When In Roam

Carl Chu's Food & Travel Blog

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Blue Crab Season on the Chesapeake Bay

Summertime. Time of clam bakes, lobster rolls, and seafood abundance up and down the east coast. On the Chesapeake Bay, it is the time for blue crabs, the feisty crawler that is the highlight of so many wonderful summers I have spent on this side of the country.

Blue crabs are a little small for my taste, and not nearly as flavorful as our beloved Dungeness on the west coast. But they are lots of fun to eat nevertheless, especially when you get one of those with the golden roe. Sweet and silky, it is a heavenly treat. And with some skill with the wooden mallet, you can extract a decent amount of meat from them.

At the Crab Deck on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, you get the blue crabs steamed. Sure the kitchen cooks up a few other dishes along the way, but everybody knows to just get the steamed crabs. You order them by the half or full dozen, with each one caked with a generous coating of Old Bay seasoning.

We ordered the crabs six at a time. After they were finished, we ordered six more. This way, each crab was steaming hot and succulent—the perfect way to have it. As the afternoon wore on, our piles of shells got bigger and higher, and our cups of beer got drained, filled, and drained again. Can summer be any more pleasant?

We also ordered some steamed clams, two types actually: cherrystone and soft shell clams. I liked the cherrystone—large, meaty, and bursting with a briny flavor. I also liked the soft shell, called steamer clams elsewhere. They reminded me of geoduck. Besides steaming, I could imagine these clams roasted over coals, with a dousing of ketchup just as the shells open up, and then roasted some more. I could definitely eat those all summer.

Crab Deck is located in Kent Narrows on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, on U.S. 50/301 between Kent Island and Prospect Bay.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Brown Water, Greenville

Among the first things I noticed when I checked into the Holiday Inn Express here, just outside of town in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, was the dirty toilet. Or so I thought. After giving it a quick flush, it was filled back up with the same brown water. And turning on the faucet, out flowed more brown water.

This was going to be one of those nightmare hotel stories, I thought, but for a national chain like Holiday Inn Express, surely I could have expected higher standards. I first suspected that maybe the storm runoffs may have gotten into the water system. This was the summer in the South after all, where thunderstorms are everyday occurrences. While driving over from Memphis just about an hour before, I had encountered a storm so severe that for fifteen minutes I had to slow down to 15 miles per hour because of the winds and rain.

I went to the front desk to tell them about my situation, but before I could finish my sentence, the manager smiled and pointed to a placard placed next to her. On it was the message: “The Water You See in the Bathroom is Normal.” The water is brown in Greenville, she said, and they’re proud of it.

According to local authorities, Greenville gets its water from an aquifer east of the Mississippi River, not from the river itself. The water filters through several ancient cypress swamps, picking up dissolved particles of decayed vegetation thousands of years old. While other municipalities installed microfiltration systems to clarify their water, Greenville residents repeatedly rejected referendums to buy one themselves, preferring their eau naturale, natural.

So I went back to my room and took a shower. The soap lathered up nicely in this brew of ancient woods. The water was so soft that my skin felt smooth and supple as if it were treated with superior moisturizer. And the shampoo rinsed off the hair nicely, leaving it full and bouncy without the need of a conditioner.

Later, I made green tea in the kitchenette. The brown water turned it looking like black tea, but the taste was sweet like nectar. This was indeed excellent water—from the tap no less!

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Friday, July 06, 2007

B Plus for explus: Denver to Memphis in a CR7

This was my first time flying in an explus aircraft, United Express’s 66-seat regional jet fitted with six first class seats. Since its introduction in 2004, I have not had the opportunity to travel to a city served by explus. Until now. I flew from Denver to Memphis on my way to the Mississippi Delta.

I have always enjoyed United’s marketing of explus. The illustrated ads are especially appealing, like the one showing passengers sitting on a big butterfly flittering around the sky. The message of the ad is simple: flying can still be fun and fanciful. Never mind the lost bags, air traffic delays, and being packed like sardines to the back of the plane. This regional jet flight is unlike any other.

Oh really. But I try not to be that skeptical as I stepped into the CRJ-700 for the first time. I had the “A” seat in Row 1, which I liked immediately because there was so much leg- and headroom. I say headroom because the older CRJ-200s, which are built out of the same fuselage but with the floor set higher, feel more cramped even to a 5’8” short guy like me.

And having first class was definitely nice. There was even a light meal despite the fact that the galley is not equipped with an oven. Once we reached cruising altitude, the flight attendant came through first with a beverage, and then went back to prepare the snack box. I liked how the contents were arranged like a bouquet.

I normally do not like pre-prepared foods, but some of the stuff in the snack box was pretty tasty. The pretzel sticks dipped in honey-mustard were delightful, especially the punch from the mustard seeds. I am more surprised by the tinned pasta salad. Whether or not the fact that it was manufactured in France made any difference, the pasta was neither soggy nor oily, and the flavors of the mushrooms, olives, beans and herbs all tasted distinct and vibrant.

It’s not a mainline jet, but flying on thinner routes, explus gets a B Plus.

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