It had been a while since me and the family had taken a truly restful vacation. We were fortunate enough to get away long enough that I was able to unplug from the work items and to truly enjoy the downtime with the family. We had no agenda at all each of the days we were on vacation in Pensacola, Florida. No agenda is a wonderful thing! Think of how almost every minute of our normal days are planned out and then you rip that away. When to go to the beach, where to eat, what to do with yourselves… all spontaneous and based off what you WANT to do. It took a little getting use to but we managed 🙂
We did the typical things where you go to the beach and it was a joy to watch the kids splash around. Our oldest (N) who is 4 is fearless and charged into the waves and at times seemed like he was headed to the sandbar but forgetting that he still can’t swim; we had to keep an eye on him. The little on (E) who is getting close to two, was a bit more timid and deliberate about his actions. He did not like the way the ocean pulls the sand away from your feet as the water rushes back out after the waves crash in. Lori and I just enjoyed the time and smiled at each other as we watched the kids have their new beach experiences. We all have a distaste for the sand and can see why the beach life is a place to visit, not a place to call home for us.
One of the random days I decided to put out some crab traps that were located in the storage area of the house we were staying in. I had never caught crab before so I knew this would be interesting. To the Internet! A quick search led to a few youtube videos and then 5 minutes later I was an expert. Set out for the store and got some chicken gizzards from the local store. Then I drove to get a gas boiler to prepare the things outside because I did not want to boil them in the house. I mean, I had watched 5 minutes of video and was an expert… I knew it would be easy and that buying this boiler was not a waste of time.
We got back to the house with all the materials and my 4 year old was helping me the whole time and asking questions and observing this strange behavior from his father… normally we do technical things and this was well out of our normal day. I did my best to explain each step and why were were doing it and he was so focused on it and helping as much as possible. I jammed the gizzards into the two crab traps; letting them sit in the sun for just a bit to “ripen”.
With the traps set, we scoped out the best place to put the traps. There was a canal cut behind the house and a covered boat doc was on the left corner at the back of the property. We tested the waters with some bread to see what kind of wildlife was scurrying in the slightly murky waters and success!! The bread we had tossed in there was instantly devoured by the tiny fish. Now, if there were tiny fish, there were larger fish and other things that would eat them. Our hope was the blue crab would be in there too. I let N pick the spots to place the traps as we discussed where the crabs might be. We lowered the traps slowly in the water and I was able to tie the tops of the ropes off on the edge of the dock so they would be really easy to retrieve.
We waited impatiently and went back into the house to kill off some time. I has set an alarm for 15 minutes later, knowing that we would have more crab than we knew what to do with. The time past by slowly and then finally the alarm went off! My son jumped up and was very excited to pull in our catch. We picked the first trap and slowly pulled up the trap by the rope and it slowly became more visible with each tug. Then we had it to the surface and we held our breath and looked…
However, some of our gizzards were missing and kind of picked at. It made sense that the fish or something had nibbled at them and pulled the bait out of the trap. We ended up getting some stockings from the local store to solve this problem. Now it was a little later in the day and we pushed gizzards into the stockings to form a kind of gross chicken parts tube that we then tied the top end of the stocking to the bait door of the trap. With it being later, we just lowered the traps into the same spots to leave them there overnight. Made sense to me and aligned with my extensive knowledge obtained from the internet videos.
Day two of the crab hunting project was under way and I had just finished my first cup of coffee when the 4 year old had gotten up too early and too excited for the time of morning. I negotiated a second cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal before we went out to check the traps. I was excited too but I need to have my caffeine to be a quasi functional human. Now I had enough fuel to get going we headed out the door to check the traps.
I was not as optimistic this time. We pulled the first trap in by the rope and as it surfaced, I did not immediately see anything. My son shouted “we caught one!” and began to let out an excited laugh while he kind of hopped around in a celebratory manner. Then my eyes focussed on our catch and I saw it too, we had caught a large blue crab!
We place the trap on the doc and the looked at him for a moment. Then it hit N and he wanted to check the second trap to see if we had caught some over there. It turns out, we had caught two more crab in the other trap! This day was going much better. Now what?
After catching the crab, there was the inevitable next steps that needed to be performed. I grabbed a cooler, put some fresh water in there and some saltwater from the canal to form a slurry for the little critters. The transfer of the crabs from the traps was interesting, because the metal tongs I was using had no grip on them and it was like watching a fencing battle as we went back and forth with our duel… but I was inevitably triumphant. N was so excited to see the snapping of claws and the clang of metal as the battle had raged on and now was calming down as he was looking at them in the cooler. I pulled the smallest of the crabs up and saw that it was a female crab and we put it back in the water to go lay more crab eggs to not disrupt the ecosystem. Amazing what you can learn in 5 minutes, huh?
I had purchased the boiler the day before but was not going to put it together until I knew we would be putting something in it. I like to think that I have the right kind of lazy. N and I set the traps again since it was going to take me a bit to get the boiler together, just to see if we could get a few more. Once the boiler was together and got it all set up with the gas connected placed on the deck, I went to check the traps and we had another large male crab that we loaded into the cooler with his friends. Now it was time to prepare things.
After a discussion with my wife, I decided to clean the crab before I boiled them and she had picked up some ice at the store that morning while she was out. I put the ice in a bowl with clean water and carried it outside to the cooler where the crabs were waiting. I selected the first one and dropped him into the cold water. This caused him to go completely dormant and move extremely slow… I welcomed this because they are quite nippy when you are trying to deal with them. I rinsed the crab with the hose, placed one hand and thumb over the swimming claw and reached my other hand over the top of the main protective shell. Then in a firm twisting motion, I popped the shell off of the dormant crab exposing the goopy internals as N looked closely and examined the crab with me. The crabs have a slight fishy smell while going through this cleaning process. I started by raking the orange organs from the center and then broke the mouth and eye section free with my hands. Then took a small knife and cut away the lungs of the crab from each side. I took the hose and blasted away the last bits of orange goo and other guts to clean it up. Then immediately dropped it back into the ice water. The clock was ticking to get them boiled.
With all three prepared and put on ice, we got the water boiling and added the necessary ingredients. Two tablespoons of sea salt, juice of two lightly squeezed lemons and about a 1/4 teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning. I let N drop the crabs from the ice bowl to the boiling water and he did a great job. He grabbed them one at a time and allowed the crab to slip into the water without splashing out hot boiling water. Pretty good job for a very hyper 4yo. Now the crab were on the boil we had to get the butter and items in the house prepared. We threw a plastic table cloth down, set out a plate to put the crab meat on and then put the saucer of melted salted butter on the table. Just in time too, that had taken us close to 15 minutes to get everything situated. That was a good amount of time for the crab to boil.
We pulled the crab from the boiling water and dropped them into some fresh ice water to cool them so we could handle them and to try a separate the meat from the shell. We brought them in and sat a the table, began to crack them open and the dip the first piece of extracted meat into the butter. Success! The sweet crab meat was perfect and tasted exactly like what you would get at one of the local restaurants around us. We enjoyed the crab and the experience was really great. My son learned a bit about crabs sleeping forever and to appreciate where our food comes from. It was good for me to do something non technical and I got a crab dinner out of it… so, it was wins all around. This was a great vacation for us and I recommend taking a vacation without an agenda and try something completely random and new. We had a blast!