I woke up last week and realized I've been living in the past, around here. Between Spring Break slide shows and salvaged afternoons, a month sort of slunk by. It wasn't as quiet as all that, in practice. I don't want to bore anyone silly with our domesticities, so please feel free to page down for ace pork, the stuff of happy lunchboxes and stellar rice bowls.
But because this is where I remember our days, I tip my hat to our April, before we commit to May.
Last month, we raised four house finches. Right outside our front door! Well, we hung up a wreath, anyway Mother finch did the rest. Dive-bombed us for weeks, all throughout March. Laid four blue eggs, then sat on them, ceaselessly. Hatched them. Fed them. Raised them. Launched them. All four of them, in the space of two weeks. Fissured shells to empty nest. Fourteen days. Surely, there's a parenting lesson to be had here?
(The wreath was literally just outside our door, not even twelve inches from the hinges. Level with my shoulder. Level with Max's shoulder. Completely within Henry's seven-year-old reach. Completely madcap crazy, at least from this apparently-helicopter mother's perspective. Maybe the lesson is chill out, already?)
I cast off one sweater. And felted another. Anyone need a really really warm pink hoodie, extra-small?
Must be time to cast on something new. Que sera.
The garden exploded, lost all self-control. Out: brown, soil, contrast. In: stems, leaves, lush. Everything grew tall, high, lyrical green. Except where it's purple. There's a lot of purple. April, I think, is the garden's purple period.
I laughed, ungenerously, loudly, repeatedly, over the alliums' hysterical hair. If ever a plant had a bad case of bed head...
We painted our bean poles! And a bit of our grass. And the tips of Zoë's Crocs. And the tips of her toes.
Messy. Unnecessary. Totally excellent.
April ushered in the backyard bouquet. There is such luxury in walking out one's door with scissors, and returning with stuff enough to fill four vases. So what if the stuff is chive blossoms and weeds. It is vital and free and eminently now.
Mostly, we admire them outdoors, monitoring their progress, squealing over their arrival.
We waited on clematis; we got clematis.
We waited on iris; we got iris.
We waited on roses... oh, you get the picture. April is nothing if not instant garden gratification.
Well, except the peonies. The peonies are a perpetual tease, bulging stalled buds for weeks on end. They take their own slow-oh-ho-hooo sweet time, a boon for the ants, an eternity for us.
Still, May needs something. Any day now. I'm sure of it.
I debated again, as I do each year, whether I prefer the Pasque flowers as flowers, or memories. This year, I voted for the frazzle-haired latter: Einstein on a stick, Dr. Seuss on a stem.
We fell a little more in love with Mariah Bruehl's Playful Learning. The recurring "Where's my math?" query is wonderful. The timing—at day's end, during elementary homework, during dinner prep—is more than a little vexing. Mariah's saved my hide, more peeling sessions than I can count.
We've gone to bed with the sun, to wit later, and later.
We've gotten up with the sun, to wit earlier, and earlier. (That up-top shot? 6:04 a.m. Lovely light. Ugly early.)
We've had some tired, tired afternoons. I am not at my best on tired, tired afternoons. It helps to have a kid who washes doll dishes for kicks.
It also helps to have windflowers out the window, all a-bobble. Does any flower pack more charm per square inch? Does any anything?
From the dryer, I've pulled mittens and shorts, wool hats and tank tops, t-shirts and scarves. All from the same load. All from the same week. The flowers may be on a steady trajectory, but my goodness, Spring weather's a bit schizophrenic.
We've played with old friends, in brand new ways, as doors opened and air warmed and playzones expanded. We've ogled tadpoles and picnicked in parks and traipsed across creeks in ill-suited shoes.
Oh, and have you heard? The dinosaurs went extinct. Again. I didn't quite catch it the first time 'round, but the second devastating asteroid was pretty entertaining.
We said final farewells to the lunar dogwood, the lilacs, the tulips, the grape hyacinths. And after days and days of April crabapple "snow", we waved off the fruit blossoms, as well.
We welcomed the first foods from the garden, more snacks than meals, more celebration than substance. Fresh mint, for salads and sandwiches. Wild spring onions, a.k.a. The Allium Formerly Known As Weed. Chives, which I never understood as a child. Rhubarb, which I did, and which one of mine does, also. Ten stalks, we said. Ten stalks, we stuck to. Enough for a bowl of splodge and three small sodas.
And big, giant glorious collard greens! I don't even especially like collard greens. But I grew them myself, accidentally, a year late, from 2011's completely failed crop. From last year's thirty sprouts, I didn't harvest one leaf; this year, I've gotten a good dozen and counting, from my single, strange Phoenix plant. I don't understand it, but I'll take it. Preferably slivered and sautéed in olive oil.
We spied Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail in our backyard. And ooh'd and ahhh'd! and ran to catch peeks.
Then discovered they were eating our broccoli leaves. Like, de-foliating them completely, in the space of a morning. Like locusts. Like Agent Orange. Albeit agent orange with impossible ears and whipped cream tails. We brought in chicken wire reinforcements. And switched to a sort of frown-croon combo. (We're keeping close watch on our crop of twelve strawberries).
We made our first popsicles. We ate our first popsicles.
And our seconds, and thirds, and fourths.
We dyed Easter eggs!
Sheesh. It has been awhile.
This pork began its life as chicken, and between the pages of Everyday Harumi. (If you're not already on a first-name basis with Harumi Kurihara, she of our beloved gingered green beans and pork, may I recommend you introduce yourself, ASAP?). It also belongs rightly in a rice ball (onigiri). But I can't quite get rice balls right. Mine always wind up rather less sphere, more schrapnel. So bento pork it is. And wonderful.
What this is is a deeply flavored pot of ground pork, tender and rich, salty and sweet. If that last combination makes you pause, think terriyaki, for that's the come-hither balance struck, here. Also, much the same ingredient list. Mirin, sake, soy sauce and sugar are tipped into a pan with a pound of ground pork. Then simmered for twenty. Then eaten. That's it.
(This is where you abandon American notions about browning ground meats, because nothing of the sort happens here. Think instead bolognese, rich meat slowly simmered, until soft as velvet and stumble-drunk on its braising liquid.)
(This is also where you say: "It's a pleasure to meet you, Harumi.")
I began making bento pork last fall, to send to school in Henry's lunchbox: warm rice, black beans, plus this pork in a Foogo. I could put a pot on as I made coffee, Monday morning, and it would be ready in time for lunch-packing. I can't make conversation while making coffee, Monday morning. This should tell you something about the difficulty level, here. Also, it made enough to last the whole week long.
Or it did, until I started dipping in. Soon enough, I found it rounded out a rice bowl spread nicely, the sort we set up sometimes, buffet-style, for supper. A pot of hot rice, plus black beans (because all my littles love them), plus this pork, plus veg, turns little into much. Sometimes it's as simple as canned corn and frozen peas. Recently, there was early asparagus, braised in a little miso butter. Sometimes, scrambled eggs. Sometimes, slow-fried peppers. (Ancient post. Excellent dish.) Often, cubes of golden tofu. I love a fillip of pickled ginger, always. I'm alone in that last one. But that's the beauty of rice bowls. Everyone assembles their own, with whatever they like.
And always, in my rice bowl, I like a bit of this. I like it because it's meat the way I think meat's meant to be, meat as seasoning, splendid, exceptional. This is not pork to be eaten by the pound; it is pork honored and amplified, underscored and italicized. A tablespoon or three informs an entire bowl, mostly made up of grains and abundant veg. Every crumb is an ambassador of flavor, every crumble, an exclamation point. It may look like ye olde American ground meat, but it acts like aged parmesan, umami sparks flying everywhere. We had eight for dinner, last Tuesday night, and one pot fed us all, handsomely. With several of us returning for seconds. And enough leftover for three days' lunch. I don't know about you, but I can tip my hat to that.
Adapted from Everyday Harumi, Harumi Kurihara
Harumi's original recipe calls for 7 ounces of meat, destined as it is for onigiri. (It also calls for finely chopped chicken, which is also excellent.) I've scaled the recipe up to a pound, the standard packaging for pork and a fine quantity for a week's worth of meals. Mirin and sake are available in the Asian section of most groceries, though they are significantly less expensive at an Asian grocery. Also, please note that this is plain pork, not ground pork sausage or meatloaf mix.
1 pound ground pork
6 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
4 tablespoons mirin
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Measure soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar into small saucepan, set over medium-high heat. Add ground pork, crumble gently with a wooden spoon, and bring to a strong simmer. It will look hopeless and a little ghastly, for a spell. Press on; it all works out in the end. Turn heat down to a lowish-medium, keeping pork at a gentle simmer, and cook 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pork is finished when almost all the liquid has been absorbed, and you've a remaining mahogany syrup of several tablespoons. Serve with hot fresh rice, with all manner of extras.