Why I Read About Grilling in the Early Spring
I love this time of year in New England, and I hate this time of year in New England. I love that the days are getting longer and warmer and that there are indeed signs of short-sleeve weather on the horizon. But I hate setting the clock forward. I really do.
It was getting lighter on its own, and why so darn early this year? I’ve traveled around the world and been put through the paces of jet lag in all its ugly incarnations, but this one measly hour messes me up for weeks. Clearly, I’m still puffing and red-in-the-face mad about it. And don’t say, “Let it go.” You let it go. I’m sticking my tongue out at you right now.
So there you have it: Spring kinda puts me in a bad mood. There, I said it. It’s not supposed to, I know. I’m supposed to be thinking of the circle of life and rebirth and rejuvenation. I don’t. I think about how nicely I’ve settled into my “fat jeans” and that those “winter 10″ are harder to shed every year. In fact, I’ve held onto them for a few years in a row, and now I have 30 to lose. That puts me in a bad mood. I want more macaroni-and-cheese, please. I want lasagna Bolognese. I want short-rib chili with sour cream and corn chips.
I really like braised, slow-cooked foods. Big roasts. I think winter cooking shows what cooks are made of and whether they really have talent or not. In colder weather, you really have to cook the ingredients, whereas in summer it’s about your ability to let the ingredients alone and not muck around with them too much.
In winter you have to saute, then add liquid, reduce it, and then pop it in the oven. In winter you have to build layers and make sure each layer is just right. In the summer you just need to slice the tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper, tear some basil over the top and you’re a genius.
And right now, we’re in between. Hothouse vegetables are poking up, but we won’t see real stuff for a few more weeks. And ooooh when those morels, ramps, spring parsnips, asparagus, and shad start showing up, I’ll snap out of this funk, but right now, I’m a little bored — that “old ennui,” as Cole Porter wrote.
So for now I’m reading, reading, reading about food. All the food magazines have me salivating. I can’t wait to try all the beautiful pea recipes from the current Fine Cooking. Or some yummy spring milk cheeses from Vermont.
So to keep myself entertained, I’ve turned to Tom Parker-Bowles (British food writer and son of Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the duchess of Cornwall). His book, The Year of Eating Dangerously, is funny and engaging in that special oh-so-British way: self-deprecating, erudite, and full of good detail. Parker-Bowles travels all around the world looking for extreme eating experiences — sometimes for love of the ingredients (such as barbecue in Tennessee) or sometimes for the sheer oddity (venomous snakes in China — yuck). It helps take the edge off the 6:20 sunrise.
Other book news:
Chris Schlesinger and John “Doc” Willoughby, the duo behind Thrill of the Grill and eight other cookbooks, have a new book on grilling: Grill It (DK Publishing, 2008). Chris and Doc are two of my favorite people in this world. They’re literally taking a bite out of this life, and they take having fun very seriously. Both are big advocates of live wood or natural charcoal grilling versus propane tanks — and I think we all know where I stand on that issue (go to www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19506957).
Chris is the owner of East Coast Grill in Cambridge, Massachusetts. More than two decades ago, he helped open the Eastern Seaboard to the notion that grilling was a legitimate cooking technique, and that flavor and spice were nothing to be feared, by cooking up what he coined “equatorial cuisine”: Thai, Caribbean, Mexican, etc., fun stuff that cries for good cocktails (which his bartenders excel at).
Doc is terrific writer and editor. He’s the executive editor of Gourmet magazine, and his presence is really felt on those pages, with its provocative writing and rich recipes. Anyway, I haven’t actually read Grill It yet, but it’s really quite beautiful, with gobs of vibrant photography. I think I’ll try the smoke-roasted oregano leg of lamb on page 206. The sweet and hot apricots that go with it are just what I need! (The recipe calls for dried apricots, and I know I have some in the pantry!)