Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone. Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing and add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
“Amanda cooks most of the food. She says there’s no reason for her to grill. Her husband is really good at it. And she thinks for him it’s about more than just the food.”
Sound familiar? A short podcast on masculinity and grilling, narrated by a cheery young woman, presents this description and a background on the caveman ethos that seems to undergird so much of the American rhetoric on man-with-fire-meat. The piece goes on to comment that Amanda’s husband now lets his daughter grill.
Of course it’s about more than just the food.
I’d venture to say grilling is one of the last widely visible and critically unexamined bastions of mid-century masculist culture. American girls are still raised with our dads or stepdads or uncles or self-identified-male-gendered individuals or manbuddies of our mom (or whatever configuration of masculinity operating in a family unit) at the Weber, joking, commanding, drinking a beer. Manning the grill.
And the rest of us take pleasure in paying tribute to the priesthood by visiting and peering into the grates, smelling that meat sizzle, complementing the chef. We are rewarded with the best of summer: hotdogs, hamburgers, steaks, all piled up on a platter and presented like an offering to Xiuhtecuhtli. He’s the life of the party, the hero, the chef.
It’s so often among the happiest moments we remember. It’s a peaceful time. Sunny, family, “family,” bountiful, happy. Fraying relationships are mended for the moment, and we believe it will be ok. It’s almost magic. Why mess with that juju?
And we’re thus indoctrinated into the system. Girls never learn how to grill because there’s no reason to grill. I wonder about Amanda’s daughter, whose father “lets her” grill. What’s going on there? Is it an occasional thing? A novelty? Are things changing?
Are things changing.
It’s not that we feel oppressed or left out. It’s a way to get the dad-figure involved in the party, and it helps him feel useful and central, reinscribing the patriarchal order in its most comfortable and pleasing form because here the order seems almost natural and harmonious, his place assured and his place needed and beloved. And for a change, everyone’s participating in meal preparation.
(I write this. My heart aches. The unbearable lightness of political consciousness, of feminist conscience. There’s no choice, really.)
I have a reason to grill. As previously and begrudgingly narrated, I’m negotiating singlehood and the unpleasant loss of an excellent griller myself. But as I assume the labor for two for the household tasks, I’m taking the opportunity that many women, even feminists, don’t have when they’re in heterosexual partnerships, even enlightened ones.
I’m learning how to grill.
And I kind of suck right now. It’s not just another heat source to master, it’s a whole ‘nuther rhythm. The grill doesn’t require an attentive sous chef, but it pretty much bites not to have one. (See “Amanda cooks most of the food” and patriarchy, above.) My excellent griller, and grillers across America, make grilling divine by a hidden system of support that includes hours of unacknowledged labor. That labor is performed joyously in many cases (and it certainly was in mine) but I’m pondering it with some critical distance as I take on both roles.
Just like in any performance, for any performer, the team behind the scenes makes the show. For every piece of chicken or burger gloriously presented, there’s the planning and the shopping and the chopping and the marinating and the coordinating and the side dishes. The side dishes. Those take hours alone.
I figured that since I knew how to do all that, the actual grilling part would be a snap. And you know what? It hasn’t been that hard and certainly not that time consuming, save all the little things that no one gives me a hand with. Because any idiot can grill. Think about it.
I still have no reliable control over the heat, and I’ve burned a few meals because I’d forgotten to add something and had to run inside or whip up a sauce or chop up some herbs. I try not to think about the danger of burning down the city because of my inexperience. My excellent griller would religiously rely on a thermometer and a cookbook, but I want to learn grilling from an intuitive angle, just like my cooking.
And then there’s the exquisite loveliness of freedom. I had to argue for the inclusion of grilled vegetables since they take up space. Pizza wasn’t even a possibility: he insisted I call it “grilled flatbread” and I was only allowed to make it for the privilege of the grill a couple times. And there’d be no patience or need for delicacies like grilled peaches or plums or bananas or lemons or cheese or parsley or boquerones or onigiri or meatballs or omelets.
The world of grilling is open to you…and it’s fabulous.
So I bring you my Smashed Patriarchy Grilled Pizza, with an informal recipe. Try it, ladies. Pizza isn’t meat. He’ll let you. Or just Occupy the Grill! But don’t blame me for the divorce. :)
(Oh, on the way, you might want to support the Kickstarter for the ladies who brought you the men grilling piece on the Feminist Fork. They’re fundraising for a new quarterly journal called Render: Feminist Food & Culture.)
Smashed Patriarchy Grilled Pizza
Serves 2-3, or one lonely feminist for three meals.
You’ll need two sides (hot and cool) for your grill and a lot of oil. Don’t try this on a tiny hibachi, as you’ll be too close to the coals and the dough will burn rather than char. A gas grill is easier than a charcoal grill, and make sure you pre-oil the grate with some paper towels dipped in a small bowl of veg oil, held by long tongs.
The easiest method is to use a pre-made store-brought dough. Mix 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste with dried oregano, basil, garlic powder and a little olive oil. Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil in the plastic bag and massage it in the bag to get it pretty oily, then stretch out the dough on a cookie sheet so it resembles a pizza crust. With a fork, spread out tomato paste, concentrating on moving it to edges not middle of dough. Layer on fresh mozzarella slices and sprinkle sparingly with toppings.
Heat the grill up to about 500 degrees, oiling the surface as you begin the grilling process and not later (FIRE!). Move your pizza outside on the cookie sheet; hopefully there will be enough oil on the bottom to aid transferring it over to the HOT side of the grill with a metal spatula. Let cook there for 2-3 minutes or until it starts to char and blister and get stiff enough to move, then carefully move it over to the COOL side of the grill. Close the grill lid to melt the cheese and cook the top of the dough. Moisture is your enemy. Dab away any liquid from the tomatoes or toppings with a towel. Sprinkle on herbs just before removing from grill and serving.
Pro tip: clean the grill while it’s still hot with a wire grill brush.