Archive | August, 2016

The 13th Annual Denver Catfish Festival Wrap-up

24 Aug

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Greetings, Fellow Catfish Enthusiasts,

The 13th iteration of the Late Summer Classic is in the books, and what a great DCF it turned out to be.  We fried 25 pounds of Itta Bena, Mississippi’s finest farm-raised catfish and approximately seven pounds of hush puppies (that’s a LOT of hush puppies.)  We had a fried buffalo wing halftime show, cajun macaroni, baked beans (vegetarian, pork, and Louisiana-style,) pasta, cupcakes, fresh-picked raspberries, and myriad hors d’ oeuvres.

We had a surprisingly good teenage Phish cover trio, a first-time Haiku contest winner, a second-place Haiku ghost-writing scandal, and dear friends new and old from as far away as Houston and as close as next door.  We had a lot of first-time festival attendees as well as a great complement of Festival Elders on hand.

Starting at around 1:12 PM MDT, from my station in the Denver Catfish Festival kitchen, I get to see friends and spouses and coworkers and neighbors arrive via car or bicycle or on foot, all shaking hands or hugging and saying hello. Those from Louisiana comment on how much they like the catfish, which I’m always nervous about and relieved to hear, and those from parts further north who’ve never eaten catfish or even know what a hush puppy is talked in surprised voices about how much they like it.  Some of the guests only see each other at the Catfish Festival; others make plans to hang out long after the festival has ended.  There are people enjoying a smoky, delicious bourbon with their fried fillets, or those who have an ice cold beer and a hush puppy. Vodka tonics. Bourbon slush. Good tequila. Microbrews, macrobrews. Laughing, telling stories, drinking, eating, and more laughing.

From toddlers to teenagers, kids run through in groups; some are out on razor scooters, some on skateboards.  Sometimes they’re having water balloon fights, or they’re throwing a Frisbee, or trying to hula hoop, or getting their face wiped with a wet napkin by a mom or being told to get away from the fryer by a dad. They’re asking me where the catfish came from or why it’s called a hush puppy or when I’m going to fry another batch of corn dogs. They want to know where a bathroom is, or if they can have another Otter Pop, or if I have another soccer ball somewhere. Bathroom’s in the house, and have all the Otter Pops and Capri Suns you can handle. More of everything. This is the Denver Catfish Festival.

I always put together an eight-hour playlist for the day, an Official Soundtrack of The Denver Catfish Festival, and it’s a bit different every year.  Some songs are always there: Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell is a staple, because I love when somebody (and it’s always somebody different) walks up and says, “Is this Rhinestone Cowboy? I haven’t heard this since…”  I add a few songs called “Catfish” to the mix. Dash Rip Rock and Better than Ezra and a large dose of Radiators. Louisiana Leroux, Hank Williams, Zebra, Public Enemy, The Beatles, Naughty by Nature, The Hoodoo Gurus, Marvin Gaye, Silversun Pickups, The ‘Mats. It all just seems to work.

This year, the Festival happened to fall on what would have been my mom’s 76th birthday, so I made sure that I had a few of her trademark favorite songs on the list. Midnight Train to Georgia by Gladys Night and the Pips was one that a few people noticed; America by Neil Diamond got a huge response, and it choked me up. To think of how much my mom loved Neil (because she considered herself on a first-name basis with him) and to see all of these great folks singing one of his songs, that was a lot to take in. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my mom than with a big party, and although they didn’t know it, everybody was celebrating her with me.

Catfish Festival After Dark came and went as usual (maybe a bit more mellow than years past) with some good dancing, some bad dancing, and the requisite arguments over what song to play next. People went out to concerts or dinners or dates or to other events then came back to sit on the patio and hang out some more.

The Festival went very late into the night, as it always does, with just a few of us left in the garage (DCF Great Hall) surrounded by empty bottles and cans, the smell of cigarette butts, stale beer, and fryer oil in the air, hammering on an acoustic guitar and singing very bad renditions of Atomic Drawers songs and Guns & Roses songs and whatever else we could think of to play. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Vanessa and the girls gave their time and effort and enthusiasm; they are such gracious hosts and very patient partners.  Friends helped set up canopies and tables and hang lights.  They gave their valuable time and gear to make things better and easier.  I like to brag that I do it all, but that’s not really true.

So all of that and a thousand other memories and experiences are why I dig it so much.  If we’re being honest, it’s just a drunken fish fry that we have at our house, but I’ll be damned if I’ve found anything that comes close to a better way to spend a late summer Saturday.

Denver is a fun city with lots of options on a gloriously beautiful afternoon and evening. For those who were gracious enough to choose our little event and spend this past Saturday at our house, (oops, I mean The Denver Catfish Festival Chateau and Reflection Gardens,) instead of whatever else was going on that day, I really can’t express to you all how much we appreciate it.

In other words, thank you all for being in on the joke.  If you weren’t, it wouldn’t exist.

As the cleanup continues, I’m constantly reminded of how much I hate picking up cigarette butts (Winston smoker–I know who you are and will have my revenge.)

Let’s do it again next year.

Joe T., Chmn.

 

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The Fryer’s Edge

15 Aug
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Frying Contraption, Immobile with Skinny Legs, It’s best you stay put.

Greetings, Fellow Catfish Enthusiasts, 

The final base camp of the climb offered the most foreboding glimpse of the summit yet.  As I set down my gear and brought my hood up to shield my weary head from the blowing snow, I paused for a moment to reflect.  

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Hongse, Home to the Mystical Headwaters of Mekong.

Here we were, the Bayou Fryer 700-701 and I, in China and attempting to reach the summit of Hongse, unclimbed peak of the Tibetan Plateau, home of the pure headwaters of the Mekong River, and spiritual Nirvana of which the lowland catfish chefs had reverently spoken:  

“Each flake of snow that falls upon Hongse is a single spirit of the universe who makes a decision to either become a part of the snowy peak, or to embark upon the long journey down from the Great Mountain to the Mekong River, eventually becoming a healthy, robust catfish suitable for frying.  

Or maybe pan-searing, depending upon the restaurant.”

But in addition to the snow blowing around my head and around Bayou Fryer’s heavy steel lid, a cloud hung over the expedition that both B.F. and I had avoided for days. As Chairman of The Denver Catfish Festival, I am charged with maintaining both my mental and physical attributes in apex condition at all times.  But these old bones have fried a lot of catfish, and carrying the 70-lb. Bayou Fryer from the Mekong Delta to the Roof of the World had taken its toll.  Plus, there really is no easy way to also carry five gallons of fryer oil and a full-sized propane tank in addition to that steel hulk of a fryer.  

I set up our tent while Bayou Fryer heated its oil for dinner preparation.  I dropped the last of my ration of boudin balls into its cavernous maw and watched the oil pop and sizzle as the boudin sunk, floated, and cooked to a delicious golden brown.  I sat down with my paper plate across from BF and, with every muscle searing in pain, delivered the news that I’d avoided for days. 

Big Bayou Fryer,

Mountain climbing is a bitch

With you on my back.

I had reached total physical exhaustion.  There would be no attempt for the summit of Hongse.   

The monthlong journey back to Denver and the Denver Catfish Festival Chateau and Reflection Gardens was a slow and silent one.  Traveling via mule, ship, and Vanagon, we hardly spoke; we knew we’d let each other down.  I had lacked the necessary physical strength and Bayou Fryer was too damned heavy.  We’d been so close to the summit, but in the end, the mountain had defeated us both.  Perhaps a younger Catfish Festival Chairman and maybe an aluminum Bayou Fryer would have stood a better chance against the unrelenting land of the Mekong Headwaters.  

**********

Months later while perusing a popular frying magazine, I came across the sight of a new product which took the breath from me.  I fumbled for my smart phone and found the item on Amazon, and yes, it was available there, and with Prime shipping!  I rejoiced as the confirmation screen popped up, then waited anxiously at the gates of the Chateau for its arrival.  

Three days later, rapture:

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Wheels & The Fryer Keep on Turnin’…

The Bayou Fryer 700-185 Fryer Cart!  

It holds the Bayou Fryer and its propane all in one modern, compact, stainless steel design!  With this new technology and our newfound mobility, we shall again follow the Mekong to its source on the summit of Hongse and, as a plus, be a much more mobile, quick-strike tactical frying operation.   But not until after…

The 2016 Denver Catfish Festival

8/20/16

FFHI 1:12 PM MDT

 

Catfish on August 20th, for a “Weird” Reason.

1 Aug

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Greetings, Fellow Catfish Enthusiasts,

We at 2016 Denver Catfish Festival Headquarters are getting as excited as ducks upon junebugs about the upcoming marriage of Cornmeal and Catfish, and are sure that you, the esteemed Festivalgoers, are giddy as well!

This will be the latest DCF in our storied history; the original date was to be August 6th, but forces beyond our control intervened and pushed us out a couple of weeks.

Back in March, your Dear Chairman’s youngest princess made a request.

“Dear Chairman, if my all-time favorite performer ever graces a stage in the Denver area, will you accompany me?”

“Of course, my little tadpole.  Anything for you.”

Imagine my surprise when, several months later and after we’d decided on August 6th for our date, an announcement was made that would change the trajectory of the 2016 Denver Catfish Festival:

I received an alert that my girl’s Sinatra, her John, Paul, George, and Ringo, her Leif Garret and Shaun Cassidy and Backstreet Gentlemen all rolled into one, would be performing in Littleton on August 6th.

I checked once, checked twice, and yes, it was in fact true, one of the greatest musicians of our time, “Weird” Al Yankovic, was performing on the original date of the Denver Catfish Festival.

There are few things more important to the Chairman of The Denver Catfish Festival than The Denver Catfish Festival, but this schedule snafu was one of those things.  True to my word, the whole Chairman family will be taking in the Weird Al show, postponing the Denver Catfish Festival.

So, there you have it.  We’re set for Saturday, August 20th, when the first filet will hit oil at 1:12 PM MDT.  

Note: An excellent way to work through the emotional stress caused by rescheduled events is to voice one’s tender emotional condition through Haiku.  And remember, Fabulous Prizes await those who answer the call and write a winning Catfish-inspired verse!

Sincerely,

Joe T., Chmn.

“Ask Me Why UHF is One of the Greatest Films of All Time.”uhf03

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