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Fish Tales

Posted Jan 27 2009 8:20pm

My lost camera has reappeared. We have returned to our home, and I've begun washing the saltwater stains out of our clothes.

The recipe associated with this post is simple, but the stories leading up to our humble meal of fish fried on the rear deck of the houseboat are memorable indeed...

Having been visiting with friends in New Orleans until 4AM the previous night, we began the journey to the fishing camp a bit groggily, but enthusiastically nonetheless. Our destination was a small houseboat in Venice, Louisiana, a small slice of land cast precariously out into the Gulf of Mexico. We crossed the causeway bridge (the only bridge I've ever crossed for which one plans a half hour journey because it's just that long ) over Lake Pontchartrain and into New Orleans, then gradually left the city's jumble behind as the ground alongside the highway became marshier, and the shops became scarcer. About a half an hour from Venice, Mr. Alden pointed to a small grocery on our left - "That's the last grocery store closest to Venice. Hmmmm, 5PM - they're already closed for the day..."

The houseboat we called home for 4 days is nestled in the Venice Marina amidst a thick cluster of neighboring houseboat "camps," each with their own dock and one or two slips for fishing boats.

Somehow, we managed to fit all 8 of us - Zach and I, Mr. Alden (Zach's father), Monk (Zach's oldest brother), Amy (Monk's girlfriend), Scott (Zach's middle brother), Elise (Scott's wife), and Tristan (Monk's son) - into the 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom houseboat for all 4 days, with nary a quarrel! Likely, the bountiful tidbits Mr. Alden concocted on the outdoor grill, and the blazingly warm yet soothing sun, lulled us all into blissful dreaminess.

After the first night of cheerful vegetable chopping, chicken and sausage grilling, and story swapping, the tempo accelerated dramatically - beginning with our the shrill noise of our 4AM alarm clock announcing that it was time to head the boat out into the gulf.

Think Louisiana in June is always blindingly hot? Trust me, in the pitch dark, traveling 30 miles an hour in the open air with sea spray all around you, is cold. Very cold. As was the storm that caught us midmorning, chasing away the warm sun and splattering us with icy rain and more sea spray.

But even storms have their charms... We found a bit of cover beneath an oil rig's covered dock, and spent the storm leaning over the side of the boat to catch baby crabs!

When the sun broke through again, fishing returned with renewed energy. Zach seemed to have jinxed me with the catfish curse, as his mock-firm insistence that "you can't catch any hardheads, or you're swimming home," quickly resulted in my catching hardhead catfish with rapidity for the entire day...

Catfish or no, a major part of the delights of camping and fishing, at least for me, are the glories of being utterly windblown, knowing you look ridiculous in a giant straw hat, and not minding one bit.

The fishing highlight of the trip was Mr. Alden's personal record speckled trout - 6 lbs. 7oz!

It was nearly dark by the time we arrived back at the camp. Mr. Alden and Monk set about cleaning fish, I tinkered with the seasoning in a pot of navy beans that I'd started simmering the night before, and Scott stirred up the most flavorful, simple, understated batter for frying, well, not only fish, but nearly anything else you might like to fry. (Granted, fried tofu might be the quickest way to undo tofu's health benefits, but it's also delicious...)

Sitting back at my desk now, I can still feel the sting of the chill salt water across my sunburned face, feel the rocking and diving of the boat underneath me, and hear the pulse of the waves against the boat's hull. No matter how close to nature I may try to get on land, there is something especially tangible about being afloat on the water, without a glimpse of land in sight.

I'm dripping wet. I'm laughing. This is real.

Fish Fry (or anything fry) Batter

~ Whip eggs, buttermilk, and mustard to taste together in a large bowl.
~ In another large bowl, season a few cups of flour with salt and Cajun seasoning.
~ In a third large bowl, season a few cups of yellow cornmeal with salt and pepper.
~ Heat a large pot of oil to a roaring boil. (I know you are supposed to have a precise temperature for deep frying, but I've never bothered with such details, and have never suffered any ill effects from my laissez faire approach to frying...)
~ Dip the fish (or tofu, or vegetables, or whatever) into the flour and shake to coat, then dunk in the milk/egg mixture, then toss into the cornmeal and shake to coat - then into the oil until crispy and cooked!

P.S. A sincere Daring Bakers apology for not being able to participate in this month's challenge... The combination of battling final exams, being out of town for ten days, and then returning home with only 24 hours to prepare for Zach's departure to Air Force training, and my hastily planned trip (for which I head to the airport tomorrow) to visit my grandfather, who was just diagnosed with cancer... this month has been a whirlwind of both joys and challenges. Please do visit the glorious Daring Bakers blogroll for this month's event, and join me for next month's Daring Bakers delight!
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