It’s been many years since I’ve barbecued anything, so I couldn’t have possibly given fair warning to Sarah and our friends that I’ve somehow inherited my dad’s grilling attitude. He’s one of many fathers who names himself Grill Master, whose authority is unquestionable at the advice of our mother, and who instilled in me the strong association between steak and what I thought the diesel engine of a sports car must taste like after hitting 100,000 miles.
As soon as we confirmed that we were in fact grilling the burgers, however, some powerful urge arose in me despite the cautionary tale of my childhood.
Even so, my demands were simple. If my friends would only cooperate then this would be a painless experience for all involved, as I explained to them one sunny afternoon.
“But we’re still not going to call you captain,” they agreed.
I stood before them in my captain’s hat, beer in hand from a rapidly emptying six-pack, and confronted this mutiny.
“Grilling is an exploratory adventure.” I said it slowly since they appeared to be having some trouble grasping the concept. “There has to be a leader, or else it’ll be complete chaos.”
Sarah, who I was going to name co-captain, retorted immediately. “You’re just flipping burgers.”
“Braving the flames, you mean.”
“I’m not going to call you captain.”
“It’s a rather small request, considering that I’m taking responsibility for the whole crew.”
“It’s absurd. I won’t do it.”
“I’m almost certain that you will,” I asserted with confidence.
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say.”
We journeyed out to the communal grilling area at our apartment complex, an assortment of picnic tables shaded by the expansive reach of leafy oaks. The breeze fanned the flames of the grill for me as I lit the coals. Behind me, I could hear my fellow seafarers enjoying our pitcher of sangria while I quietly navigated this expedition towards our perfectly cooked treasure.
“Hey, Serena,” Sarah called from the table.
“Serenaaaa,” she sing-songed. I didn’t turn to look.
“I won’t respond to such informality.”
I heard the undermining giggles of her co-conspirators, my insubordinate crew.
“Alright then, will you let Serena know, if you see her, that she better get over here before all the sangria is gone?”
Of course I didn’t respond, but neither did I overreact. Part of being Captain is knowing the situation from all angles, understanding the players, and perhaps most importantly, having a good grasp of the map and its treacherous zones. There was something very important that Sarah seemed to have forgotten since the last time we were here, but something that I remembered very well.
So I sipped my beer and let her have her fun. For now.
“Burgers are done,” I announced, placing the plate before my ungrateful crew. I noted the empty pitcher of sangria right about the same time that Sarah did. Bright red slices of strawberries and chunks of oranges, dyed pink from the hibiscus tea, sat in a heap at the bottom.
“Is there a trash can around here? I can’t remember.”
“Right behind you,” I offered helpfully. “Next to the tree.”
Sarah looked triumphant. “I thought you wouldn’t respond to my informality?”
I smiled at her. She raised an eyebrow, but regardless went and threw the fruit into the over-full trash can.
“Aren’t you going to come eat?” Someone called to me from the table. I remained where I stood about ten yards away and didn’t respond.
I heard their whispers, “She’s not actually mad, is she?”
“That would be completely ridiculous,” Sarah mumbled. “I won’t call her captain. I don’t know why she thought I’d agree to it.”
Ah, but I’ll tell you why.
Stewing in the heat of the sunshine, the fruity concoction that Sarah threw away began to waft on the breeze. The flowery smell of hibiscus tea. The pungent freshness of ripe strawberries. The subtler undertone of oranges, still vibrant enough to make my mouth water.
And there’s only one animal that loves the fragrance of flowers and sugary fruits as much as I do.
Facing away, I smiled into my beer.
“Damnit!” She yelped. Plates clanked in the background. The sound of hurried footsteps, muted on the tall grass, approached from the stern. I remained calmly facing away.
Sarah came about the bow with panic showing clearly on her face. “Why are there so many damn bees?”
“This happened last year too, didn’t it? I hate bees.”
Of course, I knew that already. And of course, I also knew that for whatever reason, bees love Sarah.
Meandering along the breeze, a big, fuzzy bumblebee approached, zigzagging about in its attempt to investigate the alluring perfume surrounding our picnic.
“Bees!” She sprinted about the lawn, cursing their clumsy flight as they managed to cross paths with her. “@#$%& &#*@* !@#$! Serena!”
“Do you have the keys?”
I watched her prance about, dodging the rather uninterested insects, and saw the realization hit her.
“Are you !@#$ing kidding me?” She attempted to reach me, but a bee floated gently on the breeze between us. Her rage was palpable. “Serena, this isn’t funny. Give me the damn keys!”
It was pretty funny though. She looked like a linebacker trying to pirouette to the soundtrack of Nicolas Cage screaming in The Wickerman.
“Serena, !@#%$ the !@#^&* in your &#^$@ if you don’t &#*!@ keys!”
One of these gentle insects landed on my shoulder. I stroked it’s fuzzy back, feeling its wings flutter a bit against the tip of my finger before flying off to once again mind its own business.
Or should I say, buzzness?
(I love bees.)
Seeing this act of tranquil victory, I knew the torrent of fury in Sarah’s gut raged like the whirlpools of Poseidon’s wrath. But I stayed the course.
“Alright!” Sarah screamed. “Fine! Captain, can I have the !@#$ing keys!?”
“Now, Sarah. Is that any way to speak to your captain?”
“Listen, you !@#$ %!$@^, when we get back inside –“
Two bees, interlocked in a wrestling match, whizzed by her head.
“Captain, the bees!”
Finally feeling pity, I answered her distress.
“Aye, matey. What can I do to help?”
“Requesting permission to de-board, or walk the plank, or raid the shanty – I DON’T SPEAK PIRATE.”
I held the keys out, which she promptly snatched from my hands.
“We can work on that later,” I reassured her with a smile.
Kalbi Burgers with Pickled Veggie/Kimchi Slaw and Korean-Style Mayo
For anyone that loves Korean barbecue, or burgers, or food, then this is a must try. In fact, even if you don’t know if you like those things, you must eat this. It’s worth the trip to your local Asian grocery store (as if anyone needs a reason to visit those wonderlands of flavor). This is one of the best tasting things I’ve cooked, and though I’ll admit to a Korean food bias, it’s also by far the best burger I’ve ever eaten.
Ingredients for the Patty:
- 3 pounds 85/15 ground beef
- 1 korean pear, grated finely
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 6 cloves of crushed garlic
Ingredients for the Korean-Style Mayo:
- 1/4 cup mayo
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 1 tsp. sriracha
- 1/2 clove minced or crushed garlic
- 1 tsp. gochujang
- For those that don’t know, gochujang is a Korean condiment made mainly from fermented soy beans, glutinous rice, and ground red chilis. It should be available in any Asian grocery store, and you won’t regret investing in a container of it – it’s an incredibly delicious and versatile flavor base.
For the Pickled Veggie/Kimchi slaw, pick the veggies you like best. We used a mix of kimchi and pickled yellow radish (danmuji), sliced thinly and tossed together, but you can use anything and it would likely taste great (pickled radish, pickled jalapeño, etc. Or even just plain kimchi).
How to Put This in Your Mouth:
- Mix all the burger ingredients together and form the patties.
- Mix the mayo ingredients together.
- Grill to your liking.
- Top with the slaw, the Korean-Style mayo, and if you’re into it, a fried or sunny-side up egg.
We served these with purple yam french fries (Dioscorea alata – a type of yam, not taro root) on the side and dipped them into the mayo, which is a heavenly combination. This particular kind of yam is incredibly sweet, deep purple on the inside, and its skin has a perfumed, flowery taste when cooked.