Pondering, Photographing, and Writing about Wild Places

A Late Winter Lunch

It’s funny how perspectives change. In August, the thought of late February, conjures of images of darkness, bare trees, a chance of snow, and mostly cold—a climate I have long associated with Russia, not the balmy southeastern United States in which I live. But today, the twenty-seventh day of February, all my thoughts are on spring—not three weeks from now when the equinox marks half day/half night and the calendar proclaims the changing of the seasons, but spring now.

My new tulip poplar, planted over the winter, is showing buds, as is the dogwood; the sourwood is showing off an inch or two of bright red new growth at the ends of her limbs, and the birds have been pairing up for a week or two now and are collecting feathers for nest-lining from the site of a recent coopers hawk kill near the feeder. This morning I retrieved two hummingbird feeders from the closet and filled them with nectar for the first time since storing them away last fall, then spent my afternoon tying flies for a trip to the Hiawassee River this weekend.

But it isn’t spring yet. The garden is not yet planted, though I am inventorying seeds and marking off a couple new beds for annual flowers and herbs and I opened my last jar of frozen pesto from last year’s bumper basil crop. I will run out of that perfect food before the new crop is ready for harvest. I have stretched last summer this far, but all things must end, I suppose.

Aside from my frozen pesto and mason jars filled with tomatoes, I resort to a more protein-rich winter diet—more red meat and pork, few vegetables. Produce from the store just can’t compete with the CSA share I work for or the modest return from my own yard. Winter is a time for hearty meals and deep sleep.

After cleaning the breakfast dishes this morning, I thought about lunch. The inch-thick pork chops in the refrigerator were fully thawed and ready for cooking, so I put on some rice and opened the spice cabinet to ponder how to prepare my meat. When nothing grabbed me, I went to the refrigerator. There was the pesto.

I removed the vacuum-sealed packaging from one of the pork chops, rinsed the meat, placed it in a bowl, drizzled it with olive oil and pressed a couple large cloves of garlic on top. Then I spooned enough pesto into the bowl to cover both sides of the pork with a quarter-inch layer.

After letting it sit for an hour or so, I put a small cast iron skillet on medium high heat and filled the bottom of the skillet with sunflower oil.

As the oil heated up, I covered a plate with cornmeal, added a pinch or two of salt, then carefully lifted the chop from its bowl, making sure the pesto layer stayed intact. I breaded the pestoed pork chop thoroughly with the cornmeal, then when the oil was good and hot, I put my chop in the skillet. I didn’t time how long it cooked before I turned it, but I made sure the cornmeal was good and crispy so I only had to flip it once. While it cooked, I turned the oven on to 350 degrees and oiled the bottom of a Pyrex baking dish. Forty-five minutes later, it was cooked all the way through and I had the perfect pork chop. A side of rice completed my lunch.

The farmer who provides my pork chops packages them in pairs so I guess I’ll have to do the same tomorrow. Next time I’ll invite a friend, but that might not be until next winter. The pesto will be gone in another week and once the gardens begin producing, I won’t include nearly as much meat in my diet anyway.

In the mean time, I have work to do—preparing beds, starting seeds and transferring plants, deciding where to put the rest of the hummingbird feeders. And this August, when I think of February, I’ll make a little extra pesto for the freezer and look forward to next winter’s pork chops!

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