August 2012
Your Next Meal From the Wildside

Catfish Tacos and Lots of Toppings


Jason, Rolley Len and Cason catch some fish for dinner.

With less than a month of summer left, many families are getting ready for "Back to School" by planning end-of-season family vacations and staycations. Think about how you would most like to spend your last week off from work or school. No matter where you picture yourself, I bet you see your family somewhere close to you. Although spending money on travel, hotels and food helps the economy, especially our Gulf Coast, some families don’t have too much to spare. Whether you have limited financial resources or not, make the most of your last days of summer by participating in activities with your kids that will help them grow both mentally and physically.

Lots of people, especially teenagers, who go to a lake, river or beach to get away, still take their computers or cellular phones with them. With access to email, games and countless other online apps, it is no wonder even families on vacation may never actually spend any real time together. Even without the intrusion of technology, the idea of what is considered fun and entertaining has definitely evolved. On our last visit to Lake Martin, Jason and I eased around the lake to check his limb-lines. As we entered one cove, he pointed into the middle of it and said, "Look what they did." It took me a minute to see what he was talking about: a zip line across the slew. Even though the line could definitely interfere with his fishing, at least it was something to promote playing outdoors.


Rolley Len selects her favorite toppings for her catfish taco.


If you are my age or older, you should remember what families did on vacation before cell phones, satellites, cable television and computer tablets. During one of our last trips to the lake, it stormed most of the time we were there. Although we had planned to swim and ride in the boat, the wind and the rain caused us to stay inside for an extended period of time. As the wind got stronger, the lake got choppier and the satellite started making waves on the TV. We had movies for the kids, but Rolley Len and Cason can only take so much sitting. When Mother Nature shuts everything down, I usually take it as a message to me as a parent to slow down and spend quality time with my kids.

When it comes to downtime and vacations, it can be easy to live beyond our means or lose focus on what should be important during our free time. For example, the houses being built on Lake Martin seem to keep getting bigger and even the size of boats on the lake had to be regulated because of so many on the water were over 27 feet long. I was talking to Jason about what you can do at the lake when it storms and he said if he was in one of those huge houses, he would play hide and seek. The house we stay in at the lake was built over 50 years ago by Jason’s Granddad and Dad. It is made from rock out of the lake and was built to last, not for hide and seek. So when it stormed off and on for two days, Rolley Len and Cason read books, put puzzles together, sang and danced, cuddled and talked. And when the rain stopped, Jason took the kids out in the jonboat to get a better view of the lake without a windshield.

One of my teachers at Athens State University, Dr. Penne Laubenthal, shared a story in my Myth, Ritual and Culture course that has stayed with me since we discussed it in class almost 20 years ago. A couple gets married and maybe the wife works or not, but they are young and broke so they live simply and eat simply. They start with hamburgers and spaghetti because it is cheap. As they start to make more money, the couple moves up to chicken, then steaks. Once their meals are upgraded, then they feel they need to upgrade their lifestyle: a better grill, a patio or deck, new deck chairs and so on. This story sticks in my head as a reminder, as married people and parents, we have to appreciate what we have rather than continually focusing on getting more — even on rainy days.

The rain may have kept Jason from putting his bait out on limb-lines, but he did just fine with his fishing rods on the pier. The weather and time of year was just right and he caught at least a dozen within a few hours. When you fish from the pier, it also makes it easier for the kids to help by reeling them in. Of course, Rolley Len always wants us to tell her "what I can do" at suppertime, so catfish tacos are perfect for little kids who want to be cookers whether you are at home or the lake.

We eat a lot of catfish, so with Jason’s latest catch we decided to try something different: fish tacos. Catfish tacos are so simple to prepare and adaptable to any taste you may wonder why you haven’t made them already. Most of the toppings used are items you probably already have. Jason likes his with jalapeño pepper chowchow, shredded cabbage and some chipotle ranch dressing. Rolley Len added Cheddar cheese, rice, corn and chipotle ranch. We put out a variety of toppings so everyone can make their own and experiment with new tastes.


Catfish taco with sides of corn, rice and black beans.

Jason cut popcorn-size catfish bites for our tacos so they had extra crunch, but you can leave them in bigger pieces or strips if you like less batter. For a different texture, you can use less batter or you can bake or broil the fish with or without seasoning.

School will start again soon enough and our children will be focused on new friends, teachers and learning. No matter how much or how little parents had growing up themselves, we all want to give our children more than what we had. Our children may not know if the house they stay in is the biggest, but they do feel the security and love making it a good home. Rolley Len calls my in-laws’ rock cabin a "comfort place." Before school starts, whether you are on vacation or at home, try to give your children what they want and need the most: a comfort place of their own, where they can help prepare your family’s next meal.

Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.