Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eve's Ribs

In the months after the divorce, my daughter saw a child psychologist to help her deal with the shock and confusion of her new reality. The therapist was a calm, sweet woman who had seen it all, I sensed; she would meet with me after her sessions with P. to let me know how my babydoll was doing, what she was concerned about, how I could help her. These minutes would often be filled with my own complaints about my ex, borne from my panic that I wouldn't be able to protect P. from the pain that I so desperately wanted to erase from our lives. Mostly I would recount P.'s stories about what he said and what he did, things which proved to me that he had gone off the deep end because they seemed so unlikely and bizarre.


I expected the therapist, during one of these rants, to jump in with outrage at his behavior, to share in my self-righteous anger, to sympathize with the extra-special-awful horribleness of my trials. Instead, she smiled, or at least tried not to smile. I stopped mid-sentence. Very, very gently, she explained that it wasn't always a good idea to take my child's account at face value. For example, she said, P. had been coming into therapy every week with one complaint: that since the divorce, I had been making her all the chores around the house. She had to wash the laundry, do the dishes, make the beds, cook the foods, get me dressed in the morning... My poor little Cinderella! I laugh-cried when I heard this -- the laugh-cry was my most common expression in these months, an acknowledgement that at some point in the future I was sure this would be hilarious but right now my heart was breaking -- and learned my lesson about letting her stories about her dad feed into my own anger and confusion. 

But her five-year old's fear -- that now that her family was torn apart there would be no one left to care for her -- was so basic, so primal, and, come to think of it, was one that I shared. Who would do all those things that he did? Who would be brave enough to go down the rickety stairs into the dank basement and do the laundry? Who would take out the garbage bins? Who would mow the lawn? Who would fill gas in the car? Who would change light bulbs and reach things on high shelves? Who would wield the power tools? Who would take care of the finances and keep us safe and secure and protect us from wolves? Was I to do all this now? However would I learn to play his role?

Who would grill the steaks?!

This past summer, P. asked whether we could get a barbecue grill and make hamburgers on the back porch. We'd gone a couple of summers without one, and so I agreed. I went to the hardware store to pick one up. I opted for a charcoal grill instead of a gas one -- the latter is easier (flames at the touch of a button!) but more expensive, and I was feeling rather cheap -- and brought it home to assemble. I pulled the instructions out of the box, and my enthusiasm faded almost instantly when I saw the diagram with directionless arrows and strange hand signals and a bizarre choreography enacted by the genderless figure depicted. I panicked a little. I thought of my promise to P. that the grill would be ready by dinner time, and I thought of the grass-fed, organic, local beef that sat waiting in my refrigerator. I gritted my teeth and dove into the project, thinking that if I couldn't get the grill assembled in the three hours before her school was done, I really should just check myself into a remedial parenting center and be done with it.

Damn thing was assembled in less than 15 minutes.

And so I sat there, looking at the grill, and remembered, suddenly, that my fears of having to do the man stuff had nothing to do with my own capacities because for the most part I had done them even when I was married: I had renovated an upstairs closet to hold the washer and dryer so I could do laundry without having to go in the basement; taking out the garbage bins was something I didn't do because I had someone else around to do it, not because I couldn't; I was generally the person in my marriage to wield power tools and change light bulbs and pay bills and make investments; there were very few wolves where we lived; and I had long-since relieved the ex of lawn-mowing duties because he found it so stressful by hiring someone to mow. The one thing -- the only thing -- I still feel incapable of doing filling the gas tank before it runs dry; thank goodness for the automobile association, which I now have on speed-dial.

So strange, I thought, that in our lives together I never relied upon him to be The Man -- in fact, I refused to let that happen, sometimes to his chagrin but mostly with his willing cooperation. I was a feminist, after all, raised by my parents to be self-reliant and capable. I was so self-conscious about not wanting to fall into those gendered roles that even in the case of an activity I loved -- cooking -- I was paranoid about how I must look to our guests, the little lady in the kitchen wielding whisk in one hand and hors d'oeuvre plate in the other, the stereotype I feared most. My ex and I worked out a deal in which he would conspicuously start cleaning the kitchen so that the guests would be made aware that our division of labor wasn't as traditional as it may seem.

The one, all too rare, instance in which I ceded to his male ego was in the realm of the grill. He would preside over it, not quite proudly -- he was as wary of certain stereotypes as I was -- but with a sense that this was his domain. And so I would stand on the sidelines, as far away as possible so I would be sure not to interfere -- my worst habit -- and cringe as I watched him poke and prod and smash meat so the juices dripped into the flames. I felt so helpless, watching the food that I prepared be cooked by someone else. And yet I knew that I had taken so much control in our marriage that at least, in this one sense, I needed to let go.

So. The new grill was assembled, and I looked at the bag of charcoal with something like fear. I'd never done this before, and never even seen it done. But how hard could it be? I filled the charcoal chimney with coals, put some paper underneath, and lit it. In half and hour the coals were beautiful and glowing red, white with ash. I dumped them out and threw the hamburgers on the rack, and covered the grill as the instruction booklet instructed. Some minutes later I lifted the lid and flipped them carefully. And a few minutes after that I took them out. No prodding, poking, squeezing. I just left them alone. I let go. And they were perfect.

Baby Back Ribs
Makes 4 servings if you're reasonable, 2 servings if you're not

I'm giving instructions for both a gas grill and a charcoal one, although now that I have a charcoal one I can say definitively that the smoky taste the hardwood imparts is incomparable.

1. Make the spice rub: in a small bowl, combine 1 TB sweet paprika, 1 TB chili powder (I use a good prepared chili powder from Penzeys Spices; you could use 1 TB ground ancho or chipotle instead), 2 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp Mexican or regular oregano, 2 tsp packed brown sugar, 1/4 tsp ground allspice, 1 tsp kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp black pepper. Pat dry a rack of baby back (pork) ribs; I cut the rack in half to fit easily on the grill. Rub the spice mixture into the ribs and place on a tray. Let sit for at least 1 hr, and up to 3. If you opt for the shorter time, you can leave the tray on a cool counter; if you opt for longer, let it sit in the fridge until about 45 minutes before you plan to grill.

2. Prepare the fire: fill a charcoal chimney with hardwood charcoal (it's worth buying real hardwood charcoal instead of the briquettes if you can find them). Take off the top grill (the part where you'll place the food) and place the chimney on the lower grill. Open up all the vents. Crumple up some paper and put it in the opening at the bottom of the chimney, and light it. Let the chimney do its work; if it's not a windy day, you can leave the lid off the grill, but if it's cool or windy put the lid on after you see the coals are putting out heat. After about half an hour check on the coals -- they should be really hot, and you should see white ash and a red glow. Dump out the coals onto one side of the bottom rack so that the other half of the grill is free of coals. Place a disposable foil pan filled with water on the coal-less side of the bottom rack. Replace the top cooking grill, and scrub it with your grill brush to make sure it's cleanish. If you're using a gas grill, light the burners on one side of the grill; let it heat up to high.

3. Place the ribs on the coal-less or flame-less side of the grill, meat-side down. Cover the grill. Leave it alone. After about 30 minutes, flip the ribs. Cover the grill. Leave it alone for about another 25-30 minutes. Pull off a bit of meat from the edge to make sure it's tender and succulent. If it is, cool. If not, let it go for another 10 minutes and check again.

4. Slather the ribs with barbecue sauce (see recipe below). Allow to cook for another 5 minutes or so to caramelize the sauce.

5. Remove the ribs from the grill, close the grill vents and cover to speed the cool down. Let ribs sit for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.


Barbecue Sauce
Makes about 2 cups

1. In a small saucepan, heat 3 TB olive oil. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and allow to soften slightly. Add 1 c ketchup, 1/4 c water, 1/4 c vinegar (cider vinegar works well, white wine vinegar will also do), 1/4 c packed brown sugar, 2 TB paprika, 1 TB chili powder, a good pinch of allspice, and 1 tsp cayenne. Reduce heat, and allow to simmer until thickened. Store in a glass jar in the fridge; you can use it right away but it definitely improves over time.


Summer Salad with Homemade Ranch Dressing

For this recipe, instead of buttermilk (which is traditional, but something I never have on hand) I use acidulated milk; if you opt for buttermilk, skip the milk business and just add it when you mix the dressing.

1. Make dressing: In a glass measuring cup, squeeze the juice of half a lemon. Add enough milk (skim, part-skim or whole, whatever you have) to the 1 c mark. In a glass jar, combine 1/2 c sour cream, 1/2 c good mayonnaise, 1/4 c minced chives, 1 garlic clove grated on the microplane or minced finer than fine, salt to taste, and plenty of fresh ground pepper. Add about half the buttermilk or acidulated milk. cover the jar and shake till well-combined. If you need to (you likely will) add more of the buttermilk/milk. (Keep in mind that the dressing will thicken upon standing, so make it a bit runnier than usual.) Taste for seasonings.

2. In a salad bowl, toss together butter or green leaf lettuce, corn kernels, diced red pepper, diced tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced radish, and thinly sliced half-moons of red onion. Drizzle with ranch dressing and serve.

4 comments:

Michelle :) said...

I always thought I enjoyed gender roles. Not the sense of "I'm lesser than my male counterpart." but more in the way that I enjoy the care-taking aspect of it all.

It wasn't until I divorced my first husband that I found that I had assumed both the male and female roles (if they exist) and my then husband was quite upset about it. I was too independent to argue with him and too impatient to sit back and let him handle much of anything. I only conceded on the tasks which I did not like to perform: taking out the trash, grilling, outdoor maintenance.

Later I learned that it wasn't the idea of gender roles that I liked. I just liked doing stuff and I liked control. Perhaps a little too much. That was the beginning of many epiphanies that I had with regard to that relationship. I actually made mistakes *gasp*.

The plus side to this was that I was completely capable to run my home and raise my children on my own. It made my turn of events less scary.

On another note, your therapist for P. was a good one. For her to not jump on the "he is evil" wagon means she was objective. Believe it or not, it's tough as a therapist to do that and a real find when you find someone who has that gift.

XOXO

The Invisible Flâneuse said...

That's it exactly, Michelle -- the need to be in control. But I think, too, that one's need for control increases in a relationship that's not working -- you can't control *it*, so you control whatever else you can. My ex wouldn't let me near the dishwasher -- if I put a glass in it, he would stand behind me and immediately reposition it. Drove me crazy. I guess we were both searching for ways to let us feel like we weren't slipping.

Anonymous said...

Must be another vacation...

The Invisible Flâneuse said...

Haha -- Oh my god, the pressure!