Monday, May 18, 2015

Backyard Report

Okay, now I've done it. I've taken another step towards, um, suburbanity. A guy named Joe just deposited this on a concrete slab obviously designed to hold such a thing, just off of my deck in the back yard.

I know it's a good one, because I spent hours researching them on the Internet, particularly at an annoying site called Amazing Everyone I trust in the world of grilling (as opposed to barbequing, a science I leave to ascended masters) says it's a great site. I say it's annoying because it takes a long time to navigate and after a couple of pages it starts hatching popups urging you to join their Pitmasters' Club, and they follow you around the site: "You've viewed 14 pages. Join the Pitmasters' Club!" Hey, buddy, I haven't even bought a grill yet. They're also annoying because their reviews sound positive even when they're not, a critical disease other sites (like the one I went to before buying the digital camera that just snapped these photos) seem to have. I read through the latest list of best grills and was all set to buy a specific one, but the Lowe's near my house didn't have one in stock, so they told me to go to one of their stores that did have one. It was late enough in the afternoon that I knew I'd be stuck in traffic forever if I went so I put it off for the next day, then went back and read the review again and realized that they may have given it an award, but between the lines were saying it was a cheap piece of shit that would have to have parts replaced in a year or so. So I got an entry-level Weber.

And yes, we'll have no theological debate about gas vs. charcoal here. I know charcoal can (key word) make the food taste better. I also know about fire dangers and disposing of ash, particularly the latter, after living in a coal-oven-heated apartment in Berlin. So gas it was.

Feeeed Meeee!
This grill has a feature I'm not sure I need: there's a round bit of the grate that comes out and can be filled with any number of goodies, including this griddle, which comes with it (and undoubtedly needs seasoning before use, although Weber claims not), and optional things like a wok (mmmm, wok hai!), a pizza stone (but it's kind of small and I could probably just lay a pizza stone on there and get it hotter than my oven gets, meaning excellent pizza), a Korean barbeque (no idea how this works), a poultry roaster (ditto), and of course an ebelskyver (ditto twice, although I think it's some kind of Swedish pancakes).

As the Germans would say, "Mit System!"

I haven't so much as turned it on yet, but I think I know what I'm going to cook first, and that needs an accessory Weber doesn't sell.

"The Secret Is..."

Some years ago, I was in Hawaii doing a story on Hawaiian music for a travel magazine and had to go out to a rather remote part of Oahu to interview the amazing Tau Moe, a steel guitarist who, with his wife Rose (one of the greatest Hawaiian singers ever), and, eventually, their family, was on tour for decades, all over the world. (He once performed for Hitler -- well, he could hardly say no -- and I asked him what that was like. "I was scared," he said with typical economy.) My friend Margaret, who was living in Honolulu with her tattoo artist husband and editing a million of those throwaway tourist magazines that litter hotel lobbies there, told me that if I went out that way I should stop for lunch at this burger joint. "It's the best hamburger you ever had," she said. I personally felt that I hadn't come to Hawaii to eat hamburgers, but once I got out there there wasn't much choice, so I did. And above the counter where you placed your order was a sign that said "The Secret is Vermouth." And, after tasting the burger, I knew I had to learn the application of that secret.

All was made clear, coincidentally enough, when I got back to Texas, and the food section of the daily paper had an interview with Mr. Weber, of Weber Grills, where they said they'd heard he was famous for his hamburgers and he gave the recipe which included...vermouth! Oh, and a couple of other things. But I've experimented with it enough that I think I've got it down as well as the place in Hawaii and tonight, perhaps, we'll find out if I have. I'll still have to buy some more stuff at the supermarket, but we'll see. And such a first meal is, when you consider the source, very appropriate.

Wish me luck.

* * *

Last year, a friend in New Mexico sent me a bunch of seeds. Some were for Sandia chiles, big, green, hot-but-not-insane chiles that can be used for rellenos, enchilada sauce, or salsas that I just love, and some were for their local jalapenos, which she claims aren't nearly as wimpy as the ones here in Texas (although a tip to buy at Mexican markets resulted in some with a bit more firepower). Anyway, I planted them and...nothing. Then someone sent me a webpage that said under no circumstances to plant them in peat pots, which is what I'd done, so I just gave up. 

This year, I had an inspiration, a voice within telling me to get off to a gardening store and score some MiracleGro Organic potting soil, which is what the anti-peat-pot site recommended, so I did, and threw some of my dwindling supply of Sandia seeds into two of them, using the other two to transplant some basil I picked up at the store. Well, as you can see, there are results. 

Modern agriculture: the triumph!
Those two pots on the left are just bursting with Sandia sprouts, and although the rains we've had have left the basil plants next to them a little ratty, I think they'll gain height and more foliage in the weeks to come and turn out all right. The other two plants are more basil plants, which I got for my birthday in November and seem only interested in having sex at this point (well, it's understandable: they were indoors all winter) and a bunch of oregano, which is just going nuts, and which I had a bit of in a spaghetti sauce of roasted cherry tomatoes, garlic, capers, pine nuts and black olives last night, which made me realize that it does, indeed, have its uses. I believe I have a chimichurri sauce recipe which uses it, too. 

Let's look at those Sandias again! The small pots are the future homes of the jalapenos, I hope.

Which is good, because this new machine opens a whole world I've been absent from for the past 20 years. There are some good reasons why grilling is illegal in Europe (can't do it on your balcony because of the neighbors and because of fire danger), and some bad ones (oppressive food-odor laws, which only get enforced on foreigners, and grilling illegal in parks despite low or no fire risk, but, rather, because in Germany it's a way of making Turks feel unwelcome), but the fact is, you can't do it and I didn't. Now I have to learn all over again, but with a much finer instrument than the funky little bullet-shaped smoker I could never get to work right or (even worse) the occasional hibachi. 

Now I have lots of stuff to learn: I have some remarkable Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, and, of course, American recipes to try out, and I'll be learning about marinades and sauces and salsas. Not, I emphasize, barbeque. There are too many places around here where I can just roll up and pay for that, and I will. But first, Mr. Weber's burgers. Tomorrow, the world!
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