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Smoke Breaks, Redux

January 27, 2012

In my invincible 20’s I was a smoker – about half a pack a day when I was well behaved, and a pack or more a day during challenging times.  My classmates in architecture school smoked, as did my girlfriend.  For us smokers, sharing a smoke break was like our version of the village well of antiquity, a place to take an extra few minutes to catch up and take inventory of our latest trials and endeavors.  If you were lucky enough to have a cup of coffee to add to the mix, you had entertainment for the afternoon – like Ethan Hawke turning to Winona Ryder’s character in Reality Bites and saying “You see, Lainie, this is all we need… a couple of smokes, a cup of coffee.”  Whether or not you hated that movie, this was the m.o. for those of us who grew up in the 90s.  Kuppernicus, anyone?

More than the social aspect of cigarettes, the thing that I miss about smoke breaks is the escape – particularly if you enjoyed the solo smoke break.  Regardless of the intensity of the project you were currently engaged in, a smoke break allowed you the opportunity to take a step away from your project for 5 minutes and, ironically, breathe.

Note: I’m now hating myself for trying to connect the significance of smoking cigarettes to smoking food on the grill.  This is a stretch, but hear me out…

When I went to bed this past New Years Eve, I had barely an inkling that 2012 would shape up to be what it has so far.  Life happened and I inadvertently hit the ground running.  Work has skyrocketed to new heights and my relationships have grown in unimaginable ways.  That said, I’ve barely had a moment to myself, until now, to just breathe, think, write, and well…cook.  And so, this is how a guy like me finds himself awake after midnight, outside in the Minnesota winter, carefully tending to a pile of charcoal and wood chips.  At the end of the day, I suppose it all comes down to a man and his grill.

I used to think that smoking meats was reserved only for those who dedicated their lives to this, having built dedicated sheds equipped with proper ventilation and smoking racks.  It’s been the best discovery of my 30’s to learn that this smoking food at home isn’t so exclusive.  You can smoke whatever you’d like on your grill by piling a small handful of hot coals on one side of the lower grate of your kettle grill, adding some soaked wood chips (so they won’t immediately go up in flames), and adding your food on the opposite end of the cooking grate.  In this case, I smoked some sausages for cassoulet, chicken legs to be stripped and used in salads, and onions for a duck pate that I’ve been dreaming of.  The trick to smoking on a kettle grill is controlling your temperature.  In this case, you don’t want to cook your meat – you only want it to take on a smoke flavor.  The cooking process will be finished at serving time.

It’s a stretch to say that the meditative process of cooking wholly replaces the therapy of smoking cigarettes for me.  But in times like these, I’ll gladly take it…

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