|Local Fish photo by AMR|
The story starts here. With a family tradition.
FD and his dad go fishing every spring and summer. I went one time last summer. There's not a lot of talking unless it's about the weather and how the fish are biting, which was fine by me. I love weather, and I love talking about bites. And as weird as it sounds I appreciated silence, the quiet rock of the boat. In fact I welcomed it, and when I achieve it with loved ones I hold it like a new kitten, a small gift from above. Sometimes talking clouds the purest truth of the activity, the act that is shared. Truth be told, as much as I'm a hip-hop/dance junkie, I'm happiest cooking when I'm in the kitchen without music and Bleu is at feet.
I pretty sure in our attempt to eat local meats our families decided we should eat what they can't. In addition to what we've procured.
Early this June FD and I realized we had a deep freezer half full of Ohio/Pennsylvania-caught fish. The only way to eat over 100 fillets/5 lbs of fish is to have a fish fry, right?
|Other photos by SEKL, FDR, ASC |
Sarah L. & I, over several Clover Clubs (okay, really it was over lunch at Naslada, we had water, there's no drama in that) craved Southern. We needed fish, corn on the cob, greens, coleslaw, shredded beef, cucumber salad, sweet potatoes, and pimento cheese.
At 5 Sarah arrived with 5 lbs of greens. We stemmed, we washed, we rendered fat from bacon, we wilted, we simmered, we kept going.
As a hostess, I can tell you a fish fry isn't easy. There's soaking, breading, frying, draining, and several more batches. In addition to getting sides ready, making sure guests are happy, and coordinating timing. I had anticipated easy street. I was wrong.
At any given time, I was stressed, crazy, witty, bossy, meek, pissed, satisfied, jittery, relaxed, humble, loud, quiet, grateful, and, most importantly, thoughtful about food, where it comes from and who we share it with.
|Sweet potato chips in the fryer|
Many people have told me I remind them of a cartoon character (perhaps because of my love of Hello Kitty???) and that I'm intense, animated, intimidating, etc.
I'm just passionate, honest, and enthusiastic.
Even though fishing is a quiet act, frying is not. There's oohhhing, aaahhhing, yelling for more flour, worrying about bubbling over, etc. etc.
At one point, though, we got in our assembly line rhythm, and the four of us battered and fried the last batch with almost no verbal communication. Our hands dredged fish, shook off the extra batter, placed fillets in the fryer and did it again, as if we all shared one mind.
It reminded me of the rock of the boat, the fishing poles in our hands, and dawn breaking over the lake.
|All hands on deck|
Sarah L., G, E.H., and I took charge. It was clear we were the food obsessed.
Or better put: we were devoted to the fish. Others were too. They would be present for start to finish of a batch, such as FD, CC, and AC, which I appreciate whole heartily. In fact, as as Gemini, I welcomed any attention. The other guests looked on like it was a train wreck. People like danger, potential fire, and drama. In a matter of two hours of this fish fry I had cooked several dishes cooked and ready, a fryer that wouldn't heat up and tripped the breaker, a severe mandolin (the knife, not the instrument) injury, and realized I was two hours behind eating time.
As an OCD hostess I was fucked.
But inviting the perfect people dissolved my need to obsess and surrender to defeat.
Several dishes were ready: right on; Jersey helped me figure out my breakers and turn shit off to turn on the fryer; my mom's hospital office job where I became friends with nurses gave me the know-how to aid a cut wound into remission (we thought we needed stitches but really only what we needed was to lay down on the bathroom floor [see being OCD does pay off; the floor was sparkling clean] with the finger in the air, some Solarcaine, a bandage, and some Sherry), and for the most part our friends like to eat between 8-9 p.m.
I was in luck.
|Fishes in the fryer|
I was in bare feet.
That wasn't in the manual, but my Pops said, "Wear shoes."
I followed my Pops' advice. And didn't. We do that as kids. We're allowed.
This was the first meal I made that potentially risked my home, my loved ones, my clothing (which I love a lot), and my bare feet.
And I think others felt that way.
They stood and watched.
What would happen?
For the first time ever I saw concern on Sarah L.'s face. I don't know about this, her expression read in one photo. When she showed me the pic, I thought, That's my look. What are you doing???
Then she said, "That's the look you make every time I make a souffle or marshmallows. I guess I didn't realize how freaked out I was."
Deep frying is scary.
And lots of fun.
I had a lot of help, but I was ultimately guardian of the fryer, as my Pops had advised.
I dropped the basket in. We all watched the oil bubble up and engulf the fish, though. And G would give the basket a shake so the fish wouldn't stick too much together while I was running around organizing other things. But when the fishies were fried, it was I who pulled the basket out with its little coat-hanger-pulley-thingy. I put the lid on, let the temperature come back up to 400, assembled the assembly line and started again.
My Pops would have been proud.
At 9, the crew went through the buffet line and piled their plates with cuke salads, braised greens, baked beans, grilled corn, crisp coleslaw, shredded beef, and fried fish.
There was one moment of silence at the beginning as folks chewed the first bites. But then there were outbursts over flavors or new conversations.
Dessert (s'mores with homemade marshmallows, chocolate, and pralines) was just as big of a hit.
And while I made future notes to buy more Nut Thins and lemons (thanks L & S for the run to Kroger!), to put butter, salt and pepper on the table for corn, and to put out as many chairs as we have, what sticks with me more is how a family tradition became a gathering.
There were writers and teachers, a print media-ist, a composer of music, a medical assistant, an archivist, a webmaster, a construction guru/visual artist, a dancer, and a bio-chemist. A talented motley crew with a love of fried food. What I love about parties is sometimes these talents are brought up and other times we get to escape them for a few moments under the silent canopy of holiday lights.