48 hours ago, Jean got a call from his friend Kwaku. Kwaku was back in town after months on the road for his job, and we were both happy to hear from him. In a moment’s time, they decided that the perfect reunion would be a Memorial Day BBQ on our rooftop. I reminded Jean about his show that night, so they decided it would be an early party, and everyone (including the band) would arrive at 2pm.
After Jean hung up the phone, we devised the menu. The main attraction would be swordfish and lamb skewers. We invented these together one cold night in Soho, where I’d had my own little studio apartment. The stove there was about two feet wide, but it did have a broiler. So, to combat the winter blues, we charred the skewers – for that BBQ grill effect – and plopped Bob Marley’s Kaya onto the record player.
Now, summer was here and it was time to get down to some real grillin.’
Over Sunday brunch, I called the fishmonger, the butcher, and the vegetable stand to see who was open for the Holiday. Over giggles from the boy (yes, only food-obsessed dorkuses have these kind of emergency contacts), I found out we would only be able to get veggies, so we called Kwaku and he agreed to bring the meat and fish from Queens. Then Jean and I continued our day as planned, with a trek to Water Taxi Beach for a party (and a delicious Motz burger for me!).
Kwaku called us back and announced that he’d bought a butterflied LEG of lamb! I went into momentary cheapskate shock. “But that’s too good! I always get the cubes that go into stew!” (And then marinate the heck out of them.) I began to envision too-tender cuts of meat melting through the grill and fizzling away on the coals.
That night, I stayed up ’til 6 baking muffins, and then got up early to start the potato salad and hummus while Jean cleaned the house (I just had to put that in there so everyone knows I’m not chained to the stove while he’s kickin’ back). The first guests were Jean’s friend/guitarist Allan and his 4 year-old clone, (and the cutest kid in Brooklyn) Sid- who’d both slept over.
Kwaku arrived with the fish and the gloriously red leg of lamb. Sid sat very close by as I got to work breaking the beautiful thing down into small pieces. It seemed like a crime to destroy it, but my tiny BBQ grill (purchased to accommodate previously mentioned Soho studio) didn’t have enough space or firepower for a whole joint of any animal. My angst was alleviated by the running commentary from Sid, which included; “Is that the butt?” “Where is the butt?” and “Are you sure that’s not the butt? It looks like a butt.”
After I’d threaded the meat, baby tomatoes, onion, and fish onto skewers, I stood back and took in the scene. There was a lot of meat. Plus whole ears of corn, hot dogs, and buns to grill. And the guests were arriving. Could my tin can pull it off?
“Too good” was an understatement. The tender cuts of lamb leg held their own against the heat of the coals, and charred beautifully around the corners, while remaining pink and melt-in-your-mouth luscious inside. After making sure there was nobody present who’d made dinner for me lately, I announced, “This is the best meal I’ve had all year.”
Leg of Lamb Skewers
1 butterflied leg of lamb, cubed
5 small yellow onions, peeled
1-2 lbs. baby tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
½ c. vegetable or olive oil
4 tbp. dried oregano
2 tbp. ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
Half the onions and cut each halves into quarters.
In a medium bowl, combine the meat, garlic, seasonings, and ¼ c. oil. Leave to marinate at room temperature while you preheat the grill and let the coals calm down to medium heat.
Thread the meat, tomatoes, and onion quarters onto bamboo skewers. Toss in remaining oil and another sprinkling of salt.
Grill 2 minutes per side for rare, and 5 minutes per side for medium.
To my surprise, the tin can pulled through and our [last minute] Memorial Day BBQ was a complete success.
As the sun dropped toward the Manhattan skyline, the band left to go set up at Zebulon, with slices of homemade, rum-spiked apricot shortcake in hand. (I adapted it from Maggie Mayhew’s American whipped sponge recipe in the book Whip. This cake is perfect for summer because it’s so light, with no butter or milk required.)
The rest of us stuck around to finish the last handful of skewers and bottles of red, white and rosé that Richard, now a “total wine snob,” had saved for last. I passed on the skewers, since I was already uncomfortably full and laying belly-up on the floor, but accepted the wine which really helped…everything.
The show at Zebulon that night was amazing. After, I told Jean “The sound tonight was the best I’ve ever heard from you guys.” Jean looked pleased. “Really!? We didn’t even sound check. There was no time.”
I guess cooking is a lot like playing music. Though it helps to practice, sometimes it’s those impromptu performances where your best material is born.