Fire Up the Grill

Originally Posted in LunchByCurt.com

Summer is upon us. Along with pool parties, fishing, softball and camping trips, we get to enjoy one of the best activities ever invented for a warm summer evening – firing up the grill.

Over the years I’ve tried gas and charcoal grills; each has advantages and disadvantages. We will not debate them here. If you are using a gas grill and love it, may the propane be with you. If you are a tried and true coal lover, more carbon to you.

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Currently, I’m using a Weber Performer Deluxe, 22-inch Charcoal Grill because that is what my family bought for Fathers Day a few years ago. (Okay – full disclosure – It’s what I asked for because I really like charcoal grilling.) But it does exactly what I want it to do: It cooks food. What more do you really want in a grill?

My friend, Dave is a charcoal aficionado.  He introduced me to the chimney method of starting the coals and I’ll never go back to lighter fluid. Although, pouring refined gasoline on the pile and  burning the toxins does take me back to my youth. Our family would gather at the state park on Memorial Day each year and light up a bag of Kingsford Briquettes smothered in half a container of lighter fluid. Toss a lit match on the charcoal from a safe distance and you started the holidays with a bang…literally. Good times.

IMG_20170529_065942_499Today, however, I use charcoal lumps and a chimney starter.  With a few sheets of newspaper and one match and in as little as 20-minutes, I have red-hot coals ready to cook any meat or vegetable.

Once the cooking starts, the smoke risking from the coals, combined with the cooking fat of the meat, combine to waft through the entire neighborhood with a rich, wonderful aroma that clearly announces that supper is ready.

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Garlic Corn is one of our favorites. Break corn on the cob in half, melt a stick of butter in an oven proof pan, add 4 or more chopped cloves of garlic, salt and pepper and let it cook, turning the corn frequently to cover in the buttery/garlic goodness.

For Americans, traditional grilling often involves Bar-B-Q’d pork, steak, pork chops, chicken wings, hot dogs, brats and hamburgers. And as Americans, we often try to eat one (or more, or all) of each during any given holiday event. Over the years, I’ve tried refining and expand my cooking menu to include things like Salmon on a cedar plank, garlic corn, sliced pineapple, endive, roasted peppers, Kebabs, and even whole, roasted chickens.

One of the things I enjoy most about the grill is the combination of high heat and slow cooking. To obtain the perfect grilled “char”, one simply has to place the food over the hottest part of the coals. The intense heat sears the meat, chars the skin, even leaving those traditional grill marks if done right. However, once seared, the food can be moved off the direct fire and allowed to slow cook, resulting in melt-in-your-mouth chops, chicken thighs that are moist and tender, steak that makes your mouth water just looking at it, or hot dogs that are, well, hot dogs.

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One of our dinners last summer: Steak and Asparagus, Garlic Corn and Grilled Endive. It was a true winner for all!

In my grilling heyday, I often spent an entire Sunday afternoon at the Weber cooking enough food for the entire week. Fish, beef, chicken, short-ribs, asparagus…I have even been known to give Tofu a try from time to time, but at much duress.

If you haven’t found your grilling bliss, I would suggest that you give it a try this year. You don’t need a $1000 grill to enjoy cooking out. Some kettle grills can be purchased for as little as $22. Light up your briquettes and start practicing this summer. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.

Be Brave & Eat Well

#lunchbyCurt

An Asterisk-free Life

I was watching television the other day and a commercial for Stouffer’s frozen lasagna came on the screen. I like Italian food so I started watching. I love lasagna so kept watching.

As I leaned toward the screen to get a better look at the noodles covered in rich tomato goodness and cheese, I discovered something quite disturbing: While the announcer stated that Stouffer’s is “America’s favorite lasagna”, an asterisk on the bottom of the screen reported, “*Based on frozen lasagna sales”; meaning that they aren’t comparing their lasagna with ALL other lasagnas from ALL other sources. They are only the best selling product within a very small category of all other lasagnas. Their tiny-asterisk-marked notation leaves out any hot, baked lasagnas from Fazoli’s or Carrabba’s or Olive Garden. It doesn’t take into account local vendors. It doesn’t weigh the sheer volume of lasagna sold in Italy. Most hurtful, they didn’t even consider my dear, departed grandmother’s recipe.

I was shocked! I was insulted. I was disappointed. But I soon realized that it isn’t just Stouffer’s that employs the helpful and sometimes deceiving asterisk.

Continue reading “An Asterisk-free Life”

The Long Game

Jessica sat in the front row with a big smile on her face. As pastors of a fairly traditional church, Herb and I wanted to try something new and daring. And Jessica was brave enough to give it a try on the very first Sunday.

It was 1994 and in its day, it was a pretty crazy concept. We had pulled out all the stops (an organ reference for the more traditional worshipers in the crowd). We had Drama. We had Balloons. We served coffee and donuts and you could eat them DURING the service!! We were doing “Worship in the Round” with guitars, tambourines, a cowbell and drums. We even played the song, “All I want to do is, have some fun” by Sheryl Crow with the words slyly rewritten to say something about church. We enthusiastically greeted each attender who took their place in the seats which were set up in a semi-circle. We were wild, man. Crazy for Jesus.

Jessica attended the university down the street and for whatever reason, she’d decided to give this new service a try. She was young, energetic and full of cheer. She was exactly our target audience. Best of all, she seemed to enjoy herself. She seemed to get what we were doing. And she came back. Often.

Fast forward six years. I walked into our local elementary school for my son’s first day of kindergarten: Myself, my son and 28 mothers and their 28 five-year-old children. To my amazement and delight, Jessica was standing there with that same wonderful smile. It turned out that Jessica would be my son’s teacher for the first (and one of the best) years of his school career. He had several very good teachers but Jessica was one of those that really loved him well.

Seventeen years after that fun surprise in the elementary, and twenty-three years after that worship service, a smiling redhead approached me at our church between services. She hadn’t changed a bit. She still loves children: She’s now on staff at our church working with preschoolers and first graders. She still loves church: Nearly a quarter of a century later and she’s still sitting in the front row…only now she has a family around her but she still has that wonderful smile.

Almost twenty-five years ago our lives intersected, even if it was only on an occasional Sunday morning. It is impossible to know the impact of those encounters might have had but certainly a relationship was forged. Seventeen-years ago, our lives intersected once again. Jessica was a force of love and grace to our family. She introduced creative, caring instruction to our son and made a blessed impact on our family’s life.

Here’s the thing: I really don’t think this story is so very odd. It happens more often than we know. The problem is that we simply fail to pay attention. Who did you meet this morning, talk to this afternoon, engage this evening that will be in your life two decades from now? You have absolutely no way of knowing.

Who was a part of your day who might still be with you a quarter century later? Your guess is as good as mine.

But you might just be lucky enough to have connected with someone like Jessica…or they might just be lucky enough to have someone like you.

 

A Wall of Yogurt, More or Less

My local grocery has dedicated an entire wall to one product.

I recently stopped in my local Kroger to pick up a few things for our dinner. Being the good husband that I am, when my wife asked that I stop by the dairy section to find non-fat yogurt, I didn’t flinch…until I actually got to the yogurt section.

That’s right. My local store doesn’t just have a few yogurts from which to choose; they have an entire section. It spans 30-40 feet and has every possible manufacturer, flavor, texture, and size; Greek, fruit on the bottom, fat free, full fat, and many, many more. I marveled. I gaped. I shook my head in disbelief. I stood back and gawked. I took a picture to show my friends.

I was amazed but I was not impressed. In truth, I was disgusted.

In a world that struggles with providing fresh water for many of its citizens resulting in catastrophic consequenceshunger and poverty for a vast majority resulting in devastating famines and global migrations, my local grocery carries an absolute glut of dairy products that reflect massive resource uses and a hubris that is staggering in its scope. When nearly 14% of all Americans live below the poverty level, and are unable to afford even the most basic of needs, let alone every possible configuration of yogurt, it’s a shame to see this overabundance of curdled milk.

Don’t get me wrong, I like dairy products; cheeses of all kinds, milk, cream and butter. I’ve even been known to eat yogurt from time to time. But the sheer height and width of this wall embarrassed me. It is quite a bit more than a milk sensitivity. I’m hardly lactose intolerant. I just cannot comprehend the disparity between a wall of dairy and the world in which we live.

A Fish Tale

I love to fish. There is nothing better than standing on a quiet edge of the lake, early in the morning throwing out my line and hoping for a bite. But, given my most recent fishing expedition, one would assume that I’d never fished in my life. Perhaps my gear was faulty, my bate was sub-par, or my technique was lacking. Looking at my most recent catch, one would think that I required fishing 101 classes.

I had a #10 hook on a 6-pound line with whole kernel corn as bate. I cast into the pond dozens of times and with each toss of the line I retrieved bass after bass, fish after fish, none of them more than a good 3-inches in length. Not a single one worth keeping. Not a single one considered a trophy bass or a specimen worth mounting. It was quite a disappointing day.

And yet…

Just a few weeks before, I had the same hook, the same line, and the same canned-corn bate and with every cast, I was lucky enough to hook into one whopper carp after another. They put up a great fight. They thrashed and pulled. They gave me every penny of my money’s worth on the 65-cent can of corn and the time I invested.

IMG_20170305_163319_568And here’s the thing about fishing…perhaps even about life: Both days were a joy. One day you catch next to nothing. Another day you catch almost more than you can pull in. Of course, in this instance, neither were something I would eat, but that was beside the point. The point is that both days were filled with the sun shining, birds singing, and breezes blowing. I saw swan and ducks, heron and geese. Red-winged blackbirds and chipping sparrows called from cattail and willow branches. Turtles poked their heads above the water line and watched me enjoy the view.

I went to catch fish and came home with none. Instead, I came home with joy and peace for time spent at the waters’ edge, taking in the beauty all around. And for that, I’m very grateful.