Sunday, April 24, 2011



Alex and David have had a tradition in their family called Crabfest. It’s pretty simple really, get a ton of fresh crabs, some tasty slabs of meat, ample side dishes, invite friends and family, and make an evening out of enjoying each other’s company while anticipating, preparing, serving, eating, and burping after the main event, followed by various activities such as lounging on Alex and David’s patio having some digestif drinks or converge onto the couches in the living room for some culturally enlightening karaoke.

For several years now Lindz and I have attended these annual events, and each year the event seems more spectacular, and more precious, than the last. The guest lists each year oscillate around the edges some, not everyone is available at that time of year each year, however everyone that can make it is welcome, and who can’t is missed.  
One of the signature elements, other than the sheer quantity of crabs, is the table cloth. A huge white linen affair, each year everyone attending autographs and leaves messages on the table cloth. Of course, since I love to draw crabs, I use up a lot of black and red Sharpies to annually add one more crab themed doodle to the table cloth. 
The thing that really endears the tablecloth to me is that a lot can change for folks during a year. People get married, or go to college, or learn new bad words in a foreign language. New friends join the fold, old friends move to a different condo tower, the hosts move to a different condo tower with an even bigger sky view expansive wrap around patio to envy. 

The tablecloth reflects something of those changes, of the milestones that have happened since last we convened, yet the tapestry also captures  the spirit of what hasn’t changed, the warmth of our friendships and commitment to the sort of family community we’ve fashioned through the years. 

One year Alex had a special gift for his lifelong fan of The Who Dad, backstage meet and greet with Roger Daltrey tickets, a way for Alex to express his gratitude for his father and all the support his father has given him through the years as Alex discovered and uncovered who he actually is as a person, a rough road sometimes from what I’ve heard. Typically gift giving is reserved for the holidays, when the Turkey Club convenes to celebrate fall and winter holidays. Sometimes a surprise gift at Thanksgiving in October as they do here in Canada, though mostly during the Holiday Stretch at year’s end, where we have Secret Santa going and other odds and ends. That’s another aspect of our extended and for me somewhat surrogate family gatherings I like, gifts can happen any time, and when they do, they tend to be meaningful, of occasionally confusing like the pair of locks and vintage Who record I gave once as a birthday gift to Alex’s Dad. 

Crabfeast would be nothing without crabs, and for years now Alex and David have had a specific place in Chinatown they go to for crabs en bulk. The men in the shop do some initial prep work on the crabs, basically to remove the innards, the guts, brains, and digestive systems, which can be used for myriad things in Chinatown so the prep work is free since the outcome is mutually beneficial. 

Once prepped, the crabs are bundled together in plastic sacks and put with ice into Styrofoam coolers. Soon the crabs have been ferried back to Alex and David’s just in time for extending and setting the table before the first guests arrive. 

 Dishes and cutlery get rented to make clean up a snap, a practice that is also something of a tradition, though there is still loads of their own plates and utensils in play, so I’m able to help out and put my Naval and GJ’s By Gaslight kitchen dishwashing experience to use rinsing and loading their massive dishwasher, and hand washing anything else that won’t fit for size or delicacy or burned on goodness. 
While Alex and David furnish the core entre meats and crabs, everyone else attending brings the side dishes, and there are some traditions here as well. Someone, typically Alex’s Mom Peggy, brings a 24 Hour salad, a concoction I’d never encountered before hooking up with this gang. Eggs on top, crunchy lettuce, a layer of peas, mayo, cheddar cheese in there somewhere, OMG delicious. Made in layers and refrigerated for 24 hours, the thing is burly, and smacks of 50’s 60’s McCalls or Better Housekeeping sort of recipe, something in the odd month between variations of meatloaf and tuna casserole. Love that salad. .
And people bring desserts, so many that you'd think Dr. Suess wrote the menu, simply absurd delights that titckle the tastebuds and tuck pounds on the tummies of all attending. Light flavors, dark flavors, chocolates, vinillas, sweets and even savory, like the bacon chocolates from Mink or the bacon wrapped apple cobbler I'm dreaming up to being this year, well, something like that.

The evening would not be complete without an assortment of reds, whites, and beers. Also, on lucky years, there is still a bottle of the Lagrima porta Celine brings back special for us from Portugal every time she returns home to France to see her family, who in turn take her to Portugal where her parents immigrated to France from, to see their extended family. 

 Fun fact, Celine introduced me to Lagrima back when we were roommates in West End, and you never forget your first port or porta. Though the taste and texture of the struck be a bit like the Cadillac of cough syrups, there is no denying how delicious Lagrima is, though be forewarned, a little goes a long way, and in a fair fight, Lagrima could trump more tequilas without breaking a sweat, very heady stuff. I had been so taken with the stuff, especially with how difficult is to get, and the association of it to the homeland and history of one of my long time friends, I elected to honor the liquid by designing and naming an island rock mass that when viewed overhead looked like a cross made of polygonal lava in the Scarface: the World is Yours game. 
The rock mass stood a conglomeration of arches thrusting up from the ocean, Tony Montana could drive his boat beneath the canopy of stone to hide from pirate marauders and military boats. If you play the game and pull up the island map on the pause menu, you’ll see a little cross called Lagrima and can chuckle now with the inside skinny on where the name of the island came from, and that it’s not utterly out of place considering the amount of Portuguese that’s spoken in South America, and South America was one of the influences for the myriad of fictional islands, though true more Costa Rica where I doubt much Portuguese is spoken. OK, so an island named Lagrima is a tiny bit of a stretch, since the islands were more influenced by the history and composition of the Caymans and Bahamas.
While Alex and David have liquid refreshments on hand, everyone brings beverages to Crabfest, and part of the fun is sampling each others’ discoveries and recommendations. While I’m partial to big bottle beers, some years I like to swig with the Gwertz and Reisling crowd, or perhaps flush a little blush, whatever the fancy, what suits the side plates, or what seems most appropriate for when you’re soaked up to the elbows with crab juice. 
Now that Otis is in our midst, traditions like Crabfest matter that much more. While this year Otis will be too young to crack open any crab carapaces himself, he’ll at least be able to sample a bit of crustacean flesh and enjoy the climate of camaraderie.
Can’t wait for this year’s installment!


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