“Let’s barbecue!” I said to Vivian.
I knew the source of this lack of enthusiasm. The last time we cooked together, I stood over the grill drinking beer while she chopped vegetables for an hour.
“Are these pieces small enough?” she asked.
“How about now?”
“The book says ‘finely diced.’ That looks more like ‘coarsely diced.'”
“You tell Bobby Flay to go fry himself!” she yelled.
Bobby Flay is the chef/ author of “Boy Meets Grill,” my grilling Bible. It has dishes like “Grilled swordfish tostada with black bean and mango salsa” or “Barbecued ribs with chipotle-peanut sauce and corn-tomatillo relish.”
When my dad ran the barbecue he cooked burgers and hotdogs. On special occasions he might cook chicken. The only way a swordfish would have appeared on our grill would be if he walked out of the ocean and jumped up there himself shouting, “Goodbye cruel world!”
To my dad the whole art of barbecue centered on the stacking of the briquettes. He claimed he learned briquette stacking from a Shaolin monk he met on the side of the road while traveling through the Orient. He followed the monk to a monastery and ended up spending six months there. He learned martial arts, calligraphy and how to stack briquettes. He would stack them in a pyramid like cannon balls. Then he wetted them precisely with lighter fluid. He then struck one, and only one, match and applied it to strategic positions in the pyramid for uniform burning.
My method is more direct. I pour the briquettes into a pile that resembles a sample left over by the horse in front of you during trail rides at summer camp. I pour half a can of lighter fluid on top. Then I light a match and throw it at the grill. As the match arcs in the air I run for cover by jumping into a concrete bunker. After a deafening explosion I look up to see the flames leaping in the air, setting the surrounding trees on fire. The briquettes are grey in 22 seconds.
I was tired of hamburgers. Vivian and I settled on “Grilled Chicken Cobb Salad with Smoked Chile- Buttermilk Dressing.” First we had to go to the store for real food. I live alone. The only thing in my fridge was an Amstel Light that somehow evaded consumption by sneaking into a shelf on the refrigerator door.
This dish called for a special barbecue sauce made from scratch. Seems alright until you can’t find the ingredients at the grocery. I couldn’t find the ancho chile powder or pasilla chile powder anywhere. Why do you need two kinds of chile powder, anyway?
Looking closer at the fine print in the cookbook, it did say that these chile powders are available by mail order from Kitchen Market in New York. “Dinner is going to be little late, folks, we have to wait a few days for the chile powder to arrive from New York.”
But the biggest problem was the avocados. The book said:
“4 avocados, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced.”
There was a color picture of the salad with beautiful avocado slices on top. Easy! Unfortunately, Vivian wouldn’t attempt to cut them because she said she had never seen them before in her home country of China. It sounded dubious that someone had never seen an avocado but then again, there are probably things in China I have never seen before.
So I tackled the avocados. The book said “peeled” so I began to peel them like a potato. But the meat stuck to the skin, so I was “peeling” half an inch deep. Having completed this damage, I attempted to “half” them. The knife ran into the seed in the middle. An avocado seed is the size of a racquetball. It wouldn’t just pop out, so I tried to cut all around it and pull one half off.
But avocado kind of sticks, so to get the seed out I had to pry it out with my fingers. Avocado was all over my hands. The remaining halves were just lumpy clumps. I tried to slice them like in the book, but they became smaller lumpy clumps. Finally I just scraped all the clumps on top of the salad and tried to spread it around like hard butter.
I told my mangled avocado story to some people at work. They told me there is a secret to avocado opening. You don’t peel it first. First you cut it in half. Then you expose the racquetball in the middle and whack it with your knife. A quick flick of the wrist will pop it right out. Then you slice the halves nice and neat. Then you easily separate each little slice from its skin. That way it looks like the picture in the book.