Sunday, August 19, 2018

Pork Thoughts

I'm beginning to have a slightly uncomfortable relationship with pork on my menu.


I've always liked pork: pork chops, ham, good country sausage, and oh my goodness, bacon.

I can hardly get scrambled eggs down without a bite of bacon for every bite of egg. And then there's that delicacy of pork, the tenderloin. Marinated, roasted and then sliced and stuffed in my homemade buttermilk biscuits and served with stone ground grits and a salad is a family favorite, with leftover stuffed biscuits frozen for quick breakfasts. Can't be beat.


But lately pork has just not appealed to me. And beef hasn't been far behind. Actually, I don't even crave chicken, never have. I don't think I have ever once ordered chicken when eating out. It's always seafood or fish, or a filet if we're in a steak place. Unless it's a Krystal hamburger, a food group of its own.

I recently bought two pork tenderloins packed together in a pack where normally I only buy one small one. It was on sale. I tried a recipe out of Elizabeth Bard's book Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes, Pork Tenderloin with Apples. I marinated it overnight in garlic cloves, thyme, rosemary, apple citer vinegar, red wine and olive oil.

After drying the meal well and browning it all over in butter and olive oil, I put them on a platter and sautéd apple quarters and shallots, put the meat back in the pan and added a cup of apple juice as I didn't have the hard cider Bard called for.


And I added a lot of yellow fennel flowers because I read somewhere, can't remember where, that pork and apples love the addition of fennel flowers. 



After the pork finished roasting in the oven, I put all the solid pieces on a platter, covered it with foil, then added a couple of tablespoons of brandy to the pan juices. I didn't have the Calvados the author called for. I adore Calvados, used to buy a new bottle every fall to use for my white fruitcakes, but then the stuff went to over $80. Even my brandy was from the tiny bottles Santa Claus puts in my Christmas stocking so no way was I going to put out $80 for a pork dish.

That reduced sauce was out of this world! I put it in an old USA creamer that was from RH's mother's dishes and then added a sprig of fennel flowers for garnish to the platter.


It was all excellent, it really was, the meat flavorful and tender and the apples like the very best homemade applesauce. But I couldn't face eating much of it or the leftovers.

Maybe because it's summer? Maybe I'll crave pork chops when frost comes just like I'll crave chili when we have the first really cold spell? 

Could it be because of this recent Goodwill picture coming home with me? Surely not. I jokingly told this cute little family that I loved them but it didn't mean that I was going to stop eating bacon.


Right underneath them were photographs of my father, a man who knew how to grill the best pork, beef and chicken ever, and my mother's father who had his own butcher shop. I reminded my new little Oink Family that I was from carnivorous lineage.


They didn't give me the evil eye, I don't think. The little shoats kept on frolicking, Mama Sow didn't get up from the mud she wallowed in and Papa kept on watching over the whole pig sty.

I've grown to love their black spots and their curly little tails.

Does this mean I won't ever again eat ham or country sausage--or bacon? Probably not.

My pork philosophy is that hogs are food for man just as cattle and chickens are. I think I'm just not as comfortable eating it the way I always have, bought at the average supermarket. Not when I keep seeing stories about how resistant these chains are to committing to the Gap Animal Partnership (GAP) standards that stores like Whole Foods are adhering to. 

Even better would be knowing that pigs and cattle and chickens had had a decent life before becoming my dinner.

Richardson Wright, editor of House & Garden for decades, wrote this in one of my favorite books, Gardeners Bed-Book, back during the Depression:

When they first arrive, I delight in their cute tricks, their squealing and running around the sty. Through the summer, I rejoice in their sensuous mud-wallowing. With Autumn my thoughts turn to size and weight. Their ration includes Corn, with an occasional bucket of windfall Apples for dessert. Soon we shall start feeding them Peanuts as they do in Virginia, to add (so I hold the childish faith) a nutty flavor to the meat. Like condemned men awaiting execution, they are given a rich and abundant cuisine.

Yep, I guess I am a little hardhearted like Mr. Wright was. Pigs are for meat, even for me, depending on how fond I might become of the future grandpig I keep hearing I might have someday. 

I don't really have a fight with their purpose. I do have a big fight with how they are mass produced and crammed into cages while awaiting my dinner table. 

My father grew up on a farm that his father sharecropped. He and his six brothers and sisters worked hard to help their parents feed the family. They ate seasonally from what they grew or produced, bought very little in a store. When something was finished for the year, it was gone except for what my grandmother and aunts had preserved and canned.

When cold weather came in November it was hog butchering time. My father, being the youngest, didn't help with the actual butchering. But he did help his mother render the lard. He told me: "That's where the cracklins came from. Mama wouldn't have what she called compound shortening (Crisco) in the house. The best cornbread was when we had cracklins in it."

 His family didn't even get to keep all the pork they ended up with. They sold the hams. They kept the shoulders, made sausage and then canned jars of it, covered with grease. It was spiced plentifully with Grandma's dried hot peppers.

I imagine everything but the oink was put to use. I remember seeing my father eating pickled pigs feet out of a glass jar when I was a child so I know his mother must have pickled those trotters. 

The real treat of hog butchering day was the tenderloin. My grandmother cooked that fresh that very day, according to my father. Maybe she had it with homemade buttermilk biscuits. If so, that was probably one fine meal.

That tenderloin that my father and his siblings ate that day was a cut they called "hog killing meat." That's realism for you.

Farmers are tough. Most don't keep pigs for pets. You can tell that from this family photograph that I call our Grapes of Wrath family portrait. My father is the young teenager in overalls standing up behind the others.



I probably won't stop eating pork but I would like to have it only occasionally and then only from a store that adheres to the Global Animal Partnership. 

Here is a link to more information about that.

Perhaps by the time my granddaughters grow up and have their own families there will be enough stores participating in this that large chain stores will have to comply too, which means that producers will be forced to comply.

I'm not asking for pork to be eliminated from the national diet. I just wish that the pigs could have a decent life before they become pork for the table. 




Monday, August 13, 2018

Providence and A What Can I Cook Night



I believe in Providence. 

I've seen it happen in huge ways and in small ways.

This is one of the small ways, to anyone except me, that God provided in a crystal clear way.




There is this space in our kitchen that I never publish photographs of, never. 

Before the new floor was put down a few days ago it held a smallish wood table that held snacks. On the floor beside it was piled a box of trash liners, distilled water for my diffusers, a large jar of cleaning vinegar, a carton of beer, a box of Skinny Pop popcorn bags, a picnic basket holding crackers, opened bags of chips, pretzels, all that stuff I don't want readers to know we buy. Anything that wouldn't fit in the cabinets or that I didn't want put back in our pantry went in that corner. Oh, and the large canister of BreeBree and James Mason's kibble.





We could not put all that messy stuff back on our new kitchen floor so RH and I set out Friday to look for an industrial kitchen cart to fit in that space. We went to Home Depot and Lowe's and saw stuff made in China, ugly and expensive. 




We didn't want to wait on a delivery from Wayfair or some place like that. The truth is I've never bought anything from them or their like. I suggested we go to our local antique mall that I hadn't been to in years but where I used to find great stuff.

We split up and found 3 possibilities but this cabinet was the winner. And it was the exact size that would fit, we hoped, and only $77, and...


it was gray and white, the color of the new floor!

Providence!



Don't worry, BreeBree and James Mason's kibble got put in a less noticeable spot. And if you've noticed that this window has a bush in front of it, that's a huge holly that thrashers and cardinals nest in and eat the berries. Even though we have a large window just down from this one, over my kitchen sink, it is getting time to do some pruning on this holly, in the proper time this winter. I would like to see a little sunshine coming in there. 

For a what can I cook tonight night, in the summer there's always tomatoes for the salad. 


This Sesame, Tomato, and Cucumber Salad from the June issue of Southern Living was good and I had everything for it except a yellow tomato. I even had the sesame seeds but as you can see I forgot to add them at the last.

Happens all the time now.

To go with it, I sat out ingredients for Frances Mayes' Odori:

--two stalks celery, 3 cloves of garlic, sautéd in olive oil until cooked but still crunchy. She calls for 2 carrots too but I was out. Scissor basil and parsley into the mixture, add more olive oil and cook on low flame for 2-3 minutes.

Then it was just a matter of tossing some angel hair pasta into that, with a little pasta water. I added more snipped basil to the top and that was our meal. Even without Mayes' suggestion of grated parmigiano (RH can't eat it), it was delicious.



I'm not sure if this recipe is from her Bella Tuscany or another one of her books but I use recipes from all her books.



I was excited to see Frances' North Carolina garden in the August issue of Southern Living. I hope they do another issue with the interior of her simple old white farmhouse with the two front doors--my grandparents had two front doors on their farmhouse!


I love all the Frances Mayes books for my armchair travel, just as I love visiting faraway lands through my blog friends.

I think the first "career" I ever thought about was being a travel agent, back when travel agencies were a big thing. I was about 13 and had a shoe box full of postcards I'd collected. With my shoebox full of postcards, paper and pencil, I planned vacations for pretend clients who called me on the telephone.

It is almost impossible to imagine a sophisticated streetwise 13 year old today "playing" travel agent. Today they would know how to book their own trip online for real and probably some do. 

Ah, it was a simple time back then. Mama's tomatoes were just sliced and put on the table. And we never had pasta back then unless it was homemade macaroni and cheese--how I wish I could taste hers again!--and spaghetti with meat sauce if Daddy was out of town on a business trip. 

I think one of Mama's suppers on a What Can I Cook Night was salmon patties. That's one of my favorites too, in fact, we're having them tomorrow night with black-eyed peas and broccoli.

Time was, when I wanted RH to take me out to supper or bring home takeout that I'd tell him we were having salmon patties for supper. Worked every time, but then he started liking them too. 

It doesn't work anymore.




Friday, August 10, 2018

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and More Kitchen News

It's a gray day here with lovely rain, a perfect time to show you our new gray and white kitchen floor and to tell you about a new favorite old book.


Sloan Wilson, a Harvard graduate, first wrote a 1947 book based on his wartime experiences but The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit was his next novel, and I'm guessing that it is probably the one I'll end up loving the most. 

Even more than his A Summer Place that I wrote about in July that was written after this one.

I loved this 1955 book!

As usual, the best way I can think of to tell you about a book is to let the author's words speak for themselves, so here are some excerpts from Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit:
When Tom stepped off the train at Westport that night, he stood among a crowd of men and looked toward the corner of the station where Betsy usually waited for him. She was there, and involuntarily his pace quickened at the sight of her. After almost twelve years of marriage, he was still not quite used to his good fortune at having acquired such a pretty wife. Even with her light-brown hair somewhat tousled, as it was now, she looked wonderful to him. The slightly rumpled cotton house dress she was wearing innocently displayed her slim-waisted but full figure to advantage, and although she looked a little tired, her smile was bright and youthful as she waved to him.



Later in the book, Betsy recognizes that they haven't really been trying to succeed, not in their marriage, Tom not in his career, not as parents. They've sort of been drifting along and she gets up early one morning determined to start her family on a more purposeful track.

When he went downstairs, he heard a coffeepot percolating. The coffee smelled good. In the kitchen he found the breakfast table fully set and waffles cooking. "What's going on?" he asked Betsy.
"Breakfast," she said. "No more instant coffee. No more grabbing a piece of toast to eat on the way to the station. We're going to start living sanely....No more hotdogs and hamburgers for dinner," Betsy said. "I'm going to start making stews and casseroles and roasts and things....No more television, I'm going to give the damn set away...we're going to sit in a family group and read aloud...And we're going to church every Sunday. We're going to stop lying around Sunday mornings, drinking Martinis. We're going to church in a family group...We ought to start doing the things we believe in...We've got a lot of hard work ahead of us, and we better start now."



Naturally there is crisis after crisis in the book. Tom has gone to work as an assistant to a major radio and television network in New York, an industry where men get ahead by agreeing with their bosses. Tom becomes pretty good at this until it sticks in his craw.

Tom wonders whether to tell his boss the truth about a project concerning a pioneering project focusing on mental illness in America, a subject that was practically tabu in American society then:

And if he finds that I disagree with everything he wants to do, what good am I to him? I should quit if I don't like what he does, but I want to eat, and so, like a half million other guys in gray flannel suits, I'll always pretend to agree, until I get big enough to be honest without being hurt.

 By the end of the book he tells his wife:

"I really don't know what I was looking for when I got back from the war, but it seemed as though all I could see was a lot of bright young men in gray flannel suits rushing around New York in a frantic parade to nowhere. They seemed to me to be pursuing neither ideals nor happiness--they were pursuing a routine. For a long while I thought I was on the side lines watching that parade, and it was quite a shock to glance down and see that I too was wearing a gray flannel suit."



Obviously I liked this book because of the time period it was set in. I grew up in this time of the 1950s. The characters were familiar types to me. I understood them.



So I hesitate to recommend this book to readers who aren't of that era or who don't enjoy reading about that time. 

That's my fair warning but let me add two more sentences from the book that sum up why I think this author has the talent of making the reader be in the story.

That afternoon Tom boarded a plane and sat down in one of the comfortably upholstered seats. As the plane gunned its engines and began the familiar headlong, all of nothing, rush down the runway, he fastened his safety belt and leaned back, still wondering what Hopkins wanted to see him about.

It was that one phrase, "As the plane gunned its engines and began the familiar headlong, all or nothing, rush down the runway..." that brought back that butterflies-in-my-stomach feeling that I used to get in airplanes of the 1950s, all while I was sitting in my reading chair in 2018.

A little thing, perhaps, but this whole book made me feel as if I were there, part of that period.




That's a peek at this lovely 1950s book that was followed by the movie of the same name starring Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones, a favorite movie of mine, and a peek into our kitchen after RH and our sons Zack and Gurn tore out the ugly old loose tiles and replaced them with planks of Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring.

It took me an hour standing in Home Depot last January to choose from the samples. Everything except this one was the look of wood flooring but this one called Scratch Stone lived up to it's name, looking like stone, not wood. 

I'll do a post at Dewena's Window soon with photos of the whole kitchen as soon as everything is completed. The guys also painted out the old yellow walls and there's still one more small section to paint. 

But I do love this pretty floor so much, especially on a rainy gray day that is perfect for reading.




Link to the flooring I chose here.


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Kitchen News




At last!

 After 7 months of 7 boxes of flooring sitting under our dining table, the new flooring is being installed in our kitchen!

I wanted something that didn't look like wood planks and this truly does look like stone. It's called Scratch Stone and I'm so glad I picked this one.

Back in a couple of days to show more!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Uninspired but good

"If the meal was too slim,
Papa went out in the kitchen
and fried a big panful of potatoes
to supplement it."
Gladys Taber
The Book of Stillmeadow


After 50-something years of cooking breakfasts I've become a little uninspired by the whole business. 

Especially when taking dairy out of the equation the last few years, or have RH suffer the consequences, I've about run out of ideas.

I wish I were a cereal eater. RH is perfectly happy with that and some fruit. Most mornings lately I just eat an egg open-face sandwich, on one piece of Great Harvest 100% whole wheat and it lasts me until a late lunch.

But Sunday breakfast should be special, even if it's only the two of us here to eat it. Otis and Milo used to get an egg every Sunday morning but the people we adopted BreeBree and James Mason from advised against it.

So this morning I just started slicing two big new potatoes while still in morning brain fog, plopped them in the pan and got out a bag of scallions, cleaned and sliced them and then went out on the kitchen porch to clip two jalapeños and sliced them. 


By the time when RH got up from his rare morning of sleeping in, I had the eggs stirred into the potatoes and told him breakfast was ready.

Yes, no toast, no meat, no fruit. Salsa was optional.

Probably sensing that I was not in a mood for any comments, he sat down and ate it.

And it was good. Uninspired but good.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

August Is



"August is the year at early harvest, 
                      a farm wife with a baby napping in the crib,

            a preserving kettle on the stove,

                      fryers in the freezer, new potatoes in the pot,

           and a husband in the hayfield baling the second cutting.

               August is tomatoes ripening

       and the insistent note of the cicada punctuating the 

               heat of midafternoon.

       August is the smell of corn pollen,

               and the taste of roasting ears,

       and the stain of blackberry juice on the fingers....

       August is Summer thinking of the cut and color

                of her Autumn costume."


Hal Borland
in Sundial of the Seasons
from The New York Times


Hal Borland was a friend of Gladys Taber's and, incidentally, uncle to a friend of ours. Every morning after I read The Mockingbird Devotional, I pick up Sundial of the Seasons and read the day's entry. The first one of each month is my favorite. 

You would think I'm star struck and Hal Borland's most fanatic groupie if I told you how much I love him and his books, his mind, his dogs, his wife, anything connected to this man. But I think Gladys Taber felt that way about him too so I guess I'm okay.

I left out three paragraphs of his August 1 essay and each line stirred my heart. But I'm thinking of corn right now. I know, it's GMO today unless you're lucky enough to find some locally grown that isn't. And that sells super fast!

But as someone who was a picky eater as a child--I can't even believe that was ever me--fresh corn was something I turned my nose up on. Canned corn I would eat but not corn on cob, not Mama's good fried corn. As a young married woman who then did the cooking in the house, I quickly learned to appreciate corn in all its good forms.

And oh my, I just remembered the amazing corn relish I used to make every summer. I just can't do canning and pickling anymore but that recipe, and the ones for pepper relish and chili sauce, were too good to be lost. (Note to self: type the recipes in a post soon where maybe someday a grandchild will want to make them.)

Anyhow, I'm just now making up for my years without fresh corn. I don't let the summer go by without cutting off a bowl full of it to make Mama's fried corn, although it won't taste as good as hers did. Not even when I do exactly as she did...

                 First cut just the tips off.
                         Next cut off the rest of the kernels.
                 Go back with the knife blade and scrape the rest.

That's what makes the best fried (creamed) corn ever! And if you add fried okra (a chopped green tomato added), sliced homegrown tomatoes and a wedge of watermelon to your meal, then you have one fine supper.

But most of the summer, from the time when the first Florida corn appears in the store all the way to fall, I fix three ears of corn on the cob for our supper a couple of times a week. I bring the unsalted water to a boil, put in the corn, bring it back to a boil and cook it four minutes. And then you eat it, you don't let it sit around waiting for you.

Ideally, you're supposed to do as Mr. Borland suggests and have your pot of water boiling, rush to the garden and pluck the ears, shucking it as you run, plop it in the pot, "watch it like a hawk, dash it to the table." 

Daddy never had to grow corn in his garden when I was a child since he was produce buyer for Kroger stores but I remember hot July and August mornings when my sister Deb and I would go with him to one of his growers' fields.



I liked walking through cornfields as a child, most of the time it was a field close to the old Sulphur Dell ballpark in Nashville. Daddy would pick a bushel or two and then we would go home and sit on the patio shucking all that corn. 

I hated that. There were vicious worms in some, you never knew which ear it would be in. And I didn't even have the consolation of looking forward to eating it, for goodness' sake!

As often as I could get away with it I lingered inside the kitchen with Mama when I'd take some in for her to blanch for freezing. It was air conditioned in there--God bless the man who invented air conditioning. 

And God, please yank a knot in the tail of the man (and company) who invented GMO foods. 

Thank You, I appreciate that.










              

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ismail Merchant's Chili-Tomato Salad



This is the salad I fix over and over again all through the summer, Ismail Merchant's Mirch aur Tamatur Salaad.

About every third day, we have enough sweet little cherry tomatoes ready to pick in the garden. I cut two or three jalapeños and a serrano pepper and clip a handful of parsley...



and I'm ready to make an easy salad that is so tasty.




Our favorite tomato for this is the Super Sweet 100. Next year we're going to plant two or three of these.




Ismail writes:
The most important part of cooking is to satisfy the taste buds and give the stomach what it yearns for.

This cold tasty salad is wonderful with any hot summer meal.

You simply slice a cherry tomato in half, chop or slice chilies, chop a handful of parsley, and although Ismail doesn't call for it, I slice a few scallions too. Mix with the tomatoes and chill in fridge.





Mix the dressing before serving and pour over:

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I use Maille)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons of vegetable oil (I use olive oil)
A pinch of salt and a pinch of cayenne

That's it, and enough for two of us, so double or triple if needed. And be sure not to pour the dressing over until you're ready to serve it.




I have to mention that Ismail was, of course, half of the wonderful Merchant Ivory Films, with James Ivory, my favorite of which are:

A Room with a View
Howards End
The Remains of the Day

But I also love Mr. and Mrs. Bridge with Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.  

Another favorite recipe from Merchant's Passionate Meals is his Baked Spicy Beefburgers that I serve on top of a salad instead of as a sandwich.



I've spiced Ismail's burger up a little more--

To a couple pounds of lean ground beef I add:

2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 medium beaten eggs, 1 teaspoon cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, cumin, coriander and salt, and a couple tablespoons of chopped parsley.

Mix well, shape into patties, place on greased baking sheet (with rim to catch juices), and bake about 20 minutes at 450   degrees.

Serve on a salad with a good vinaigrette of your choice.

And be sure to put on your favorite Merchant Ivory film to watch while you eat!