August is National Catfish Month

Family RV Gatherings Call for Fried Catfish!

August is National Catfish Month. Who knew? So I just had to share this old photo of my dad with his prize catfish caught on Lake Cherokee in East Texas.

Gerald Acker and Catfish

Gerald Acker caught this prize catfish on Lake Cherokee in East Texas. Probably in the 60s and probably on a trot line.

Some of my best family memories involve catfish fries with all the cousins hanging out by the lake. Usually, my dad and the uncles had caught the fish we ate, but these days, it’s easy to find fresh, U.S. farm-raised catfish at the store. (Beware of imported catfish! Just sayin’…)

Now, we can make new family memories at almost any lake, pulling our RVs and swapping stories and recipes. And while we mostly fix the traditional fried catfish in a cornmeal batter, I found a huge variety of recipes, from fried to blackened, on the U.S. catfish home page. Maybe it’s time to try something new!

Here’s a beer-batter recipe from NASCAR driver Ryan Newman.

Beer battered catfish

Photo from the U.S. Catfish website. Thank you!

1/2 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Everglade seasoning, optional
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crushed
3/4 cup room-temperature beer
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil
1 pound U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish fillets, cut into 3 to 4 inch wide strips

1. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, Everglades seasoning (if using), baking powder, paprika, white and red peppers and oregano.
2. If not using Everglade seasoning, add 1/2 teaspoon salt.
3. Whisk in beer and egg until smooth.
4. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
5. When ready to cook: In a deep skillet or large pan, pour vegetable oil to the depth of 3 inches; heat to 375°F.
6. Stir batter and fold in catfish. When oil is hot, lift fish strips with tongs, draining excess batter; place catfish in oil several pieces at a time (do not over crowd).
7. Fry until well browned on all sides, about 3 minutes. Remove to paper towels to drain. Keep warm, repeat with remaining catfish.

YIELD: About 24 pieces

(Original recipe by Jim Campbell of Griffin, Georgia)

What are some of your favorite recipes for family RV gatherings? If you have a great catfish recipe to share, we’d love to hear from you!

~ G. Elaine Acker

Tips for Organizing Family Reunions

Summertime is synonymous with family reunions. Some people embrace this fact with wild enthusiasm, while others greet the idea with a deep groan and an eye roll.

Which one are you?

Acker Family Reunion 2011

The Ackers take up a lot of space. There are typically anywhere from 80 – 120 people at our family reunions, so finding a location that can accommodate those who like to RV as well and those who prefer cabins is essential.

I fall into the first camp. I absolutely love getting together with all my cousins. We may not see each other but once every year or two, but when it’s family reunion time, we always pick up right where we left off.

Twice now, I’ve had the honor of helping plan our Acker Family Reunion, so I thought I’d share a few tips and ideas about organizing a family reunion.

  1. When you’re planning a family reunion, start well in advance. For a group our size, with more than 100 people, we’ll usually plan a year ahead. It takes time to find the right place and negotiate a good deal. Alternatively, if you get the urge to have a spontaneous reunion this summer, don’t spend your time worrying about planning and details. Just make a command decision about the date and location, and send out a note announcing where you’ll be and when. Then, see who shows up! You can let everyone be responsible for their own reservations and food.
  2. Make a list of your “must haves” before you start researching a family reunion destination. For example, the Acker family must have access to water, be it a lake, river, or ocean. We must have a place that’s pet friendly, and we must find a location that can accommodate 100 or more people, preferably in a combination of cabins and RV camping. Then, when you begin your research, you’ll be able to narrow the list of contenders quickly.
  3. Involve the family in the planning. While you don’t want an abundance of cooks in the proverbial planning kitchen, it’s great to get input. I did a quick, free, online survey using Survey Monkey to narrow down the options for dates, a location, and preferred activities. Just remember that you won’t be able to please all of the people, so don’t try. There will still be something for everyone.
  4. Offer planned activities and plenty of down time. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right balance. You’ll probably want a couple of planned, full-group activities, but it’s also important to have down time for reconnecting one on one. We usually plan our group activities around mealtimes. We’ll do a chili cook-off or catfish fry one evening, and then buy the food for one group meal so there’s at least one evening where no one has to cook. I’m proud to say I won the last chili cook-off, but of course, one of my cousins is convinced “he wuz robbed!” We’ll both look forward to the next showdown!
  5. Quilt

    Special heirloom items, such as this handmade quilt, can be great for raffles.

    Auction

    Our auctions include family treasures as well as homemade goodies.

    Consider adding a fundraising event, such as an auction, to your list of activities to ensure there’s money in the kitty for the next year’s reunion. It costs money to hold blocks of rooms, pay for fun extras like boat rentals, or buy keepsakes to take home. We always announce to the group how much is in the kitty and hand it off to the next intrepid reunion planner, who’s diligent with the accounting.We’ve auctioned things such as family heirlooms, homemade pickles or hot sauce, and even garage sale type items. And, my especially talented cousin Jane made a quilt, which we raffled off. We wanted everyone to have an equal opportunity to win!

  6. Keep in touch and share your enthusiasm. Over the years, we’ve used everything from printed newsletters, to emails, to Facebook to keep in touch and share our random bursts of family happiness. This keeps people engaged and boosts the number of people who show up. After all, no one wants to miss out!
  7. Be flexible. Our family met last summer at Canyon of the Eagles in Burnet, Texas. It was a great spot for us, because they have gorgeous vistas of Lake Buchanan, cabins, and RV camping. By the time July 2011 came around, Texas was experiencing record heat, the drought was in full swing, lowering lake levels, and burn bans were in effect. We rolled with it, opting out of the rented ski boat for safety reasons, and choosing to rent kayaks and canoes instead. We found ourselves gathering poolside instead of swimming in the lake, and a lot of the chili cooking happened in crock pots instead of over a burner.

So, if you’re the brave one who’s planning your next reunion, my advice is to take your time, enjoy the experience, and don’t get caught up in a quest for perfection.

Chili Hat

The goal is to spend quality time together, make a few new memories, and maybe capture a few embarrassing photos that can be used against your relatives in the future. If you’ve accomplished those three things, your reunion is complete!

 

~  Elaine

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Fun on the Water Means Staying Safe in the Boat

Family in a boatSome memories can warm your heart like summer sunshine. And that’s true for my memories of growing up on Lake Cherokee in northeast Texas. I wouldn’t trade the good times spent running trotlines for catfish with my dad, waterskiing with friends, or buzzing across the lake in the boat to my uncle’s house for anything in the world. Growing up, my sisters and cousins and I learned how to swim almost as soon as we learned how to walk, and lakes and beaches still top our list of favorite family gathering spots (spots with RV camping, of course!)

When we planned last year’s Acker Family Reunion on Buchanan, near Austin, however, we realized that with the severe drought came some unanticipated dangers. The water levels were nearing record lows, sandbars appeared where once there had been open ski water, and in many places, submerged trees loomed just beneath the surface.

Kayaks

With the low lake levels, we chose kayaks over power boats and still made lots of great memories.

We found a great place that had RV camping as well as cabins for those who were flying in. But this time, we made a decision to leave the ski, bass, and pontoon boats at home and instead found our fun in canoes, kayaks, and swimming pools. As much as I hated to miss the time on the water, I knew I’d never be able to live with it if someone had an accident during the reunion.

Fortunately, Ackers are a flexible bunch, just happy to enjoy each other’s company whether wading in the mud or splashing in chlorine.

And now, it’s hard to believe that summertime is once again just around the corner. And even though I grew up on the water, it seems like a good time to review the safety basics. That’s what National Safe Boating Week is for, I suppose: to remind us that no amount of fun and sun is worth it if we lapse into a moment of carelessness and lose someone special.

Life jackets are really the big key. I think I’ll go make sure mine haven’t rotted over the winter. And maybe I’ll get a new one. I’ve seen some stylish ones that aren’t anything close to the clunky orange ones we had as kids.  The new ones fit great and are comfortable enough to wear all the time in the boat.

Want to join me in taking the Safe Boating Pledge?

Wading in the mud.

Wading in the mud is never a bad thing!

I’m happy to say that there’s a bit more water in the lakes now than there was this time last summer. Who knows how long it’ll last, but I’ll enjoy it while we have it! See you on the water!

What are some of your favorite lake camping spots? Let me know!