Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rolling Back the Rock

Shortly after Barry and I got married, we inherited a crawfish boil. Now this may sound uncommon, but I imagine in Mississippi and throughout the South, parties are passed down pretty regularly. One year, green bottled beer in the form of Rolling Rock was the beverage of choice, and as a good buzz and healthy dose of sacrilege will do you, the boil became known as the Rolling Back the Rock party, always the Saturday before Easter.

We've had bluebird days on most years, those dreamy spring afternoons when the wind chimes sing, the grass is a fresh shade of green and the bugs are still at bay. A friend from New Orleans sometimes brings a sack of oysters to compliment the 160+ pounds of crawfish. Masterfully and patiently he shucks while the not-so-patient oysterphiles stand in line, waiting to be handed a shell, wet with the indescribable goodness that only comes raw and from the Gulf of Mexico. We put out the Crystal and the horseradish as a courtesy, but it seems most everyone just shoots them straight with no hesitation.

My girl friends are always kind to do their part. I put down a tablecloth in the dining room and we reserve the conditioned air for foods that might spoil or tempt the ants. We don't plan a menu or assign dishes. Nothing will go untouched and everything is appreciated. The first year we hosted, I cooked my ass off. Three types of deviled eggs (traditional, olive and avocado), hot tamale dip and finger sandwiches. When folks started to arrive with their McCarty trays piled high with pimento cheese, shrimp dip, deer sausage and the latest Pinterest craze, I quickly learned that my efforts in the kitchen were for naught. This year, I turned on the crockpot and threw in meatballs and equal parts grape jelly and cheap barbecue sauce. And like I said before, nothing goes untouched.

I'd be remiss not to mention the sweets, as 2017's Rolling Back the Rock was a banner year for desserts. Jackie's fresh strawberry cupcakes with heavy cream whipped icing had folks hiding in corners to enjoy the second (maybe third) baby cake they'd snuck from the table. Martha's flourless chocolate pound cake went untouched for a while, but as soon as it was sliced it disappeared. The true sleeper hit of the party, though, was Anne Chandler's lemonade pie, complete with a pecan crust, situated next to a 2-cup measuring cup of fresh whipped cream. I loved the fact that she didn't cover the glossy beauty of the custard pie with the cream, but allowed us to "choose our own adventure" on how best to consume that beautiful concoction.

But don't be confused, the crawfish are the star of the show, and that starts early.... much earlier in the morning than I once preferred. But that was before Weezie, when waking at 8 a.m. was way too early on a Saturday. Little did I know then that a 6:30 a.m. wake up call would be considered sleeping late.

Not to be a genderist, but cooking the crawfish, at least with this bunch, is a man's world. For the most part, it requires a corral of diesel-engine trucks, at least three propane-propelled burners and more citrus than you'll find at any juice bar in Jackson. (Are there juice bars in Jackson?) Led by my brother-in-law Patrick, our friend Ted shares the load with a gaggle of other guys including Matthew, Jeff, Barry and Bean, all standing around and taking orders. But mostly just watching Pat and Ted prep their station. And, oh, what a station.

First things first. Set up the tent for shade and arrange two 8-ft. tables in an L shape to create a secure work zone. Place the burners, pots, paddles and lids behind the galley and open a beer. Arrange the Zatarans crab boil, Crystal hot sauce, Syracha and Rebel Rub (whatever the hell that is) on the table and open the lids as you unpack. Slice the oranges and lemons then light a cigarette while you roughly peel the garlic. Tell some bull shit story about turkey season as you squeeze oranges into the pots and get one of the helpers to find the Jerry Jeff Walker station on Pandora. Wrestle with the water hose until you get the slack you need to let it fill the pot. Prepare for battle as you attempt to scoop those live little devils into the basket, plunging them to their death and to our delight. Boil long enough for some other bull shit story about a long night in a dark bar and transfer to a cooler to steam for 40 minutes. Bless the boil and dump those bad boys on the plywood table, which sits atop two heavy duty garbage cans, holes in the plywood above the cans where you can easily toss the broken and empty bugs. It's really that simple.

The party technically starts at 2 p.m. and ends at dark, but it never happens like that, even with a one year-old in tow. We stay up til midnight at least, emptying the coolers of any leftover beer and generally closing up shop when we run out of smokes. Then, drunkenly, we pack the chairs, fold up the tables and attempt to carefully wash the McCarty without slamming around it on the kitchen sink. And, for the most part, it all works out pretty well. If I can offer one word of advice to the budding host or hostess, do the dishes when you are drunk. It is so tempting to go to bed and face the mess in the morning, but it is so glorious to wake on Easter day with a clean kitchen and crumb-free dining room.

And that, my friends, is how we celebrate the Risen Lord.

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