Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fun with Food -- Meg Benjamin's Excerpt

This is part of the “dueling grills” pre-wedding barbeque from Wedding Bell Blues. Otto is Janie’s sort-of boyfriend. Pete would like to be more than sort-of.

She wandered toward the grill where Otto regarded a small fleet of burgers and sausages with narrowed eyes. He held a long-handled spatula in one hand.

“Can I help?” Janie managed a smile.

Otto raised his eyebrows at her. “Women grilling? Don’t think so, sweet thing.”

Janie’s jaw tightened, her smile fading. “I grill at home all the time, Otto. It’s never been all that difficult.”

“You have to have a feeling for it.” He shrugged. “Men know meat.”

She pressed her lips together hard. So many things to say. So little time. So little chance that Otto would understand more than a fraction of it. She walked toward Pete Toleffson’s grill, trying not to grind her teeth.

Janie blinked. Pete was grilling zucchini.

Also eggplant, onion slices, and what looked like a few portobello mushrooms. A bowl of tomato slices sat on the shelf next to the grill.

Pete glanced at her. “Got any idea what eggplant looks like when it’s done?”

“Is it marinated?” Janie stepped forward, peering at the vegetables.

“Haven’t a clue.” Pete grinned at her. “Reba handed all of this to me and I’m following orders.”

Janie removed the tongs from his hand and rolled an eggplant wedge to its other side. “Marinated. And it’s got grill marks.”

“You think I should salt and pepper it?” Pete’s brow furrowed. “You don’t salt meat, but I’m not sure about mushrooms.”

“Nope, it makes them sweat. Plus they’ve all been marinated.” Janie flipped the eggplant wedges then handed Pete the tongs. “There. Now do the rest of the slices. Only don’t turn the mushrooms—the juice will spill out if you do.”

“Okay.” Pete industriously flipped vegetables. “You want to put those tomato slices out? I figure they go last.”

Janie nodded, picking up the bowl.

“You’re letting her grill?” Otto’s voice was tinged with outrage.

Janie glanced over at him, feeling Pete stiffen beside her. “Pete’s doing the vegetables, Otto,” she snapped. “I’m helping.”

“Vegetables? At a barbeque?” The outrage was definite now.

Janie took a deep breath, turning toward Otto’s grill. “Grilled vegetables are really good, Otto. Besides, Cal’s a vegetarian.”

Otto looked as if she’d just told him Cal was a devil worshipper. He would have been hilarious if he hadn’t been her date. After a moment, he recollected himself and pushed his shoulders back slightly. His naked chest gleamed in the late afternoon sunshine.

Pete had put his shirt back on again, Janie noted with a feeling of vague disappointment. The buttons hung tantalizingly open, reminding her briefly of his thick mat of chest hair.

Janie took another in a series of deep breaths. Okay, she was being unfair. Comparing Otto to Pete wasn’t right. Otto was Konigsburg. Pete was…somewhere else.

She glanced back at Pete’s grill. He was nudging the vegetables with his tongs, his forehead creased in concentration. Olive sat at his feet, watching him carefully. “Take a look at this, will you?” he muttered. “I can’t tell if they’re ready to come off or not.”

Janie studied the vegetables. “A few more minutes.” She turned slightly to look at his face. “So why don’t you guys like football? You all look like a high school coach’s dream team.”

Pete’s mouth twisted briefly. “Football was our big brother Erik’s game. We all went out for other stuff. The football coach wanted us, but we didn’t necessarily want him.”

Right. The big brother nobody liked. “So you played basketball?”

Pete nodded. “And baseball. Even wrestled one year.” One corner of his mouth rose in a half grin. “It was a small school.”

“Hey, sweet thing,” Otto called. “Come and get it! Burgers are done.”

Janie picked up a plate and started toward Otto’s grill, then stopped. Pete was flipping vegetable chunks onto a platter. They looked a little charred around the edges, but overall good.

“Got any extra eggplant there?” she asked.

Pete glanced at her, one eyebrow raised in question. Then he grinned. “Have at it, ma’am. My veggies are your veggies.”


Kelly Jamieson said...

This excerpt reminds me about "speaking American" in my stories. It might be a regional thing maybe? But here, we talk about barbecuing not grilling. I believe in the southern US barbecue is a noun and refers to the food but here we use it as a verb.

Great axcerpt Meg!

Kelly Jamieson said...