Pork with Mushrooms

this pig was not harmed in the making of this recipe

I met this particular pig last summer when The Mistah and I went to pay a visit to the family farm.  And by family farm I mean the roadside produce stand that sits on the edge of the parcel of land that used to be a huge farm owned by his father’s side of the family.  Now there is an interstate bisecting the property and I could only see a few small plots where things were actually being grown.   Clearly, development in the area has restructured the landscape and taken its toll on the place.

As we poked around the property, we came upon the big red barn that has stood for ages.  It’s a little wobbly now and piled high with lord only know what but The Mistah says that the barn used to be used to dry tobacco leaves.  Ah, the legacy of agriculture and cash crops.

Around the back of the barn is where we found this guy.  I’m assuming it’s a he but I would have no way to know for sure.  The closer we got to the pen, the louder the pigs inside squealed and the more animated they became.  One minute this one was down in the mud and the next he was up on his back legs, looking me pretty much dead in the eye over the top of the wooden fence.  I will just say this is the closest I have ever been to the living, breathing incarnation of what ends up on my plate.

That pig I met was destined to become someone’s dinner at some point according to The Mistah.  Each year the folks on “the farm” slaughter a pig or two and have a roast.  By now, he could already be gone.  I suppose if I were a kinder, gentler individual this could have been a life changing encounter.

Please don’t be disappointed when I say that this meeting didn’t spark any epiphany or make me less inclined to eat animals.  Although it did take me a few weeks before I put pork on the menu.

Pork with Mushrooms

Adapted from Kalyn’s Kitchen

  • 2 pounds pork loin, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup sour cream

Place pork in a bowl.  Add paprika, salt, and pepper to the pork and stir until completely coated.

Heat half of the olive oil in a dutch over over medium high heat.  Working in batches if necessary, brown the pork cubes on all sides.  Transfer the pork to a plate.

Add the remaining oil to the pot and cook the onion until it begins to soften, approximately 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and dried thyme and cook until the mushrooms release their liquid and start to brown.

Add the diced tomatoes and chicken broth to the pot, bring to a simmer, and cook for about 10 minutes for the sauce to reduce a bit.  Return the pork to the pot, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes until the pork is thoroughly cooked.

Stir a few tablespoons into the sour cream so that it warms and becomes loose.  Add the sour cream mixture to the pot and stir to combine before serving.

{printable recipe}

Deb’s Snickerdoodles

I used to be a fantastic English student in my day.  I had stellar powers of comprehension and understanding…although I couldn’t diagram a sentence to save my life.  {tangent} Do kids today still learn that? {end tangent}  I could expound upon a theme with ease and fair amount of SAT appropriate words.  And I could compare and contrast.  Yes I could.  Although 20+ years later, I can’t exactly recall the kinds of things I was comparing and contrasting, but I know I did it well.

In my present day, non classroom based life, I don’t often find myself handed many opportunities to go all comparey and contrasty.  Sure there are moments of do I like x better than y, but there’s no requirement to dig deeper and go below the obvious.  And as a result, my powers of compare and contrast have diminished.  What was once an automatic response that kicked in and stimulated my rational thinking skills is now more likely to elicit a response of “huh? you want to know what, can’t you see i am in the middle of {insert trashy reality television show here}” rather than a well thought out analysis.

I suppose I should have kept my nose in the books.  If I had, perhaps I could present you with a concise, articulate summary of a tale of two snickerdoodles.  But instead, I chose to rot my brain with trivia and television after college.  So the best I can do is to tell you that if you’re looking for a classic snickerdoodle, this is the recipe you want to try.  The cookies are crisp and delightfully buttery.  They make me override any sense of reason I may have and compel me to keep shoving them in my mouth.  That being said, they are not the only snickerdoodles around.  You want a softer, domed cookie?  Then click here and give these cream cheese snickerdoodles a go.  The cakier cookies are perfect as is or you could layer some ice cream or frosting between two and make a snickerdoodle sammich.

I don’t think that paragraph above would have necessarily gotten me a good mark in English class.  So maybe we can forget about the comparing and contrasting and just get to the baking?  What do you say?

Deb’s Snickerdoodles

Adapted from Martha Stewart, as seen on Smitten Kitchen

BAH Note: I suggest that you make the dough the night before you want to bake the cookies.  Yes, it’s a pain to remember to plan these things but this dough will not go from bowl to oven with a good long time out in the Fridigaire.  If you don’t have that kind of time, give it at least an hour or two in the fridge before rolling and baking.

  • 2 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks butter, at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs

Whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.  In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy, approximately 2 minutes.

Add the eggs and beat until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add the flour mixture and mix until thoroughly combined.  Cover the top of the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

15 minutes before you are ready to bake, heat the oven to 400 degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment.  Mix the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the ground cinnamon in a small bowl.  Using a small ice cream disher, scoop out two tablespoons of dough for each cookie, roll the dough into a ball which is then rolled in the cinnamon sugar, and place about two inches apart on the baking sheet.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until the center is just set and starting to crack.  Cool on the sheet pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Leftovers, if there are such things, can be stored in an airtight container.

{printable recipe}

Flashback Friday – Sugar And Spice

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 12/4/08 at Exit 51

Sugar and Spice

Sugar and spice…quick, what’s the first thing you think of?  Cinnamon sugar, perhaps?  There’s nothing wrong with cinnamon sugar but sometimes I think it’s more interesting to pair up flavors that don’t usually get to hang out together.  Like cayenne pepper and brown sugar.  And cumin.  And paprika.  And chipotle.

Sugar and Spice Collage

My favorite application of this combination is usually as a pork rub.  I pile it on good and thick and get a smoky sweet crust.  So when I was in search of a recipe to make for the holidays, I started with the flavors I wanted and worked my way backwards to find the medium.  I mean the pork is good and everything, but  I’m pretty sure a spice rubbed pork loin is not what someone wants to find when they open their gift box.

My selection criteria included quick, easy, and ships well.  A search on FoodNetwork.com got me to Emeril’s Spiced Nut recipe.  The first batch, I made exactly as the recipe directed.  And they were pretty bad.  I don’t know why, but the recipe called for butter…4 tablespoons of it.  Butter certainly has its place in my cooking but when I’m thinking candied anything, butter doesn’t come into play.  Instead of nuts evenly coated with a spicy sugar shell, they were greasy and the sugar was clumpy.  So I got to thinking, what if I cut out the butter entirely?  It couldn’t be any worse than the first batch that ended up in the trash.

I was pleased to find that eliminating the butter did the trick.  The nuts were smoky and spicy with a sweet candy shell.  Learn from my mistake and don’t add too much water to the pan.  If you do, the candy coating gets too sticky.

Now all I need to do is package them up and get them shipped out.  If you see a box in your mail with my return address, I can promise you that it’s not a spice rubbed pork loin.  But I think you’ll like this anyway.

Spiced Nuts

Adapted from Emeril Lagasse, Food Network

Notes:  Use more cayenne (up to 1 teaspoon) if you like things really spicy. I also added 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika and 1/8 teaspoon chipotle powder.  Add 2 tablespoons of water at first and see how well your sugar melts.  If it’s still thick and clumped, add the third tablespoon.  Use your best nonstick frying pan and be sure to wash it out between batches.  Even a little bit of burned sugar will ruin an entire batch.  Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 cups unsalted mixed nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and almonds
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 – 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Mix the spices, sugar, and salt in a small bowl.

In a large dry skillet, place the nuts and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until they begin to toast, about 4 minutes. Add the spices, sugar, water, and salt and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts, the sauce thickens, and the nuts are glazed, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the nuts to the prepared baking sheet, separating them with a spatula. Let the nuts stand until cooled and the sugar has hardened, about 10 minutes.

For another spin on the spiced nuts, check out this blog entry by Kim O’Donnel.

Perfect Roasted Potatoes

I understand that it is August and you are likely in no frame of mind to crank your oven to 425.  I won’t even try and convince you that you should.  What I will do is ask that you please bookmark this page and give it some clever title in your computer so that you will be constantly reminded that once the mercury dips below Hades, you have a date with Perfect Roasted Potatoes.

I recall reading a similar recipe back in my CI days.  I think I may have even pulled the page out and tucked it away into my recipe folders.  And then we had that ugly breakup and throwing away their roasted potato recipe was the culinary equivalent of deleting them from my cell phone or destroying all the mix tapes they made me.  It hurt but it was the right thing to do.

However, The Universe apparently believed that Perfect Roasted Potatoes and I were destined to meet.  Because The Universe guided my browser over to Chocolate and Zucchini where Clotilde effusively described how this recipe transformed her into a perfect potato roaster.  Who am I to scoff at the combined wisdom of The Universe, Clotilde, and Pascale and her mother in law?

So now that you are reading this, you are also presented with this wisdom.  Use it wisely.

Perfect Roasted Potatoes

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

BAH Note:  I may have gotten a little impatient with my potatoes and didn’t let all of them get the lovely golden crust the results from the banged up surface of the parboiled potatoes being roasted.  But believe me, the crust is magical and the potatoes really are perfect.

  • 2 1/2 pounds potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • kosher salt

Heat the oven to 425 degrees and line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.  Fill a pot large enough to  hold all your potatoes with cold water and and set on the stove.

Peel your potatoes, or partially peel if using smooth skinned potatoes, cut them into bite sized chunks, and place them in the pot.  Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil over high heat.  Once boiling, lower the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.

As soon as the water begins to boil, add the vegetable oil to the sheet pan and place it in the oven while the potatoes cook.

After the potatoes have simmered for 5 minutes, drain them and return them to the pot.  Put the lid back on and carefully but firmly shake the potatoes around inside the pot.  You want the surface of the potatoes to get a little banged up so they will form a crust in the oven.

Carefully remove the hot sheet pan from the oven and transfer the potatoes onto it.  Generously sprinkle with kosher salt and use a heat resistant spatula or spoon to make sure the potatoes are well coated with the hot oil.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a paring knife meets no resistance when inserted .  The exterior will have a golden crust and the inside will be light and fluffy.  Enjoy these immediately.

{printable recipe}

Fine Cooking’s Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

I’ve had pork on my mind.  Which is really something I never anticipated coming from an anti-barbecue background.  It took baby steps to get me here.  Some Andy Nelsons pulled pork love here.  Some Urban BBQ deep fried brisket in an eggroll happiness there. I have come to appreciate the simple beauty of a meat and two sides platter…not to mention a lemonade perfumed with some of Kentucky’s finest distilled spirits.

Just recently The Mistah and I paid a call to Mr. Andy Nelson where we commented that the old auto shop that serves as overflow seating is absolutely perfect.  We speculated that down south, where barbecue is a noun instead of a verb, the best eating would likely be found someplace like that…a little forgotten structure on the side of the road with sauce stained wooden tables and sticky floors.  I hope to test this theory extensively in the future.

Until then, I will have to be content to either make a run for carry out when the pork invades my thoughts or work some pulled pork magic in my own kitchen.  Thanks to the folks at Fine Cooking, I can do that. And so can you.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Adapted from Fine Cooking

  • 4 pounds pork shoulder, bone in or boneless, trimmed
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1/3 cup, plus 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 3 or 4 dashes hot sauce
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Combine the sliced onion, 1/3 cup vinegar, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder and 1 teaspoon salt in the insert of a slow cooker.  Add the pork and coat it completely with the mixture.  Cover and cook on low 7 to 8 hours or 5 to 6 hours on high until the pork is tender and falling apart.

Carefully transfer the pork to a cutting board.  Shred the pork, discarding the bone (if applicable) and fat.  Whisk the tomato paste, hot sauce, remaining vinegar and salt into the juices.  Add the shredded pork and any accumulated juices back to the slow cooker and stir to combine.  Taste for seasoning and add additional salt, vinegar, and hot sauce as desired.

{printable recipe}

Prelude To A Post

One week.  Seven days.  Too many hours, minutes, and seconds to calculate.  I hope I’ve used this time wisely.  Like a crab that has just sloughed off its shell, I’ve felt exposed and vulnerable.  So I’ve retreated to places that feel safe.  But I’ve also ventured out, reached out, because I know I can’t stay hidden away.

I have been humbled by the outpouring of support generated by my words.  Both in person and online, I have felt caring and compassion.  So it felt wrong to go from a place of such powerful words one day to a recipe for chicken bake the next.  And I made a decision to cancel the posts that had been scheduled for the rest of last week.  But just as I can’t stay locked away in the hopes of avoiding pain, this space I have created can’t stay fixed on that emotion.

I’ve mentioned before that I write my posts and schedule them to publish in advance.  That’s the only way I can balance all that I want to do with all that I have to do.  And it keeps this space from spiraling out of control and completely consuming my life.  I say that because I won’t publish a post that was written after this experience until sometime well into the fall.  In my mind there is a discord between the words that have already been written and the ones that are to come.  I can’t imagine that something won’t be changed, won’t feel or sound different, when I sit down and tackle the mountain of recipes that need to be posted.

I will be interested to see if that’s the case when the new stories are written.  Will there be an obvious shift or will it be something subtle, almost undefinable?  And it will be interesting to see if any of the posts that publish in the interim will take on any new significance to me reading them through a different filter.

Thankfully, I have the freedom to take my time and let the words come to me.

Big Summer Potluck 2011

I have said time and time again that The Universe gets me to the places I need to be at the exact moment that I need to be there.  I may not even realize in the moment that something profound is happening. Or there may be an awareness that washes over me that I need to pay attention.  I may not know why, I just know that I do.  And at a later time, the why makes itself known.

I have also made a confession or two here on the blog.  They have been tongue in cheek confessions but it would not be dishonest to say that I use this platform the way some people use religion.  Through this blog I have found a community that is overflowing with love, understanding, support, and encouragement.  Being in the presence of the people I have met as a result of BAH brings me peace and lifts me up.  It touches me deeply to share time in their presence and to share a meal of communion with them, in a way that religion and church never has.

So it really should not have been unexpected that at some point in my life these two bricks in my foundation should intersect.  And on July 30th, in a converted barn in rural Pennsylvania, at Big Summer Potluck 2001, that’s exactly what happened.

My cell phone was put away.  I wasn’t checking email or tweeting.  I made a conscious decision to be in the moment…to give up control.  I was listening to Shauna Ahern speak.  We were at a blogging event so ostensibly her remarks were about this activity we all engage in.  And yet, it was so much more.  I can’t speak for anyone else in that room, but as Shauna’s words reached me I heard her telling me that it’s ok to be vulnerable, to face my fears, and not to let myself get in my own way of finding happiness and success. Not just in blogging, but in life.  That sometimes there are thing that you absolutely have to say and trying to ignore them will simply give them more power.  In that moment, I knew why I have struggled so mightily with finding the words for BAH.  I have been trying to ignore the words that needed to be said because they scared me.  In my mind, I could pick out on one hand when I was truly being authentic instead of merely filling space to get to a recipe.  And I thought that was where the lesson ended.

Then at lunch, in a completely unrelated conversation, I finally admitted to myself that I was filled with sadness because I did not have a single happy childhood memory of a time with my parents.  They had divorced when I was very young. I had absolutely no context of them together.  And through my experience as their child, I could not wrap my mind around what had brought them together in the first place.

It was being out of my normal routine, away from the usual barriers that I put up to avoid this truth, that I finally acknowledged it.  There was no laundry to do, no dishes to wash, no food to cook.  Once those were stripped away and I was surrounded by these people who valued me for me that I could finally have the courage to admit to my own profound sense of loss and regret. It was powerful in a way that I could have never anticipated.  And I thought that was where the lesson ended.

Later in the afternoon, Penny De Los Santos spoke about capturing moments and making pictures.  She spoke of patience and waiting for the moment and being able to connect to another person through the camera.  She painted vivid pictures for us with her words instead of her photographs.  There were tears in the room as she painted these pictures.  Tears of humility and vulnerability.  Tears of acknowledgment. Tears of sadness.  And then I thought that was where the lesson ended.

We shared in a wonderful dinner.  We raised our glasses to one another and the sense of community that we shared.  We hugged…we hugged a lot.  And we cried….both quietly during presentations about our own fears and anxieties and openly during one on one conversations.  This was no mere “blogging conference”.  This was more.  It was a retreat.  It was spiritual.  It was people being vulnerable and human and asking for acceptance and validation.  And through the tears, there was comfort and acceptance.  I felt validated and accepted for me…that I was a good person worthy of good things.  And I thought that was where the lesson ended.

At the end of the day, back at the hotel, I finally pulled out my phone.  And I saw a string of missed calls and messages from family members.  And I knew that whatever had been said in those messages was not good.  Both of my parents were terminally ill.  One was in hospice care and the other had recently undergone another round of treatment to try and prolong the inevitable.  It was merely a question of which parent it was.

It was my mother.

We had a difficult relationship.  I had drawn a boundary over the years.  We did not communicate.  I made a point of not being in the same place as she was if I could.  I could not reconcile my sense of empathy for her as a person with my sense of disappointment for the pain that she had caused me a a parent.  I knew that she was terminally ill.  I had struggled over the last few weeks about whether I should go and see her. I got updates through my siblings.  I drove my grandmother to see her only child in hospice, but I did not go in.  From the outside it looked as though I was cold and uncaring.  But I protected myself…I carried too much hurt at her hands.  I could not imagine what words she could ever say to bring me to a place of forgiveness.  I thought that her death would merely be a physical end to the emotional relationship that I had walked away from years ago.  I expected it to be easy.  To be a relief.

And then suddenly, I was faced with the reality that I knew was coming.  Her life had ended.  And in as much as I place my faith, whatever it is I have, in The Universe, I knew that I was where I needed to be to get that news.  I was not alone.  I was surrounded by people who could never possibly understand the significance that their presence played in that moment.  I was surrounded by warm embraces and hugs that forever linked me to the people behind them.  I reached out to my community and they gave me unconditional support.

I reached out to a friend who knew me; knew the situation and the dynamic.  As I sat on the floor of the bathroom, sobbing, she gave me a safe space.  She gave me refuge to say that I didn’t know how to feel.  And the next morning, surrounded by the people who are my community, my tribe, they collectively embraced me.  Both those with whom I had shared this information and those who had no idea…who thought the sunglasses at breakfast were because I had enjoyed my wee box of wine too much the night before.  And I thought the hard part of the lesson was over.

I drove home and got back to my life. To the dirty litter box and the dirty laundry.  To the messages in my voicemail and the dishes that needed to be put away.  To my grandmother who now had lost both her husband and her only child.  And my heart ached for her loss; not for my own.  I could not fathom how forsaken it must feel to lose the people you love; to outlive most of the people you know.  I did not sleep that night.

I drifted between dozing off and realizing that I was wide awake.  The minutes passed like hours and the hours were days.  And in the morning, with the sun streaming brightly through the window, the world had kept moving on.  Death didn’t stop it.  Tears didn’t stop it.  It just kept going.

As I left the house that morning, I realized that I hadn’t brought in the mail when I got home the day before.  Opening the mailbox, there was a bright yellow envelope.  Canary yellow.  Sunshine yellow.  The return address was my mother’s.  I took it and walked to the car not knowing what to expect when I opened the envelope.  When I did, the typewritten words on the page made me angry at first.  I had no idea that someone could reach out from beyond the grave to try and manipulate my feelings.  But as I read further, pieces of a puzzle that I hadn’t realize I was working on fell into place.  Halfway down the page, I read:

“I don’t know if anyone has told you this or not, but your mother has been talking to you on your blog for years…All those stories about her mother were actually stories of her childhood and your grandmother.  She did not do this to hurt you.  She did it because she wanted to be close to you  and it was the only way she could have any contact with you.  She is very proud of you and all that you have become…”

I didn’t even have to read the name that was given in the letter to identify her on my blog.  In my heart, I had known.  There was always something familiar about her.  Always something that didn’t quite add up with the comments that she would leave and the facts that she would give.  There were moments in our correspondence through the blog that I nearly came out and asked her who the hell she really was.  But I never did.

In that immediate split second, I heard Shauna’s voice in my head saying that our first instinctual response is our true response and that everything after that is our internal editor trying to create a socially acceptable response.  And my first response was that without knowing what I  needed to hear, my mother had finally given me the validation that I needed.  That by doing what we essentially all do and being someone else online, she had finally been able to speak to me in a way that I could hear and cut beyond the anger and hurt.  I could see her as just a name on a comment and not be weighed down by a lifetime of a disappointing relationship and unmet expectations.

The irony is that it was easier to be the best version of myself, the person that I hope I really am, to someone with whom I have no intimate relationship.  It was easier to be free and kind and caring towards someone who I didn’t associate with pain and neglect and contempt.  And while it makes me sad that the two of us could never be these people to one another in real life, I am so profoundly grateful for the knowledge that she  wanted to and found a way to connect with me in a way that actually did respect the boundaries that I had established.

As a parent, and as a person, she had many flaws.  And as a daughter, and a person, I have many flaws as well.  But as two people who corresponded through my blog, I think perhaps we were able to be the best versions of ourselves to one another.  If I can take the gift that she gave me and finally get to a place of forgiveness, then I think the second half of my life could be much happier than the first half.  If I can consciously make an effort to let go of the weight that I have carried for forty years, then maybe I can see the happiness in the small, quiet moments and recognize them for being the perfection that they are.  And maybe, just maybe, I can be a little more forgiving of myself and those closest to me.

If you have read this far, have stuck with a very stream of consciousness rambling with very little editing (and no spell check), I thank you.  This post is not so much about the events and activities of Big Summer Potluck 2011 as much as it is about me selfishly using this space to finally say that I have been sad and angry for a long time and that a weekend in a converted barn in rural Pennsylvania took me a few steps further on my journey to moving beyond that.  That was the lesson. That was my church where The Universe knew I needed to be.

To those of you that were part of that weekend, I thank you for your support, even when you didn’t realize you were giving it.  To those who knew and hugged me extra long, you will always have a special place in my heart.  To Shauna, who sparked that first moment of realization, I would not have had the courage to say these things if you had not shared your story with us.  I hope that through my words, I have painted as memorable a picture as Penny De Los Santos did.  In their own way, both of these incredibly strong women inspired me.