I like the way the sun warms my back when I’m wearing black, and the way it shines on everyone the same way, blind to color and wealth and happiness. I like the way it glints off the water sinking deep into the hearts of the new camellia flowers in my front yard. I like the way it dries out the cover on my gas grill, after I forgot to replace it, now almost two weeks ago.
But when I’m roughly 11,000 feet closer to the sun than usual—say, sitting on a chairlift when said chairlift breaks down—I don’t particularly like the way the sun fries my face. Granted, there are worse things than spending an hour “stuck” in the Colorado mountains on a sunny day; I only really got cold at the end. And considering that thirty years’ skiing had never before offered me a similar situation, I’d venture to call myself lucky. Okay, so I didn’t get much skiing in that day. And I have a pretty wicked sunburn, for March, with lines across my face that will probably look funny until May. But I didn’t loose any appendages; I didn’t even get all that cranky.
I did, however, guzzle a hot chocolate, take two runs, then head for the smokehouse at Wildwood, where a pulled pork sandwich helped me forgive all. We sat with that big burning beast to our backs, Lauren and I, trying to dip waffle-cut fries into ketchup faster than the chilly hilltop breeze could whip their heat away. We pointed out barbecue sauce when we inadvertently smeared it across our faces. Then we skied, and I taught Lauren to tuck, and we skied faster. We checked in on our children from the chairlift, feeling simultaneously freed and tethered, like all mothers must.
So I’m blaming the chairlift for my sunburn, but both cheeks are peeling, and the sun was really only blasting me from one side that morning. The burn is from the skiing and the pork sandwich and the margaritas on the deck at the Minturn Saloon and the laughing and the tot wrangling and yes, quite possibly, from the hour on the chairlift as well. The whole is always more than the sum of its parts.
That night, cheeks burning, we went to Kelly Liken. It’s the first time in years (is that possible?) that I’ve been to a new-to-me restaurant with absolutely no itinerary besides enjoying myself. We laughed because both our children had gone to bed early without a fuss. We laughed when we ran into former private chef clients of mine, and when they treated us to glamorous cocktails, and when the server wholeheartedly congratulated our husbands on their 8 years of marriage because somewhere along the line, “Jess and Jim’s” anniversary had been translated to “Jeff and Jim’s.” We laughed when we twisted shaved roasted lamb leg up into fantasy bites with nettles and ramps and fried (what was it, that potatoey croquette thing?), and when we nibbled meat off a rack off rabbit, like a carnivorous version of Tom Hanks’s baby corn scene in Big. We laughed at how I’d pressed frozen waffles to my face in an attempt to ice it down, and at how the spun sugar topping the sticky bun dessert poked into the soft fleshy insides of our cheeks as we chewed it. Then we might have laughed some more, but I don’t really remember.
Then we came home. We came home, and there was a list fifteen miles long, with things like taxes and laundry and deadlines and planting the dahlia bulbs that have been lingering in the backyard for more than a week, looking sad and naked. I’ll start testing recipes again next week, I thought. When I’m rested, and my throat stops hurting.
Then I thought a little harder. I certainly don’t want to write a cookbook that only has recipes that you want to make when you’re 100%. I know as well as anyone that cooking can be lovely, but it also takes some effort, and some days you just don’t have as much to give. Still, after almost a week on the road, I wanted something hearty, something that felt complete. I patted a simple rosemary crust onto a gorgeous pork loin, and popped it into a nice, hot oven. While the panko tanned, I mixed potatoes with thyme and garlic, and drizzled asparagus with olive oil, and slid them in next to the pork. In a food processor, I whirled tart red plums (out of season, I know, but the book’s due in May and summer must be present—save this recipe for summer, if you want) with a bit of garlic and rosemary and balsamic vinegar. I let it simmer down until it looked liked applesauce with lipstick on. The pork came out perfectly pink in the center, so we bathed it with that magenta-hued sauce, and felt just as happy to be home as we’d been thrilled to be on vacation.
Now that we’re back, I don’t mind the sunburn much. My skin is also red from fresh cold wind, and wine, and the blush of a jolly good time. And I’ll certainly never look at a frozen waffle the same way again.
No, there’s no photo, which should tell you something—although this simple pork roast is gorgeous enough for company, you can make it on the laziest of days, like when you might have strep throat, and your face is peeling from too much sun, and your nanny is sick and you’re trying to wean your cranky tot from his pacifier and all you want to do is WHINE. (All that happiness above? That was three whole days ago.) But wait, this is about pork, right?
For a complete dinner, slick some small potatoes with olive oil and roast them right next to the pork. While the pork rests, steam a bunch of asparagus, and serve them drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with the extra breadcrumbs from the pork.
Time: 30 minutes active time
Makes: 6 servings
For the pork
1 (2 1/2-pound) pork loin roast, excess fat trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
For the sauce
3 large firm-ripe plums (about 1 pound), halved and pitted, then chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Place the pork in a small roasting pan, fat side-up. Rub the top with about 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, rosemary, breadcrumbs, and salt and pepper together until the breadcrumbs are evenly moist. Pat the breadcrumb mixture onto the pork, coating it in an even layer on the top and sides, and slide it into the oven on the middle rack. Roast for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the top is brown and the center of the roast measures 140° with an instant-read thermometer. (If the top begins to brown too quickly, slide a baking sheet onto the rack above the pork or cover the pork with foil.)
Meanwhile, whirl all the sauce ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
When the pork is done, let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Rewarm the plum sauce, then slice the pork into 1”-thick slabs, and serve slathered with sauce. Serve extra sauce on the side.