Spring was slow to arrive. Mother’s Day weekend was chilly. Yesterday was Memorial Day — the unofficial start of the summer season — and we finally have warm weather! The sun is shining and everything’s blooming, from shadbush to trilliums, from violets to tulips. For many, this is the time to plant gardens. Others like to get out on the water.
Memorial Day began with graveside memorials after the Civil War. Following World War I, it became a day to honor the sacrifice of all our war veterans. In addition to commemorating our war heroes, most Americans celebrate this beginning of summer with food and friends.
Summer holidays are informal: simple yet scrumptious, familiar yet fulfilling. There are no gifts to get or cards to send; no sit-down dinners with starched white napkins and formal dress. Instead, they’re casual events, spent outdoors in shorts and tees. We welcome the happy, lazy summer season by dining outdoors with friends and family, sharing memories, discussing events. But this year there is a global pandemic. We are asked to avoid gatherings, maintain a social distance, shelter in place and don masks. For many this year, the day will not be different from any other. Some may plant gardens, take a boat ride, bake a favorite dessert or cook outdoors on the grill.
Three out of four American households own a grill. Even if you’re only cooking for your family, this is the time of year we pull it out. While an oven heats evenly, wind gusts, air temperature, grill height as well as hot and cold spots make outdoor cooking a little more challenging. Even if you’re only cooking for your immediate family, grilling has become a Memorial Day tradition for many.
According to a pediatric infectious disease expert at Oregon Health & Science University. Dr. Judith Guzman-Cottrill, outdoor gatherings with just a few friends or one other family are relatively safe in these uncertain times.
“If you have a gathering with one other household that [has] followed social distancing, this would be a low-risk activity,” she says.
Life is dangerous and risk of infection is everywhere –but varies in severity, and we can take precautions to reduce the dangers. The virus spreads more quickly in crowded indoor gatherings with poor ventilation than in open outdoor spaces.
An alternative to sharing a meal could be outdoor games, where people can still wear masks (you can’t eat while wearing a mask) and keep a relatively safe distance apart.
But most of us enjoy food at outdoor gatherings. To reduce the risk, avoid sharing; have guests bring their own dishes and utensils. Dr. Abraar Karan, a physician and public health researcher at Harvard Medical School, advises to avoid alcoholic beverages, as “it can make people sloppy about social distancing.”
While cookouts generally mean hamburgers and hot dogs, spring grilling should reflect the freshness of the season. Make it light with grilled chicken, salmon, or vegetarian grilled Portobello mushroom sandwiches. Chicken, pork and steak are best when marinated before cooking on the grill; this helps keep them moist. Make a basic marinade by combining wine vinegar, oil, soy sauce, herbs and spices.
Veggies can also be cooked on the grill. Complete your meal with grilled spring vegetables like asparagus, scallions and radishes, Portobello mushroom caps and salads.
Wine-basted Grilled Chicken
3 to 4 pound chicken, cut up
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons)
2 cloves garlic, minced, about 2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/8 teaspoon sage
1/4 teaspoon (freshly ground) pepper
Juice of ½ lemon (2 to 3 Tablespoons)
Cut the chicken into serving pieces.
Combine all ingredients except chicken and lemon juice in saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook 10 minutes. Cool slightly and stir in lemon. Brush over chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
Brush grill rack with oil or spray with cooking spray. Heat to medium. Place chicken skin-side down over the heat. Cook about 7 minutes, then turn, baste with marinade, cover and cook another 8 minutes or so, until meat is opaque. Dark meat will need to cook slightly longer.
Serves 4 to 6.
Fresh Grilled Asparagus
1 pound fresh asparagus
1 to 2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Lightly oil the grate of an outdoor grill, and heat to high.
While grill is heating, wash asparagus and trim off bottoms. Lightly coat the spears with oil, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Grill over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, turning spears, or to desired tenderness.
Use tongs to serve; serve with grilled chicken. Serves 2 to 4.
Grilled Portobello Mushroom Caps
4 to 8 portobello mushroom caps
Salt and pepper
Preheat grill for medium-high heat.
Oil the grill grate. Brush or coat mushrooms with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the on the grill, and cook asparagus for 4 to 5 minutes, mushrooms for 7 to 10 minutes on each side, until lightly toasted.
Serves 4 to 8.
Place mushroom cap on a bun and top with a slice of Provolone cheese. Add a couple pieces of grilled asparagus and a slice or two of sweet onion. Place back on the grill just long enough to melt the cheese.
Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook as Words are My World.