Long work days, short cool evenings.
I had my phone in one hand and an axe in the other (metaphorically speaking, of course) as Friday’s quitting time slipped into view. The benefit of (still) working from home is that I can check the laptop for rogue, last-minute emails even while I heat up the backyard firepit for a cookout.
At five pm I cracked a beer and stoked the coals just right to grill up some juicy steaks and a foil packet of freshly dug garden spuds.
Not a terrible way to start the weekend. Not terrible at all.
Four large lush bushes occupy various spots in my backyard. I planted these shrubs about eight to ten years ago as worked to fill my garden beds with as many fruit-bearing plants as could reasonably live adapted to this crazy northern climate zone.
Lonicera caerulea is also known in some parts of the world as honeysuckle or honeyberry, but in Canada we tend to refer to this bush and it’s fruit as a haskap.
My haskap bushes started to bear ripe fruit this past week and I’ve been eagerly plucking as many as I can before the robins eat more than their fair share. I don’t mind, but I do like to have a few of the tart-sweet berries before they all become bird food.
I don’t know much about the haskap itself. For a few years a nearby university known for their horticultural work breeding plants that were slightly more adapted to surviving the long winters seemed to be mentioned frequently around greenhouses as I and my fellow local gardeners bought and planted each a few of the adapted shrubs. The work of that same university is responsible for the breed of my backyard apple tree which is now at least fourteen seasons growing in it’s current spot and has easily produced tens of thousands of apples. This is not a climate where anything that hasn’t been winter hardened will grow much past September, and only the best adapted of trees and shrubs survive our minus forty winters. The haskap, on the other hand, seems to thrive in these parts.
The haskap is a little more subtle than my apple tree though.
My metre-wide bushes usually produce only a cup or two of the elongated blue-purple treats, right around this time of the year, and by the time we graze our fill there is rarely anything left behind but scraps for the most persistent of the local avian population.
I have a few varieties of berries in my backyard, yet these haskap are the ones that draw the most curiosity from visitors… but only those lucky enough to stop by during the short couple weeks when their colourful, oblong orbs dangle ready to be tasted.
My foray in to roasting vegetables over the fire veered into more traditional territory this afternoon after picking up a few ears of fresh corn from the grocery store.
Step one was to remove the silk while leaving the husk as intact as possible. This is done by carefully peeling back each fibrous layer one at a time without breaking them off. When the final layer of husk has been pulled back, the hair-like strands of silk can be pulled away easily… tho getting those last few is a meticulous process. Then reversing the husk peel, each layer is folded back up around covering the kernels again.
Step two involves a long soak. I’ve read online that some people soak their corn for hours or even overnight. Time was pressing so mine got a deluxe ninety minute bath in ten centimeters of cold tap water in my kitchen sink. The point of this is to introduce a lot of moisture to the ears helping to (a) slow burning and (b) induce steaming.
With nearly an hour left in my soak I got to work chopping wood for step three which was, as the title of this post implies, building a roaring fire to create a bed of hot, crackling embers over which the corn could be roasted. I suppose if one wanted to settle for a charcoal barbecue or even a gas grill I would not object. After all, corn over a flame, whatever flame, is always better than a simple cob dropped in a pot of boiling water.
Step four was that point in the corn-fire relationship where the two really got to know each other. Wet corn sizzled and crackled over the glowing red coals at the base of my fire pit. I started the cook with a lot of careful clock-watching, letting the ears cook for a solid five minutes before turning them (even if it was tempting to intervene on the blackening, charring results.) After each five minutes per side, the black bits that had been rotated away from the flame flaked away exposing more unburnt husk, which in turn cooked and burned and shed. As I neared the end of the cook, the tips of the ears had burn away and the kernels at the tip charred a bit.
The whole family helped with step five which as one might guess involved some butter, salt and pepper and a whole lot of sweet, fire-roasted corn. Delicious.
As much as I’ve been spending time fine-tuning my campfire cooking skills, I’ve been thinking about all the small ways that effort has translated into a bit of backyard humour, too.
Having a teenage daughter helps. She often and candidly points out all my shortcomings. Free of charge. “I’m embarrassed for you, dad.”
Or more recently, “The ribs are burnt, dad. I can’t eat this.”
They we’re not burnt. They were crispy.
So it goes that in episode two of Gaige and Crick I tried to do what I always do when I write up a script for a new comic: take a dash of real life and salt it heavily with a bit of exaggeration.
Perhaps you too have spent some time cooking over a hot flame recently. Watching the professionals barbecue juicy meats over sizzling coals looks like knowledge that should be baked into our genes, locked into the primal ancient skillset possessed by every human on the planet. If I need to grill a hunk of flesh over a fire, darn it, that is my legacy as a participant in the human race. Right?
The hot grease that dripped from my slow-cooked ribs was hardly the ignition source for a mushroom cloud, but it sure felt that way when my meticulously prepared coals and carefully laid plans turned into a small inferno a few seconds into the grilling process.
Gaige is in over his head, it often seems. He so desperately wants to be a professional. He so eagerly wants to build himself up as a something he is not. Luckily Crick’s head is a little closer to the ground.