Smoke is everywhere. No matter what you do you cannot escape it. You try desperately to breathe. To let some sort of fresh air into your lungs, so as to relieve the burning – at the back of your throat – from the smoke and coughing fit you just endured. Your eyes begin to water and tears start to stream down your face. It’s something you cannot avoid because the two go hand in hand. You wipe them away from your eyes as if this will allow you to suddenly see what’s going on around you. The chaos that has ensued for the last twenty minutes seems like it is never going to come to an end. You pick up a scrap piece of cardboard, you find lying on the concrete ground, and you begin to fan the smoke away. You move your arms rapidly, in an up and down maneuver similar to a bird about to take flight. Desperately seeking to clear a path, not sure if what you are doing is helping or making matters worse. Yet through bursts of light you see the gray smoke fading into the clear sky. As the haziness all around you begins to dissipate, you catch sight of the now taming fire. Your mind back on track at the task at hand. The once frightening flames emitting from the tiny grill are now docile and manageable. You chuckle and think to yourself how silly it all was, and say a little prayer thanking the universe for not sending the fire department your way.
Now that the smoke scare is over, you dump the flaming coals out of the chimney and into the grill. Replace the grate and begin to cook dinner. Lazy weekend evenings go from uneventful to fun and exciting in a matter of minutes. It isn’t so much the food that you cook – for it could be a simple feast of hamburgers and hot dogs – but rather the experience of having people over and cooking outside. Everyone gathered around in the backyard, throwing back some cold ones. Music playing softly in the background, the distinct chatter of the guests rising through it all, as the sun begins to set and the smell of grilling meat is all around. The splash of water from the pool is a welcoming sound with the refreshing feeling of happiness. Happiness because you look around and realize that all you’ve ever needed is right there around you. Surrounding you. Hugging you. Good food, good company and the prospect of good memories on the horizon. With the content feeling that many more days like these, await you all summer.
As this warm season approaches – three days to be exact – we begin to welcome afternoons at the park or evenings spent outside barbecuing. Where people do not shine in the kitchen, it seems impressive that they shine in front of the grill. Perhaps it’s the whole experience. The lighting of the wood or coals, and the idea of being in command of something semi-dangerous. Whether it is an extravagant feast on the fire or a simple meal for the modest, outdoor eating is something to treasure especially during the warm months of June and July and August. It allows us all to step out of our comfort zones and experience something fun and thrilling. Perhaps potlucks to friends and neighbors’ homes are what you’re used to. Whatever the case might be, there are certain recipes that are meant to be made for particular occasions. When talk of grilling, barbecues, potlucks, or outdoor eating arises, corn bread automatically enters my mind. It invades my train of thought, one of which I cannot shake off. The idea of the sweat and savory along with such classic dishes of potato salad, grilled chicken drenched in barbecue sauce with the crisp, coolness of coleslaw. You need something to mop up all those delicious accouterments. A bread treat of some sort. So when the corn is in season and the stalks are up and high above your head, and you have more ears than you know what to do with – roast the hell out of it – and make yourself a big batch of corn muffins. Throw in a few treasures like jalapeños, scallions and cheddar cheese and watch the face of those around go from happy to ecstatic. Who knew that corn muffins had that affect on people? Or rather, who knew that summer could be so much fun?