On a sunny day at the top of the tallest branch in a group of tall trees you can see him. The humming bird. The Jimmy Cagney of the bird world. He’s got the short guy syndrome. Nobody dares encroach on his territory lest they suffer the slings and arrows of his supersonic (and yes – they are actually supersonic) dives. I love to watch one drop in from a dizzying height only to pull out at the last minute and snap the sound barrier with his tail. Last weekend we lit up the grill in the mountain shack above the ocean on a clear blue spring time California Saturday. Being in the middle of the forest and about a mile from the ocean is a very exhilarating experience by itself, but combined with an outdoor cook, it’s positively heavenly. Between the humming birds acrobatic displays and tending to the smoke coming off the grill Saturday afternoon I barely had time to enjoy a beer and a few chips with some guacamole. We have two weber grills up here, both at the end of their usefulness but enjoying their retirement and still producing some damn good barbecue. This time it was about three pounds of skirt steak in a beer marinade and a whole cut up chicken in an achiote paste marinade. You cannot rush good barbecue, so I started early. The coals smoked away while they were heating and we settled down to some serious conversation and some chips. I made a substantial dagwood sandwich to sustain us during the wait.
Next time you make a roast beef sandwich, or any sandwich for that matter, give careful thought to what you are putting with it – the veggies or cheese, the spread or sauce and the bread you are using. It makes all the difference in the world. My roast beef started with a soft french baguette slathered with a horseradish sauce. I carefully layered some thinly sliced tomatoes, thin red pepper rounds some muffletta mix for an acid component, mounds of roast beef, sharp cheddar cheese and iceberg lettuce. I always season the main component with a little salt and pepper before closing it up. Making a giant sandwich all at once on a whole loaf makes it easy to serve a few people at once. You can slice as much as you want. I cut off a couple of hunks for us and we settled in to a good Mexican beer, some smoke watching and some rather existential conversation. Not politics, women or sports mind you – but dark energy, chaos theory and Bebo Valdez (a celebrated Cuban musician and the father of modern Cuban jazz who had just passed away last Friday). He died “with his boots on” in Spain, the way he always wanted to. The roast beef sandwich was fabulous and we wrapped up the rest for the next day.
In almost no time the coals were ready and I put the chicken parts on. I build a 2 zone fire for these. A double layer of coals on one side of the kettle and a single layer on the other. This allows me to quickly sear the chicken over the hot side and then move them to the single layer side and slowly finish them off. About a half hour into this, I put the steak on the hot side to grill them – this way everything ends up done at about the same time. Later that afternoon we plated the meal with a side of beans, rice, fresh tortillas and some salsa.
We enjoyed the meal outside and invariably the conversation moved to Politics, women and sports. We are hopeless, but well fed. Towards the end of the daylight hour, the humming bird returned for a final perch on the tallest branch of the tallest tree and surveyed his domain. I’m sure he’s there right now. More power to the little guy.