So, we have a grill, right? I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before around these parts. It’s kind of been our summer maker. I’ve been looking for work (still am, if you happen to know anyone in the Bay Area looking for someone like me…ok, plug done. Moving on…) and so we’ve–like so, so, so many other folks–have been a single income family. And we’ve been lucky to have that income (so, so, so many other folks don’t even have that) and we’ve known it, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t lamented how locally we’ve been living as of late. Usually we’d get away for at least a couple of days, a trip north or south for a change of scenery and a fresh perspective on our selves, our home, and each other. That wasn’t in the budget this summer, though, and so our grill became the center to our little bits of get away.
We’ve strung lights and gotten chairs and a little table (which, mind you, just might be the ugliest table ever made, but it was free and sturdy, so here we are…and yes, I was going to paint it…and yes, that was nearly 2 months ago…and no, no I haven’t yet…YET) and at night, after M has gone to bed, we’ve retired to sit under the giant and slightly creepy old pine tree out back, sipping wine while coals get hot and snacking on cheese and crackers while our main meal cooks.
And you know what? Not once–NOT ONE NIGHT–have I not absolutely relished every second of it. Vacation is awesome, and I hope our ability to take them returns soon, but there’s something really magical about stepping out the back door and finding myself in a space that we’ve managed to keep exclusively associated with relaxation. My shoulders sink, my mouth slips into a half smile, my worries are checked at the door. I feel really proud of us for making this little summertime oasis for ourselves, for remembering to find a way to step away from the day-to-day so we don’t get mired down in it, and for remembering to hold a space for us to come together in.
We’ve grilled all sorts of things. Chicken and steaks, vegetables and s’mores and whatnot. The other night, with friends who we’ve enjoyed several evenings out back with, John grilled up a pizza that was absolutely fantastic. He pre-baked the crust in the oven earlier in the day and then covered it with lemon zest, garlic, goat cheese, mozzarella, sliced Early Girl Tomatoes (so, so, so good–go find them and try them before it’s full-blown tomato season and they’re gone), torn basil, leeks (which we sauteed earlier as well) and crumbled bacon. I mean, really. This pizza was GOOD. So good that my mouth is watering right now as I write this even though I just ate half of M’s sandwich and, really, I wasn’t hungry when I sat down and began the post.
And tonight? Tonight we’ve got a date on the patio again. We’ll plug in the lights and talk about our days, grabbing sweatshirts as the sun disappears and, for an hour or two, stepping away from it all.
This post was planned to mark our very first grill purchase. Strapped for cash these days while I transition from school to work, we waited out our local Target and victoriously snagged a grill the other day for half-price. YUP–HALF. We waited them out and the arrival of our new grill onto our little back patio was all the sweeter for it. Of course, we were itching to get cooking.
I didn’t purchase briquettes when I picked up the grill, fantasizing that John would be that spectacular combination of persnickety and salt of the earth that he sometimes offers up. He didn’t have strong feelings about the charcoal, though, so today I stopped and picked up some standard stuff while running errands. He promised to develop feelings about what he’s grilling over as the summer progresses. Obviously, we’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, any suggestions?
Tonight was supposed to be the christening of our grill. Chicken kabobs with apricots, onion and zucchini (and chicken marinated in jerk seasoning, olive oil and lime juice) were on the menu, as was grilled asparagus. To say I was excited is probably an understatement. I was more like a kid who’d just found out Christmas just might pop up at the end of June this year. One of my absolute favorite things about being alive is grilling and sitting outside. For the first time in my adult life we have both the space and the equipment. We’ve got the grill (did I mention that already?), and Adirondack chairs, and strung white lights through the trees. We’ve got a little table and a patio and a nice stretch of grass with a little garden doing its darndest to grow. We’ve got it going on this summer, as far as I’m concerned. And tonight was supposed to be the moment it all finally came together.
Except it rained. From ten o’clock this morning on, the entire day has been relentlessly drenched. If you don’t live in California you probably figure this is standard summer weather. But not us, not here. We’re only supposed to get rain 6 months of the year. The other 6 are supposed to be gloriously and reliably dry. Summer falls in the dry 6, in case you were at all uncertain.
And so the chicken will stew in its juices a little bit longer, until tomorrow night. If it’s raining then, I’m handing John a raincoat and umbrella and telling him I can’t wait for dinner.
Rachel and I are going to share a post today, a little celebration/tip-off to our respective dads as we enter the weekend that honors fathers. I’ll kick it off.
If you added up the number of meals served in my house growing up, my mother certainly made most of them. But it is my father who most influenced my taste buds. My dad was a large man for most of his life. He was tall and big chested and he was also always at least somewhat over the ideal weight. The reason for that was simple: He loved to eat. And he loved to eat well.
This is a man who lived the Mad Men life of two-martini lunches at swank restaurants in New York, followed by card games in the bar car on the way home from New York to New Jersey, followed by a substantive dinner. On weekends, he loved nothing better than piling the whole family in the car and driving somewhere — one of his and my mother’s favorite restaurants was at least an hour’s drive from our home — for a full-on meal, complete with appetizers and dessert. It was during these regular forays that I learned how to sit still at the dinner table, which fork to use and the wonders of parfaits (a dessert I also loved because I felt quite smart being able to spell it).
On weekends when we didn’t eat out, my dad loved nothing better than cooking steak sandwiches on the grill, often with fresh vegetables from our garden. And at the holidays, he was the creator of many of our most special dishes. (His pies, as regular readers know, were out of this world.)
When my father became diabetic later in life (no surprise there, given his eating patterns and his family history), he still ate well, just differently. Okay, so he couldn’t eat the same kinds of desserts. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t have dessert; it just meant more fresh fruit and less sweetener.
My father, who died four days after my 32nd birthday and three days before Rachel’s third birthday, stands at my side now as I cook and as I eat. He reminds me, a woman who has struggled with loving her body and nurturing/nourishing it, to enjoy the food, savor the moment. My dad was a no-nonsense kind of guy, a man who grew up in an era when hugs were forms of intimacy left only for rare moments. But in his gusto for food — the sharing of it, the joy of eating it, the cooking of it for people he cared about — he showered me with love day in and day out.
I planned out what I was going to write today in my head over the past day or so without any knowledge of what my mom was going to write. There are interesting parallels, I think, between the lessons she learned about food from her father and the lessons I learned from mine. Perhaps we observed them more because they weren’t usually the ones standing at the stove…
My dad is a measured man. An avid runner, he–like me–appreciates routine. Growing up, I watched him eat a bowl of cereal every morning for breakfast (ok, as a teenager I noticed the bowl upside down in the dishwasher…), washed down with a glass of juice. For lunch during the week he’d pack himself a half of a sandwich and two pieces of fruit each day (on weekends he dutifully consumed the leftovers in the fridge). Home from work, he’d pop open a can of peanuts and enjoy a few nibbles before sitting down and vocally enjoying the entirety of whatever meal my mom had prepared.
Here is what I learned:
I learned about moderation. I learned to invest in the good stuff so the indulgent food would not only taste luxurious but feel good, too. I learned about food as fuel, as stamina for the bodily machine. I learned about portions and balance. Without ever talking about it, my dad showed me how to eat. It is a model I have turned to often when I feel lost in the vast sphere of food. Make half a sandwich, grab two pieces of fruit. Your body will thank you.
There is something else, though, that I learned from my dad as I witnessed his eating patterns growing up. A blue and white speckled bowl held court in the middle of our kitchen table, brimming with fruit. My dad never picked the prettiest pieces out, though. Instead, he’d reach into the bottom and pull out the leopard-spotted banana or bruised apple–even a peach that was starting to mold in a spot–to eat. I always avoided those fruits, figuring a speck of rot was the same as a pile of mush, favoring the unmarred fruit and letting its mottled counterparts continue their deterioration. While there’s the sort of obvious lesson to eat the food that’s turning before you consume that which remains hearty, there is an undercurrent to this little tableau that courses through my dad’s character.
My dad is a man for the underdog, a shirker of the easy answer and a celebrator of the enigmatic and idiosyncratic. I asked him once about why he chose the fruit that was turning and he said that it tasted so, so sweet. From where he stood there was nothing wrong at all and, instead, he set his eyes and pallet on the marvelous and deep flavors that come from truly ripe fruit. While seeking and sustaining routine, he keeps his eyes open. From the middle of the road, he takes in the periphery, marveling at its unruliness and appreciating the balance of it all. He sees spectacular fungus formations on trees deep off the trail when we hike. He notices M’s tiniest flickers of observation as they flash across her face. And when the day is done, he sits down and appreciates this momentary arrival, enjoying his good dinner and the occasional ice cream cone, too.
If you had/have a dad, what did/do you learn from him about food? What are your favorite food memories?
On this the (un)official kick-off of summer, many people officially move their kitchen outdoors for a summer of grilling. Under that scenario, here are two ways to serve the fleshy fish of your choice (i.e. tuna, swordfish, salmon, etc). They’re both fab and super easy…which is the way summer is supposed to go, right? Right.
First an ode to my mother-in-law, aka Rachel’s grandmother. She served this regularly with swordfish and it was/is mighty tasty. I served it with tuna and it worked just fine. Also it works best when tomatoes are fresh off the vine rather than those faux red things that we live with in the Northeast for most of the year.
Jan’s Tomato Salsa
1 tomato, diced
1/2 cup green olives, diced
2 tablespoons capers, drained
3 tablespoons lime juice, olive oil, scallions
If you’d prefer something a little moister, try this mayo based “sauce” that you smother on the fish before you cook and it adds a lovely piquant flavoring and helps keep the fish moist.
Mayo Mustard Sauce
1 tablespoon mustard
2 tablespoons mayo
1 teaspoon capers, drained
Mix it all together and then slather it over the fish and cook. Yup, again it’s that simple because, after all, isn’t grilling in the summer about the gin and tonics more than the cooking? That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.
Janet here: It’s hot, hot, hot again on the East Coast and the idea of turning on an oven is pretty much a non-starter for me. While I would like to believe everyone in my family would just eat this incredible blue cheese cole slaw for dinner (click here for recipe), in fact I do have to serve up something else. This lemon chicken, adapted from the Barefoot Contessa, is mighty tasty as well as being a good excuse to serve the cole slaw. It does require planning ahead a little bit — you have to marinate the chicken overnight — but then you can send someone else outside to grill the chicken while you stand by the fan and stay cool!