Tonight, I grilled for the first time. At almost 50. Grilling is something men do, not women. At least, that’s what our culture has conditioned us to believe, and we play those roles quite well. How many times have you breathed in that succulent, smoky aroma, looked around to see from which neighbor’s house the fragrant scent is coming from, and discovered the woman of the house tending the grill? Not often, I would bet. That’s what husbands are for. They grill, we cook. But in my case, both my husbands are out of the scene. They had both done a stellar job in their roles as grill masters, and I was sorry to have that perk of marriage stolen from me. Somehow, I can never get Natalie excited about the idea that I can also grill burgers, or chicken, or anything else for that matter. “No Mom, let’s just sauté that in the frying pan,” is her rote response every time I suggest I give the grill a whirl.
But tonight, I was alone. And tonight, I was hungry. For meat. Red meat. Something I don’t get enough of, according to my doctors, and something I should be eating a lot more frequently. So, off to Whole Foods I went. I opted for 80% lean. Not just because it was on sale, although that was a nice bonus. I opted for 80% lean because the more fat, the more tender, the more flavorful. I am all about eating as much fat as I can possibly get into my body. And 80% is as high fat as they offer. I bought two pounds, but had the butcher make up one-pound packages. I froze one, for some future day when the meat craving hits and I simply don’t want to leave the house just to quench my cannibalistic urges.
Next step: text my second husband, who technically is still my husband anyway. No matter that we no longer live together. We are great friends, and we offer a helping hand whenever we can. I texted, “I’m finally going to try grilling tonight! Bought 80% lean hamburger at Whole Foods. Any recommendations for nascent grillers?” He responded, “Ah, just wait for the flames to die down! Maybe try three minutes per side, depending on how thick. And have fun!” He knows how rare I love my burgers, and probably remembers all too well the contentious moments when he accidentally got my burgers too done. I had watched him on many occasions build the fire and let the flames go down. I had seen him watch the clock, timing the burgers just so. Our grill, well, it’s a grill. No fru fru, no amenities, no accoutrements. No knobs, no gas, no charcoal, no matching aprons and hot pads and chef hat, no fancy grill utensils. Just a round metal bowl on three legs, the metal grill plate, and a lid with vents. Pretty basic. Oh, and a little stick, charred on one end, to place the grill over the flames once the wood burns down a little. I had watched him wad up newspaper into balls, throw those into the bottom, chop up wood, set the paper to fire, and let the flames work their magic. On good days, his rummaging around the garage netted a few pieces of prime piñon we had confiscated from the woods in New Mexico, hauling it back to Colorado just for this purpose. Tonight, my rummaging met with no such luck. However, I did manage to find enough pieces of wood small enough to allow me to skip the chopping component of the grill session. That is a task I am happy to leave out.
My intentions to grill had been gaining strength. Not surprising, as so were my cravings for red meat. Long ago, I had drawn a picture of what the grill should look like, built and ready for the placement of the piece de resistance. It had been hanging on our dry erase board for about two years. Tonight, the moment had arrived for that picture to come to life.
First, I formed three beautiful patties, mixing in some Jane’s Crazy Salt. I liberally peppered the patties after that, but on the outside. And I didn’t stop with the meat. I decided if I’m grilling, I’m grilling. So I decided to grill New Mexico style. Which means, chile. It never takes me too long to find green chile in my freezer. The green chile I found tonight was still whole, and lucky for me, I had already removed the skin and seeds. I threw a few pods on the grill, along with some thickly-sliced onion. Ah, the aroma! It transported me straight to heaven. Alas, I lost a couple of onion chunks to the depths of the ashes, but I saw that as my offering to the Grill Gods. As my burgers sizzled, I poked around the garden and found a few perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes. Pluck, pluck! Those would make a colorful addition to my plate.
Realizing that I hadn’t followed instructions to let the flames die down ~ I was hungry and that is not a good formula for waiting for flames to die down ~ I decided I better cut a minute off the cooking time. I flipped my burgers after about 2 ½ minutes, and took them off about 2 ½ minutes after that. Fearing they might be underdone, I let them sit a few moments, since we all know that meat keeps cooking even after being taken off the flame. With a bit of trepidation, I bit into my burger. OMG. Pure Bliss. Rich smokiness and char-broiled to perfection. My burgers even had those quintessential grill marks on them, probably from not waiting until the flames went down. I smiled a huge, smug smile, and looked around to see if any of my neighbors had noticed it was me grilling, and not Jon. No such luck, but oh well.
Deciding a few days earlier that I had to finally get serious about going gluten free, I had picked up some gluten-free beer. Not the same, and not my beloved Negra Modelo by a long shot. But, beer nonetheless, and alcohol nonetheless. That beer helped me relax and feel confident about my grilling endeavors. Also deciding that I had to finally get serious about going dairy free, I decided to top my burger with goat cheese. Not that that’s exactly dairy free, but according to some, it counts. My avocado wasn’t quite ripe, so I had to forego that scrumptious addition. But hey. The chile was HOT, the beer was COLD, the meat was pink and tender, the cheese was creamy and mild, the onions were succulent, the tomatoes were sweet, the blue corn chips were crispy, the night was beautiful. All in all, it was a magical meal. So simple, so primitive, so earthy. And… so empowering. Women, unite! We don’t need men! At least, we certainly don’t need them to grill up an amazing meal. I bid adieu to the Grill Gods… and I know that we will meet again very soon.
Even though I didn’t follow instructions to let the flames die down, I did follow instructions to have fun!