Sunday, April 13, 2008


Today was unbearably warm in Long Beach. Most are saying it was 95 degrees, a record for April 13. I can't stand the heat, but there is one positive aspect that comes from rising temperatures. When the weather gets hot, I get grilling. Last summer I barbecued as often as I could, which translated into about three or four grills a week. I know it's jumping the gun, but with the weather so warm, I just had to get outside.

I suck at cooking, but grilling is different. I think it has something to do with the way men are wired. We love to cook over an open flame. I can't speak for every male on the planet, but I know my reasoning. I love to be outside during warm temperature days from right about the time the sun begins to set until it goes all the way down. These hours --usually from around 5 to 8 -- is when the temperature is comfortable. What better way to enjoy the absolutely beautiful weather than to make so food?

Vegan grilling is difficult and frustrating for a few reasons. Much of the food I cook is pre-packaged soy and/or tofu based, which means it requires just a few minutes of re-heating. This can take a lot of the fun out of barbecuing. I won't touch meat, but I can appreciate and miss the experience of flipping, pressing the food down to get a popping sizzle from the flame, the smell of food cooked under my nose and the feeling of accomplishment when eating the finished product.

This is a large part of why I am thinking about going from charcoal to propane. It feels like a waste using all that wonderful coal for a few minutes of grilling. I had a propane grill as a kid and loved it. But the built-in charcoal pit we have here at Casa de Hall is pretty cool too. What's a barbecuer to do? Anyone with a thought on charcoal vs. propane feel free to leave a comment.

I began by opening my grill, which had been closed for months, and scraping off remnants from the previous outing. Then I removed a few dead leaves and spiderwebs before scooping out the old charcoal at the bottom of the grill. Now to the fun part. I busted open the Kingsford and made a small pyramid of charcoal. It was time to fire up my creation when I remembered I killed my bbq lighter from last summer after using it to light bong hits. I went back inside the house and got out a regular lighter and prayed to Jah I didn't burn myself.

The spark caught and within ten seconds, I had my first flame of the year. Goosebumps sprouted on my arms. I felt like a proud papa whose son hit the winning home run in little league.

I went inside to chop up some goodies while my fire was doing its thing. I began by slicing and dicing four tiny potatoes. Asparagus was next. I freakin' love asparagus, so I threw four of them in as well. Then I got wild and cut up a roma tomato. I wanted to add some mushrooms and onions, but it was already turning out to be a lot of food for just two people. I figured I can save those for tomorrow. My bbq skillet had been retired for half a year, but no longer. It greeted me with a friendly smile and I returned the favor. "Nice seeing you," it seemed to say. "Nice seeing you," I shot back. It was like two friends catching up on old times. With a quick hit of some no-stick spray, the three items were loaded into the skillet and taken out to the bbq. I threw the food on and was met with one of the most amazing sounds I've ever heard. "POP. POP. POP. POP," went the now-grilling food. Wonderful. Simply wonderful.

I made a salad while the skillet was grilling. A handful of greens, a handful of baby spinach, some carrot and we were good. I knew it would be at least twenty minutes before everything would be ready, so I waited to put the dressing on until the last minute. I filled up two cups of water (for drinking, of course) and went outside to check on the food. Everything was going well. I got out my tongs and moved things around a bit before going back inside.

The main event was supposed to consist of two vegetable marsala burgers from Trader Joe's. I bought them this weekend and couldn't remember if I had problems grilling these last year. Turns out I did. To be safe, I followed the instructions on the package. It said to butter both sides before barbecuing. Well, I only did one, but that's cuz I'm a rebel. I threw these burgers on the grill and once again was greeted to a harmonious sound -- the crackling of burgers on a barbecue.

Inside I took the buns out of the package and set them on a plate on the counter. I went outside to flip the burgers and everything was going well. Skillet was kicking ass, as was the marsala. Things did not go as planned for the next flip. For some reason, one of the burgers lost a portion of its circumference to the burning flame below the grill. I hate losing food to that portion, but sometimes these things are out of our control. This loss could have spelled disaster, but I turned a negative into a positive and decided to whip out some veggie dogs to compensate for whomever was getting a shitty burger.

I put the dogs on and they began cooking instantly. I was now in the midst of a skillet, two burgers, two dogs, two burger buns and two hot dog buns. If only I took a picture, oh what a sight that would have been. I am sure I was grinning from ear to ear because I sure as hell was loving every second of it. The sun was just about gone and the sky nearly pitch black. The temperature was perfect and I didn't feel any bug bites. My girlfriend was talking to the neightbor, leaving me all alone to bask in the glory that is the barbecue. When she finally returned, she apologized for being gone so long and not helping out. I told her it was fine and that I prefered to go at it alone. It had been some time since I grilled and needed to re-aquaint myself to the situation at hand.

Once all items were on the grill, it was a matter of time before the food was in my belly. I flipped. I flopped. I turned. I pressed. Then, just like that, it was over. Time to eat!

I sprinkled a drop or two of bbq sauce on the dogs while my girlfriend put tomato slices on the marsala. She was shocked at the amount of food I made. "Couldn't help myself," I told her. It was the truth. Seeing that flame got me pumped up and now I want more.

I haven't written about food much on this blog, but that probably has a lot to do with me not having the opportunity to grill. Now that I can, I will, which means writing about it. This is the summer I get crazy and start inventing new things to throw in the fire. My stomach can't wait.

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