Verdammt gut

You may remember (but you probably don’t, or if you did it would be weird) a comment I made a few months ago about Germany. German, to more specific. I considered myself quite the ‘language buff’ in high school and college. For a while, my intended major was business with minors in French and Spanish. I had dreams of being a big-time international businesswoman, racking up miles like George Clooney and living out of hotels with only the best room service, a constant supply of freshly-made cookies, 700-count sheets, and a suite with French doors opening out to the sun each morning.

That lasted approximately 1 semester. I hated economics, I did not like the idea of constant groupwork and presentations using pie charts, and the business building was slam on the other side of campus from my other classes. I liked the language coursework though, and I had full intentions of sticking with those minors until I took that damn genetics class.

I took both Spanish and French in high school, and to be totally honest, they were both easy to me, though it was probably because our classes were full of hoodlums (myself included) who acted up all the time, deterring Señora Williford and Madame Whatever-her-name-was from teaching too much anyway.

For whatever reason, I left the Spanish behind (which I now regret) and continued with French for a couple of semesters at college. Once I challenged myself to take French AND German at the same time. Ballsy, yes; smart, no.

Decidedly, the German language was not for me. I couldn’t get the difference between der and das and the crazy crazy noun inflections; most of all, I couldn’t get anywhere close to sounding German, and when I tried I was too busy laughing at myself (I also would not make a good actress, I know).

The only phrase I could say and know it was right was, “Ich komme aus Bombay” which translates to “I come from Bombay”. Why did I say that?! Who knows – we were told to pick names and countries of origin, so I thought being from India sounded pretty rad for someone in German class. It was short-lived, all of it.

Ironically enough, the Hubs is of 100% German descent, but I didn’t hold that against him when we met. Furthermore, I’d probably consider German food to be my absolute least favorite type of food (at least of what I can think of now). And don’t take that the wrong way – I like German food. Bratwurst? Mustard? Pretzels? Let’s not forget the bier und Rießlingen (beer & Riesling). And when, thanks to the CSA, I found myself with some red cabbage and pork chops, I couldn’t get the German themed combo out of my mind. I knew the cabbage needed a good braise, and both cabbage and pork needed more pork – bacon. It seemed to be a match made in heaven, and it was.

That said, I racked my wee ol’ brain and conjured up one more German phrase to add to the only other one I know: “Dies ist gut. Dies ist verdammt gut.”

Pork Chops with Braised Red Cabbage
Adapted from Gourmet, 2006 via Epicurious.com, serves 4

time commitment: 45 minutes, mostly active time

printable version

ingredients
6 bacon slices, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red cabbage, halved lengthwise, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 granny smith apple, sliced into thin sticks
1/4 c sherry vinegar
3/4 c water
2 T sugar
1/2 t caraway seeds
1 1/4 t salt
3/4 t black pepper
1 T canola oil
4 (1-inch-thick) bone-in rib pork chops (2 1/2 to 3 lb total)

instructions
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450 F.

Cook bacon in a 4- to 5-quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, and transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Heat remaining bacon fat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion, stirring occasionally, until it begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add cabbage and apples and turn with tongs until coated with fat. Stir in sherry vinegar, water, sugar, caraway seeds, 3/4 t salt, and 1/4 t pepper and braise cabbage over moderately low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 25 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, pat pork chops dry and sprinkle both sides with remaining salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown seasoned chops, turning over once, 5 minutes total, and transfer to a shallow baking pan (1 inch deep). Roast chops in oven until thermometer inserted horizontally 2 inches into center of a chop (do not touch bone) registers 145 F, 5 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir half of bacon into cabbage, then finely chop remaining bacon for sprinkling.

Let chops stand in pan, loosely covered with foil, 5 minutes. Serve chops over cabbage, with any pan juices spooned over and sprinkled with bacon.

No Place Like Home

Visits to North Carolina are quick and to the point, event-driven, and filled with obligation (not that we mind, of course). So much so that we often times forget that NC was at one time home to us, and not just our parents and friends.

A couple of weekends ago, we remembered.


Even though home for now is in Chicago, North Carolina was where I learned to ride a bike, where my feet trudged through the sand and shells every summer of my childhood while looking for sand dollars and conchs, where I fell in and out of love with boys, and where I learned that life is what you make it, wherever you make it. It’s who we make it with that counts.

You reach a point where you think all of your friends are married, and then you reach a point where they all start their own families. We keep realizing that it isn’t as uniform as it seems – they’re still getting married (hence this past trip), they’re still having or not having kids, and sadly some are parting ways – for better or worse isn’t always as easy as it seems, it appears.


Sometimes we realize that we’ve grown apart – perhaps it’s the distance, or the difference in career choices (or lack thereof), or maybe we just mature at different rates (some of us, ahem, more slowly than others). Either way, we’re still friends, and that’s what counts.

I can’t say if we’ll ever live in NC again. Shoot, I can’t even say where we’ll be in two or five or ten years, for that matter. But what I can say is that, while home is wherever we choose to settle down for the time being, North Carolina will always be home-home. It will always be special for that reason and so many more, and we will always look forward to the visits back – even those visits when we say goodbye to someone we love – because it’s those visits that count.

This recent weekend was one of those trips – another wedding, another visit with our respective families, and another drive or two between Raleigh and Greensboro. This time, we stayed until Monday, catching an early flight home just in time for the work week. It’s something I think we’ll make a new tradition, as we found ourselves with an extra day – a “freebie” of sorts.

We finally got to eat at The Pit, a lauded spot for eastern-NC BBQ, and for the first time in 8 years, we wandered through our old campus, reminiscing on things that were the same, all the while remarking about all those that were different. We met up with more of the fam and people-watched at the State Fair while eating fried cookie dough and the best ice cream around – from our alma mater itself. We spent time with some of the kids, who seem to grow in feet rather than inches. I had dinner with friends. We drove past our old apartments, old dormitories, old hang-outs.


We saw Autumn in the South – leaves falling, crackling beneath our feet, reminding us once again, that this – North Carolina – is home-home. There’s no place quite like it, and that’s what counts.

Apple Hand-Pies
chiknpastry recipe, makes 6 pies

time commitment: ~2 hours (most of which is inactive time)
other: dough freezes easily. to use frozen dough, let sit in fridge overnight to thaw.

don’t get me wrong – I love fried treats from the fair, but one can only eat so much in one month, right?! these hand pies are baked instead, but they’re just as charming. the dough makes enough for two pie crusts, so you can save 1/2 of it, or double the filling for double the hand pies. i like the idea of getting another pie dough out of my efforts, so I freeze the other half for later.

the crust is very similar to other crusts I’ve used before, but I swapped out half of the AP flour for spelt flour for a whole grain twist and a nuttier flavor. the shortening has also been reduced a tad.

printable version

ingredients
crust
1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 1/4 c spelt flour
1 T sugar
3/4 t salt
1 stick (8 T or 1/2 c) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 T (1/4 c) chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
up to 1/2 c ice water

filling
1 large granny smith apple, peeled and chopped into small cubes
3 T agave nectar
1/4 t cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 t lemon juice
1 egg, lightly beaten
turbinado, or “raw” sugar, optional

instructions
crust
pulse flours, sugar, and salt in a food processor to blend. Add butter and shortening and pulse repeatedly until small pea-size clumps form. Add 1/2 of ice water and pulse until dough holds together when small pieces are pressed between fingertips, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. (alternatively, this can be done by hand or using a pastry blender, but it’s gonna take longer!) Gather dough together; divide into 2 pieces. Form each piece into ball, then flatten into disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until needed. (You can keep it in the fridge for 2 days, or even freeze it and let thaw overnight. But, let it sit out for a few minutes to soften before you are ready to roll it out.)

filling
combine all ingredients (apple through lemon juice) for filling. cook over med-hi heat in a small saucepan until some of the liquid dissolves and the apples cook but remain crunchy. remove from heat and cool completely.

assembly
roll out 1 dough disk on floured surface to 12-inch round (as i said above, i freeze the other round for later). using a 4 7/16″ pastry cutter (or whatever size you want, really; can also use a plate if you don’t have a pastry cutter), cut as many disks as possible, then repeat the process by rolling out unused dough until you have 6. you may need to chill the dough again if it gets too warm.

position rack in lower third of oven. measure out a heaping tablespoon onto one side of each round (total amount is somewhere between 1-1.5 T). brush entire edge of each round with beaten egg, fold half of dough over to make a half-moon shape, and press edges together. seal edges using the back of a fork. move to baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

preheat oven to 400. brush entire top of each pie with egg, and sprinkle with raw sugar, if using. bake @400 for 20-25 minutes. remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes before digging in!