Man, I just can’t seem to catch my breath. First writing, then the defense, and finally the graduation ceremony. Now my new job is starting to kick my butt. More on that later. First, guess who our commencement speaker was. Just guess.
You will never guess because it’s too awesome and amazing.
It was J.K. Rowling! I have never been so happy. So happy, in fact, that my parents, my man-friend and I had a bottle of vodka after the ceremony, a bottle of wine with our ultra-authentic French dinner, and for dessert… for dessert we had a bottle of 1955 Vintage port.
My parents have been saving this bottle for my defense. It was supposed to be something really special, something to mark the occasion and to accompany dessert. It was such a great plan. There was only one hitch - they should have kept me sober.
Opening the bottle while most of the way to drunk was a challenge in itself. The bottle neck was sealed in a weird glass-like substance, which shattered when hit by a knife. Showering the floor with the black glass-like shards revealed a cork sunken deep in the neck of the bottle. I was shocked how far in the cork had slipped in the port's 50 years. The cork was so old that it crumbled with every touch. Slowly, piece by piece, I extracted the cork from the bottle. I smelled the cork, which normally does nothing for me except making me look unnecessarily snooty. Not this cork though – it was potently piney. Really piney and musty and not at all fruity or sweet.
Next drunken step before consumption? Explaining to my Father why in the world I don’t own a ceramic bottle top vintage port filter. Five guesses again on why I don’t own a ceramic 50-year old port filter. Is that because port that needs to be filtered is typically half my rent? A coffee filter had to step in and save the day… as did a flower vase that stood in for a decanter. Yes, I am a frat boy.
Luckily, my poorly appointed kitchen did not seriously affect the taste of the port (I hope). The wine was woody and leathery, smooth and rich but not heavy. It was so much more complex than any other port I had had before. I am certain I would have enjoyed the port much more had I not passed out cold on the couch after just a few sips. Can you really blame me? All that excitement and all that alcohol in one day? Not surprisingly, when I woke up the port was all gone. I have a pretty good idea what happened to it. The guilty/no-longer-drunk parties know exactly who I am talking about. My parents have another bottle of the 1955. If I need another PhD to get at it… well, there is no more port in my future.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Thursday, June 05, 2008
I am having a tough time deciding which view is more beautiful. Is it the view of Boston Harbor’s outer islands, as seen from the top of Spectacle Island...
...or is it the view of a fully loaded grill, stacked with potatoes, marinated skirt steak and chicken breast, and an odd pork sausage or two?
I just don’t know. I can’t decide.
The beginning of every grilling season marks the beginning of sailing season for me. each one is a thing of beauty on its own, certainly, but combine the two and you have the foundation of the most perfect day possible.
Here is how that perfect day goes: Sail to an uninhabited island. Marinate meats in sealed bags on the sunny deck of a rocking sailboat. Breathe in the salty air, smear on the sunscreen, chug Coronas one after another, and feel like a total badass for sailing to an ISLAND for a cookout.
Start the prep work on the boat, so that when you alight on land, all you have to do is start up the grill, pop open more beer, and toss the food on the flames. Make the best grill-top potatoes you will ever have (thanks for the idea, Melissa!) - Make vertical slits in a medium sized baking potato, bring careful not to slice all the way to the bottom. Stuff thin slices of onion in the slits, toss some slices on top. Salt and pepper generously, top with a hefty slice of butter (1/2 tbsp should be fine), wrap tightly in foil and drop onto a hot grill. Flip a couple of times and check to see if they are done (by seeing if a knife passes through the potato easily) after about 20 minutes. The onions melt into the potato almost as if they were never there. The bottom of the potato becomes caramelized and crisp, the rest steams to a perfect flaky doneness.
Oh and the corn. Repeatedly slather freshly shucked corn with salted butter while on the grill, keep it on till it’s charred black all over, and it will turn out so sweet and so perfect.
Toast crusty bread with butter till crisp, grill the sausages, cook the skirt steak minimally, just still done on both sides (leaving it medium-done on the inside), grill the chicken, and have the best cookout/pig-out, eat till it hurts. And to make the Coronas a little more special? Squeeze in lime juice, a heavy shot of hot sauce (not Tabasco, though! It’s too vinegary for this), a pinch of salt, and enjoy an instant Michelada. Awesome.
We did all those things. After we had about a six-pack of beer and three tons of food per person, we went on a walk around Spectacle Island, and sat in a gazebo on one of the highest points. It may have been all the beer or the good food or the perfect weather and lovely company, but that day, that moment, summer began for me and so many worries of the last months and years began to fade. Looks like there is life after grad school.
View from the Spectacle Island pier, where we set up the gas grill the park ranger provided (for a modest fee, including docking our boat).
Marinated* skirt steak
count on ½ pound of skirt steak per person
Place steaks in a zip lock back with:
- juice of a couple limes
- handfuls (proportions of each don’t really matter) of green onion, sage, marjoram, cilantro, or whatever other herbs you happen to have on hand
- a finely chopped fresh jalapeno
- a handful of thinly-sliced white onion
- red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper
- a glug of light-colored beer if there is not enough liquid to carry all the flavors into the meat
1) Marinate at room temperature for a couple of hours, or until you are a) too hungry to wait any longer or b) have reached the island of your choice.
2) Grill until deep grill marks appear on both sides, remove to a plate. Skirt steak is thin and really easy to overcook, so try your hardest not to. Unless you like your meat well-done… in which case I really don’t understand you.
* The same exact marinade worked wonderfully for chicken, making really tender and almost creamy chicken, with a hint of lime and herbage.