Crab for Christmas

My days in Humboldt County are short - I'm leaving to move back to my home state of Wisconsin on the second of January. I decided to celebrate my last Humboldt Christmas with something I can't get back in Wisconsin - live crab. In season, Dungeness crab is plentiful around here and unlike salmon, it hasn't been overfished - it's sustainably harvested without putting the crab population at risk.

After work on Christmas Eve I drove out to the marina in Eureka to see if I could find some live crabs for sale. I was in luck! This boat had a neon sign that read 'Mr. Crab,' and they had a whole tank full of freshly caught live crabs for sale. It was really fun to buy directly from the fishermen! It made me wish I had done this more often - for as passionate as I am about local farming, I'm pretty unfamiliar with the fishermen in our area. The owners of this boat seemed like a really nice couple. I told them I wanted two crabs, and the woman bagged them up for me. Only $15.00 for two beautiful crabs!

I wasn't exactly sure how to keep them overnight, so I put them in the bathtub while I did some research. Leo was very intrigued, but he was smarter than to jump in the tub with them.

I decided it would be best to keep them in the fridge. I wish I had gathered some fresh seaweed to keep them in, but instead I put wet newspaper in the bottom of two large bowls...

...put a crab on top....

...and covered them over with more wet newspaper.

They chilled in the fridge overnight. I felt way more guilty about keeping them overnight than I did about killing them. I really wish I could have bought them the same day I cooked them, but I was pretty sure the fishermen wouldn't be there on Christmas day. It seemed a little like torture to keep them so far out of their element....

I think it was good for me to actually bring something home alive and kill it for food. I eat a fair amount of meat, but I never really have to deal with the death that inevitably goes along with it. I think we should all probably kill our own food a little more often to remind us what an intense and serious thing it really is....

On Christmas day we went for a drive to the beach. A storm front was coming through, making for big waves and beautiful skies.

Then were drove about 8 miles up Fickle Hill Road, which is the road we live on. It took a while to get to the snow, but about 5 miles up (about 1000 feet elevation?) it started to stick. It was just beautiful on the trees! One of the coolest things about this part of California is how diverse the climate can be. At the beach it was cold, but raining - up here it was a whole different world!

Back at home I made some hot cocoa, and started to think about dinner.... I make hot cocoa with just milk, cocoa powder, cinnamon, a tiny bit of honey, and nutmeg. I like it quite bitter - almost like coffee.....

Step one was to open the champagne! I decided, especially since I'm leaving the area soon, to go with an all local theme. This is a local bubbly from Briceland Vineyards.

Mmmmm.....I don't drink sparkling wine much, but I really enjoy it when I do.

While I was getting the crab started, we ate some local goat cheese from Cyprus Grove with the last of the apples left on our tree. They weren't the highest quality, but they were sweet and they completed the cheese really well.

I started melting some of my homemade butter for dipping the crab in, and got a big pot of salt water boiling on the stove.

Here's the first victim. He was still alive, but was pretty out of it. He didn't seem like much of a threat to pick up, which was good. I found myself getting a little squeamish about touching him, but I swallowed my fear and went for it.

I picked him up from behind...

...and in the water he went! I made sure it was at a nice rolling boil so he would be killed very quickly. I was glad to put him out of his misery. Oh, and no, he did not make any screaming noises when I put him in the water. That seems to be a pretty widespread myth....

I waited for the water to come to a rolling boil again, and then put the second one it.

About 20 minutes later, they were done!

I rinsed them under cold water to cool them down, and went to work cleaning them.

First, I took off the "apron," which is a little tail-like thing on the back.

From there, it was easy to pry off the shell.

This is where it got a little gross....The guts mostly came off with the shell.

Next was to pick off the gills and clean him up...

I rinsed him off, and he was ready to go!

We each got a whole crab for dinner, plus more champagne, salad, sourdough bread, and clarified butter. So simple, and soo good!!!! I like messy eating, so crab is right up my alley!!

We had lots of leftover too - There's few things on earth as rich and yummy as fresh crab meat! I used this to make crab cakes a few days later.

For dessert, we opened this local port.

Along with these truffles from Drake's Glen in Arcata. We really shouldn't have eaten these all between two people - they were really really rich, but it was Christmas, so what the heck!
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Locavore Mexican Shepherd's Lasagna

Paul from Warren Creek Farm gifted me recently with a whole bunch of Indian Corn! We sell it (on the cob) at the Co-op as a Halloween decoration, but it's perfectly edible if you grind it.

At the Co-op it's called Decorative Corn in order not to offend anyone, but I like the name Indian - it gives credit to the people who invented it: The American Indians. The domestication of corn was quite a feat, and this colorful dry corn is much closer to what the Native Americans knew than most corn people are familiar with today. I highly recommend the book 1491 by Charles C. Mann - It gives a wonderful description of corn in ancient native cultures.

Paul had a bunch left over from Halloween this year, so he shucked about 10 or 15 pounds and gave it to me to experiment with. This will be an ongoing project - I only ground a fraction of what he gave me, and I only used a fraction of that to make this dish. I can't wait to try out all it's possibilities!

Eventually, I'd like to try my hand at making masa for tortillas and/or tamales, but that requires soaking the kernels in lime, drying them, and then grinding them. This would take some time, so I decided start with grinding it for polenta....

I ground the corn using the grain mill attachment I have for my Champion Juicer. Polenta is supposed to be pretty coarsely ground, but it retrospect I think I ground it a tiny bit too course.

I got a pot of water (2 1/2 quarts) boiling on the stove and slowly added 3 cups of corn meal, stirring all the while. You have to stir pretty much constantly while polenta cooks so it doesn't stick to the pan. This batch took over and hour, and boy did my arm hurt by the time it was done!

It thickened as it cooked. I couldn't help thinking what a wonderful breakfast cereal this would make! It smelled and tasted like corn but looked a lot more like oatmeal. After about an hour and 15 minutes it was quite thick and starting to pull away from the sides. This was way longer than polenta has taken me in the past - it must be something about the corn.....

I decided to make a pie. Johnny dubbed it a "Mexican Shepherds Lasagna." First, I smoothed the polenta against the pie plate to make a thick crust.

Then for the filling. I had some local carrots in the fridge that I wanted to use, so I sauteed them with garlic and sage until they were just tender.

I set them aside and cooked the meat. We had some leftover hamburger that needed to be cooked, so I combined it with some pork sausage and little fresh oregano.

When the meat was cooked, it got set aside and I cooked greens in the same pan. This is a combination of chard from the garden and red Russian kale from Blake in Blue Lake. It's been cold here recently, so the kale is incredibly sweet and good! I cooked the greens in olive oil and a little red wine.

After the greens got wilty, I cooked the last layer - locally picked wild Chantrelle mushrooms! These were not cheap, but they're just so good, they seemed worth the splurge!!! I cut them into big strips and cooked them very lightly in olive oil. It's easy to let them get overcooked and watery, so I was careful to turn the heat off when they had just started to wilt.

It was finally time to make the lasagna! I had enough polenta to make two dishes - a pie plate and a bigger oven dish. Leftovers rock!

I started with a thin layer of tomato sauce (yes, I used Muir Glen organic canned tomato sauce... not local I know...I should have canned my own tomato sauce last summer dammit!)

Next came a layer of the cooked greens.

Then just a little shredded Parmesan cheese.

Then the meat....

and the carrots....

Then a much thicker layer of tomato sauce.

I topped it off with the mushroom pieces, which I layed on top so they didn't get lost in the confusion of the other layers.

Beautiful! I just love layered dishes like this!!

Lastly, of course, came a good layer of shredded mozzarella cheese.

In the oven they went. I cooked them at about 400 degrees for about 30 or 40 minutes.

When they were bubbling hot, it was time to eat!

This went perfectly with a nice helping of fresh Little River Farm Sweet and Spicy mix! The carrots were the only ingredient that really seemed out of place, but they were good anyway - they just didn't conform to the Italian theme....oh well, I'm not really into conformity anyway!
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