02/15/2017

Direct Contact for Your Vacation Bookings

It was inevitable. For years, the websites that you went to for vacation lodgings rentals are now reaching deeper into your pockets. They justify this by implying hosts cannot be trusted. By letting them handle the money, you are somehow assured of a safer outcome. You pay 9-12% extra and the host pays 3%. You pay all up front at the booking confirmation and the service gets to sit on your money until a day after you check in, at which time the host gets his 85-88% of what you paid. Compare that with our policy here at SeaCat’s Rest, where you pay $100 to reserve your spot and the rest of 1/2 of the full amount six weeks before arrival, with the second half due upon arrival. I still pay 3% on average  for advertising, but you will pay 9-12% less when I deal directly with you. No security deposits or cleaning fees and no middleman’s cut.

My “Listings Quality” page.

One of the services still allows direct contact if you wade through the gauntlet of warnings against it. Also, they take their toll on me by shuffling my listing down in search results, which I find maddeningly unfair. I asked why this was so and was told that “Travelers demand on-line booking and payments”. Funny, they don’t say “Travelers demand to pay an extra 9-12%”. So on my “listings quality” page the red circle at the top means that I am failing to meet the demands of the traveler, not that the service has gotten greedy and dishonest about hosts, and wants to punish them by hiding their listing.

Before they rolled out this tactic they were trying to make extra by processing credit cards, 3% if I recall correctly. At that time I did some research and figured out you could pay us with Paypal for 0% if you funded your Paypal account from your bank. 3% of a week at SeaCat’s Rest amounts to a dinner for two, so I thought guests could benefit from this and made it one of my payment options.

There’s a good chance my crankiness about the changes in the vacation rental websites is woefully grounded in the past; that tech-savvy travelers are so comfortable with clicking through to an instant conclusion that they can’t be bothered with saving 9-12%, and that they believe the implied warnings about fly-by-night hosts.

This post is for those who want to save some money on their vacation and don’t like to let their vacation money sit in a corporate coffer for months and months. Over the 10 years we’ve been in business we have had no problems or disputes about handling money and two cancellations (actually, shortened stays) which were resolved to the satisfaction of the guests. You can visit this page to start an inquiry or, for the time being, still go through this link to see more pictures and read more reviews, and not pay the extra for on-line booking. I have a few more listings where you’d pay the extra fee, but if you’ve read this far why would you go there? Bruce

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01/14/2017

Maine Marijuana Tourism? Time Will Tell

In a very close vote in November, Mainers approved a referendum allowing recreational marijuana use. The vote was split geographically: large cities and coastal Maine voted yes while rural and northern areas voted no.  A recount affirmed the passage with a 3,995 vote margin (1/2 of 1%!).

The new law will allow adults 21 and over to possess up to 2.5 ounces and grow six plants for personal use. It will also allow the retail sale from special stores and and consumption in “social clubs”.  A hefty 10% sales tax (in addition to the usual 5.5%) will fund school construction and pay for state regulation. See the wording of the new law here. Governor LePage has vowed to try to stop the law with a court challenge if he can’t get assurances from the President-Elect that he will enforce federal laws. Federal laws are in conflict with all legalization laws at the state level and have been unenforced during the Obama years.

In recent developments, Gov. LePage has verified the vote and so the law will go into effect on January 30, 2017. On that date, it will be legal to possess 2-1/2 ounces or less and grow six plants. What will not be legal will be public consumption, casual sale of homegrown pot or driving while impaired (although no test exists for cannabis intoxication). Also, there will be few if any places to buy recreational cannabis for quite some time. Local governments are scrambling to enact moratoriums to prevent the establishing of retail outlets, social clubs and growing operations until more is known. Somewhere in Portland an existing medical marijuana store will be the first to sell to recreational customers. We have a medical marijuana store even in Ellsworth. Without the need for a prescription, medical cannabis dispensaries will see their business decline and so will have to begin recreational sales.

Licensing of recreational stores however is a much higher hurdle than medical dispensaries and is subject to local bans. The moratoriums will be in place until one municipality in Maine takes the plunge; a store will open, possibly as soon as late 2017, and everyone will be watching to see what happens. Until then, our legislature needs to refine the law to fill in the details with policies for retail establishments clubs and growing facilities. This will take nine months.

Those wishing to start growing need to buy seeds, and whether it is legal to buy those seeds is another question. Fertile seeds are defined in the law as “cannabis” and as such, must be purchased in a regulated store. Our law does not address seed purchases from another state or country. Federal laws may still make such purchases illegal.

During a recent trip to Ellsworth’s Home Depot I was sure I smelled pot near the loading dock in the back of the store. I expect one of our guests here at SeaCat’s Rest will light up this summer, but outside please. Our insurance policy requires no smoking indoors, no matter what plant you burn.

 

 

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06/27/2016

Maine is Kid-Friendly

KCDBThe latest Anna E. Casey nation-wide report, called Kids Count Data Bank 2016 has been released. It compares each state on 5 different measures of children’s well being: 1) overall child well-being, 2) economic well-being, 3) education, 4) health and 5) family and community.

Maine does pretty well, scoring 17th from the top overall, 23rd in economic well-being, 15th in education, 20th in health and 9th in family and community. Maine’s low population, rural nature and modest economy could have put us in a worse spot, but 17th is nothing to be ashamed of. Compared to other New England states, we bring up the rear, but are above Rhode Island overall. New England as a region is a real bright spot on the map, with the upper Midwest and northern Great Plain states also looking good.

Perhaps most striking is the north-south divide. Just about every southern state is in the 30s or below in all categories.

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from http://www.aecf.org/resources/the-2016-kids-count-data-book/

Nationally, the trends are towards improvements in healthcare, with the percentage of uninsured children dropping from 10% in 2008 to 6% by 2014 thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act. Lower percentages of low birthweight babies, child mortality and drug abuse are also noted. Maine has managed to cut teen smoking rates from 18.1% in 2009 to 12.8% in 2013, three percent below the national average.

Education is also an improving area, with only one measure, 3 and 4 year old children not in preschool climbing from 52% to 53%. Here in Maine we are still reaping the education rewards of former Governor King’s laptop program, which put laptops in the hands of every school-aged kid starting in 2002.

Economic well-being nationally is still a problem for children. Housing prices have recovered more quickly than incomes, increasing the child poverty from 18% in 2008 to 22% in 2014. Maine’s child poverty rate in 2013 stood at 17%.  Teen births however have dropped, from 40 per 1000 in 2008 to 24 in 2014. Maine’s rate is 12 per 1000 according to this article in the Portland Press Herald.

Maine, with its odd distinction of having the oldest population in the US is ironically one of the best places to raise children. In the forefront of this claim is our close knit communities, where every child is known by name and adults consider helping out at the school as mandatory. Our highest score in the Anna E. Casey Kids Count report is 9th from the top in the family and community category. Not a surprise!

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06/05/2016

Changes in the Vacation Rental Universe

ourhouseaerialHere at SeaCat’sRest, we have been renting our attached apartment since 2007. It has been fun to share guest’s holiday time; wowing them with our accommodations and settings and seeing the beauty of the Maine coast through their eyes. Lately there have been scary changes to how we reach out to travelers. Most of the free listing services have been bought up by H*meaway and VRB* (put an “o” where the * is), and now they are undergoing big changes. The reason is Airb#b (replace the # with an “n”). All this spelling nonsense is to avoid trouble with the three services when they search the web for their names.

The Airb#b model is to serve as middleman and keep the communication between host and traveler anonymous until they can get 6-12% from the traveler and 3% from the host. They do provide the service of managing a calendar and sending reminders, but they are paid very well for this. H*meaway and VRB* made their money through host subscriptions fees, starting at $350/ year and going up for higher placement on their search results pages. Once Airb#b became a “hit”, with a market valuation 5 times higher than the other two combined, the other two (really one company now) scrambled to copy them. At first, we were told we H*meaway hosts would no longer be able to contact travelers directly and we would need to let them handle the money. In other words, they would become just like Airb#b. Many complained and threatened to pull their listings. As things now stand, we still have the option of an annual subscription (now $400) and free contact with travelers, but we are competing with other hosts who pay nothing up front for the Airb#b type experience. Of course, the travelers are paying their fee, and in most cases it is much more over a year than what the host paid for a subscription. In my case, a subscription to H*meaway costs about 3% of my gross income from guests referred through them in a typical year. Airb#b costs me 3% per booking plus 6-12% from the traveler for a total of 9-15% of every dollar spent on a stay. So instead of $400/year it should add up to about $1,200-$2,000/year from my perspective as a property owner. I can’t help think  the pendulum will swing back toward the subscription model when guests wake up to what Airb#b is getting away with.

I decided to try signing up with Airb#b as an alternative to succumbing to the changes at H*meaway, figuring that they know what they’re doing with this model, and this way I can see how it works before rewarding H*meaway for what I feel is a wrong move. I still have a subscription with H*meaway.

It has been interesting to see the differences in travelers. Airb#b people are younger, more likely to be foreign and stay a shorter number of days. I have to wait 24 hours after their arrival before I see any money, and it comes directly from Airb#b into my Paypal account. No more awkward mention of outstanding balance, running to the bank, losing checks or dealing with a fat wad of cash. Also, the biggest reason that Airb#b works is that both host and guests are subject to an almost mandatory review, from zero to 5 stars. That way if there is a problem on either side, there will be future consequences. On the down side, I had to reduce my price since 6-12% of the guest’s money is already gone. Also, I have to figure my lodgings tax backwards, taking the amount I receive and finding an amount I can add 9% to to get it.

There are horror stories about bad Airb#b hosts and guests on the web, but I tend to think that those bad actors will rapidly fade away. The support team from Airb#b is reportedly mostly absent; if something goes wrong you’re on your own, or so I’ve heard. If you can’t find an answer to your problem in an FAQ you can’t just call an 800 number. This is where H*meaway has them beat.

Airb#b has the reputation of having hosts who only offer a couch in their home. I saw one nearby who rented out a shed (no heat or plumbing) and another who rented a tenting spot in a vacant lot! I’m not sure SeaCat’s Rest “fits in” with the Airb#b culture, but we are expecting our second Airb#b guest today and time will tell.

No matter how you find us, we will continue to offer our ocean side apartment and the experience will be the same. But given the response to our listing with Airb#b we may have fewer nights available. We may have to build a shed for us to live in.

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01/30/2016

An Electric Boat in Norway

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A Norwegian Electric Boat

It has been a while since I have written or even thought about my electric lobster boat, Eleccentricity. It has become an ordinary part of my summer life and has presented few problems or challenges. I did replace the motor last summer when I figured out that salt was corroding the inside of the old motor…the Mars ME 0909 permanent magnet DC motor. This motor has a fan which pulls air into the interior and consequently the bare steel was corroded until the bond with the permanent magnet was broken. The magnet was loose but not that loose. The main symptom was a worrisome vibration. I bought and installed a similar but totally enclosed motor, ME 1007.

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A tidy engine room.

Out of the blue, I recently received an email from someone in Norway who had read my posts about my boat and had built his own. His boat is similar in length and uses the same motor (ME 0909), has 4 AGM instead of 6 “wet” lead acid batteries and operates at 24 volts DC instead of my 36 volts. The length is the same–eighteen feet–but the beam (width) is narrower, at just under 5 feet, compared to over 6 feet on mine.

His boat steers with a tiller and rudder rather than a wheel and pivoting outboard. His prop is an inboard, with a shaft connected to the motor with a belt, and his motor is within a sound-proofed ventilated enclosure. He uses his boat on fresh water, and has also added solar panels, totaling 308 watts. He reports satisfaction with his setup and plans on building another.

I am envious of what must be very quiet operation. My motor is on top of a converted outboard and therefore makes more noise, although much less than an infernal combustion engine. Normal conversation is possible. His sound level must be a whisper. He has made a 50 KM (31 mile) trip and has had power to spare. Our speed VS watts numbers are surprisingly similar. We both can travel at about 5-3/4 MPH using 1000 watts. We both use only solar energy to charge our battery bank and can claim to use zero fossil fuels.

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My converted outboard and skeg.

I have often wished I could convert Eleccentricity to an inboard and achieve the same quiet, but I would have to allow easy access to the prop, which is always getting fouled up with seaweed. Summertime around here brings large mats of loose rockweed just waiting for my prop. I added a skeg under it a few years ago, and that has helped, but I will always need to have it within reaching distance. The skeg is not an ideal afterthought. It has improved tracking but the metal struts set up an annoying vibration at higher speeds. And they collect rockweed too!

Perhaps with enough people around the world building eighteen foot electric boats we will arrive at the perfect design. Thanks to my friend in Norway for getting us all a little closer.

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12/04/2015

Scallop Season in Maine

December 1 was the start of the 2015/2016 Maine scallop fishing season. From now until April 15 we will be able to buy the “dayboat fresh” bivalves for a healthy price….just under $20 per pound today at my local supermarket. There are indications that the management scheme is increasingly successful since the 2004 low point. Last year harvests totaled over 550,000 lbs of the adductor muscle, the part of the scallop that we eat. Historically, the best year was 1981 when 3.75 million pounds were pulled in. Obviously, we’re far from those levels, but one could argue the 1981 harvest was not sustainable, since the following year’s harvest was under 1.5 million pounds.

Managers of the fishery have been aggressive in increasing populations, by limiting daily catches, days of fishing, season length and fishing methods. The rule of thumb is that scallops increase 30% per year, so the trick is to figure out how many there are and limit the catch to under that.openzones

scallops

from Maine.gov

Maine scallops are unique in that the boats which fish for them do not go far from shore for days at a time, that’s where the “dayboat fresh” comes from. One day of fishing in small boats means that the scallops will not be sitting in a hold on ice, soaking up water for up to a week, as they do in fisheries south of Maine’s border. In fact, aficionados of Maine’s scallops compare them to oysters, enjoyable raw or cooked, with subtle differences depending where they’re caught. Could this be the next foodie fad?

Maine scallops are taken in two ways, either using a small drag or one at a time by divers. Imagine getting suited up to scuba dive in January! Strict regulations determine which method is allowed and where. Many areas are closed on a rotating basis and fishers need to be tuned into sudden closures if quotas are reached. Depending on the zone, limits are either 10 or 15 gallons of meat. That’s either 90 or 135 pounds for a day’s work. At my supermarket price, that would be $1,800 to $2,700, but we can be sure the wholesale price is much lower, and nothing guarantees a full limit.

David Gardener, roadside fish sellerThere’s a guy who sells by the side of the road in Ellsworth for $16/lb, and he assures me the scallops are a day old unless we buy on Saturday to Tuesday. He also sells Canadian shrimp since the Maine shrimp fishery has crashed, but that’s another story. Where would someone who doesn’t live in Maine get Maine scallops? You can take your chances where you are or you can go to downeastdayboat.com and talk to Togue. You may want to be seated when you see the price page, but if you want something like I’m having tonight, it’s the only way! Figure on a pound feeding four people. Visitors to Maine rarely come this time of year, so they’re “stuck” with lobsters in the summer months. What a shame!

More information: http://www.maine.gov/dmr/rm/scallops/index.htm

Another Maine scallop seller: http://www.freshmainescallops.com/index.html

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11/18/2015

Acadia’s One Hundredth

Mount-Desert-Island-_Friends-of-Acadia

Acadia from Cranberry Isles by Friends of Acadia

2016 will be the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of Acadia National Park. The actual founding event occurred on July 8, 1916, with an announcement by President Woodrow Wilson. But the groundwork had started just after the turn of the century with several key personalities. John D. Rockefeller Jr., son of the oil baron, donated 10,000 acres and financed, designed and directed the system of carriage roads we all enjoy. Charles W. Eliot, the Harvard president, established the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, an organization with a Maine state charter to hold and protect property for the public benefit. It was the handing over of this gift to our nation which marked the beginning of Acadia National Park. Acadia was the first national park established in this way; caring, public spirited landowners, their arms gently twisted by passionate neighbors, donated their precious property for the common good.

George Dorr and Charles Eliot, from Friends of Acadia

George Dorr and Charles Eliot, from Friends of Acadia

Perhaps first among equals, George B. Dorr, now known as the “father of Acadia,” led the effort to gain federal protection, worked tirelessly to secure additional tracts of land for the park, and served for 25 years as the park’s first superintendent.

A continuing modest commitment of federal funds, an investment multiplied many times over in benefit to the  the local economy, keeps Acadia National Park one of the jewels of the East Coast. In 1986 Friends of Acadia was founded, adding 3,770 members to help with park projects, both as boots on the ground and financial contributors.

Expect your 2016 visit to be marked by celebration events and perhaps, more than the usual demand for services. Check the events calendar here, and check our lodgings calendar to the right. Find out more about our accommodations here.

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03/18/2015

Thoreau’s The Maine Woods

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Henry D. Thoreau, 1856, from wikipedia.org

Lately I’ve been availing myself to the many works of literature now available on line for free. These works have copyrights which have expired and are now in the public domain. Fortunately for visitors to Maine, one free seminal work awaits here, The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau. First published in 1864 from a journey made in 1857, the 150th anniversary of the account has been celebrated by a recreation of the journey called the Thoreau-Wabanaki Anniversary Tour, which started in May of 2014. A media-rich overview of this trip is available here. The upshot is that Maine is surprisingly unchanged from the way it was in 1857. It could even be argued that it’s improved. Thoreau lamented about the logging he saw north of Bangor in chapter one,

The mission of men there seems to be, like so many busy demons, to drive the forest all out of the country, from every solitary beaver swamp and mountain-side, as soon as possible.

No more are the Penobscot’s tributaries choked with logs and surrounded by heedless clearcuts. Maine’s forest cover is (2012) at least 83.1% according to the USDA, highest in the nation. Maine was lucky in a way, to have the ravages of the industrial age happen early. There has been time to heal. Now our natural resources are managed in a more enlightened manner, and the summer visitor can easily slip into the Thoreau experience.

Thoreau had more to say than his thoughts about nature. He was an ardent abolitionist and was horrified that the Fugitive Slave Act allowed public officials in his home state of Massachusetts to enable bounty hunters to capture runaway slaves back into slavery. His writings about civil disobedience inspired Martin Luther King Jr. among others. Interestingly, Maine owes its statehood at least in part, to the struggle against slavery. It was cleaved from Massachusetts in 1820 as a way to increase the number of free states as part of the Missouri Compromise, so that the slave-holding southern states would not gain more control and influence.

Thoreau also had great interest and sympathy for Native Americans and what he saw was their suffering under European influence. He slowly transformed his perceptions from stereotypes to greater understanding as he continued his visits to Maine and sought greater contact with members of the Penobscot Nation. Today, the Penobscot Nation addresses this relationship here. The organizers of the 150th commemoration paid due respect to the partnership between Thoreau and the Penobscots.

The Maine Quarterly: Thoreau Trailer from Maine Office of Tourism on Vimeo.

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02/16/2015

Hello Arctic

We’re all sick of the winter of 2014/15. We have long ago given up on more than one door to the house. If you can’t find your way into the garage you can’t come in. Relentless blizzards alternate with sub-zero cold. Eastern Bay of Frenchman Bay is now frozen over. That’s salt water! Even the howling wind and ten foot tide can’t break it up.

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Frozen to the island!

Ellsworth American’s police beat section is uncharacteristically devoid of the usual mischief-making as law enforcement is focused on citizens’ weather related survival. Disputes over snow being dumped in the wrong place and drivers’ views obscured by snowbanks are common.

Here at SeaCat’s Rest the worry is not about staying warm, but the load of snow on the roof. We spent three days around the house on ladders raking snow off. This was after I marked out a square foot on flat ground, dug out the snow (about 22 inches) and weighed it: 22.2 pounds. Most northern roofs are designed to hold 30 lbs/ square foot, so I had 7.8 pounds to go before risking collapse. I had drifts on my garage roof three feet high. I raked until I was worn out. The highest roof still is untouched, but fortunately the latest storm only dropped about 5 more inches, and the high winds took more off the roof than the snowfall dropped. Sure would be nice to have a thaw!

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Guests may recognize this view from the apartment.

Our plow guy has been running on adrenaline. He knows our need for our 1/4 mile driveway is a low priority, so he shows up here in the wee hours or a day or two after a storm. Fine. The wind just closes in the tunnel-like driveway anyway. The latest strategy is to line up a front-end loader to deal with the high sides once the wind stops.

Driveway? What driveway?

Driveway? What driveway?

Amazingly, the power is still on. We haven’t lost power since November, when it was off for 4 days. Our new generator took care of that inconvenience, at a high propane cost.

Surviving Maine coast winters is often easy. Sometimes it rarely snows and temps barely dip into the subzero F range. Other winters (like this) develop into a full-fledged train wreck. Once the bay freezes over, the moderating effect of the ocean is gone and temperatures can plummet. Last year there was a propane shortage. This year there’s plenty, and fuel oil is still cheap. But Mainers need multiple back-ups to survive the frequent climate challenges and isolation issues. we have three heat sources, two electric sources, two wells and two oil tanks. We just might make it to spring.

Our five foot tall propane tank.

Our five foot tall propane tank.

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09/23/2014

More About Peekytoe Crabs

Crabs invading? Eat them!

Crabs invading? Eat them!

My 5 trap recreational lobster license gets me plenty of lobsters when they’re crawling around the bottom. But when they’re not around, I get peekytoe crabs instead. Most are too small to bother with, but the larger ones go into my floating crate and stay there until I decide to have a meal of the sweet, tender native Maine crabmeat.

Crabs deserve their name. They’re well, crabby. Ready to fight as soon as you try to grab them, they raise their claws and maneuver around like Muhammad Ali. The best way to handle them is to wear a thick rubber glove and get them from behind, and fling them into a bucket before they have time to grab you. In the bucket they will fight with whatever is already in there. I usually find missing legs when I dump them out.

When it’s time to make a meal of them I use long tongs to get them out of the floating crate. Last time I cooked 13 of them and ended up with 1-1/3 lbs of picked meat, which at our local supermarket would cost at least $25.00. That’s a little under 2 ounces per crab. I talked in detail about how to cook and pick the meat here.

Picking crabmeat is tedious and slow, best accomplished by the full group of folks who will be eating the meal. Making the pound and a third of meat into crabcakes is one of my favorite ways of using it, and it is able to feed four people with leftovers. Crabmeat is very rich; you won’t want more than 1/4 pound per person. The recipe below is my favorite, substituting egg whites for the usual mayo. Don’t expect to have completely shell-free meat, there will be fragments. Chew lightly. If you follow this recipe and use your own crabs or very freshly picked meat, there will be no chance you will ever have a better crabcake at any price.

Please be aware that crab meat is not something you want hanging around in your fridge. Use it quickly; within a few days.

crabcakesPhoto by Mike Kelley

From https://www.hoppinjohns.com:

1 pound fresh lump crabmeat
1 lemon
2 eggs, separated
1 heaping tablespoon coarse grain mustard
¼ pound (1 stick) butter, divided
2 tablespoons minced mild onion
½ cup chopped ripe red bell pepper or ¼ cup green
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice
fine dry bread crumbs

Sprinkle the juice of half the lemon over the crabmeat in a bowl to freshen it. (If the lemon is not juicy, use the juice from the whole lemon.) In a separate small bowl, mix the mustard with the egg yolks.

Melt half the butter (4 tablespoons) in a skillet over low heat and add the onion and bell pepper, cooking until the onion begins to become transparent. Add the vinegar, raise the heat, and reduce until the vinegar has evaporated. Pour the mixture over the crabmeat, add the egg yolk mixture, and toss all together, being careful not to break up the big clumps of crabmeat. Season to taste with salt, pepper, cayenne, and a tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs.

In another large mixing bowl, add about 2 cups of fine dry bread crumbs. These are infinitely tastier if you use dried leftover rolls or baguettes and freshly grate them (I keep them in a paper bag.). Just before cooking the crabcakes, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. Beat the egg whites stiff and fold into the crab mixture.

Reach down into the crab and fill your palm with a scoop of the mixture. Gently press it into a cake about 3 inches wide and about 1 inch thick. Place 1 cake at a time down in the bread crumbs. Scoop up crumbs from around the cake and pour over the top of the cake. Do not mash the cake or press the crumbs into it: you only want a dusting of crumbs on the cake, not in it.

When the butter is foamy, gently pick up the first cake and put it in the pan. Continue making the cakes and placing them in the pan. You should have six cakes which should fit into the skillet. Cook until browned — about 3 minutes — on the first side, then carefully turn each cake and cook on the other side.

When cooked, the cakes should resemble nothing more than seasoned crabmeat, slightly crisp on the outside. Work carefully and they will not split.

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