Liam leaned straight back in the metal folding chair, like a two-by-four about to slide out, his arms folded behind his head, eyes closed and directed up towards the gently swaying branches of our neighbors Doug firs.
"Dude, that was awesome...I knew it would be good, but, put together like that, it was flippin' a-MAZE-ing!"
Mom and Bonnie are taking a one month 'tour de California Cousins' which leaves three teenaged boys and Dad at home. Great, I thought, this'll give us time to get all those projects done that we've always had on the back burner! It'll be guy-time with plenty of father/son bonding. I had visions of circular saws whirring, nails getting beaten into boards, wheelbarrows moving dirt from point A to point B...all capped by a hearty dinner full of laughter, clinking glasses and "I LOVE you, Man!"s on the back deck. Then, Life got in the way...
Well, we lost a cook at work and I went into overtime, leaving only Sunday free.
Implement Plan B: Move most projects to back burner and focus on the evening meal; maybe the chicken coop could still get done.
The dinners required some forethought and pre-meal prep; walking through the front door at 6 p.m. from work didn't leave much time for a casual stroll to the dinner table.
I'd buy a load of assorted proteins, chicken, beef and pork, along with some seasonal vegetables to last us the week. The chickens were split and slow-roasted, pork went out on the smoker. The meat was then cooled, wrapped and dated for later use. The beef was reserved for a special recipe from Patrick.
Pat had a recent stint working at one of Portland's burgeoning food carts and mentioned the trend of custom grinds for each burger cart. The one that caught his attention used bacon in the ground chuck blend. Holy cow, we concluded, what could be better than richly marbled beef laced with one of God's great gifts to mankind?! A night was set for our 'Boys-Burgers-Beer' event and the necessary equipment was lined up. The 5 quart KitchenAid mixer was to be employed with grinder attachment. If for some reason you don't own this brand of mixer with crank-up handle (not the tilt-head!), run don't walk to your nearest retailer and secure one for your home kitchen. It is as essential as a sharp chef's knife, a 10" cast iron skillet and a large cutting board. Your life will change with this mixer and grinder attachment. No, I don't work for KitchenAid...
The beef used in this grind was something called 'Boneless Beef Ribs' or words to that effect. It is the beef trimmed from ribs in slabs that actually show the indentation from where the ribs used to be. The marbling of fat was like a spiderweb or fine netting; for a chef, it's jaw-dropping eye candy! We cut the slabs into 1/4" wide strips about 6" long. The strips were dusted with an off-the-shelf seasoning blend and fed into the grinder. Every other strip was paired with a slice of bacon.
(Insert angelic single note here..."ahhhh!").
The ground meat was then formed into massive oval patties to fit our pub rolls, selected for size and hearty texture, followed by the patties placed on a pre-heated grill. We kicked our heat down to 'low' since we knew the melting fat would create some flare ups.
As the burgers slowly charred on one side, Brendan sliced home made pickles, red onions and tomatoes. Liam assembled the stable of condiments: Frank's Red Hot, Sriracha, Mayo, three kinds of mustard and ketchup. Pat set up a runway of dinner plates and napkins. Tillamook extra sharp white cheddar and pepper Jack cheeses were prepared and set grillside for final approach.
"...and we're flipping!" I called out, signaling 3 minutes to cheese flaps down and beginning our glide path.
As the burgers were pulled from the grill to a side plate, Pat placed our four split rolls onto the grill for 30 seconds of toasting. Burgers and rolls were moved into the assembly area and a flurry of reaching arms created each guys personal monument.
Three of us sat on the back deck and waited for the last burger artist to complete our party.
A blessing was said.
The anticipation was palpable and I must admit, was a bit nervous about meeting expectations.
Watching and waiting those first few seconds, I found Patrick to make the first indication of satisfaction.
"Mmmm, mmm...," he groaned, his eyes slowly closing and gently shaking his head.
"Oh, oh, OH!," followed Brendan, "ee-yeah, this is in-CRED-able! You can taste the beefiness, but, you get that hint of smokiness from the bacon."
When Liam likes something he's eating, a primordial fear overtakes him that someone will steal his food if he sets it down. He looks like he's in a Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.
"Someone tell Liam to breathe, please," I asked, "and you don't need to unhinge your jaw to enjoy this."
We laughed, shared comments on taste, texture, char, acidity, and spice. Our local jazz station softly played on an old radio as we finished, set our plates aside and took turns stretching.
"This was worth it," Brendan proclaimed, "We should make this like our special guy's meal."
It took us about an hour to prepare and 10 minutes of clean up, but, the time spent together serving one another and sharing a meal was more than just a moment.
It was a menu of friendship, fellowship and of love that we will taste with precise memory in years to come.
Is cooking at home worth all this effort? Our fifteen year old seems to think so.
Every last, delicious and memorable bit of it!
Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
The Best Things in Life Aren't Things."