TREES AND GRILLS

By Martin Kafka

During these times of global and local threat from an invisible enemy, I seek out ways to calm myself and maintain a positive attitude. This is one of them.                                                                             

I have been called a tree-hugger. I am humbled by trees.  Where I grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, we had the pleasure of having a London Plane Tree,  an upland variation of the Sycamore, that stood proudly across from our front stairs and shed its joyous leaves in the fall. Brooklyn had more than a few trees, you know, but let’s face it, the “Garden City” of Newton is a hell of a lot more arboreal.

On this early evening, as I sit at the picnic table, grilling herbed chicken and nursing a gin with tonic and lime, I am surrounded by mature trees, really tall ones, at the boundary edge of my back yard.  These days, I consider them my protectors. I recently learned that our home is nearly one hundred years old, so some of the mighty trees that look up to the evening blue sky from our front and back yards could be pretty old.  I’m sure they have witnessed a lot of barbecues, birds, wild turkeys, rabbits, mice, deer, and especially, noisy joyful children. Like the Liberty Mutual commercial jingle, my trees “have seen a thing or two.”

As I admire the wonderful late afternoon’s yellowed-green light shimmering through the leaves on my favorite oak, white birch, and linden trees, I have to admit that I am nearly in awe at the myriad of dappled tones of their wonderful leaves. This is a very peaceful spot for me. I am safe here.

Whenever I am out here grilling, admiring my back yard, and relaxing, I also find myself reminiscing about my dad. He relaxed on the fairways and greens of the golf course, and he loved to charcoal grill chicken after a day at the links. Dad was the family Grill King on our small back porch in Brooklyn while Mom was the undisputed Queen of our Kitchen Cuisine. But as far as grilling, the times have not changed that much.  For me, outdoor grilling is still a man’s domain.

My dad loved his chicken, and he loved cooking it, turning the legs and breasts with long grilling tongs.  It was one of the times he could be quiet, almost meditative. He also loved his Dewar’s Scotch on the rocks which he always had while grilling.  That time on our modest back yard elevated porch was the heyday for charcoal briquette grilling, with none of this contemporary gas grill-heat ’em- right-up kind of thing.  When I did my residency training in psychiatry in Ann Arbor, I used to do charcoal grilling on my tiny back porch and still did so when I first moved to Newton.  The cooking process took too long once I had a family, though, so I finally capitulated to the gas grill for its convenience.  But I sure miss that charcoal flavor and all those aromatic carcinogens!

As my father’s son, I have inherited his fondness for food, grilling, and, especially, herbed chicken.  I will admit that a bit of alcohol helps as well.  Dad would wait for those charcoal briquettes to be just right before adding the chicken to the grill-top, enjoying the sizzle as he nursed his Dewar’s. When it comes to grilling chicken, like father, like son. No worries now–just good food!

BOLLI Member, SGL, and Writers Guild Writer Marty Kafka
Marty Kafka is a retired psychiatrist whose passions include his wife Karen and their family, international travel, and jazz piano. 
In addition, Marty has found a retirement career taking BOLLI classes, writing memoir, and being active in the Photography special interest group.



  1. More on trees and grills this time from a woman.You don’t have to be a man to know how to light a fire.My dad taught me how to grill on an outdoor stone fireplace in Newton. Charcoal, of course, and I remained a charcoal purist snob throughout my lifetime of grilling. My last grill, a gorgeous forest green Weber, was my only concession to gas, but the gas was only used to ignite the charcoal. Like you,Marty, one of my greatest pleasures was grilling in a back yard or patio or balcony(illegal but I did it anyway because surrounded by brick and stone there was no fire hazard).Like you Marty, gin and tonic in hand,I was transported by the sensual elemental pleasure of smoke and grilled food. And the visual pleasure of the fullness of nature in summer.Not quite as comfortable but also pleasurable was grilling with boots on on my snow covered deck.Scotch substituted for a G&T. In California I made ribs on a hibachi on a back stoop.A male guest told me he would have married me for my ribs- not mine, the baby pigs’. I loved experimenting with new recipes.A few years ago The NY Times ran a recipe for cooking steak IN the fire itself. I splurged on beautifully marbled rib-eyes ,forewarned the guests that the meat may end up as ash and fired away.The result—the most delicious steaks I’ve ever eaten. The outside was charred and crispy and redolent with smoke. The inside was rare and juicy. Other favorites that guests loved was Korean Bulgogi, grilled fish, lamb, and marinated chicken from recipes of many ethnicities.
    So why am I telling you all this? I miss terribly the intense summer pleasure of grilling outdoors. I’ve moved into a continuous care community, where grilling is not allowed. Like all other losses, it’s helpful to talk or write about it.
    From a sad retired Grill master.
    Brenda Gleckman

  2. Charcoal, scotch and/or beer go well together no matter the protein and far superior to a fast-gas grilling. Charcoal has a soul. Nice story!!

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