Monday, December 26, 2011

We May Never Pass This Way Again

We May Never Pass This Way Again by Seals & Crofts
Family times should never be taken for granted - each one cherished and treasured.  If I could peel the reels of my memory "film" from my brain and apply a soundtrack for the holiday shrimp bashes at my grandparents' home, this song would be it.  Losses can come swiftly, unannounced.  Feelings get hurt and create chasms where once was unity.  Jobs or marriages take loved ones to far away places.  Whenever you're together, savor it, for "we may never pass this way again."

My grandmother's house smelled of Old Bay seasoning all year round - which was fine by me.  It made every visit feel like the ultimate visit during the holidays.  I'm not sure if she actually used Old Bay all year.  She probably just used the herbs and spices used in the Old Bay mix frequently.  Nonetheless, Old Bay seasoning and my grandparents' home are synonymous in my memory bank.

What made the holiday visit to my grandparents' home the ultimate visit is that it involved a mountain of shrimp.  No - I'm serious!  A literal mountain of shrimp!  (Or what seems to be a literal mountain of shrimp when you're a little kid!)  We'd enter through the back kitchen door into a huge steam cloud filled with the scents of celery seed, bay leaves, and cloves.  Greetings would be called out, joking and teasing would begin, and laughter would come from every corner of their home as cousins, aunts, and uncles convened.  All would be making their way to belly up to the dining room table for the commencement of the shrimp blitz.

The dining room table is draped with a huge plastic sheet or vinyl tablecloth.  There is newspaper strewn about the table top.  There's not enough room for everyone to sit at once so we'd take turns.  As each kettle of steamed shrimp was ready, Grandma would heft it through the kitchen and into the dining room and deftly tip that kettle over.  The shrimp would spill out and form that mountain of shrimp.  Those with asbestos hands would be the first to reach in and start.  Most of us would take one and toss it hand to hand, back and forth, while trying to peel off the shell.  I couldn't wait to get that first bite of shrimp.  Nothing - absolutely nothing - tasted as good to me as my grandma's Old Bay shrimp.  It was, and is, my favorite food EVER.

I don't remember anyone not liking shrimp.  It never occurred to me that someone would not like it.  As I did eventually encounter these odd people in my life, I found it interesting that my response would be one of, well, happiness!  For, if they didn't like shrimp, it meant fewer people with which to share, and MORE FOR ME!  I would say that, by the time I was about five years old, I could peel that shrimp about as fast as any adult.  I was good at removing anything that stood between me and that beautiful pinky orange sea flesh!

This tradition was one that I couldn't wait to start when I had a family of my own.  Big problem, though.  I didn't have the connections my grandma had.  I moved to the other side of the country, away from my uncle who supplied the bounty of those feasts.  And, being newly married and in school, we didn't have the funds to purchase seafood of any kind.  But, when we were out of school, you can be sure we started it and have done it every year since.  Come by my house on Christmas day and I'm pulling steamed shrimp out of the kettle throughout the day, the scent of Old Bay seasoning permeating my own home, welcoming friends and family who stop by to join us in the feasting frenzy.

Although it's a Christmas tradition for us, it would also make a wonderful addition to your New Year's Eve table!  And it's healthy - so it's guilt-free!  Be good to yourself!

Here's how, it's easy!

Gather together these ingredients:

Per pound of shrimp you'll need 1/2 c. vinegar, 1/2 c. water, and Old Bay seasoning.  I like to add lemon slices since my brother, Ed, showed me this a few years ago.  Follow the instructions on the side of the can of Old Bay (usually found by the meat counter in most grocery stores.)

Bring the liquids and the Old Bay to a boil and then add the shrimp.  They start out greenish then turn this beautiful pinky orange when they're done.

As soon as they are pink and have lost any translucency, they are done!  They do tend to cook a little longer after removed, so you'll want to factor this in as well.  Take care to watch them closely.  If you overcook them they are dry and rubbery - ew!  Pull them out of the hot liquid and spread them out on a sheet tray to cool quickly.  At this point I sprinkle on some more Old Bay and scatter lemon slices over.  Then, into the fridge they go to cool down and chill - or you can eat them hot if you like!

If you like some cocktail sauce, it's easy as well!  I simply mix together 2 c. ketchup, 4 T. creamy horseradish and the juice of half of a lemon.  This isn't very "hot," meaning that buzz your nose gets when you eat horseradish.  If you like more buzz, up the amount of horseradish!

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