Since I’m relying on my grill to currently cook all meals up at the Red House, I particularly enjoyed reading Alice Hart’s “Please Read Before Burning,” story that appeared in last week’s food section of the The New York Times. While Ms. Hart managed to whittle down a list of things she thought were basic necessities when cooking outdoors, she mentioned she could live without a colander when “roughing it.”
I can’t. My colander does many things. I use it as a bowl when I’m picking fresh produce from the garden, as a strainer to drain potatoes or pasta, and when I’m done prepping, to carry whatever fruit or vegetable peelings I’m left with out to the compost bin. My other absolute must-haves when grilling and cooking outdoors are a few decent knifes, a cutting board, and pans that can double for many uses.
The one thing we both agree on, however, is that while getting the food and prepping might be cumbersome when you’re camping outdoors, the real problem is when you are relying on a grill (or any kind of outdoor flame for that matter) to cook your food, it takes a really, really long time.
Consequently, if I add up the time spent trying to put breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table at the Red House, you’ll understand why the renovation is taking so long. (Because I’m cooking, not hammering!)
My husband never had a steak for breakfast in his life until he met my Dad and my brother. The family ritual was to have steak and eggs on Christmas morning. Maybe it was a guy thing, since I’ll take some smoked salmon and a hard boiled egg with a fruit salad chaser over a steak any day. Up at the Red House, though, steak and eggs just sounded like a really good breakfast to have if you were facing a grueling day of sanding a wall or two followed by a few coats of primer.
Thing is the grill we have kind of slants to one side (even after moving it around to different parts of the driveway), and instead of fussing with it, we just lived with the fact that everything we put on the grill pan always slides to the left. Now, perhaps in certain circles this might have some sort of political connotation — at the Red House it simply means we have to fix the driveway!
See how the steak and eggs just cozy up to one another? I love it. And yes, they were tasty, too.
Remember the scene in The Company Men where Kevin Costner tells Ben Affleck to pick up two pieces of sheetrock the next time he’s carrying something into the house they are renovating? Well, that’s kind of how I’m feeling about this house renovation right now; we need to both work harder and faster. Consequently, I feel that if Lynn and I are both doing a fairly decent amount of physical labor (he more than me, I will confess), it at least justifies eating hearty meals. Well, sort of. This probably explains why my husband didn’t even blink when I suggested we have pasta with broccoli rabe followed by barbequed chicken AND country-style pork ribs for lunch.
However, to make the broccoli rabe, I needed to put up a pan of water on the grill’s side burner about an hour before I wanted to eat. After about half an hour of waiting for the water to boil (it never did; there were simply a few bubbles and a lot of steam emitting from the pan), I simply threw the macaroni in and stirred it a couple of times. But here’s the thing, pasta that sits in warm but not boiling water like this and desperately tries to get itself “cooked,” has a slightly different, kind of gummy taste.
When I figured it was done enough, I strained the pasta into my beloved colander, then sauteed the broccoli rabe with some olive oil and threw the pasta on top of it. I had forgotten to buy garlic but did have some red pepper flakes and a chunk of real parmesan cheese to grate on top so it wasn’t a total disaster.
Any sane person eating this much food for lunch (with a couple of bottles of Canadian beer no less) should have taken a nap. I went out to weed the garden and Lynn got on the Troy Bilt to mow the lawn!
Well, I confess, I did cheat a little since I brought our first course from downstate — lovely balls of burrata that I plated with some grape tomatoes (store-bought, sorry!) but with fresh basil from the garden.
I do need to segue just a tad here for two reasons. #1 I love burrata and when I’m feeling particularly flush (which is hardly ever), I buy the real stuff that comes in little plastic bags and is flown in daily from Italy. The key word in that sentence, so you have an idea how outrageously expensive authentic burrata is, is ‘flown.” (As in there are lots of darling little burratas flying first class on Alitalia.) Better option: Trader Joe’s makes a decent product for under $5 that I’ve become slightly addicted to. #2 I love burrata so much that when I read Gabrielle Hamilton’s book, Blood, Bones & Butter, and she talks about digging spoons into a big platter of lovely rounds of burrata instead of a boring old wedding cake, I thought what a brilliant idea!
Meanwhile, back on the range (literally), I had a fire going under some lamb chops topped with fresh mint from the garden. In fairness, it looked pretty as it was cooking, but imparted absolutely no mint flavor whatsoever, which was actually perfectly fine with me since I’m not a big mint fan anyway.
Earlier in the day (when I was weeding the garden actually), I had picked some yellow squash to eat with the lamb chops as well as some lettuce.
I felt lucky that I was able to put together a few side dishes courtesy of my new garden but it did make me pause and think about the Red House and what it was like as a working farm a hundred years ago. What were the people who were living here cooking, growing, and ultimately eating? I’d love to know. One thing I’m absolutely positive about, even 150 years later, we were both washing dishes at the end of every meal the old fashioned way — by hand!