This past week, we've been slammed by sunshine. Then rain. Then sun.
Rain. Sun. Rain.
We've appreciated anew the reckless hellebore, that hardy soul that blooms when no one else dares.
And realized with a start that our first flowers will soon pass. And welcomed the parade of bulbs that will follow.
We've tidied an extra bit, not an extra lot, but a bit. It is astounding how many spider webs lurk where you don't look.
(Don't look up. Because what you don't see—I've recently decided, in a long overdue analog to what you don't know—cannot, in good conscience, be dirty.)
We've been reveling in nights that are light until eight, walking, park-ing, reading, playing, drinking it in.
(The mornings, ugh. Less revelry, more dishevelry. I hereby propose to the Daylight Savings Supreme Council that we shake things up a bit, gain an hour on both ends. All in favor?)
The birds are back. In spades. In legions. Sizing up our backyard birdhouses like so many sunbelt speculators, ca. 2004. And apart from my newfound crow-wariness, the grand hubbub has been all kinds of fun.
We've watched our first daffodil open, and our second, and our fifteenth-sixteenth-seventeenth- ... And with that, brought the year's first cut flower inside. Seems like that ought to be a holiday right there, doesn't it?
We've made pie twice, and eaten it thrice, and practiced our 3.14159. Because Pi Day really is a holiday. An unofficial one, maybe, but no less tasty for it.
We finished off the last of last Fall's caramel, and held vigil over the bare patch where we know to expect rhubarb. Nothing ... nothing ... nothing ... something! Too small to photograph, heliotrope elf torpedos, but there they were, Wednesday, right on schedule.
We've spied new growth rubbing shoulders with old, everywhere. Green spears heading north, old brown blooms dangling south. Little shoes, suddenly too small. Pants that worked last month, all wrong this.
We stumbled upon Erin Steed's latest gem, and fell (again) head over heels for her exquisite illustrations. And one young boy's exquisite patience. And a hat-wearing penguin. And... oh, just go.
We've found the first fly, the first ant, the first ladybug. And after weeks of searching, the first roly poly. Can you see it, up top, in those dusty cupped hands? It was tiny, tiny, tinier even than those rhubarb tips. But when you've been building habitats and hanging "VACANCY" signs and up-ending rocks since February, size is so not an issue.
Bubbly mudpuddles have taken up residence under every soap pump. There's a fine layer of grit on the bottom of the bath tub. We've tracked in enough mud to fill a raised bed. It sounds almost romantic, doesn't it? It's not. It's just dirty. But it's a good dirty.
I've made emergency runs to the basement for shorts. Fielded—and punted—popsicle requests. Refereed water fights in the backyard. At half-past seven. No goosebumps in sight.
Yes, those are bare elbows, knees and toes, and yes, those are daffodils in the background. Sort of like last year, emphasis on the "not at all". Seventy-seven it was, this past Wednesday. Next Tuesday's projection: 81º. That would be Tuesday, March 20. As in Tuesday, Equinox Eve. Must be Summer. Late Winter. New World Order. Whatever. Let's go with a sneak preview of Spring.
Here is where I confess I am Toad. A touch curmudgeon, dragging my feet, not quite ready to crawl out from under winter's covers.
Not entirely Toad. I would never ever say to Spring, point-blank, “Blah.” I want to skip through the meadows and run through the woods and swim—okay, splash—in the river, I do! Just, you know, later. Just not quite yet. I’ve got knitting in progress! Basement sewing unfinished! To-do’s still to do! Can I burrow down one more month?
(We've also taken cat naps, since the Daylight Savings Supreme Council seems to be permanently Out of Office.)
This is why I need Frogs in my life, like daffodils and insistent suns and small children in triplicate. They cajole my slow self into making the switch. They keep me honest. They remind me to look up. And between the bright hot, there are still those damp days. We can squeeze in some wooly goodness, when the sun don't shine. Work puzzles, string beads, while sitting out the drizzle. And before the calendar officially flips, we can sneak in pork and apples, under the wire.
If you've been around here any length of time, you'll have noticed I don't talk meat-centered mains very often. This is because I don't eat meat-centered mains very often. Meat appears most weeks, if not most nights, but when it does, it is ordinarily a bit player. Apart from the odd braise or festive shish kebab, meat mostly makes its way onto our table stir-fried with vegetables, consorting with tofu, or tossed with abundant greens, beans, grains or legumes. A + 2B family, we are not.
Except on those rare occasions when we are. This pork, these apples: they are the rare. I've been making this dish for some ten years, now, often once a year, always regretting not more. A single tenderloin is sliced thin and seared, as much for the handsome crust this delivers, as for the golden bits they leave behind. When the medallions are bronzed, but not yet done, they're set aside to rest, and to give the apples and onions their turn.
I didn't mention the onions. The onions are important. They are tiny little things, slivered, transluscent, but the source of that unmistakable allium baritone. The onions are savory harmony to the apples' tart-sweet melody, a caramelized vegetal counterpoint to the rich disks of meat.
Rich? Oh, yes, that. There's a pan sauce, also, built of booze, cider and cream. And of course those crusty bits, good as gold, flavor bombs that become one with the sauce. Well, and thyme, which I shouldn't underplay, because its soft herbal zip is evident throughout. This all gets reduced, concentrated, until syrupy, whereupon the pork re-enters the swim. Everything completes finishing school together, until pork, apples, onions, and cream can complete each other's sentences. I could clutter another paragraph with ecstatic adjectives, or I could just encourage you to give it a go. You can still sneak it in under the winter wire, if you wish. But really, there's no deadline on delicious.
Pork Tenderloin with Apples, Onions, Thyme + Cream
adapted from The Best Recipe, from the Editors of Cook's Illustrated
Long ago, I increased the apples and onions, both, as I always crave more of the caramelized chunks. Ditto the sauce. You could quadruple it, easy. As to apples, use a good firm sweet-tart apple, such as Pink Lady or Granny Smith. Both hold their shape beautifully. As to "cider", I last used one Juicy Juice box, leftover from a party months ago. And as for "Applejack", I used Tuaca, a completely unrelated liquor with a sweet, vanilla edge. The original called for sage; I like thyme. My point: apple varieties aside, this recipe is deeply forgiving. Don't be held back by the details.
1 pork tenderloin (1 - 1.5 pounds), sliced into 3/4" medallions
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter + 1 tablespoon oil
3 firm, tart apples, such as Pink Lady or Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into 1" chunks
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
3 tablespoons applejack, brandy, rum, cognac, anything heady
1 cup apple cider or juice
1/2 cup chicken broth or water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons thyme, dry or fresh
1/2 cup heavy cream
additional salt and pepper, to taste
Arrange pork slices in a single layer upon paper towel and blot dry, then sprinkle both sides generously with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy skillet, heat oil over high heat until it shimmers. Working in batches, with tongs, carefully lay several slices of tenderloin in the hot pan, leaving an inch between pieces to ensure browning, not steaming. Let sit, undisturbed, 2-3 minutes, or until the bottom side is well-browed and releases easily. (If oil begins to smoke, turn heat down slightly.) Flip medallions, and sear on reverse, until golden. Remove medallions to a clean plate, and repeat with remaining pork, adding another splash of oil, if needed, to keep bottom covered. Reserve crusty skillet with all its glorious brown bits for step two.
With the pork seared and resting, sauté your apples and build your pan sauce: In the same skillet you used to sear the pork, melt butter and oil over medium heat, and swirl to distribute. Add apples and onions, stir to coat, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until apples are browning at the edges, 4-8 minutes. Add apple cider/juice and brandy to apples and onions, and bring to a boil, scraping pan bottom with a wooden spatula to loosen the browned bits. Boil gently until liquid reduces to a glaze, 3-4 minutes. Increase heat to high, add broth (or water), any accumulated pork juices from the resting plate, salt and thyme (if dried, rub between fingers as you add it, to release its oils and brighten its flavor). Boil until liquid reduces, thickens and becomes syrupy, 3-4 minutes. Add cream; continue to boil, until reduced by half, 2-3 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium, and return pork medallions to the pan, turning meat to coat and nestling them down amidst the apples. Simmer pork in the pan sauce until cooked through, 5-10 minutes (the USDA recently lowered the safe cooking temperature for pork to 145º; I cut open the thickest slice, and look for clear juices and a faint blush of pink). Taste, and adjust salt and pepper to suit. Transfer to a serving platter, spooning apples, onions and sauce over all, and enjoy.