Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dancing With Crawfish

After a week of hard work, Kirk and I surveyed the fruits of our labor. Before us lay the beautiful, gleaming, unblemished and un-splintered expanse of our newly refinished dock.
“I know,” said Kirk, snapping his fingers as though something wonderful had just occurred to him.
“What?” I ask, unable to look away from the freshly pressure-treated, golden glory of the smooth new dock boards.
“Let’s have a crawfish boil,” he replied, sweeping his hand in the air as he read from an imaginary marquee.
Still mesmerized by the finished product after so many hours in the sun, I shrugged. “Why not?”
Oh, darling reader, if only I could go back in time. Take early-June Erin by the shoulders, and shake some learned-the-hard-way sense into her. “Why not? Why not?! I’ll tell you why not!” I’d yell, in my best “you can’t handle the truth!” impression. Maybe my next character would be a time traveler, and I will live vicariously through her.
But it seemed like a good idea at the time. Have a party, enjoy the new dock, fire up the turkey fryer, and have us a good old-fashioned southern boil.
So I went about the business of planning the party. I sent out cute little e-vite invitations. I bought hanging plants and arranged the dock furniture just so. Kirk made a cornhole game (I did mention that we live in the south, right? Well, don’t judge me) while I sewed the game bags – black and white Mastercraft theme to match our ski boat. It was all very clever and lovely.
And then it came time to get the crawfish. I picked up the phone to place an order at the farm down the road, and was greeted by a tin-can message telling me they were sold out through at least mid-July. Eh? Was there a run on crawfish or something? I shook it off, and researched other suppliers in the area. After I called one after another, I learned that there was indeed a run on farmed crawfish. (Shout out to all my peeps at BP!)
At this point I am starting to panic. No crawfish for the crawfish boil?! Didn’t these people know that the invitations had already been sent? *Gasp* Oh, no, come hell or oily water, I was going to have the buggers for the boil. After running down the list of suppliers in the whole state, I finally found one that had availability for the party date. And what’s more, they were driving to Raleigh anyway the day before, so I only had to drive as far as the interstate to pick them up. Hallelujah! The party was saved.
Borrowed cooler in hand, I was off to retrieve the main course. We met in the parking lot of a gas station, and the farmer handed over the tightly bound bag of crawfish, while I handed over a fistful of cash. His instructions? “Keep ‘em on ice, but don’t let ‘em sit in water—it’ll kill ‘em.”
Um really, cuz, well, I thought they were freshwater crustaceans. You know, as in animals with exoskeletons that live in water. Clearly one of us was crazy, but looking at the squinty eyed, leather skinned farmer, I wasn’t going to start pointing fingers.
Almost immediately I realized that the cooler is not big enough. The top was popped open and there was not much room for ice. I headed into the gas station and bought a Styrofoam cooler and a bunch of ice. So far, so good.
Once I made it home, I hauled the 35-pound bag into the shade of the front porch before going back for the ice and coolers. Opening the bag, I got my first look at the crawfish. They were rusty colored, barely moving, and surprisingly similar to tiny lobsters. Here was my thinking: The bag is just a little too big for one cooler, so dividing them between the two cooler should be perfect, right?
The moment I start pouring them into the first cooler, they immediately expand like those little foam pills in water (look mom, it’s a dinosaur!). Their little legs and claws went all spread-eagle on me (the sluts) and before I knew it, the cooler was full with two thirds of the little guys still left in the bag.
This is about the time I started to break out in a cold sweat. It was around 98 degrees outside, and the bag was starting to move on its own… I had to get the critters back to their happy place, aka cold hibernation. I poured as many as I could into the 2nd cooler, and added the ice.
Now the little guys still in the bag are starting to get mad. They wave their claws indignantly at me, trying to crawl up the rough fabric. One of them brushed my hand, and I squealed like a seven-year-old girl, dropping the bag and doing the ‘heebie-jeebie’ dance.
Thoroughly freaked out, I stuffed the top of the sack under one of the heavy coolers, then sprinted into the house in search of another cooler. The only one I could find was our good one – sans drain plug. Whatever—it would have to do. I ran back into the kitchen, threw open the freezer door, and poured the ice into the cooler. Oh crap – it wasn’t enough.
Out of options, I dragged the cooler through the house and onto the front porch, where the bag was now heaving and roiling. Here goes nothing. I yanked it out, upended it, and dumped the protesting occupants into the last cooler. I gave it a good shake, slammed the lid down, then did another heebie-jeebie dance.
I needed more ice, but if I left them outside, they would be even more awake than they were now. Unfortunately, I had to keep them water free, so the drain plug had to be open. I ended up putting the coolers in the bathtub *shudders*. When I returned 20 minutes later with the extra ice, I shook each cooler before doing the ice refill as fast as physics would allow. I shut the shower door, backed out of the bathroom, shut the bathroom door, and went to my computer to get some work done.
Only I couldn’t work. Every time I tried to concentrate, I would swear I could hear them moving around, trying to escape. By the next morning, I was in a heck of a state. I couldn’t wait for the boil, so I could get the things out of my bathtub and out of my life. Since the one cooler didn’t have any drain hole, I had to go tip it to get the deadly water out. I worked up my courage, and peeked into the first cooler. All was silent.
Really silent.
As a matter of fact, it was deathly silent. Oh, God, what if I killed them?! They had to be live—dead crawfish quickly went bad. I panicked and pulled one out, holding him gingerly between my thumb and forefinger and shaking his limp body.
Nothing. Crap!
I turned on the tap in the sink, filled the basin with warm water, and plunged him into the water. Breath, damn you, breath!
I poked at him a bit, and he fell over on his side. This was bad, very bad. What a second—maybe the farmer was right. Maybe I was drowning him. AHHH! I yanked him from the water, trying to shake the drops from his… breathing holes? Ew. Was he dead? I still couldn't tell.
I was hoping he was still be in his happy place – maybe he just needed time. So I carried him out to the back deck and set him beside my computer. I tried to get back to work, but his beady little eyes kept staring at me. And the dogs kept staring at it. Dog #1 kept looking from me to the crawfish, incredulous hope plain on her face: Is it… is it for me?
After 10 minutes of staring at the lifeless crustacean, I decided perhaps it was just this one. A few minutes later, I had 2 lifeless crustaceans staring at me with beady little eyes. To my immense relief, I finally saw an antennae move, and then a leg, and finally the tail. Oh thank God. The death scare over, I chucked them back into the cooler (to the dog’s heartbreak) and began preparation for the party.
The party itself was awesome. We had so much fun with all the friends that showed up, and everyone ohhed and ahhed over the gorgeous new dock boards. The cornhole game saw much action, and even the boil itself went fairly well. With one notable exception.
No one seemed to want to eat the crawfish.
Thank goodness for the five or six diehards there, because everyone else was hunting and pecking for the sausage. Sausage!! You know, the handy little tubes of meat that come neatly wrapped in plastic? Son of a—!
So, what did this mean for the crawfish boil? Leftovers, lots and lots of leftovers. I stopped cooking the crawfish at some point, and we had an entire cooler left of the little guys.
Hours later the party wound down, and everyone headed home, Kirk and I dragged our exhausted selves to the house and headed for bed. “Did you bring the cooler back up?” I asked him.
“No, I’ll get it now.”
He went back down to the dock and retrieved the cooler, and came in and said, “So, what do you want to do with the crawfish?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know, throw them away, I guess.”
“Erin, they’re still alive!”
I stopped in my tracks. “What?!” We had gotten rid of the ice ages ago. I had assumed they would have perished in the dry cooler. “Crap, what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know, but I put the rest of the ice over them so they don’t start stinking over night.”
So the next day, we were left with a dilemma: What on earth were we going to do with them? I have no problem using them for consumption, but I couldn’t just throw away a live creature. It was just so wasteful.
We looked at each other, and then out to the lake, then back at each other.
“No, uh-uh.” I shook my head. “As a scientist, we can’t just thrown them into the lake.” Okay, so it was less science, and more the intense dislike of the idea of tiny pinchers nipping my feet—I swim in that lake, for Pete’s sake.
“We could take the cooler to the gas station and leave a sign saying free on it,” I suggested instead. We considered it, but it just seemed too creepy.
“What about past the dam?” Kirk asked. On the other side of the dam, a creek wound it’s way through the woods, all nature-y and full of wildlife.
I hemmed. I hawed. I asked my neighbor about the native population, and he assured me that crawfish were naturally occurring there.
So, posing as casual hikers, we rebagged the crawfish, headed out toward the dam, and parked outside of the nature trail. As nonchalantly as possible, Kirk grabbed the bag and we whistled casually across the road, down the right-of-way, and into the woods. Once out of sight of the road, we sprinted down the trail until we found a suitable place to climb down the embankment.
Kirk slipped and slid his way down with the sack, while I kept watch at the trailhead. I watched as he opened the bag and promptly dumped the contents in one big heap on the shore. They were still cold from the ice, so they just laid there like a great big pile of guilt.
Crap! I had thought he would have sprinkled them up and down the shoreline, not just drop them in a lump. “What are you doing!” I cried.
“What?” Kirk asked.
“You can’t just leave them like that.” They were moving a little, but for the most part, it was just he odd antennae or tail flip. “They look so … so obvious!” I sent furtive looks up and down the trail - still clear.
“What do you want me to do now?” he demanded, already stepping away.
“I don’t know, disperse them.” I made sweeping motions with my arms, indicating the surrounding creek bed. He pushed a toe at them, nudging them around a bit.
“No, no, that’s not helping. Here, help me down.” Kirk lent a hand while I jumped down to the embankment.
I tried to redistribute them, pushing them this way and that, but there was just too many of them. So I decided to try a more aggressive tactic. Lifting the closest one gingerly with my patented thumb and forefinger grip, I chucked it out toward the middle of the creek. Grabbing another one, I repeated the action. “Come on, help me.”
Kirk crouched beside me and followed my lead. When at last the mound was thinned, I rinsed my hands and sighed in relief. It was over.
As we headed back up the embankment, I took one last look behind me, and promptly stopped in my tracks. From this vantage point, I could see a perfect semi-circle from the dumping ground—apparently the exact radius of my throwing arm. The half moon of little rust colored bodies was plain as day from the trail. Oops.
Kirk and I looked at each other and cringed. We looked back at the crawfish, then at each other again, and as if on cue, sprinted for the car.
Be free little crawfish, be free!
I'll be honest with you, darling reader. After such an ordeal, I am not feeling very recipe-y just yet (just like I doubt I will ever eat crawfish again). Tune in Thursday for one of my best recipes ever... Pina Colada cupcakes! Cocktail goodness just in time for the 4th of July.
So, have you ever been to a crawfish boil or eaten crawfish? Would you do it again?


  1. I would not have eaten the crawfish either. I would have looked for the sausage. I've never had a crawfish, however, I'm not much on water animals as food. I do like to try new things, I just am not a fan of seafood. I cannot wait until Thursday to try the cupcakes! Mmmmmmm. Your deck is beautiful.

  2. I've never eaten crawfish and not sure I would ever want to. However, love the cupcakes. Mouth is watering just thinking about them :).

  3. LOL Rhonda - I will definitely do a sausage boil next time :) They taste a lot like shrimp, but I'm here to tell you, it ain't worth it! Thanks for the compliment - we are totally thrilled with how it turned out :)

  4. Only one more month, Amy, before a whole new batch of cocktail cupcakes will be before you :) Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Crawfish do not appeal to me. Not. At. All. I don't want to see them, I don't want to smell them, I don't want to touch them...and I definitely do NOT want to eat them.

    My siblings would like to disown me for that fact.

  6. I have eaten Crawfish. It is the one 'seafood' I don't want to eat again. I'll eat clams, lobster, crabs, muscles, shrimp, prawns (ie over in Europe their huge shrimp have the heads on), even some octopus. But I will not eat crawfish again...ever.

  7. Catherine, the funny thing for me is I actually liked the crawfish before this whole debacle! So I guess I was with your siblings, but now I'm with you :)

  8. Beth - you one upped me! I have eaten a lot of things, but I still have not had octopus. Not that I wouldn't (I love calamari, so I don't think octopus would be too far removed from that), but it is just not something I really see on the menus of the restaurants I frequent! Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Yum. Crawfish.

    I like em, but they are a lot of work for a little meat. A neighbor had suggested that we cook the rest, peel em, and freeze the meat for Gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and whatnot, but after the festivities the night before, I was so not up to all that work.

  10. LOL, Kirk, I think I would have rather walked the plank than cook and peel the leftovers. The next time I have crawfish, it will be in a restaurant, sans body, delicately tucked among pasta ;)

  11. LOL! I love your stories, Erin. This is too funny. I can just see you and Kirk chucking the poor little guys into the middle of the creek.

    As for eating crawfish, I have not, but I'm not opposed to trying it. By the way, octopus is okay - I had to eat it in Spain (it was either that or starve), and it is similar to squid. I probably would have liked it more if it had been deep fried...I'll eat anything that's been deep fried. LOL!

    Thanks for sharing your story!! :)

  12. Mmmm... deep fried anything :) Actually, Jerrica, I made fried chicken tenders for the first time in years last night— it was divine!

    Octopus in Spain, huh? Well, I should put that on my bucket list, I think! Thanks for stopping by and commenting :)

  13. The small town I lived in after grad school had a festival devoted to the little buggers, Crawdad Days. I would have been in the sausage camp. :)

    Very funny blog, Erin.

  14. Hmm, something tells me that town was south of the Mason Dixon line, Samantha :)
    So glad you stopped by, and thanks for the compliment!

  15. You make me laugh so hard...oh how you put me right in the moment with you! The "heeby jeeby dance"! "Big pile of guilt"! Trying to resuscitate a crawfish! HAHAH! Great story.

  16. Yay, Kara, I'm so glad I could make you laugh :) I only wish you *could* have been there! Next time hop a plane and join us!

  17. Next time, really? If there is a next time it's going to be low country boil.

  18. INCREDIBLE! Great post :). I like picturing you at the clandestine crawfish deal. You, wearing sunglasses, and asking, "You got the shit?". He, wearing a trench coat, replying, "You got the cash?"

    And might I say, as your resident card carrying PETA member and vegetarian... I'm glad you set the survivors free :)

  19. That's exactly what the 'exchange' felt like, Ryan - LOL! And I thought you might have something to say about the crawfish pardon ;)
    Thanks for stopping by!!

  20. Erin, Sara has been howling with laughter because we can envision this whole scenario scene by scene. I love the little asides that show your voice as a writer. I feel like we were your accomplices!

  21. LOL, Jacob - doesn't it seem like something that we would have done together? Someday, I will write a blog about that ill-fated camping trip ;)
    Thanks for stopping by, I'm so glad you find my writing entertaining!

  22. Erin, I want to co-author a book about our Russian adventures....what do you think? I'll share the profits 80/20. You couldn't get a better deal, even on Arbot Street!

  23. 30/70 - that's my final offer *slashing hand*
    No, wait! Okay, 50/50, it breaks my heart, but for you, I do it.

    Oh, Jacobs, the stories we could tell... :D I keep thinking I want to write a blog, but you are right - those stories would fill a book!