Monday, July 29, 2013

Lobster Boil: A Lesson

We are Midwesterners.

By birth, I am a Southerner, but I was predominantly raised in the Midwest. My parents are both Midwest stock - my dad's family settled in Youngstown a few generations ago, but they first lived in the Pittsburgh area when they arrived from Ireland and England.

My mother's family has lived in Duluth, Minnesota for generations, but our roots go far back to Indiana (before arriving from Germany and Austria).

Middle America runs in our blood, but we were lucky to get a 14 year trip to New England beginning my sophomore year in high school.

In Connecticut, they call it the Long Island Sound. It's not really the ocean, they say. To us it was. That big, beautiful expanse of water lapped up at the end of our street, and we were smitten the first time we laid eyes on it.

New England - made up of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut - revels in a different kind of lifestyle. Relaxed preppy leanings and celebrations that choose simplicity over flash.

Good, bad or indifferent, that describes my family to a T.

A few years ago, my mother informed me she was doing away with all the holidays. My sister in Atlanta inherited Christmas because she has children; my youngest sister in Columbus inherited Thanksgiving because she and her boyfriend would be able to handle such a daunting event together.

I inherited the annual lobster boil.

None of us live in New England any longer. We've returned to the Midwest to enjoy a more comfortable standard of living and everyday exchanges of please and thank-you.

But we still love our seafood.

Esoteric remark: Really??? Really??? 

My parents, my sister, her boyfriend and Scott all came over for our annual summer tradition, my parents bringing along ten feisty lobsters and two pounds of mussels (a family favorite). My dad picks up his lobsters from Lobsta Bakes in Newtown, where the owner receives shipments daily from his family's business in Maine.

The evening is one of my favorites of the summer. We each show up wearing our rattiest T-shirt and enjoy an evening of good food, vinho verde, conversation and great laughs.

This year's dinner was especially raucous thanks to a game of Cards Against Humanity. My parents are pretty cool for their ability to roll with the racy innuendo.

I am surprised by how many Midwesterners are intimidated by Connecticut's favorite crustacean. Lobster can be a bit daunting; unless you hunt regularly, you likely don't have as much involvement in your meal's end days.

Formerly a poor man's meal, lobster is quite delicious and has long been a New England tradition in part because of their availability in that part of the U.S.

To prepare lobster, fill a large stock pot half full of water. Add a tablespoon of sea salt. Bring the pot to a rolling boil (this will take some time).

After the pot begins to boil, drop in all of your lobsters and let them sit in their sauna for 20 minutes or so.

A note about the lobsters. They don't scream. They don't have vocal cords. The squeaks you hear are made by air passing through the shells. If that makes you feel any better about preparing your meal, so be it.

Once your lobster is cooked, prepare to dig in. This will feel a little bit like high school biology.

You'll need a few standard tools: A pick. Some sets just have a pick with a pointy, needle-like end; I prefer the kind that has a sort of shovel on one end, and a pitchfork on the other end (below left). These two ends will come in handy later.

Next, a cracker. Some people use crackers that double as metal nutcrackers. I like my crackers because they can grip lobster parts very well. It's up to your preference and availability.

Finally, you'll need a knife. Steak knife, carving knife or Swiss Army - you need whatever makes you feel like a kitchen surgeon.

I first start with the claws. Pull the claw off the lobster's body and remove the rubber bands. Using some pressure, pull off the lobster's "thumb."

Take your pick and dig around in the thumb (I use the scoop end of the pick for this task) - there's a nice piece of meat in there.

Next, take your cracker and go to town on breaking the claw. There's no rhyme or reason on this one - you'll be eating whatever you pull out, whether you can pull the claw meat out in one piece or not.

You'll be left with the lobster's arm; use your cracker to break up the shell, and then use your pick (the pitch fork end) to dig around and pull out your meat. Every joint has a bite of goodness.

After you're finished enjoying the claw, get ready to tackle the tail. First, use your hands to twist the tail off. Put the body aside - you'll want that later.

At this point, I should mention lobster roe. Pictured below on the right, you'll notice a dark red substance in the middle of the lobster's body. That is lobster roe. Ranging between black and Play Doh red, roe is a waxy substance made of lobster eggs. Most people don't eat it. Andrew Zimmern does, if that gives you some perspective.

Okay. Lobster tail. This is when you'll need your knife. Use one hand to hold the tail (its curved shape can make it a bit difficult to cut), and use the other to guide your blade down the length of the inside of the tail.

This reminds me of the fetal pig, the frog and everything else about biology class.

Once you've cut your way down the inside of the tail, use some muscle to pull the shell off from around the meat.

This is when most people cash in and call it a night. Not so in New England.

There's still plenty of meat to be had.

Pull the top of the lobster's body off and get ready to dig in.

You'll notice some greenish, guacamole-looking stuff. That's called the tomalley. Again, Andrew Zimmern loves this stuff, but it's not my style.

After you remove the top, you'll notice the legs are attached to a mass of meat and shell.

Using your fingers, pull apart the shell and look for lumps of lobster meat. You can count on finding some sizable chunks at the base of each leg. Go from joint to joint and savor every last morsel.

Now, the legs might be the best way to separate a New Englander from everyone else.

Most people would leave the legs behind, but a New Englander knows there are strips of delicious lobster meat in each leg.

Rip apart the leg until you have a good portion disconnected at the joints. Putting the leg in your mouth,  rapidly bite down on it like you'd bite on a straw, and pull the meat out as you pull the leg shell out between your teeth.

Lobster is a delicious summer tradition that can be enjoyed with simple sides - boiled ears of corn and red potatoes are quite popular.

Four lobsters worth of leftovers! This is a larger sized container... 

When we enjoyed this meal in Connecticut, we'd typically cover our patio table with newspaper and pitch everything at the end of the night. A lobster dinner is pretty messy - hence the ratty T-shirts.

And that's why God invented cleaning sprays and paper towels.

We finished the meal with slices of lemon blueberry cake from the BonBonerie and sips of my homemade limoncello.

A spectacular finish to another successful family tradition.

Those are the moments that count.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Apropos of Nothing

How does something make you feel?

It's a question I've recently asked myself because I'm discovering more and more just how much the negative impacts the other pieces in my life.

That something can be a someone or a someplace. It can be a habit or an organization. Something can be a relationship or an obligation.

Life is full of little (and big) things that can affect that symbiotic relationship that is your universe.

I started chewing on this question because I was thinking about a commitment I made years and years ago. It was a commitment that used to be enriching and exciting, but over time has left me feeling empty and disappointed.

For a while I've harbored hard feelings about this commitment. It affected my social circle and how I spent my free time and money. I grew bitter about the void this commitment made me feel, and it felt more like an obligation than an opportunity.

And then I realized I was the one who held the power in my own life.

Rather than stewing about something that didn't make me feel good, I focused on what does make me happy. My closest friends make me happy. My home and neighborhood make me happy. My work makes me happy.

And I've reminded myself of other things that make me happy but happen to be missing in my life.

For more than a year I've stepped back from socializing. No more happy hours. No more crowded bars. I just don't need to see and be seen or work a room. But I've also dialed back on the intentional interactions.

I need to work harder at making those moments happen.

Running has returned to my life. Each morning, I dread putting on my gear and stepping outside for a trip around Downtown and OtR, but my racing heart and clear head quite appreciate the exercise.

What makes you feel bad?

Is it a relationship you need to change or address? Is it a habit you want to kick? Maybe it's a family obligation or funky office dynamic.

Whatever the case, think about how you want to improve the moment or experience, and confront it head on. If there's no hope in making a change, think about how you want to remove the situation entirely.

It could call for a relationship break-up, a move, a job change or other resignation. Those are really scary things sometimes. But by making a big change in your life, you open yourself up to new things that can make you feel good.

We each have the power to grow more good - in us, around us, and in others.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Skiing in the Desert

Sand and luxury brands might be the first things that come to mind when considering Dubai.

The desert oasis has plenty of both - what with a vast expanse of arid surroundings and the largest mall in the world. Many come to Dubai to experience Arab culture and pick up the latest from Louis Vuitton or Chanel.

We came to ski.

Okay, it was not at the top of Scott's list of things to do, but I was keen on the surreal idea and knew we'd be interested in something to do because, well, there isn't a whole lot in Dubai. After a trip to a local fort/museum, the souks for gold and spices and a few other hot spots, tourists are left with only a gluttony of shopping destinations. And while I enjoy a stroll through a mall, I do not shop for sport like some women.

So. Ski Dubai. It was on my list of things to do. And oh, did we do it.

Fate tangled with us during this outing; the chair lift at Ski Dubai was disabled for annual maintenance, so we weighed our options: We could do skiing -or- the snow park (which includes a tubing run, the "Mountain Thriller" ice luge, and the huge human hamster ball aka Zorb Ball).

I was disappointed by the chair lift closure because I didn't want to start with a black diamond run, which is also served by a secondary rope pull. I'd hoped to warm up my skiing skills with a blue run before hitting black.

Management worked with us on pricing to allow both skiing and the snow park since the lift was closed - around $90 per person, including boots, snow pants and jacket, gloves and ski/pole rental. The hat in the pic below set me back about seven bucks.

Dubai in mid-May is hot and steamy, and dozens of hyper school children had decided to swarm Ski Dubai and its frigid temps on the same day. We queued with the little kids to enjoy the ice luge and tubing runs.

Kids of any nationality are apparently notorious for cutting in line.

Seeking refuge from little voices and lots of pushing, we decided to head toward the grown up-only Zorb Ball, a rolling, rumbling sphere that spins like a washing machine.

Next up in the Zorb Ball!

The video below shows you what it's like to be inside the washing machine. Mind you, it is very jerky because it was shot while I was rolling down a hill inside a plastic ball.

Scott says I am easily excitable, and this video 
and the one from the desert safari confirm it.

It was time to move on to the next chilly excursion after the Zorb Ball. I'd planned on skiing and Scott was scheduled for a one-on-one personal encounter with a real live penguin.

How cute.

Outfitted with some nice, tight Rossignols I headed toward the rope pull. It was not my finest moment. After letting the Europeans go ahead of me, the attendant gave me a :30 second primer on how to ride the pole with a disk.

Imagine having a frisbee attached to half a stripper pole, and putting said stripper pole/disc contraption between your legs, allowing said disc to pull your bum up a hill.

If it sounds complicated, that's because it is.

Slowly, I managed to glide up the hill, clinging to stripper pole/disc contraption and my two ski poles. I safely made it to the point when the hill became almost vertical in grade. And that's when I bit the dust and dropped to the icy snow pack.

A ski patrol assistant whooshed down to help me up. With no contraption to grab on to, she instructed me to ski down.

What?! "But I don't want to ski down the black diamond!" I simultaneously whined and whimpered.

Tough, she said. This is the only way down, and there's no way up.

I took a big gulp of the lump in my throat and assessed my strategy. This was not a time to lose control; I still had seven days of vacation to enjoy and didn't want to traipse through Bangkok on crutches.

Knowing I stood a better chance of going slow and steady across the run as opposed to down it, I pushed off, my Christmas tree-triangle form firmly cutting through icy snow.

A few nail biting minutes later, I was on the other side of the run, glancing up the hill and wondering about my next move.

And then the Arabs started whirling downhill.

Skiing in the Middle East is a novelty, and many UAE natives don't know the mechanics of this wintry sport. I was glad to be in their company, but knew we both lacked control of this snowy sport.

My quick math made it easy for me: I could try going down the rest of the Black Diamond, and I could try my best to do it safely, but I had no idea whether my fellow skiers would be able to do the same.

I snapped off the skis and decided to walk the rest of the way down.

So technically I did a black diamond in Dubai, but let's keep the rest of the details between you and me, mkay?

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Go Big or Go Home

Dating as a 30-something single woman can sometimes be a comical prospect.

My generation of women was groomed by those who shattered the glass ceiling. While our grandmothers settled for secondary jobs or housework, our mothers learned in the 60s and 70s that they could do anything.

And they did.

And so they raised us to believe we could, too. And while the previous generation toiled while trying to have it all - the big house, the big job, the big family - today's modern era of Working Women 2.0 realize we don't want it all. Because it can't really be had all at once. It can't. There's just not enough of us to go around (unless you have help, and good on you if you do, but the rest of us don't).

So some of us have spent more time on the front end working on our careers, plotting strategic moves, investing in local civic efforts. We've made money, invested money, seen the world, won awards, fostered new ideas. We've used our time to do big things.

All that time has left us behind the curve where coupling up and having families is concerned.

And that's okay.

But just as we have high expectations for our professional and civic endeavors, we continue to hold on to stellar ideals for our male counterparts. Driven, adventurous, engaging - we expect our partners to see us and raise us in the poker game of success.

And that makes for a lot of weeding out. A few observations from real-life experiences that have been shared with me:

1. We are not sugar mamas. We do not want to take care of you, pick up every check, shower you with gifts and give you zero-limit credit cards, so please don't expect it. You are not on our personal payroll. It's not our job to wine-and-dine you.

2. We have our shit together, and you should, too. We are not here to mother you, encourage you, or push you. If your life isn't squared away, perhaps you should forgo the dating world to get your personal matters in order. Please do not enter a relationship with the expectation we will fix everything.

3. While men may incorrectly perceive us to be desperate because of our age and marital status, let me affirm it is quite the contrary. Please do not believe that our age and marital status are indications we're willing to settle for a relationship with just anyone. We have high ideals - if we didn't, we'd be hitched right now. Many of us ladies prefer singleness over a less-than-worthy relationship. See also: Duracell's annual sales figures.

4. We still believe in the old fashioned ideals of courtship. Yes, we modern women can slay dragons in the boardroom, but we still want to be wooed. Please do not believe forging a relationship with us is easy; you have to make an investment of time and effort to afford anything valuable, and what's more precious than love?

5. Anything worth anything takes work. Relationships require commitment and effort by both parties involved. If it was easy, there'd be far less divorce and far more happy couples. Don't take us for granted, don't take our interest for granted, and please don't take us for granted (so important it should be mentioned twice).

Every relationship is a gamble, but many single women (myself included) are willing to take our chances and hold out for the big win.

And until that happens, we are having a hell of a time on our own.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.