I just looked up from the computer to glance at the TV and check out the current stage of the Tour de France, which is actually in Spain today. As if that weren’t strange enough, smack in the middle of the shot I’m confronted by a structure shaped like a 90-foot wang. EXACTLY like a 90-foot wang. Thanks for that extended shot from the helicopter, Tour producers.

I will use the memory of this completely non-genitalia-related meal to erase Spain’s horrifyingly penile architecture from the valuable brain space it’s now occupying, space that’s in high demand for much-needed self-deprecation efforts and mental images of Golden Retriever puppies.

(Okay, one last dangle reference: This? Is the most hilarious ultrasound I’ve ever seen. Also the only one where I’ve ever been able to tell what it is, exactly, that I’m looking at. If this is what he’s like in utero God save his mother, because he’s going to be a fricking hellbeast. I say that out of love.)

Dinner tonight came from the authoresses of The Splendid Table or as I like to call them, “The PBS Ladies.” I know they’re from public radio, but my brain conflates all types of public media and flattens them into PBS. The PBS Ladies suggested that I pair their grilled tamarind-glazed pork chops with a napa cabbage slaw in pepita dressing; I decided to tack on the Thai cantaloupe salad because PBS needs to be shaken up once in a while. Live a little, PBS.

The weather was cooperative for grilling, the Fresh Direct cantaloupe actually smelled like fruit and I discovered another kind of slaw that I like, bringing the grand total to three or – more impressively – a 200% increase over my previous slaw-enjoyment total.

Unfortunately, I destroyed a perfectly good work shirt making the tamarind glaze. I know, I should know better than to do anything food-related without wearing a smock, but since Brian was manning the grill I figured my role was limited to the chopping of non-staining items. How was I to know that the FoPro had developed a mystery crack in an undisclosed yet apparently key location, causing it to shoot viscous, gluey, highly stain-worthy pure tamarind puree all over the counter, floor, back of the couch and my person? The answer, of course, is that I should have known because I am more stain-prone than a toddler in a white dress about to blow out the candles on a half-melted ice cream cake covered in grape jelly and tomato paste. Also she’s just learned to walk and has to lurch across a sandpit to get to the cake. And the sand is actually Oreo cookie crumbs. And she has polio.

If there is a food in the vicinity that can stain me it will find a way to do so no matter what contortions are required. And I am utterly helpless, even more so than the aforementioned toddler, because a grown-up could conceivably pluck her from danger before she plunges into the cake-jelly-tomato whereas I have to hope the hand of God will do so for me.  Which it never does, because God hates me. I mean, we’re talking about a God who let a pigeon with an outsized colon shit on my hair on my way to a job interview. I appreciate your sense of humor, supreme deity, but sometimes enough is enough.

Anyway, the pork chop glaze had slightly less tamarind than it was meant to due to the quantity absorbed by my shirt.  Also included: garlic, wine, fish sauce, ancho chiles and a hit of sugar.  None of them stained me, though I’m sure it wasn’t for lack of trying.

I knew I’d have to face the FoPro again for the slaw dressing, so I thought I’d give myself a break before the next splatter-fest with some relatively stain-free cabbage chopping and carrot shredding; thankfully, no beets were needed for the slaw. Brian washed the tamarind-coated FoPro in preparation for the next phase before heading out to light up the grill.

The slaw dressing had an interesting base of orange juice and pepitas – pumpkin seeds, but calling them “pepitas” makes us sound so much foodier, n’est ce-pas?* – along with orange zest, cumin, coriander and olive oil.  The FoPro also shot this at me, but it was much thicker than the tamarind glaze and was less amenable to seeping into a cotton/modal blend.**

After the initial whiz, the mixture seemed a little thick and pasty. Or a lot thick and pasty. And unappetizing. And so solid that there was no way it was going to coat anything other than that hole in the wall I’ve been meaning to spackle for the last three years.  I squeezed a little more orange juice in, gave it another go and it turned into an actual liquid the not unpleasant avocado-y color of a 1978 Frigidaire.  The pureed pepitas ended up creating a creamy texture that kept the mix from being a thin vinaigrette-style dressing while also allowing me to avoid the horror of mayonnaise. ¡Olé Pepitas!

*Unless you are a Spanish-speaker, in which case my telling you this is kinda like asking to eat “Chinese food” in China.

**I don’t know what modal is – I assume it doesn’t come from an animal, unless I’m just behind the times and am the last one to hear about the new hybrid modal goat – but it is fucking comfortable.

I could smell the sweet, charry smell of the pork wafting in through the back windows; it signaled that I was behind on my chopping and it was time to pick up the pace.  I hacked up the melon, diced a jalapeño or two and made a chiffonade of Thai basil.

Question: How do you describe the process of chopping herbs into a chiffonade while being both grammatically correct and not sounding like a douchebag?  Can it be a verb? “I chiffonaded the basil” sounds non-Dbaggy, but incorrect.  Does it have to be a noun? “I prepared a chiffonade” sounds slightly more correct, but more Dbaggy.  Do these two have an inversely proportional relationship?  If so, on which side do I want to fall? (Note that I am willing to be grammatically incorrect with my usage of the word “chiffonade,” but may the God who obviously hates me strike me dead where I stand recline if I end a sentence with a preposition.)

Never mind anyway, easy question: I want to be on the non-douchebag side, since that’s, you know, the side devoid of douchebags. I chiffonaded the SHIT out of that basil and tossed the fruit, veg and herbs with lime juice and a few drops of fish sauce, finishing mere seconds before Brian came in laden with pork. Pork CHOPS. Don’t be nasty.

Total dinner-making time, just under an hour if you don’t count the ninety minutes I spent hunting down every tamarind stain on my shirt with a Tide-to-Go pen.*

*Lie. I’m WAY too unmotivated for that, and this shirt wasn’t so hot to begin with.

PBS is nothing if not a group of trustworthy moneygrubbers. (Come on, you know the fund drives irritate you even though you feel bad about it because you want to think of yourself as the kind of person who supports PBS.)  This was a relatively simple meal compared to many other Smackdowns, but thanks to slightly off-kilter flavor combos and well-paired dishes it came across as much more than the sum of its ingredients.

The pork was juicy and deeply sweet from the tamarind, with a little ancho heat (and sweetness; dried anchos have a lovely fruity quality) and a sharp hit of fish sauce funk.  The cabbage – as I’ve already mentioned, this was another slaw that won me over. The pepita dressing was citrusy and nutty and the pureed seeds brought an interesting textural quality to the vegetables; the olive oil added a mild peppery bite, and the other spices, small quantity notwithstanding, added a little depth of flavor without competing with the headlining pepitas.

Cantaloupe and jalapeños? SCORE. With the herbal, licorice-y note from the Thai basil and the sharp lime… I could eat a lot of it, and I did.  There’s a recipe later in the book that’s basically this salad blended with some ice to make a chilled soup, and even though it will doubtlessly end in my being covered head-to-toe with melon puree I am all over that shit like fruit cocktail on my prom dress. (True.)

PBS ladies, I’m totally donating during your next funding drive, and I’ll feel really good about myself until I remember that you actually work for public radio.

ONE YEAR AGO: Restaurant Recreations: Le Croque Madame

[tags]food, cooking, NPR, splendid table, pork, cabbage, cantaloupe, tamarind, grilling, pepitas, pumpkin seeds, ancho, chiles, orange[/tags]