Tag Archives: lobster

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.

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I’ll See Your Two Lobsters, And Raise You A Seal…

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There are so very many things to love about Maine.  Somewhere around the top of the list has got to be the ready availability of inexpensive and unbelievably fresh lobster.  I didn’t have lobster at all until I was 33.  Poverty-stricken student-hood in Texas is not conducive to development of a penchant for something like lobster.  Raw oysters and grilled shrimp, yes.  Grilled oysters, as well, a real treat from Frenchy’s on the water down by Mustang Island.  But lobsters? No.

The first time I ate lobster was in San Diego, on a business trip, which is why I felt up to springing for the pleasure. I remember it quite well.  It was at an outdoor table at a restaurant in the Gaslight, it was Lobster Thermidor, and it was utterly insipid.  I couldn’t, to be honest, understand how anyone developed a taste for this, let alone enough of a taste to be willing to spring $40 for a dinner of it.  I finished it, and filed Lobster under Thanks, Tried It, Not Interested.

Many years later I found myself up in Southwest Harbor for a birthday getaway trip.  Southwest Harbor, for those of you who are not fanatics about Maine, is on the other side of Mount Desert Island from Acadia National Park, one of the biggest, brightest gems in the sparkling crown that is our National Parks System.  We drove down to Bass Harbor, where there is a perfect jewel of a classic Maine lighthouse, and went to dinner at a restaurant on the water called, heaven help us, “The Seafood Ketch”.  I know knot everyone is knotically oriented, so I will explain that “The Seafood Ketch” is a pun.  A bad pun, but aren’t they all?

We had a positively stunning sunset that evening at The Seafood Ketch.  I remember it like it was last week: the sky dropped into a blood red glow, and lit the water up like it was on fire.  This being my first night in Maine, I didn’t (yet) understand that this happens rarely and is a treasured spectacle when it occurs, but I did – for which I am deeply grateful – have my camera with me to capture the moment.

Fortunately, our table was called after the lurid tones faded from the sky, and we sat to eat.  I prepared to order fish and chips.  My husband shot me a deeply incredulous look. “I bring you to MAINE and you order FISH AND CHIPS?”  I asked what else I should consider. I received the look again, and began to wonder if I’d sprouted a second head, the look was that saturated in disbelief.  “Lobster.” he said. “You should get the lobster.”

“Oh, I don’t like lobster” I said.

Another stare. “What?” he said.

“I don’t care for lobster,” I said, and explained about the thermidor and how I’d concluded I just must not be a Lobster Person.

“Lobster? In California? Where do they get lobsters from in California?” he said.

He’s a New York City boy, transplanted to New England, and does not possess what I would consider to be a Broad Spectrum of Experience in some aspects.

I told him I did not know where lobsters came from in California, and he suggested that they got them from Maine, and reiterated his suggestion that I order the lobster. He can be very insistent, and I considered it easier to just go along with this than to argue further.

Jolly good thing I did, too.  I do wonder if that lobster I had in San Diego grew up in Maine and just had a somewhat difficult journey across the continent.  Eating lobster in Maine is an entirely different experience.  I could go on about the freshness, and the freshness, and, well, the freshness of the lobster when you’re eating it from a table where you can clearly see the brightly colored buoys for the lobster traps.  Lobster that has been living in a tank is an entirely different experience than lobster that was living on the bottom of the ocean just this morning.  So, I could go on about this, but I think I’ll just say that my response to all of this is to rule that if I can’t see the traps from where I’m dining, I don’t bother, but if I can, then I eat it every chance I get.

For me, this means having eaten lobster four times in the last two days.  Lobster 1 was consumed at Red’s Eats, a road-side shack with the best lobster rolls in the State of Maine.  Every shack claims this, of course, but I’d be willing to lay money on Red’s actually delivering.  Their lobster rolls don’t fool around with stuff like mayonnaise, or butter, or green stuff.  Or, really, with bread.  A Red’s lobster roll is a massive little mountain of freshly picked lobster meat – they do all of the work for you – sort of sitting on top of a piece of Wonderbread.  I don’t think the slice of bread is actually meant to be consumed.  I think it’s mainly an excuse for calling this a “lobster roll”.

Lobster 2 came at dinner last night on top of a pile of gnocchi, and was seasoned with plenty of garlic, cheese, and rosemary.

Lobster 3 was in a stew at a food truck with picnic tables next to the road.

Lobster 4 was consumed at the lobster pound, with a big ear of super sweet corn and a dish of cole slaw.  Also, a cold Shipyard Export (beer), all of this hoovered down while watching the sun set over the lobster-trap-filled harbor (remember: a girl’s gotta have her standards).

So, I guess, it’s really, I’ll See Your Four Lobsters and Raise You A Seal…

The seal comes into it over the Cocktail Hour.  The inn that we call Home up here is in a summer colony that has a very lightly traveled road (well, light travel by car) that winds around next to the shoreline and offers a series of stunning vistas at every turn.  Speaking of vistas, we also took a hike this afternoon in a land trust property on Barter’s Island, one that offered very nice trail with clearly-marked blazes.  You can imagine my delight when one of the trees also had a small hand-painted sign affixed to the trunk that read, simply, “VISTA” with an arrow pointing down a side trail.  And it was, too.  We ran across perhaps four of these “Vistas”.  What sort of place marks interesting tail detours, and uses words like “vista” in public signage?  Whatever place that is, I love it.

So. The late afternoon here, after the shrieking packs of free-range children have gone home to take baths or naps or eat their mac-and-cheese, is marked by large-scale Scenic Socializing.  It almost seems that every adult on the Point corrals a beverage – a beer, a cocktail, a bottle of wine – and heads out onto the road.  Some people flock to the rocks, in readiness to watch and photograph the sunset – one of the distinctions of this particular spot is that you can watch the sun set over the Atlantic – while some roam up and down the road, drinking, birding, chatting, and corralling the social scene for the packs of big hairy friendly dogs.

We joined them today after having High Tea (cheese, crackers, and a ginger beer) out on the public dock float.  I lit up a cigar, my husband opened a beer, and we Went Out To Greet The World.  The presence of the lit cigar ensured that we weren’t impinged upon by anyone else’s inconsequential chatter, and had our choice of VISTAS from which to view the sinking sun, the islands, and the schooners out plying the Sunset Cruise trade.

What we didn’t expect was that our chosen VISTA also offered a fine view of an odd-ball seal that came into the moorings to fish for dinner.  We shot right down to the shore to watch this guy – he was all of two feet off of the dinghy dock at one point, and spent a good ten to fifteen minutes rolling in the water and diving for fish.  We lost him briefly in the sun on the water, and discovered him hanging out near the float next to a lobster trap, doubtless drawn in by the bait.  I laughed and ran down the ramp to see better.  He was just hovering in the water, nose sticking straight up in the air, snorting away like anything, and then he blew towards me and rolled back away.

I’ve seen plenty of seals in this area, but never any this close into shore and in these moorings.  Vistas and lobsters included, I would have to say that the seal was the high point of the day.  And, I must say, any day that includes a seal is one that cannot be considered to be wasted.

Sunset

Sunset from the deck of The Seafood Ketch, right before everything turned red