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Praise for the pig

Here in Seattle, something is going on. Sunlight is pouring in through my bedroom window at an obscenely early hour (sunrise: 6:05 am), daffodils are sprouting from every yard and florist, and my portly bus driver—the year-round optimist—is no longer the only one wearing shorts. This has nothing to do with the vernal equinox or that start-of-spring nonsense everyone is twittering about. No, dear reader, Seattle is aglow because it's Pork Week.

By most accounts, the first celebration of Pork Week occurred five years ago, when two transplanted Southerners decided to consecrate 1/52nd of their year to uninterrupted praise of the pig. Inspired by a pig roast held by some friends, Mark and Justin—sharing slightly twangy accents and, at the time, a house—declared the first full week after St. Patrick’s Day to be Pork Week. Forget the leftover corned beef in the fridge: among this small crowd, from the first Sunday after St. Patrick’s Day through the Saturday that follows, pork must be consumed at least once a day.* Communal dinners are held a couple times over the week—this year, it’s Tuesday and Thursday, with a “gala” finale on Saturday—and other days, the observant fend for themselves.

Transcending the bacon and pork chops of their homeland, these Southerners are doing the pig proud with a variety of marinades; hot, smoky peppers; fiery orange sauces; Cuban black beans and rice; and, as rumor has it, mojitos.

“This is a story of growing up,” Mark said, meat thermometer in hand.
“It’s a coming-of-age story,” Justin affirmed.

And because Mark is the boyfriend of my dear friend Keaton—and because I won his heart by singing “Nine to Five” and “The Gambler” over a pool table last summer—I was invited to join in Tuesday night’s festivities. Upon arrival, Keaton and I were enthusiastically greeted by Mark’s two pit bulls, Maynard and Elsa, and the evening began with glasses of Shiraz for the ladies and Rainier (the house beer) for the men. In the kitchen, Mark and Justin were hard at work on a Mexican-inspired spread, with plenty of lemons, limes, cilantro, and jalapenos in attendance. The rest of us set right to work in our own way, clustering around the tortilla chips and Justin’s improvised tomatillo-avocado salsa and pico de gallo.

Mark claims that chemistry—a graduate-school stopover before he landed in his current field, metalwork—taught him how to cook, and how certain flavors and techniques work together. Food scientists are all the rage these days, from Harold McGee to Shirley Corriher and Alton Brown, but frankly, they could take a few style tips from Mark, what with his canine sidekicks (begging fiercely but respectfully) and his Rainier t-shirt.

The man knows his way around a piece of meat. While Mark carved, we set the table and laid out the spread: sautéed spinach with onions; a mountain of roasted-corn mashed potatoes; warmed corn and flour tortillas; and small bowls of red onion, diced tomato, mashed avocado, lemon and lime wedges, minced jalapenos, chopped cilantro, and sour cream.

And then Mark emerged from the kitchen with the centerpiece and the reason we’d come: two beautiful roasted pork tenderloins, wallowing happily in a sauce of sautéed and pureed poblano-ish peppers. The sauce was a deep olive green, thin but complexly flavored with a variety of ingredients Mark would not reveal, though he did concede that my guess of cinnamon was correct. I blushed with pride. We tucked the meat into warm tortillas slathered with salsa and avocado, squeezing lime juice over the top and reaching impatiently for more cilantro and jalapeno. I downed two drippy, overflowing tacos with ease and went back for another slice of pork. And next to me, Keaton, who only recently had a nightmare involving a pig slaughter and lots of squealing, stifled her tentative plans for a return to vegetarianism with two tacos of her own. You’d better believe Seattle was aglow.

By that point, dessert was almost an afterthought, but we managed to find room for a modest and messy rhubarb crumble, my nod to spring.

Even Mark—whose sweet tooth is, as Keaton explains it, the size of a pea—cleaned his plate. Evidently, Pork Week brings out the best in all of us. Thank goodness it's only Wednesday.

*Mark and Justin welcome sponsorship. National Pork Producers Council, this is your chance.

Rhubarb Crumble

1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup muscovado (or light brown, if you prefer) sugar
½ cup rolled oats
6-7 Tbs canola oil
1 lb rhubarb, cut into ¾-inch pieces
Scant ¾ cup granulated sugar
Zest of half an orange
½ tsp ground cinnamon

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup flour, muscovado sugar, oats, and oil, mixing well with a spoon or your hands until the mixture holds together in clumps and all the flour is incorporated. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In another bowl, combine the rhubarb with the granulated sugar, the remaining ¼ cup flour, orange zest, and cinnamon. Transfer the rhubarb mixture to an ovenproof baking dish, and distribute the oat topping evenly over the rhubarb. Bake for 35 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Serve warm, with good-quality vanilla ice cream.

Serves 4-6, or 7, if you’ve eaten lots of pork.


Blogger Jen said...

Molly -- This sounds and looks wonderful!

Not to demean rhubarb, but would your crumble recipe accept a sustitution of apples? I think I'm going to have to go a little more traditional this weekend...

12:55 PM, March 23, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Jen, apples would definitely work, but you'll probably want to cut back on the amount of granulated sugar I call for here. Rhubarb is very tart, so it demands an exceptional amount of sugar; apples should take less. Play with it, and tell me how it goes! Ooh, also--some chopped toasted walnuts or hazelnuts in the topping would be delicious with apples...

1:04 PM, March 23, 2005  
Blogger Jen said...

Many thanks!

1:09 PM, March 23, 2005  
Anonymous Sean Harding said...

Argh!!! Why must I read this when I'm trying to put off lunch for a while?

So hungry. So, so hungry...

1:17 PM, March 23, 2005  
Anonymous Matt said...

Just out of curiousity, how tart is the finished crumble? In my family we enjoy our baked rhubarb goods on the tart side. Looks like it's time to run down to the grocery store and pick up some fresh rhubarb!

7:36 PM, March 23, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Sean, so sorry to have caused such unwelcome hunger! Did you get some lunch?

And Matt, the rhubarb in the crumble has definitely been tamed by the sugar, but it still has that slightly tart edge. For your family, though, you might try cutting back a bit on the granulated sugar. Let me know what you think. Ahhh, rhubarb season!

8:58 AM, March 24, 2005  
Blogger Kathy said...

I love the idea and am so sad I never knew you when I lived in Seattle. My mom gets the best pig from some farm in Yelm. I highly recommend, but I can't tell you the name of the place. Going in on a pig with some friends would be great regardless of the farm, don't you think? Also -- no pig for me today; it's Good Friday.

5:10 PM, March 25, 2005  
Anonymous T. Primo said...

Ahh, a new holiday I can truly support! I will have to rally my friends down here in oregon for the occassion next year...I've already made note of it on my calendar. Oh boy am I hungry for a pork tenderloin taco now...and that mountain of mashers is too tempting.

I'll be sure to dig out my Piggly Wiggly t-shirt for Pork Week festivities next year...that's right, the one that says "I'm big on the Pig" across the back.

Enjoy your blog...Peace.

12:13 PM, March 27, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Kathy, it's very nice to meet you. I'll have to keep my ears and eyes open for that farm in Yelm...hmmm. Must do some research...

And T. Primo, three cheers for another Pork Week participant! I'm so jealous of you with that t-shirt!

1:41 PM, March 29, 2005  
Anonymous Mike C said...

Would that Mark posted his taco recipe... or at least the tomatillo-avocado salsa

3:14 PM, March 31, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Mike, I don't think we can get Mark to give up his taco secrets--or rather, I'm not sure he'd even remember exactly how he did it! As for Justin's salsa, however, I think it was a riff on this recipe: http://saveur.com/article.jsp?ID=4777&typeID=120. His addition of avocado was an improvisation...

6:49 PM, March 31, 2005  
Anonymous Buffy said...

My husband swears he fell in love with me because of my Rhubarb Crumble. I never told him it was from Marks & Spencer.

Maybe this recipe will help me redeem myself. :)

8:10 AM, March 13, 2008  
Blogger ann's daughter said...

I'd been thinking about rhubarb for a while - I love what my aunt Molly does with it, but I wasn't so sure about my skillz. I figured this would be an easy introduction, whatever.

SO good. SO ridiculously unbelievable "this did only have approximately five ingredients in it, right" delicious. Had some for dessert tonight, and anticipate that I will have at least three servings tomorrow. I'm stifling the urge to pick up more rhubarb at the market this weekend and make it again next week.

7:47 PM, May 21, 2009  

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