The night before my actual birthday, we had a fun family dinner at a local restaurant specializing in Chesapeake Bay blue crabs. The elemental, primitive experience of steamed crab eating was new to our daughter. She wasn’t expecting the Formica tables spread with brown paper or the absence of plates and utensils except for a sharp knife and wooden mallet. My husband was unprepared for the garage-like atmosphere of the place, its worn linoleum floor and cinder-block walls covered with signs advertising bail bonds and auto-body shops. But I had heard that the focus was on the crabs, not the décor, and I found it rather charming. It reminded me of the blue collar bar in Princeton that H and I used to frequent when we first met. D has always been an adventurous eater, and it didn’t take her long to get into the spirit of the meal. Soon she was delving into the pile of crabs before us on the orange plastic tray, banging cheerfully with her mallet.
Crab picking is slow going, especially for those like us who are out of practice or novices, and it brought home to us how easily consumable the typical meal is. We are accustomed to food that has been removed from its inconvenient exterior casings and arranged in neat, extra-large portions. Completely fork-ready, it can be eaten with haste and ease. No doubt we’d all be healthier if we weren’t such effortless consumers.