“Ahhh….June 21st. First Day of Summer.” I hopped out of bed and ran to the window just hoping the weatherman (no, not a “weatherperson” because I do in fact get my weather report from a man) was wrong. Pulling the curtains aside I was met with gray. All shades of gray and clouds. Low clouds. High clouds and cold. Down jacket, cold. I sighed and wondered if I should just check myself in. “Sun. Why can’t we have just one little trickle of it??!! Arrrgghh!” But then, I decided that this weather had been going on for so long…”no more whining.” I needed to get on with it. I needed to just grab hold of the old, “If you can’t beat ‘em….” No, more dwelling on the possibility that I might be living in someone’s cruel joke of a snow globe. No, not the sweet, twinkly ones that play Christmas music but the kind that comes with frosted glass to imitate fog. When you shake it, it puts up dark, heavy clouds in varying shades of gray and winding it up you’re treated to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. “No, put those thoughts aside.”
And, so I did. Wearing my down jacket, I cheerfully dropped my middle guy off at the first camp of the summer season. And then, headed back home, taking time to notice all of the daisies popping up on the sides of the roads. I’ve always had a thing for daisies…fields of daisies….running in slow motion through those daisy laden fields. Must have something to do with the opening sequence of all of those Little House on the Prairie episodes I watched. Once home, I fixed myself up a bowl of Nancy’s yogurt topped with granola, mangoes and those little Hood strawberries that are certainly synonymous with summer, grabbed a cookbook off the shelf and sat down at the kitchen table with my tea, my breakfast and my reading material. Yes, yes, I’ll admit that I have a hard time just…sitting. I always feel as if I need to be doing something and so, if no other reading material presents itself when I sit down to eat, I grab a cookbook.
I love reading the inscription on the cookbooks I’ve been given. This one happened to say, “1993 Happy Cooking! Love, Kathy and Blake.” I can remember back to when I was presented with this gift and the different recipes I made from the book at that time in my life. This collection of recipes was put out by Pasta and Co, “Seattle’s Leading Take-Out Shop.” I recall how I frequented their store at UVillage to buy their creations more than I actually made any back then. Back in those pre-kid years. Back when we’d get together with friends for dinner and talk about our dogs. As I read through the recipes, I realized how many I had yet to try and just how good they all sounded. I started fervently turning down the corners of every delicious sounding dish when I was stopped by the recipe for “Pork Chop Salad.” I don’t know what it was. Maybe the weather. So fall-ish and pork chops make me think of fall. Or maybe it was the shallots and we all know I have a serious love affair with shallots. Or maybe it was the “salad” part which sounded so…so…summer-ish.
As I stood at the stove, essentially pan-frying my slices of pork loin, I alternated between cursing at the bits of hot oil jumping out of the pan and stinging my hands and being lost in remembrances of my Grandma. When I think of summer, I think of her. So many of my summer vacations were spent with her. At her home. At the coast. And, pan-fying…anything…bacon, ham, cracklins…smells like her. But she would have kept it simple. Salt and pepper. A yellow onion. None of my craziness of chopping up fresh herbs and 6 shallots. And, undoubtedly, her pork chops would have come out better than anything I could ever make. She was just one of those gifted cooks. As I removed my first batch of pork slices and readied myself to cook up the next batch, I could swear I saw the half-finished crossword puzzle on the counter. The deck of cards waiting for a round of Crazy 8′s before we ran out onto the beach. And above the sound of the pork sizzling in the olive oil, I could hear her loud, generous laugh…the one I inherited. And somehow, I could feel her arms around me giving me one of her all-enveloping hugs coupled with her smile and her saying to me, “Summer is here, Carrie.” And by golly, if the sun didn’t come out the next day. And the next. Burned away all of those clouds in the snow globe. (Oh, and the frosted glass that I thought was fog…that was really just dirty windows. I was unable to tell the difference until the sun came streaming in.)
Pork Chop Salad
Adapted from the recipe of the same name in the Pasta and Co By Request cookbook
Now, I find that the name of this recipe is a bit of a misnomer. Kind of like “egg salad.” When I see the word salad, I think green leaves and there isn’t anything green and leafy in this ingredient list besides the herbs so….for one meal, I turned it into a salad by putting the “pork salad” over a bed of green leaves and adding some cherry tomatoes and crumbled goat cheese. Another day, I put it on a fresh baguette with some greens from a local farmer, a crack of pepper and a pinch of salt for a quick and tasty lunch. And the evening I actually made it, I served it alongside some corn on the cob and a little green salad. My daughter piped up that she thought it would be great on an appetizer table on top of little baguette slices. My sweetie thought white rice might have been nice. I see it paired with couscous in the future. And, the boys….no comment. They were too busy eating. According to the original recipe, this “salad” is meant to be served warm or at room temperature (which makes it good for summer) but never cold. It will keep well for five days in the refrigerator.
1/2 tbsp dried Italian herbs OR 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme, 2 tsp chopped fresh sage and 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Big pinch of allspice (If you don’t have this, I wouldn’t worry about it.)
2 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin roast, cut into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch slices
1/2 cup pure olive oil or other “high heat oil” such as Canola oil
6 shallots, peeled and sliced (the original recipe called for 10)
2 cloves garlic, put through a garlic press
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley to put on top
Mix together the herbs, salt, pepper and allspice. Sprinkle both sides of your pork slices with this mixture, using it all.
In a large sauté pan, heat your pure olive oil to very hot. Add as many pork slices as will fit in the pan and brown thoroughly for 2-3 minutes on each side. You want your pork cooked through but not overcooked. I tend to remove my pork from the heat while it still has a faint hue of pink in the middle, knowing that it will continue to cook even after it’s taken out of the pan. Remove slices to a large bowl as they are done, tent with foil and set aside. When pork has all been cooked, lower heat. Add your shallots to the pan and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. About 3 minutes into cooking your shallots add your garlic, taking care not to burn it. Add vinegar, raise heat and scrape up all meat drippings. Remove from heat and stir in the extra virgin olive oil. Let mixture cool while you cut pork slices into 1-inch to 2-inch pieces, returning them to the bowl and salvaging all meat juices. Toss pork with shallot mixture.
You may refrigerate the “salad” at this point but when ready to serve, bring it back to room temperature or reheat gently. Make sure to sprinkle the “salad” with a little parsley before serving….however, you decide to serve it. Enjoy.
Yield: About 5 cups
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2010