With the first warm nights of
spring, not only is plant life reborn, but so too is our desire to
be outside. Ann Arbor is once again appealing, the Diag is full of
people and tank tops and shorts come out of the dresser. These
first spring nights are a great time for walks, adventures and
pleasant sits on porches.
Coming from Northern Michigan, springtime to me also represents
an opportunity for bonfires. While some might say that fires and
cities do not mix, they clearly don’t know the joys of a
backyard fire in Ann Arbor.
To get started you’ll need a little preparation. You need
a charcoal grill. This will keep your fire contained and as far as
I know, keep you legal. A small fire in a barbeque will probably
not get you thrown in jail – an open pit bonfire with burning
couches probably will. Which brings me to my next item – you
need burnable items. Couches are not acceptable — this is Ann
Arbor, after all, not East Lansing or Columbus. Old wooden
furniture broken into pieces can be useful kindling, although watch
out for paint or varnish that might make toxic smoke. Some might
think those fake Duralogs are the way to go. Wrong. These
“logs” are meant to be burned only one at a time, and
if you plan to cook over the fire, their greenish flames will taint
the flavor. Real logs are definitely the proper choice. If you are
planning ahead, have parents bring down some wood when they visit
you. “Yeah mom, I need some underwear, a rent check, and some
You might also find some luck at Meijer – it sometimes
sells real wood to burn. You can also scavenge a surprising amount
of fallen wood in Ann Arbor. This is Tree Town after all. Two
caveats — don’t cut down any trees and don’t take
anything from the Arb.
If you want a hot bed of coals in a hurry, line the bottom of
the grill with charcoal briquettes and then build the fire on top.
I’ll trust everyone can build a fire. Hint: Use newspaper to
get some tinder going. If that fails, I turn to my good friend Mr.
Lighter Fluid. Once you get your fire going nicely and the logs are
glowing red, you are ready for the best parts.
A good fire demands company like a cold night demands hot
chocolate. Set up a ring of chairs or logs and invite over enough
people to sit around the fire but not so many that you are crowded.
I’m imagining about 10 people. Now would be a good time to
break open one of those cute little mini-kegs or pass around a
bottle of scotch. No music — the gentle crackle of the fire
should be sufficient. So long as the fire keeps burning, pleasant
conversation is all but guaranteed.
To really get the feel of a nice backyard fire, you need to move
into the realm of food. An obvious first choice are s’mores.
Don’t go fancy. Buy jet-puffed marshmallows, Meijer brand
graham crackers and Hershey’s chocolate. The epicure in me
says a fancy dark chocolate would taste better, but there are some
things sacred in this world, and s’mores are one of them.
Toast the marshmallows to a golden brown and make a sandwich with
half a graham cracker, three rectangles of chocolate, the
marshmallow and another half of a graham cracker. Yum.
I will pause a moment to heap some abuse on those impatient
types who would callously light afire their marshmallow and then
peel off the charred blackness to reveal the warm insides. This is
an abhorrent practice that undermines the slow, gentle roasting
process and replaces it with an uncontrollable chemical reaction.
Want to branch out a bit? Are s’mores too cliché
for you? Try making a baked banana boat. Take a whole banana and
peel off one long strip of peel, leaving the rest on. Use a knife
to cut a wedge out of the banana the length of the strip you peeled
off. Remove this wedge of banana and fill the space with chocolate.
Put the peel back in place, wrap the banana with aluminum foil and
set next to some hot coals. Cook for a bit, until the banana gets
warm and rich and creamy and the chocolate gets melty. You can also
add marshmallow to the wedge space, if the chocolate alone just
isn’t sweet enough for you.
As your fire dies down, be sure that you put a lid on top of the
fire to make it go out. As nice as a fire is, burning down the
house is not a good way to make friends with landlords. It’s
also a good idea to have a bucket of water handy, just in case a
spark catches something on fire.