A Foodie Fourth

For our fourth of July this year, Laura and I make the drive to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, near the towns of Trappe and Easton. Her parents have a wonderful new house right on the bay with plenty of crabbing, sailing, kayaking, dock jumping, motorboating, and of course, amazing food. We begin our journey with a stopover at Pho Dyong in Centreville, Va, just east of the D.C. beltway. It is, as usual, speechlessly good. We have photographed the place so much that we’ve stopped, but just drool over this bowl of delectable goodness below. It never ceases to amaze me what a talented cook can conjure up with something so lowly as leftover bones, yet our human family has been doing that for generations. I do it at least once a month, but it never tastes anything like this! Although, I have to admit, Laura has pulled it off at home more than once.

With blessed little turmoil on the beltway, bay bridge and Rt. 50, we arrive in Trappe at our families home in a pretty amazing 7.5 hours. That’s after we stopped for lunch and more or less obeyed the speed limits. After the customary goat cheese and crackers, Momma Sue pulls out all the stops with a wonderful tossed salad with homemade jalapeno dressing, crab cakes, broccoli casserole and baked fingerling potatoes. All the vegetables came from their local Amish Market, which I love and they caught the crab themselves! We pile together on the couch to try to watch the new “Anger Managment” show, but Charlie just isn’t impressing any of us. We soon drift off to our respective bedrooms to get ready for the next day.

Five a.m. finds us casting the lines off Dorothy, Laura’s Dad’s wooden workboat. One of only two left in existence, his is the only one that is still used for it’s original purpose. Normally it takes us a couple of hours to catch a bushel of crabs, but the crab Gods aren’t with us today. We run about a thousand feet of line into the lime green waters of the Bay, with rotten chicken necks threaded through the line every four feet. We cruise back and forth, hoping for some crabs to be dangling as the rope rolls over the roller, but no such luck in this location, despite Laura’s vigilance. We decide to move locations and are almost immediately awarded by five big fat Jimmies. We wrangle about half a bushel in five hours or so, declare it too hot and head for shore. We clean up Dorothy, throw Axl over the side and empty the crab traps. Yeah! Another dozen or so. I beat a hasty retreat from the heat, which is pushing towards one hundred and wander out to Oxford, MD in search of new crab tongs. Axl, in his excitement, has knocked our only set off the dock. He was busily trying to get his nose clawed off when his back foot sent the tongs into space. Oh, well. He thinks he is half a dog, with no recollection that anything exists behind his front paws, unless something itches back there.

We rest in the dead heat of the day, which is pushing towards 100 degrees with a heat index projected at somewhere around 110 degrees. I list about in the sheen of the humidity when it is necessary to go out of doors, as the thoughts of working in this heat are overwhelming. We’re awaiting the arrival of two of  Laura’s uncles from Atlanta, who have informed us that it is over 108 degrees and that they are advising people to not breathe the air. What? I don’t think that I would want to move somewhere where I was advised to not breathe the air. They all arrive without incident and the overwhelming vote is to move our outside eating area inside! There are fourteen of us at this family gathering and Laura and I are briefly are the center of attention, a fact that makes me wildly uncomfortable. The staff of the restaurant are more than happy to oblige, and before we know it, great plates of steamed Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs are arriving at our tables, along with hush puppies, slaw, enough old bay to build a spice bomb, ribs, oysters and shrimp. The family is always amazed at how this mountain boy can keep up with such a gorge of seafood, but I have to remind them, this is hard to get where I come from! I can’t dangle a line off a dock with a chicken neck on the end and drag up a succulent Jimmy! A big-mouth bass, maybe. A blue crab? No.

The next day is just as hot as the former, although we try to make it seem less so by saying over and over that it just seems cooler this morning. None of us are fooling anyone, as the humidity makes the two degree temperature drop seem even worse.

We eat and we laugh and stories are told and lovingly re-told, as they are in families who love one another and care about the nuonces of one anothers lives. They are a close family, and I feel special to be included in the wonderful group of people. We arrive home safely, only to be awakened by one of the most powerful thunderstorms I think I’ve ever heard. I hurry down to check on Axl, who is completley non-plussed by his surrounding and the inclement weather, but he’s nonethess happy to see me. I put ice in his water bowl and we watch the storm together. This is a little different from the storms we have. This means business. Axl seems nonplussed, so after a little bit I just leave him be. He heaves a big sigh of relief as I walk away away and flops into his bed. Apparently, I was the one in need of a bit of comfort, not him.  Dogs are awesome.

I fall back up the winding staircase and down the exposed hall to my room as best I can in the utter darkness, punctuated only be shears of lightening, which seem to be hell-bent on spoiling my adult driven belief that there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark and big houses aren’t spooky. Nonetheless, I’m creeped out a bit when I reach our bedroom and flip on the bathroom light. Laura yells, “Turn that light off!!” So much for that. I slip into bed, a bit chasticized by my fearfulness.

It turns out that my fears are founded. Our stone mason from home called us the following morning to let us know that our drive was blocked and the power was out. We’re relieved to be where we are, on the water and in a house with AC, but I worry for a moment or two about the food in our freezers – but, how bad can it be? (More on that later – just trust me, it was bad!) The fourth of July party was an absolute success. Momma Sue hired a local caterer to help out with not only the food but cleaning and with outside entertainment by Justin Ryan and a belting rendition of “Chicken Fried” by Uncle Bruce, the night was mostly complete. We all pitched in, led by Miss Mary and cleaned as best we could and the house was mostly back to normal by the time we went to bed! Thanks to all the Baldwins for a wonderful time!

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