“What do you feel like for dinner?” my wife asked, knowing that my response would be the same as it always is.
“I don’t care,” I said because I really didn’t. OK, that’s not entirely true. Some days I just don’t feel like having fish, but since I’m not planning the dinner, I really don’t have much leverage on the menu. I’ll eat whatever she plans and during the summer months, I’m normally called into play to cook something on the grill.
I don’t mind because men enjoy fire, and each and every one of us is enthralled by the prospect of a contained fire. Call us gentlemen pyromaniacs, because fire pits, fireplaces, campfires and grills are the male purview and nothing channels our inner caveman more than cooking meat over fire.
Nonetheless, there are still side dishes to consider, and this has been the summer of bohnensalat or bean salad and more specifically, green bean salad. This is a German dish that my mother-in-law used to make and like every other thing she made, it was delicious but much to the consternation of my wife, the recipes were never written down. Ever. Each and every time any of these dishes were made, they were made with a little of this and a little of that, taste it, add a little more of something, taste it again and … and … done.
After Mrs. G’s mom passed away, there was a lull on bohnensalat for a number of years until her father made some and then my wife made a batch. This summer, Mrs. G. has been making pounds of it, and I mean actual pounds as she has honed each batch to replicate the bohnensalat her mom made. After much practice on her part and bean consumption on mine, perfection has been reached and ironically, not a word of it has been written down. It’s a simple enough recipe with basic ingredients and each batch uses a pound of beans, and each bean has to be cut by hand. There is no such animal as a fancy-pants Williams-Sonoma machine that can slice a green bean the way it needs to be sliced.
“Look. I have bean thumb,” my wife said to me last week as she held up her wrinkly thumb as proof. She had just cut two pounds of green beans diagonally into thirds, leaving behind a bowl of stems that I would toss out for the deer. I have no idea if deer like green bean nubbins, but they are always gone the next day so something is eating them.
This afternoon, she parked herself on the porch loveseat with two bowls, a pound of beans and a paring knife, and set to work on the evening’s bohnensalat. “What would you like to go with this? Chicken or wieners?” she asked.
We have a lot of grilled chicken in the summer, so I opted for wieners, which are different than hot dogs. Well, not really but it’s a right church, different pew situation. Wieners aren’t eaten on a bun and are more German (with a natural casing) and far less salty. They are also attached to one another, like a smoked meat train. I’m sure they contain the same enigmatic assortment of meat products because if one looks at the label, it actually says, “contains an enigmatic mixture of pork, beef and hey look … if you have to ask, you should just have chicken.”
“So we have wieners and bean salad, and I can make potato poopies or we can have baked beans,” she said. We always eat in threes.
OK, so part of that last paragraph will need some explanation and not the part about eating in groups of threes. That’s normal. Calling tater tots potato poopies—not so much so.
I honestly can’t remember how this started, but during some period of toddler English, tater tots became potato poopies and it just stuck. Mrs. G. and I have been in the Wegman’s frozen food aisle on a crowded afternoon, and my dear wife will use a tone of voice suitable for talking to old people in a sawmill and ask, “Hey, Rick … are we out of poopies?”
“Not sure, but I can get a bag just in case. Should I get the little poopies or the regular sized poopies?” I’ll ask.
“Get the small poopies. Those are better. They’re crunchier and who doesn’t like a crunchy poopy?” she’ll say. Meanwhile people have begun to look at us as if we just drove the flatbed down from the Ozarks for food and moonshine jugs.
So now you know my dark secret.
Anyway, I didn’t feel like turning on the oven, and I do like baked beans, so I opted out of tater tots.
“Should we grill the wieners or boil them?” Mrs. G. asked.
The more traditional German way is to boil them because the casing will explode on the grill. This can be fun, but it’s not necessary, so there would be no fire tonight, unless one counts the flame on the stovetop.
As we sat down to dinner, Milo’s sniffer kicked into overdrive and he began whining. I will generally cut off the little casing knot on the end of the wiener because it reminds me of a balloon knot, and I flip that down to the dog. He doesn’t care that it looks like a balloon knot. He’ll eat pretty much anything thrown at him from the dinner table.
There was a small problem, though. My wife set the table and she had put out regular knives, not sharp knives. Butter knives. As I hacked into the end of the wiener, a little piece of meat about the size of a sesame seed burst from the casing, flew up into the air in a perfect arc, and landed in my water glass with a tiny splash.
“Did you see that!?” I asked incredulously. “Did you see that piece of wiener fly into my glass!?” Naturally, I tried to do it again, but this was a one-in-a-million event. I dumped the water, got myself a fresh glass and sat back down at the table.
As we finished our dinner, I asked my wife which meal was her favorite—breakfast, lunch or dinner.
She didn’t have a preference, so I answered my own question. Breakfast is perfunctory because it’s just that—break a fast. Get it over with, add coffee and get on with the day. Lunch is awesome because it’s a little bit of everything one likes on a plate. Dinner can be a pain in the ass, so my answer was lunch with a seasonal codicil:
Summer dinners are the best because they are like lunch, only bigger and often involving fire and on the most rare of occasions— include acrobatic pieces of wieners, and how absolutely perfect is that?