when life gives you lemons

When I was a kid, my parents had a French friend name Aurora (which is SO French, right?!). I swear I’ve mentioned her name here before, but once you write a blog for 3 years, it becomes hard to keep track. So forgive me if I’m on repeat.

Either way, being around Aurora, in those few years that I knew her, was a definite treat.

My parents, Aurora, and Clyde (her boyfriend) used to play cards together on what seemed like every Saturday. They’d take the extra leaf out of our dining room table, load up with beverages, using bar stools as coasters, and deal out hands of Spades and Hearts for hours. It was through these card games that I learned about the awesomeness of getting drunk with your friends. Man, the songs they’d sing, the shit they’d say; I probably don’t remember half of it, but I remember thinking they were so cool. And also, a little bit weird.

I wish I had access to some of our family photo albums, and I’d show you the awesomeness of the styles back then. Clyde and my dad used to rock these awesome hats, like the ones the golfers wore before they all had Nike and Titleist logos. And the pants, oh boy, the pants. Sorta tight, plaid, and kinda big at the bottom – not quite like a bell-bottom, but close. Flare leg, I reckon. And the ladies wore these polyester button-up shirts with these weird ribbon ties at the top. Aurora had a sexy red number with a hole right near her boobs, what today I’d probably call a cleavage shirt. Is it weird that I remember these details? Who cares…

I also remember showering one night when they were over. I’d just learned to shave my legs, and I suppose my fancy Bic razor was on the dull side, because the second I aligned the razor with my thigh, the water hit the razor and slipped, taking a ginormous slice of my thigh with it. I wasn’t sure what to do about gushing blood, so I proceeded to toss on a towel and run out to the adults. Drunk adults aren’t very helpful in those situations, as it turns out. But eventually, the bleeding stopped and I was probably way too dramatic about it anyway. That was probably too much information, but you’ll deal.

Last but certainly not least, I remember Aurora for her skinny long cigarettes (so French and sophisticated) and her love of citrus fruits. We’d sometimes eat lemon rinds together, just to gross everyone else out. If it wouldn’t tear the enamel from my teeth, I’d probably eat a lemon daily just like an apple or a bowl of cherries. Dang, they’re tasty.

So when I found out about my coworker’s lemon tree burgeoning with fruit, I easily volunteered to take some off of her hands. What she gave me were the biggest lemons I’ve ever seen, and after a little thought, I made yet another batch of lemon curd. It’s sour enough to remind me of all those lemons I used to eat, but tempered by the eggs and the butter so other people will like it, too. Its biggest claim to fame? the stuff goes on everything. I like a regular ol’ piece of toasted bread, truth be told, but next week I’ll give you an extra-tasty option. Of course, you can always see what you find in the bread or breakfast section of the recipe index, but if all else fails, a spoonful is just as good all by its lonesome, or with a plate of berries.

Lemon Curd
from Gourmet via Epicurious; makes 1 1/3 cups

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (15 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into bits

instructions
Whisk together juice, zest, sugar, and eggs in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 6 minutes.

Using a fine mesh strainer, strain curd into a bowl and chill, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least 1 hour.

I Got Crabs

Getting crabs can go either way, I suppose. Hopefully your mind is outta the gutter and you’re realizing that since this is a food blog, I’m referring to the more positive aspect of crab procurement.

But if you weren’t thinking along those lines, I really can’t fault you, because I probably would have gone there first, too. I can’t help it that I’m almost 32 and still relatively immature. What can I say – I try not to take life too seriously. Things have worked out ok for me so far, so there is that.

But let’s get to the point. It’s crab season in the Bay Area, folks! If you’ve got a big enough pot for some live Dungeness crabs (which I do not – yet), now is the time to get your hands on some. Otherwise, buying the pre-picked lump crab meat is the next best thing.

Now for me, having a “crab season” is something of an oddity. In North Carolina, it was always crab season. Blue crabs. If you’ve read along from the very beginning, you might remember me talking about our place at the beach. My pops had 3 or 4 crab pots, and every weekend we went to the beach he’d take the crab pots out and let them hang out in the sound for a few days. The next weekend we’d check them, and if we were lucky, they’d be FULL of crabs.

I never appreciated the crabbing and fishing like I do now. What I wouldn’t give for another weekend like those weekends we spent down there – taking out our own pots (or at least, watching pops do it), dragging the shrimp nets through the mud, digging for clams (the term “clam diggers” took on a whole new meaning, a legit meaning, then), peeling shrimp and watching a fat ol’ flounder fry up. Our little vacation trailer smelled like a shrimp shack almost nightly, and the steam fogged up the windows in a flash. We went through jars of cocktail and tartar sauce, and man, I totally took the hushpuppies for granted.

I don’t even think I cared much for seafood back then – unless, of course, the shrimp were fried up nice and crunchy. Nowadays, a nice piece of fish, or a handful of shrimp, and this time, a ginormous container of extra-fresh West Coast Dungeness crab, is a highlight of the day. My friend, Judy, told me their company had gotten a great deal on live or picked crab and if I wanted any, all I had to do was tell her how much and I could pick it up later that day. As much as I wanted to buy a few live crabs for dinner that Friday, I knew my lil’ pot couldn’t handle them in their full-on shell-on form. (And to be honest, I haven’t tossed a live crab in a pot of boiling water in a looooong time, so that was another issue that quickly became a non-issue.) So instead, I opted for pre-picked and with that, I knew it was crab-cake time. But not the crab cakes you get at the restaurant that are loaded with bread crumbs – real, meat-filled crab cakes was what I had in mind.

And so I went full California style and figured a recipe with avocado sauce was entirely appropriate. Sure, my cakes were so much more crab and so much less ‘glue’ that they didn’t quite stay together in cake form, so to speak, but I was generally ok with that – what was lacking in presentation was entirely overshadowed by taste this time around.

Even though I never ate crab cakes with avocado sauce back home, I still felt a twinge of nostalgia for all those weekends back East. It was a good feeling, and for a few moments I felt like I could have easily been sitting back there, shoving fried shrimp and a few bites of flounder and stuffed crab into my face. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and I was transported 3,000 miles away. ‘Twas a good night, a good night indeed.

Crab Cakes with Spicy Avocado Sauce
Adapted from Gourmet, 2004 via Epicurious.com; serves 4 

I meant to include an egg and more panko in my crabs, but I totally forgot to do both. Mine didn’t stick together very well, but I am sure that adding an egg and more panko will do the trick, plus I think a little more breading in the cake is nice for texture. Normally I’d try these things out before posting, but I doubt I’ll be buying a pound of crab again in the near future, and I wanted to share this while Dungeness is in season out here! plus, after reading a ton of reviews on Epicurious, I get the sense that others already tried these additions with success, so I’m sure you will, too. You’re welcome ;).

time commitment: 45 minutes (30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
sauce
1/2 ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
1 T low-fat mayonnaise
1 T fresh lime juice
1/4 t salt
1/4 t sugar
1 fresh jalapeño (including seeds), stemmed and quartered lengthwise
1/4 c skim milk

crab cakes
1 lb Dungeness (or other) crabmeat, picked over and coarsely shredded
3 T low-fat mayonnaise
1/4 c coarsely chopped cilantro
1 T fresh lime juice
1 t Dijon mustard
1/4 t black pepper
1 c panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 T unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 t chipotle chile powder
1/4 t salt

instructions
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400 F. Line with parchment paper.

prepare sauce
Pulse avocado with mayonnaise, lime juice, salt, sugar, and jalapeño in a food processor until chile is finely chopped. Add milk and purée until smooth. Transfer sauce to a bowl and chill, covered.

make crab cakes
Stir together crabmeat, mayonnaise, cilantro, lime juice, mustard, pepper, 1/2 c panko, and egg in a large bowl until blended well, then chill, covered.

Melt butter in a medium nonstick skillet over moderate heat, then cook garlic, stirring, until golden and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add chile powder, salt, and remaining panko and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer crumbs to a plate to cool. Discard garlic.

Divide crabmeat mixture into 4 mounds. Form 1 mound into a patty, then carefully turn patty in crumb mixture to coat top and bottom. Transfer to baking sheet and repeat with remaining 3 mounds, then sprinkle remaining crumbs on top of crab cakes. Bake until heated through, about 15 minutes. Serve crab cakes with sauce.