I remember my first-ever grilling season. It was my freshman year at Princeton, and the food services union went on strike. My roommate Margie and I lived in a first-floor dorm room, with lovely, Gothic leaded-casement windows opening on to one of the quads that make Princeton so picturesque. Margie’s mom and dad drove a little Hibachi charcoal grill up to campus, and we plopped it on the ground outside our window. We kept the charcoal, lighter fluid and matches in our room, and most evenings, we’d have an impromptu cookout. You’d probably get expelled for less now. But it sure was a great way to meet people. We would lean out the window and drop a burger on the grill, chatting with whoever was drawn across the quad by the siren song of sizzling ground beef. Most of our classmates were surviving on Lucky Charms, Pop tarts and take-out pizza.
When John and I bought the house in Lincoln (our first and only home purchase to date – we call it the “little house that could” because it’s adapted so well to our needs over the years), one of our first purchases after moving in was a classic Weber charcoal kettle grill. Our landlords in Chicago and later Cambridge wouldn’t allow us to grill, even though our apartments in both cities were in two-family homes with leafy yards. We kept the Weber over by the garage because there was an outlet we could use for an electric fire starter, which felt grown-up and high tech compared to dropping lit matches out my dorm window onto the Hibachi. John was a master at building briquette teepees around the electric coil so the charcoal would catch. Every so often, we’d need to add a splash of lighter fluid, and the flames would burst upwards towards the overhanging hemlock branches with a whoosh. The kids found this highly entertaining, but our neighbor Ruth worried we might set the trees on fire. She loved those hemlocks—they created a wall of green between our driveway and her back deck. One year when our tree guy went gonzo and over-pruned them, she nearly wept with frustration at the lost privacy screen. Thankfully, we never burned them down entirely with our overzealous grilling.
We probably converted to our gas grill later than most of our fellow-suburbanites, because John is old-school when it comes to embracing new technologies. But it is such a breeze, to press the starter button and wait for the click-click-click-WUMP! of the grill lighting up. Last year, we traded our decrepit, non-functioning two-burner model for a sleek new three-burner set-up. It’s so much hotter than the old grill that we’ve seared a few steaks to a fare-thee-well while mastering its powerful ways. Tonight, we’re having our friends Cathy and Bob over – swordfish and vegetable kabobs are on the menu, and I might try grilling the corn cobs in the husks, which I’ve never done before. It always looks pretty in the magazines at the grocery checkout line.
I need to wrap things up now because I’ve got to run out to Ace hardware and grab a new propane canister so we can fire up in a few hours. It’s a beautiful afternoon – clear and dry – perfect weather for Gin & Tonics and a grilled supper on the screened porch with good friends.