Monday, June 29, 2009

#7 Tow Boat Festival - Grafton, IL - June 28, 2009

#7 Tow Boat Festival - Grafton, Il - June 28, 2009

It was a small festival but the Tow Boat was the star. Meet the Twyla Luhr, a seaworthy vessel that hauls "rock" better than any other barge bully from St. Genevieve, MO to New Orleans.

Capt. Gerald was every bit as salty as I had expected. I understood every third word, and he had a look of "why the heck are you on my ship?"

These are not the little RC boats you may remember at Six Flags. These are serious showpieces for many a retired seamen. I was told this particular "Creole Queen" took 8 months to build. Yes they built it from scratch. It looked like an expensive hobby but a man in a captain hat told me that it was cheaper than RC airplanes because you don't lose everything if you crash it. Time to get some wood and motors.

They offered a Crawfish Boil! Twist, pull, squeeze and suck. That is the common eating method (For the squeamish, add a discard the yellow stuff step). For those that don't know, the yellow stuff attached to the crawfish tail is actually the liver and pancreas of the crawfish. Also referred to as Crawfish Fat. It is a delicacy for most Cajuns and an essential ingredient for Cajun/Creole cooking and especially Crawfish Etouffe.

Video of the Week. This is a good ole diddy that sums up the old time fun of this festival. Olden times but fun.

This was a last minute addition to my festival schedule. I can't honestly say I was expecting very much as an addition to my Food Festival quest, but I was happily surprised. Only a few hundred people were there and maybe 10 booths, but it provided everything a solid festival provides (Good food, Good people, and Good information). It was a beautiful drive along the the Mississippi River on a perfect sunny day, and for a minute I wished I owned a motorcycle (or a boat).

Crawfish oh Crayfish. For some good info on the crawfish and name history click here , surprisingly it is from Illinois.Or if you need a crawfish toothbrush holder than click here. Either way they are delicious, although my hands still smell like them. I did the normal "sucking of the head" but found little to no juice as hot food holding at festivals continues to be an inherent problem (you have to hold a lot of food warm for an extended amount of time). Yet, the tail meat was tasty, and I noticed the spice level after I was half way done (yes I ate the whole tray). Normally the problem is that people put too much Old Bay in their boils, but that was not the case here. On Saturday a professional Crawfish Chef even put on a "how to eat crawfish" demonstration, which I was sad to miss.

I stood in a long line in order to tour the tow boat. I know I hadn't heard the term tow boat before and thought I had heard tug boat. Apparently a tug boat pulls and a tow boat pushes. The Twyla Luhr is capable of pushing 25-30 barges carrying up to 2,000 tons of cargo. The captain produced a printout of interesting facts of his towboat which pointed out how many miles of train or semis it would take to carry the same cargo. Interesting fact: According to the Army Corps of Engineers you only need a 300' wide by 9' deep channel to push a barge. The ship has two engines with 6,800 horsepower, and has a dual strike (combustion and exhaust) piston which is 10" wide. And anyone that knows anything about a dual strike engine knows that it burns a lot of oil (ok I learned that today).

I wondered how they push that many barges without them ever going diagonal or lose control. Apparently the barges are all wired together extremely tightly with the tow boat, and it was a stupid question to ask a captain of a tow boat. I was also surprised to see the quarters and lounges, as they had leather couches and big screen tv's. We were introduced to Nancy in the galley, and she gave an extremely detailed description of how she is able to stock the kitchen and feed the mates. I wish I had a picture, but the galley looked like any kitchen in any home I have seen. I'm not sure what I was expecting by looking at the ship, but some aspects were better than how I live on land. There are always about 10 people on board and they work shifts of 12 hours on and 12 hours off 7 days a week (84 hours a week!). On this particular company they work 28 days on and 28 days off, apparently on other companies they only get 14 days off in between. The Twyla Luhr hauls "rock" from the quarry in Ste. Genevieve, MO to New Orleans and then returns for more cargo all year round. The trip takes about 14-15 days each way.

This was a great last-minute addition as the weather was perfect for a riverside affair. I'll be back in January when the Bald Eagles come to nest in Grafton. Until then, this landlubber will dream about life on the Muddy Mississippi.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

#6 Superman Festival - Metropolis, IL - June 14, 2009

#6 Superman Festival - Metropolis, IL - June 14, 2009

A 3 story statue of Superman protects all those that reside in Metropolis. I think the kid gives a good frame of reference.

There were definitely some interesting people at this festival. On the left is Ironman. Apparently he spent almost a year fabricating his costume which consisted of riveted steel plates and aluminum foil. The suit weighed approximately 100 pounds, and I felt bad for him as we stood in 90 degree sunlight all day. On the right is Super Girl. I must have been bad luck, as neither one won any awards.

Now I have become somewhat of a funnel cake aficionado, but there really is no true way to distinguish between them. Yes there are assorted fruit toppings available these days, but I had never before seen this peanut butter glazed funnel cake. It was definitely satisfying but for some reason heavier; I think I'll stick to the powdered sugar. I love toasted peanut butter sandwiches and this funnel cake tasted a lot like them.

And then all of the characters assembled under the statue for a group photo that Clark Kent was supposedly going to use in the Daily Planet. Here's a fun game: click the photo and see if you can find Indiana Jones.

The winners of each category. From left to right(and category): Superman (Best Superman), Some Creature (Creature and the only entry), Dr. Doom (Best Villain), Red Tornado (Best Costume), Super Girl (Best Super Girl), the resident Superman, and the emcee Jar-El.

Video of the week. No music this time. At the costume competition each character gets to do a little improvisation (by which I mean a very rehearsed speech), in character of course, in order to impress the judges and audience. This is Mr. Freeze.

I know this wasn't a true food festival, but it was definitely something different and too funny to miss. The sad thing is I missed the character karaoke contest which I think had real potential for a video of the week. Apparently the schedule of events doesn't really mean a lot at these festivals.

I think I could have taken my entire data card worth of pictures at this festival, but don't worry someone else did. Click here and behold the true power of Superman Fest (page 11 of the 2009 Celebration - $1,000 Superhero Contest, yes page 11!, has good group shots).It was that strange and every character enjoyed having their picture taken. I mean there were Ghostbusters, Jokers, Wonder Women, characters out of people's imaginations, and even a Star Trek Engineer (who strangely enough was the outcast of this festival and got made fun of).

This festival was just plain silly, and thus right up my alley. It seemed like it was the one day a year the people that attend this event get to be "normal". Apparently, DC Comics declared Metropolis, IL as the "Hometown of Superman" in 1972 and the state legislature followed suit that same year. In other words, it's officially the real hometown of the fictional character.

I was definitely impressed to see the determination of Ironman. Obviously the man spent a lot of time on his costume riveting the steel together and the "boots" had to be street worthy, which he told me weighed about 20 pounds each. He had a hard time getting on stage for the judging, and needed the help of his assistant (yes Ironman had an assistant). I voted for him in the audience favorite category, but he lost to some local woman dressed as Super Girl who had the ballot box stuffed by friends. Ironman was set up from the get up.

It was a fun festival that capped off 11 hours of driving this weekend. Although it was not a food festival I even found a new variant on funnel cakes. The vendor was old school too, he actually ladled the batter into a funnel and drizzled the batter into the fryer. He used two funnels worth. It seems nowadays people are using new-fangled squirt bottles, pancake dispensers, and God help me if I see another vendor using a pastry bag. You just don't always get the slow old fashioned care and approach to funnel cakes as much as you would like these days. Well, I'm off to work on my costume for next year.