of inspecting my surroundings yielded the answer: In Holyoke.  I was able to infer, based on my direction, that while in my Meditative Fugue I’d decided to take Secret Ninja Route Number 3 to avoid the construction along the interstate.

What was I thinking about, that caused me to teleport in my car ten miles down the road?  Two things, on alternating tracks:  horses, and cost accounting.  These two subjects, strangely enough, are connected.  I’ll start with the horse, because anything with a horse is more interesting than anything without a horse, in my book.

I am trying to decide whether I want to buy a horse.  Of course, I want to buy a horse – this is about whether I want to buy a horse, as in a particular horse, and do I want to buy a horse now.  This would be my first horse, and for anyone who doesn’t know this already, deciding to buy a horse is like deciding to adopt a kid.  Unlike with making your own children, you usually get to pick which horse you want, and you have some latitude in when that happens.  Otherwise, it’s kind of the same.  You’re planning to add a member to your family that will consume a vast number of resources, and you are doing this with the expectation of having (usually) a particular kind of relationship – with hopes and dreams and fears – with the new member.  It’s not like getting a dog, or a cat, or even a parrot, because while you do want to interact with those pets, their job is mostly to hang around and be cute and warm and cuddly.  Or to tear the limbs off of thieves and invaders, but I think for most people it’s about companionship.

With horses, it’s companionship, but to a lesser degree because no matter how goofy you are about them, they don’t live in the house and they don’t sleep on your bed and they don’t ride around in your car.  Unless your horse is Patches, of course.   No, horses are typically supposed to perform some kind of job in exchange for their board, and usually that job involves acting as a mode of transportation.  Transporting you down leafy trails or over rocky mountains, transporting you in loops around a ring, transporting you over a jump, transporting you into a herd of cows.  They’re meant to be ridden, but they’re prone to accidents and bizarre diseases with names from the fourteenth century, like “mud fever” and “strangles”  and “poll evil” and the dreaded navicular and colic.  They’re prone to parasitic infestations with equally colorful names: bot flies, strongyles, horse flies, deer flies, black flies.  And that doesn’t include all of the vile stuff horses do to each other, like biting, or weird vices they can develop, like cribbing (a complicated obsessive-compulsive problem where the horse grabs onto a piece of wood with its teeth, arches its neck up and quickly sucks in a bubble of air, making a belching noise.  This messes up their teeth, sounds disgusting, destroys pieces of the stable, and gives them a buzz, so it’s also addictive.  They learn to do it from watching each other.  This, alone, tells you many important things about the way a horse mind works).

So as with kids, if you start to think about the 100,000,000,000 devastating things that can possibly go wrong and ruin their lives, and possibly yours along the way, you wind up never doing it.  And then you miss out on the Wonder Of It All.

That’s the stuff that can go wrong with any horse – and then you get into the stuff that can go wrong with a particular horse.  This horse I’m thinking about is on the older side.  I think he’d be about 55 in people years.  I was caught up in thinking about the stuff that could happen.  This horse could die.  He could become unrideable.  He could become impossible to sell.

Somewhere around “The Guns of Brixton” – this is all cogitating to the Sweet Sound of 1979’s best punk – I switched tracks abruptly to cost accounting.  Today’s class was about uncertainty and biases and how to handle those things effectively in decision-making.  People don’t spend enough time considering uncertainty, in general.  It’s uncomfortable.  And, well, it’s mysterious because it’s, well, uncertain.  A lot of the time, what people do is to sink their head in the sand like an ostrich and pray that it goes away – which it frequently does, but by then, it’s too late to make a good decision.  The best way is to examine your problem thoroughly, lay out the uncertainties, decide which of them you can make go away and which you can’t, clear up the stuff you can, and expand your plans for the stuff you can’t.  A key factor here is in knowing what’s relevant.  If some factor is going to be the same for both of your options, it’s not relevant.  No matter what you decide, you’re going to have that factor come into play.

I meditated briefly on that and became distracted by the total god-awfulness of the example problem I’d found for the students to work on their skills in exploring uncertainty.  This thing came out of what is in the main a very good book, but on occasion, it falls flat on its face.  And I realized, in Brixton, this was one of those moments.  It presented a situation where a hospital administrator needed to make an investment decision.  So far, so good – should we get a CT scanner, or an MRI?  Should we have a state-of-the-art surgical suite, or expand the neonatal intensive care?  These are sensible.  The one in the book problem was not:  this administrator was having to decide between buying a bunch of heart monitors (ok) or a hotel (?!?!?!). Yes.  Heart monitor vs. hotel.  I just don’t know in what world this makes any sense at all.  It’s ludicrous.

Right around then I got the 1979 Punk Disco Blast from the Past and woke up, thinking how in the heck did I get from the horse to the hospital administrator?  Then it hit me.  Like a moron, I’ve been dwelling on the fact that this horse is older and [impossibly long list of things] could go wrong with him.  But – as I was about to teach thirty other people – it’s not relevant if it won’t change based on the decision.  My decision is not “do I buy a horse” but “do I buy this horse”.  And any horse is going to have [impossibly long list of things] that could go wrong, and I was assuming, thanks to some kind of weird Age Bias I didn’t know I had, that age had anything to do with this.  The internet is absolutely bursting with people who have young unrideable horses, and for every one of those, there is also someone with a geriatric horse that jumps.

Wow, I felt like a total moron.  Partly because of using irrelevant information and biases, which I teach people every year not to do, and partly because I zoned out behind the wheel of a moving car.  Proof that the learning process never stops, for teachers either, and also proof that distracted driving doesn’t just come from cell phones and texting.

Here is a weirdly delicious use for all of those radish tops you have lying around the house from your CSA box this week.  It has a surprisingly delicate flavor and makes a very good first course.  It’s probably not enough for a whole meal.

Radish Top Soup

6 Tb butter
1 cup chopped onions or leeks
8 cups loosely packed radish leaves
2 cups diced peeled potatoes
6 cups liquid (water, chicken stock)
Salt
1/2 cup cream (optional)
Freshly ground pepper

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan, add onions or leeks, and cook until golden, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in radish tops, cover pan, and cook over low heat until wilted, 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook potatoes until soft in liquid along with 1 teaspoon salt. Combine with radish tops and broth, and cook, covered, for 5 minutes to mingle flavors. Puree finely in a food processor. Add cream if desired. Season to taste with butter, salt and pepper.

And sort of a nice Ta-Ta to Summer for you:

Race Point

Race Point, on Cape Cod