Food for Thought

Published in the April 2009 Issue April 2009

friend recently mentioned that in many of my columns I use a lot of space discussing food. I don't think I am any more preoccupied with good things to eat than, say, my dog Sugar, and I'm certainly no less discriminating. To our credit there are some things neither of us will touch. Boiled okra slithers to mind; neither of us has any use for it.

I'm not going to apologize for my enjoyment of nautical cuisine (in this part of the country that usually means barbecue). Preparing delicious meals on the gas grill is a mandatory skill for anyone who calls himself a boat captain. With the season upon us, perhaps it's time to freshen up those barbeculinary skills, starting with the basics.

First thing, bottled gas. Got enough? Anyone who's once run out of propane in the middle of grilling understands the coldest depths of heartbreak and humiliation. But for anyone who runs out twice, there can be no mercy. These days few people actually know what a "yardarm" is, but running out of cooking gas with a boatload of people anticipating barbecue will be the quickest way to find out. To avoid a mutiny, check the gas bottle. If you have any doubts, get a spare. Then get a spare anyway.

In planning a meal it's crucial to know how many people you'll be cooking for. Two, four, ten, maybe more? As Captain of the ship you are expected to provide enough life jackets for everyone on board. Likewise, as Commander of the grill you are required to make sure there's enough food for all to eat their fill. And when shopping for groceries, don't forget the importance of leftovers.

The wonderful thing about barbecue is that it never goes to waste. Even cold from the icebox, a nicely turned chicken leg with the sauce burned just right is a terrific foundation for a nutritious midnight snack, and even a hearty breakfast. So buy enough chicken quarters, hamburger patties, polish sausage and country style ribs for everyone, and then.yes, one more pack of ribs. Maybe a couple extra links of sausage. An extra chicken leg or two couldn't hurt. A few buffalo wings for good measure. You've fired up the grill and stirred up the barbecue sauce anyway, so cook it all-leftover potato salad is pathetic on a plate all by itself.

My wife Roxanne is the potato salad queen around here, and frankly, by now I have little taste for anyone else's. I realize that most of us feel the same way whoever traditionally makes the potato salad in our families; you know what we like, and you make it just so, and we thank you. Interestingly, both of our daughters make potato salad exactly the way their mom does, and are now in the process of teaching their husbands how much they love it too.

Beans are extremely personal. Arguing about how much brown sugar to put into baked beans, or whether to put any at all, is like discussing religion-everyone has his own ideas. When it comes to beans, if I preach anything it is tolerance. The biggest problem with beans is that they are not your typical finger food. (Maybe that's the second-biggest problem with beans.) But you'll probably need to set out forks for the potato salad anyway.

As for other picnic-style vegetables, corn on the cob is universally preferred over asparagus, Brussels sprouts, or even rutabagas. Although almost any vegetable that's not okra will do, the best idea is to keep it simple-throw some butter-slathered, foil-wrapped corn on the cob on the fire. Just about anybody with teeth loves it, even the kids, and of course it's another hand-held food, so what's not to like?

Quick, what do you say when an invited guest asks, "Can I bring anything?" Correct, you reply, "How about dessert?" Nothing is sweeter than a pie or cake brought aboard by a friend. No matter how old I get, I'll never quit being a kid when it comes to dessert. If you ever join us for dinner on the Phoenix and volunteer to bring something, keep in mind that home made ice cream is always a winner. And chocolate cake to go with it does not qualify as two things, so you might bring some French bread too.

That brings us to the last thing, and the best thing, about a perfect boating barbecue-that's the good friends and family we share it with. The memories we make at such times are always more wonderful and more savory than anything that comes off the grill.

See? I'm not all about the food.

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