Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Evolutionary Process

Hopefully you and yours had a safe, happy and enjoyable Independence Day weekend.  I most certainly did.  And I did so in spite of the fact that I saw no water other than that in the pool in the backyard and, on Monday night, I went to bed without having seen a single firework - either live or courtesy of TV.  Crazy; huh?  Not really.  Not at all. 

I am a man of exceptionally limited skills.  While a cynic - or at least one client I can think of immediately - might question even the veracity of this statement, I am comfortable saying that I am good at what I do.  I am not earning my living by accident or happenstance.  I have more than merely a bare modicum of skill at it.  Daresay I am a good lawyer.  Again, I recognize that not everyone I know would agree with that somewhat immodest self-assessment.  Do not misunderstand.  I am not God's gift to the practice of law.  But I am not his (or her) great regret either. 

Yet, every time I declare that the thing I do to earn my daily bread is the thing I do the best, I feel more than a little bit like the tallest Munchkin on Dorothy's road to Oz.  There is not a whole lot to hold up next to it by way of comparison.  That is #1.  The other spots on the medal stand are empty.

Among the many things I do not do is cook.  There are no shortage of culinary masters in my family - both by blood and through marriage.  While his professional attention has been focused exclusively on construction for three-plus decades now, back in the day my brother Kelly earned his living as a chef.  His abilities in the kitchen were passed down to his son (who has the same name thus almost eliminating completely the chance of me messing it up), which I have tasted the evidence of firsthand.  On more than one occasion Margaret and I have - while dining out - eaten a dinner that my nephew prepared.  Outstanding.  Margaret's brother Frank and my sister Jill's husband Joe both have spent their professional lives owning and operating their own establishments.  Each is an outstanding chef.  In my own family unit, Rob has long displayed the ability to prepare dishes that I cannot even pronounce but - proving that my mother raised a crazy son but not a stupid one - eat with much enjoyment. 

Me?  I cook one time a year.  On Christmas morning, I make breakfast.  That is my one contribution to the family meal plan - although I order a mean Chinese food - annually.  Eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage and toast.  It takes a real gourmet to figure out how to bring the taste of Denny's home.  Sure it does.

For reasons that elude me (although somewhere Suz is reading this and saying, "Autism Adam" to herself) that has changed this year.  I know not whether it is a residual effect of the dreadful winter we endured this year (and the year before it) or something else altogether, but since Spring sprung in April my home away from home has been in front of my simply wonderful grill in our backyard.  And, if I may say so on my own behalf, we have not spent the warm weather digesting a steady diet of burgers and dogs.  No.  Not even close. 

I spend my idle time these days scouring websites looking for things that I can grill, from steak to pork chops, from tilapia to London broil and from crab cakes to chicken.  Every night this past weekend save for Friday we ate something that I made on the grill.  Saturday night, Margaret and I had homemade crab cakes over yellow rice with sweet Italian peppers that we know simply as "Nona Peppers" because her Mom loved them.  The crab cakes and peppers were my end of the menu while the Missus handled the yellow rice.  Again, at the risk of sounding immodest they were quite delicious.  And it is not just me saying that:  Margaret enjoyed hers and when Suz and her friend Ashley ate the final two as leftovers the next day, I got an unqualified thumbs up from Suz.  She can be a tough grader, which considering whose house she grew up in is neither surprising nor disappointing.  In the interests of full disclosure, Suz and Ashley also had the two best-looking crab cakes.  They stuck a bit as I did not have the grill hot enough to sear them upon contact so they were not the prettiest crab cakes this side of the Eastern Shore when I took them off.  The girls got the best of the bunch (again if you think "tallest Munchkin" it helps with the visualization process):

Saturday night we had what Margaret and I referred to as our "Boardwalk BBQ".  I grilled up strips of steak and hot dogs, which we had along with onions, peppers, mushrooms and little potatoes as cheese steak sandwiches and Italian hot dogs.  Fancy?  No.  Tasty?  Hell yes.  Dessert was an idea that I blatantly stole from the good people at Harvest Moon in New Brunswick.  Their menu these days includes a concoction identified as "Hot and Cold".  The "Hot" is sweet potato waffle fries.  The "Cold" is gingersnap ice cream.  Your initial reaction is likely, "Blech!" but if and when you overcome it and permit yourself to try it, you will love it. 

We cheated a bit with regard to the ice cream.  Not being Amish I had zero interest in making my own ice cream from scratch.   Thankfully, my search on-line produced a recipe for gingersnap ice cream that involved simply mixing molasses, ginger and gingersnap cookies into vanilla ice cream.  Much like George Costanza's journey to the mysterious world of the Latvian Orthodox, the conversion process from vanilla to gingersnap ice cream required hard work.  At meal's end, it was worth it. 

Finally, Monday we had a menu of grilled chicken breast (three different type of marinade) and London broil (in a fourth completely different type of marinade) accompanied by corn on the cob, Margaret's slaw, my own concoction for steak fries (baking potatoes peeled, halved then halved and then halved again grilled or baked in a mixture of olive oil and seasonings) and homemade fruit salad.  No one went home hungry.  No one went home disappointed by what they had eaten. 

While I still do not know how to cook, I take solace in the fact that I know how to read.  That fact, coupled with the fact that I do quite enjoy eating, has spurred me to do things that I never thought I would so....such as look up recipes on-line, scour the baking/cooking aisle in the A&P looking for spices and seasonings and - most bizarre of all - spend hours figuring out what we are going to eat and preparing it.  Even more surprising to me is how much I enjoy it.  For me, it is much like running is:  not relaxing but cleansing.  I get more of a rush than I ever figured I would out of doing it. 

We are now into July's first full week.  Margaret and I are now into our third new propane tank this season and who knows how many more we will blow through by Labor Day.  My new goal is to figure out a place where I can keep the grill set up and operational all Winter so that the peace I receive from it presently does not take a hiatus when the weather turns cold.

You take peace wherever you can get it I suppose....whether kneeling in a church or standing in front of a hot grill.  For present purposes anyway, I have found mine.  Is that a little thing or is that a big thing?  That is the funniest thing about it, after all.  There are no "little things". 

In the end, all things count.  The trick it turns out is learning how to recognize the value of each. 


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