I gave up trying to go back to sleep at 4 am and made coffee. I usually only have these wide awake, wandering wee hours in the spring.
To say they are strange times seems kinda duh.
I opened a window in the living room to let in the cool fresh air. Then I wandered out onto the porch in my bare feet, in my summer nightie, and caught the moon backlighting the clouds.
About two miles away, in what used to be a highly desirable residential area, there is gunfire every few days. Yesterday someone on Nextdoor found half a dozen spent casings in their yard. But it’s quiet now.
I’m just about over my cold. But it wasn’t a cold. I don’t know what it was. Fever, chills, headache, yadda. I’m not concerned. I won’t be seeing any of you anytime soon so you shouldn’t be, either.
I can hear a train running alongside Poplar Avenue like I’ve heard a gazillion times. It sort of roots me to the moment, reminding me that some things are still the same. And the moon is still the same, though barefoot photography in December is rather new for me.
I think about some of my younger friends, who are fighting time the way the gangs in Yorkshire are fighting each other, desperately, with no apparent effect other than distress and grief.
Let me tell you, from the winter of my life, I would not trade these quiet moments of wonder and contentment to be 40 again.
First of all, that package of meat labeled “country style pork ribs” — they are not ribs. They’re not even all that close to the ribs.
I don’t know why they call them ribs. Maybe because they kind of look like short ribs. But it’s a good way to get a decent portion of pork shoulder without having to buy a whole one.
Second, let me tell you about fond. If you know what it is, just stand by for a minute. When you get to the step where you’re taking the cooked meat out of the pot, there’s this residue at the bottom. It can be a dark, gooey liquid or just bits of stuff left behind.
That’s the fond. Its whole name is the French term fonds de cuisine and, unless it’s badly scorched, it is like magic for a sauce, a gravy or whatever this is we’re making.
If you don’t have time for all this and you want to skip to the end, just use some leftover pork roast or pot roast or even shrimp. It’s all about the chard anyway. Heat some oil in a large kettle on the stove. Chop up an onion and a bell pepper. Prep the chard as in step 12. Saute the onion until it starts to soften. Then pick up at step 16.
OK, you may proceed. First, gather your equipment.
cast iron Dutch oven or other large oven-safe pot/baking dish with lid
tongs or meat fork
heat safe plate
pot holders, obviously, unless you are Superman
2 lb country style pork ribs
seasoned salt, pepper and paprika (or whatever salt/spice/herb you like)
1 t ginger paste (optional; can substitute ground ginger)
1 T minced garlic
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 red bell pepper
2 bunches rainbow chard
1-2 cups broth, stock of your choice or water (I used beef stock)
1 T fish sauce (optional)
Base: cooked pasta, cheese grits or rice
Condiments: chopped cilantro, chopped peanuts, sambal oelek (Indonesian chili paste)
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Put a heat-safe bowl of water on a separate rack in the oven. This will help keep the meat from drying out.
2. On the stovetop, heat 2-3 T. oil.
3. While oil is heating, remove pork from package and place on cutting board. Salt and pepper all sides and rub with paprika or whatever.
4. When oil starts to shimmer, add ginger paste and garlic and cook for about a minute.
5. Add pork and sear on all sides to a nice brown crust, 1-2 minutes per side. Lower heat if meat starts to scorch.
6. While pork is browning, wipe off cutting board and cover with a couple of paper towels.
7. When pork is ready, remove from pot and drain on paper towels. Leave pot on hot burner and do not turn off the stove.
8. Loosen fond slightly at the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add a little oil if you need to, about 1-2 T. Add half the chopped onion and stir to coat. Then put the pork back in the pot, on top of the onion.
9. Pour in 1 c. stock.
Pause for a moment to give thanks for the fond. If you’ve used an enameled cast iron Dutch oven, this is a magical moment. Just appreciate the sound, the smell and the way it looks when the fond melts into the stock and sizzles to the surface. This is my favorite thing in cooking.
10. Turn off the stove, cover the pot and put in the oven for an hour. Check every 30 minutes or so and add stock as necessary to keep meat from drying out. Add water to that bowl on the other rack if it’s all evaporated.
11. While meat is cooking, rinse off cutting board. Wash, seed and dice bell pepper.
12. Separate stems from the chard leaves and discard any tough stems or yellowed leaves. Wash stems and leaves under running water and pat dry. Slice stems into 1″ pieces and chop or tear leaves into mouth-sized pieces.
Helpful tip: you can leave all these vegies on the counter while the meat is cooking unless you have dogs like Salvador and Lenny. They will eat anything. So you might need to put your vegies in the fridge until step 14.
13. After the meat has cooked for an hour, reduce oven temp to 275. Then check every 20-30 minutes to see if the meat is tender. Uncover to reduce the stock if there’s too much (more than 1 to 1.5 cups). Otherwise, add more stock if you need to and replace the lid.
14. When meat is FINALLY done, remove from the pot with tongs and put on the plate to rest. Put the pot back on the stovetop burner and turn on high. When stock begins to bubble, add the rest of the chopped onion and braise until it begins to soften.
15. Meanwhile, pull or cut meat into bite-sized pieces if desired.
16. Add the bell pepper and the chard stems to the onion in the pot and toss together. Braise for a minute or two longer.
17. Then add the meat back to the pot.
18. Stuff as much of the chard leaves as you can into the pot. You might have to do this in batches.
Cover the pot and turn heat to medium-low and cover.
Every 2-3 minutes, stir the pot to move the wilted leaves to the top until all the leaves have been braised. It doesn’t take long.
This is a good place to check for seasoning, add what you need, including a tablespoon of fish sauce.
19. Plate your food by ladling onto a bed of hot pasta, cheese grits, rice or nothing. Add a dollop of sambal, a sprinkle of cilantro and a spoonful of peanuts.
In a rare moment of clarity I scheduled my booster shot for when I knew I’d be off the next day. My reaction is much milder than from my second shot but I’m going to stay in bed and drink hot tea until it passes.
The beautiful man in the blue scrubs at the Kroger pharmacy was clearly stressed but treated everyone with kindness and joked with staff and customers alike, even the ones who were maskless.
He cleaned the vial as if he was about to vaccinate his own child. I did what I usually do with people and asked him how he was doing.
He said he just wished it was over and things would go back to normal. I told him that, when I dream, no one is wearing masks. He found that really interesting and he seemed to brighten a little bit, reflecting on his own recent dreams.
I felt the bump of the syringe but not the sting of the needle and I complimented him on his technique. He said he had given about 10,000 injections so he had gotten pretty good at it. He probably meant it as hyperbole but I did the math and that’s about 14 a day so he’s probably not too far off.
I wasted a minute of his time by sending him on a search for my vaccination card when I had already pocketed it. I apologized for my mistake and thanked him for his service. I wished everyone a Merry Christmas and the response was what you might expect from people who are just plain worn out.
I see you, cashier with the pink braids. I see you, postal worker with the wire rimmed glasses. I see you, produce clerk, apologizing for the empty bins. I’m grateful for you and I hope your jobs eventually get easier. I think they will if the Kroger guy keeps on giving 14 shots a day. Thank you for your service and stay well.