Sunday, May 26, 2013

Cool Guys Are Licensed To Grill

From today's Times and News-Star

This weekend marks the official start of summertime.

Time to get your grill on.

People who grill out a lot – as opposed to grilling in, though it can be done – tell me that outdoor cooking is “a way of life.” That is the actual phrase. A way of life. Not just a way of cooking.

It’s more than wearing a T-shirt that says “Licensed to Grill” or “I Turn Grills On.” It’s about discussing marinades and rubs and meat cuts. It’s about trial and error and trading secrets and keeping some. It’s about planning a weekend around ribs.

A long time ago I decided I would never reach this level. I toy with grilling but my true calling is as an eater.

Still, I keep trying. And hoping. And grilling.

The best pork chop I’ve ever eaten was at Broadmoor United Methodist Church at a guys-only weeknight supper. Fifteen years ago at least, but I see and taste it like it was yesterday. The second I picked up my fork, this thing fell apart. All is know is some bad hombre had wrapped it in tin foil and put it on a grill. Or maybe it had just been touched by an angel. I don’t know for how long it was grilled or at what temperature or with what seasonings – but it nearly made me switch denominations. Until that one-inch thick, bone-in pork chop, I’d thought Baptists had the market cornered on cooking.


What was the rest of the meal? No clue. The Griller was king. What he’d prepared was so far above and beyond that every side dish was relegated to second string. This pork chop was Adonis on a plate of 90-pound weaklings.  

Some foods make such an impression that they become the high-water mark from which all other such foods in your experience are judged. I had a cup of coffee in St. Thomas one time more than two decades ago that set the bar. Had it three or four days in a row, but no one would tell me what it was. Some Big Secret. The only cup that rivals it was at a Copeland’s restaurant seven years ago, some sort of special light brown coffee that this nice, nice lady made for us in what looked like a cereal bowl. It was to die for, and it wasn’t even cooked on a grill.

Tragically, I might never have a cup of joe as good again because I don’t know what kind of joe it was. But, the hope of the novice griller is that he can take the common piece of pork or chicken or beef and turn it into something the pros would cook. Every day, some amateur hits a hole in one. These things happen. These are the things that give us hope.

It could be that this glorious Memorial Day weekend, when we honor with special recognition those who died in America’s wars, that some person somewhere will trip the smoky light fantastic while engaging in the ordinary but fought-for All-American pastime of “grilling out.” Some everyday Joe will hit just the right temperature, catch just the right mojo, sprinkle just the right amount of whatever and grill a steak or a chicken thigh or rack of ribs for the ages. Glory! His family will carry him across the yard and inside on its shoulders. Tears will smear his eye black. He will thank Weber on ESPN. He’ll have earned his license to grill.

I hope I’m eating at his house.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Life Teaches What High School Can't

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

Hello distinguished graduates, honored guests, etc., etc., ad infinitum…

It must be a law that you have to hear a commencement address. Not a bad idea, actually. But the law says nothing of length, so while its inspiration level is for you to decide, this address most likely will be the most time efficient one you’ll ever hear. Sweet.

The main reason I’m here is as an example. When I sit down you’ll think, “If that man can get a job, I know I can!” Good. That’s my role: I don’t argue with it.

Forced to retire from the advice-giving business years ago, I instead share with you what life has taught me, including the truism that while it was a smart move in the 1970s and 1980s, betting the home underdog on Monday Night Football the past 10 seasons is a losing proposition and borders on overwhelming stupidity. Things change. Just saying…

So, life has taught me that things change. It doesn’t always tell you when. Or how.

So life has taught me that it’s not fair, and there you go. If life were fair, Elvis would still be alive. And all the Elvis impersonators would be dead.

Life has taught me that Winston Churchill was right. Never, never give up. Of course, if it’s illegal or stupid, it’s best to give up. You can’t go through life knocking off fruit stands for money. But if it’s something that’s morally right and something you’re passionate about and something that helps your brother, never, never give up.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was right. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. You passed physics without enthusiasm? Good. But that’s not great. Enthusiasm is contagious.

The late charismatic basketball coach Jim Valvano was right. He is one of many who’ve suggested we should do at least three things every day. One is laugh. Two is spend time in thought. Three is have your emotions moved to tears, maybe by happiness or joy. Though tears might come from sadness, at least the tears keep you in touch with your emotions and you know you’re still able to feel.

Life’s taught me that we don’t think enough. People say, “OK, I’ll think about it,” but then something unexpected happens at work or they have to stop by the grocery store or they choose to do something else and they never stop and think at all. To think is an act of purpose. If you don’t think, you have no plan. And if you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail. Think. You’d be surprised how 10 minutes spent thinking about a specific problem or goal will clear the water.

Life will teach you what high school can’t, that time goes by faster than you can at this point imagine, that you are loved, right now, more than you’ve ever dared dream, and that you are capable of much more good – or, unfortunately, much more bad -- than you’ve ever thought possible.

Finally, Coach Buttermaker, played by Walter Matthau in the original “Bad News Bears,” was right. You didn’t come into this life to just sit in the shade on a dugout bench. Get in the game and do the best you can.

It’s an honor to share the world with you. Your youth and enthusiasm and willingness to learn and achieve are inspiring and can make a world of positive difference. But you can’t win the pennant in May or in one game. It’s a long season. Go get ’em, one pitch at a time.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hey Mom!? Where's My Other Shoe?

From today's Times and News-Star

Long before there were Day-Timers and smart phones and automated contact lists, there were mothers.

Moms institute, keep and carry out the family schedule. But that is only the tip of Mister Iceberg.

Through the ages, moms have been at-home cooks, nurses, maids, preachers, teachers, dictionaries, maps, chauffeurs, stylists, barbers, haberdashers, umpires, coaches, health instructors, drill sergeants, clairvoyants, witch doctors, calculators, phone books, calendars and human balm.

In your home, mom is the equivalent of the three branches of the federal government, plus the Library of Congress.

She’s often the FBI and the CIA too, if she needs to be. And she often needs to be, because children, being human (Strike 1) and young (Strike 2), think their moms are old and stupid. And, I guess, blind, deaf and dumb.

One of my favorite moms told me recently of her two teenaged girls, now grown, sneaking into the house at 2 a.m. back in the day. The older one shoved the younger and thinner one through the window above the kitchen sink, and that one crawled on all fours to the door to unlock it. So sneaky! A perfect plan. Their parents would never …

“So, how’s it going?” said the mom, who was watching the whole thing, her legs crossed calmly in the darkness on her couch. She waited to speak until the young one was reaching up for the doorknob, like a puppy reaching to shake hands.

Moms. Timing is everything.

We forget our moms were kids too. It’s hard to get any boogie woogie past the Queen of Rock ‘N’ Roll.

But when I think of moms, I think more of care than I do of discipline. My mom disciplined me plenty. The Tie Incident and The Raincoat Incident pop most readily to mind. But the times of care, there’s just no way to remember all of those.

Maybe it’s because of all the Band-Aids and the bee stings and the soothing of hurt feelings that we come to think our moms just Know Everything. Why else would we ask them where our other shoe is? Or who ate all the peanut butter? Or what time our game is? Or what a polynomial is and why do I have to do them?

Nine times out of 10, they know the answer. (That 10th time is when they remind you, “Hey, I’m your mother, I’m not your personal secretary.”) This maternal wisdom makes it easy to take a mom for granted. Sort of like we take oxygen for granted. Like a mom, it’s always there when you need it, even though you don’t think about it.

Despite all the gadgets that make schedule-keeping and transportation and communication easier for the modern mom, I think she still has it a little tougher than the moms of yesteryear, which would seem impossible. The invention of the microwave alone would even the score, you’d think.

But Eve, for all her faults, never had to tell her boys to “Go outside and play,” because there was nothing BUT outside back then. A 10th-century mom didn’t have to block certain television channels. A 15th-century mom wasn’t in on any over-thought prom plans.

Today there are more things “out there” than ever before that can “kidnap” your kids. I’m not sure moms can afford to take a day off. Even if they could. Which they can’t.

Maybe we can do them a favor today. Not ask them any questions. Not get in any trouble. Remind them they’re the greatest, because really, they are.