Dueling normals: Braised pork shoulder

As I get older, I continue to learn that things change. Children grow up and begin new lives, babies are born, loved ones die, body parts ache, energy dwindles, and relationships grow richer. What I didn’t count on is the potential for permanent changes in the outside world. Post coronavirus, the global economy may alter drastically, new social concepts may evolve, familiar cultural habits may change. However, the reliability of nature gives me great comfort. Drab sparrows sing their little hearts out, green leaves open, Mt. Rainier towers majestically, dandelions thrive, and Scotch broom is on the warpath again. All we can do is to enjoy the old normals and expect that new normals will nudge their way in.

Old normal

Swallows: sleek, iridescent, and joyful, these aerial acrobats must have some sort of genius connection in their little bird brains to return to us every spring. My neighbors and I, lounging on the back patio the other day, marveled at their swoops and glides. My sister hosts an annual Spring swallow fest just outside her kitchen door. She watches them fly in with twigs to shore up last year’s home, position themselves to lay eggs, and nestle down to hatch the brood. Mom sits, Dad hunts and gathers, and both feed the gaping mouths of their new family. Ginny waits outside the door and looks up at the eaves, hoping to witness the minute the nestlings unfurl their wings and fly; but so far, all she has seen is a full nest, then an empty nest—maybe this year.

Shoots and leaves (Can’t type shoots and leaves without thinking of that old joke about commas. “Eats, shoots and leaves—a panda walks into a cafe, asks for a sandwich, and when he finishes, takes out a gun, fires it into the ceiling, and walks out without paying. The astonished waiter asks, ‘Why on earth did you do that?’ to which the panda replies ‘I’m a panda—look it up!’ The waiter looks it up in his dictionary and sure enough finds, ‘Panda: eats, shoots and leaves.’”): Anyways, magic happens every spring when gnarly brown corms, shriveled roots, and ordinary looking bulbs feel the coming change of seasons and slowly erupt. Last summer I nursed along a beautiful pink begonia, cut it back when the leaves died in the fall, stuck it in the garage, and completely forgot about it. Today while I was rummaging, there it was—neglected, left in the dark to its own devices, and ignored, but spring intervened. A small, timid, green leaf felt the urge and broke through—who knows what will happen with water and sunshine! And, we can find Grandpa Otts pushing up through the dirt in our gardens.

Soon-to-be pink begonia

Grampa Ott starts

New normal

Shopping: The sweetie and I put on our elder pants the other morning and got out of the door early to try out Costco’s “Senior Hours.” We had our stylish masks (thanks, Ginny) at the ready, a vial of hand sanitizer in the car, and a pocketful of snacks, just in case. We got there twenty minutes before the doors opened—there was a line snaking around the blue pallets at the entrance and down the length of the building. Our patience meter usually goes off at about five minutes, but this time, we needed beer and dirt so decided to take a breath and wait. At exactly 8:00 (What is it about those in charge of opening doors? Can’t they let the “elders,” who have been standing in the cold for at least 20 minutes, in at 7:55?), the doors finally opened. We got in on the first surge and, with the exception of Tylenol, bought everything we needed. Don’t quite see what the advantage is though.

Hugging: The Sweetie is the only one I’ve hugged for weeks now. Will we ever embrace a casual friend again, shake hands with a stranger, touch our faces without guilt, rub a random baby’s soft head, shoulder-brush a fellow sidewalker, sit shoulder to shoulder on mass transit, climb over someone sitting in the middle seat, or share a communal restaurant table? 

Anyways, there’s always pork shoulder. Then again, I just read that there may be a pork shortage, so stock up.

Braised, Stuffed Pork Shoulder, Serves 8

Instead of making the recipe’s stuffing (from Simply Recipes by Elise Bauer), I mushed up some leftover rice pilaf with leftover gravy, and used that. Also only used 1/3 of a five pound pork shoulder. 

  • 4 pounds pork shoulder roast, boned, untied
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups chicken or beef stock, boiling

Marinade:

  • 1 cup dry white wine (like a Sauvignon blanc)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons mixed dried herbs (can use an herbes de provence, or Italian seasoning blend)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

Herb-stuffing:

  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs

Marinate pork: Mix together the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add the pork roast and turn it to coat it all over with the marinade. Marinate for several hours in the refrigerator.

Remove from refrigerator 1 to 2 hours before cooking to bring closer to room temp.

Remove pork roast from marinade, pat dry. Reserve marinade.

Make the stuffing: Combine the stuffing ingredients until the mixture has the consistency of a paste.

Stuff the roast: Open up the pork roast to expose where the bone had been. Smear the stuffing onto this surface. Tie up the pork roast to enclose the stuffing. Rub the pork with olive oil.
Sear the roast in oven or on stovetop: Either place the pork in a large roasting pan and sear it in a pre-heated 425°F oven for 30 minutes or until the surface is golden brown, OR sear the roast on all sides in a large cast iron frying pan on medium high heat on the stovetop.

Transfer the pork to a thick-bottomed pot with a cover just large enough to contain it. (We used a 2 1/2 quart Le Creuset.)

Deglaze the pan with the strained marinade: Drain off the fat from the roasting pan or searing pan, then strain the marinade into the pan and heat, stirring to deglaze the pan juices.

Add marinade and stock to pot with pork, cover and cook: Pour the marinade over the pork and add enough stock to come one-half or two-thirds of the way up the side of the meat. Heat on high to bring to a simmer, lower the heat to maintain a bare simmer, cover the pot and simmer for about one and a half hours.

OR if you’ve already heated the oven to sear the roast, bring to a simmer and then put it in a 325°F oven for 1 1/2 hours.
Remove meat to cutting board, reduce liquids to make a sauce: Transfer the meat to a cutting board. Strain the liquid from the pot into a small saucepan, let settle enough to skim the fat, and simmer until the sauce is reduced by half.

Remove the strings from the meat, slice it or cut it into wedges, and serve with the sauce.

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