Melancholy, I think, is a sort of default vagueness, a get-out clause, a smothering lack of focus. -Edmund de Waal (The Hare with the Amber Eyes

To be without a job is both exhilarating and depressing. On the one hand, you suddenly have time to do the things you’ve been dreaming of doing for months: reading piles of books, organizing cupboards (okay, this wasn’t really a dream, but a practical necessity), framing photos, returning to yoga and a healthy level of self care. The other side of that, however, is that your days are a bit aimless, there’s no real driving impulse and, even as you send off lots and lots of applications and think of all the careers that could be, you’re constantly faced with uncertainty. There are the moments of excitement when people sometimes respond to tutoring ads you’ve written, but then, when they fail to follow up in the next round, you realize how fleeting some of these opportunities are, not to mention what little regard people have for other people in the age of online communication. I’m not going to lie to you; it’s a tough world out there (if only this were breaking news; in any case, it’s certainly a more compelling story than Congress’ shenanigans!).
Fortunately, I’ve never been one to wallow, or at least not for too long (I’m an optimistic realist, not a pessimist). And, as I mentioned in my last post, I do have an exciting opportunity waiting in the wings, one that would involve research, language skills and local food tourism. If all goes as planned, I imagine I would be starting by the beginning of next week. Then again, I’ve discovered that, despite a demand for workers, the hiring process can be pathetically slow.
So, what’s a girl to do? The simple answer is to cook; the longer answer is to cook a lot. The more I cook, in fact, I get the sneaking suspicion that as much as I enjoy baking and dessert, my real interest lies in the everyday matter of dinner, in the savory that comes before the (occasional) sweet.  Maybe it’s true that I consider dessert to be an important and essential course in its own right, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if it weren’t the closing act of something more substantial. 
One recent standout was a dinner of seared pork cutlets with oregano, tomatoes and olives that I found in Cherry Bombe, a gorgeous magazine that appeared late last spring and that focuses on food, style and women. This recipe caught my eye because it was developed by Melia Marden, the head chef at The Smile in New York (she grew up spending her summers in Greece, so her food is heavily influenced by the flavors she encountered there). Whenever I’m in the city, I find myself having breakfast or an afternoon snack there, either alone, with the Greek or with friends; it’s a beautiful little space that you descend into from the busy New York streets and almost immediately you feel like you’ve been transported to the Mediterranean (who could ever complain about that?). This recipe, fulfills a similar mission, both because of the sheer amount of olive oil that goes into it and its otherwise minimal list of ingredients (pork, salt, pepper, herbes de Provence, shallots, garlic, tomatoes, oregano and olives). I don’t often make meat for dinner, but, after making these, I don’t know why that is. These cutlets made for an easy, satisfying and flavorful Monday night meal. And since easy was the name of the game, bulgur, which is quick to cook, nutty and filling, made for a wonderful side, especially with the tomato sauce full of brine-cured olives and herbs spooned on top of it.

Happy October 1st!

Seared Pork Cutlets with Tomato, Oregano and Brine-Cured Olives

Adapted from Cherry Bombe
Yields 4 servings

In her recipe, Marden calls for oil-cured olives, but, after trying this with olives cured in brine, I think I like the salty zing that the brine gives to the sauce; to me, the flavor is more complex, especially since there’s already a lot of olive oil in the dish.
        I was also thinking about how this recipe could be revamped for fall and winter when (good) fresh tomatoes will no longer be available. I suppose canned diced tomatoes would work well to make the sauce, although I’m also curious about the potential of sun-dried tomatoes in oil in this dish. If you don’t have or don’t like olives, I also think capers would make a fine substitute for the olives.

4 pork sirloin cutlets, roughly 1/4 pound each
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
2 medium shallots, halved and sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds ripe vine or Roma tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 cup brine-cured olives, preferably Greek country olives or kalamatas

-Season both sides of the pork cutlets with the 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and herbes de Provence.
-Heat the 1/4 cup olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-high heat until very hot, about 2 minutes.
-Add the pork cutlets in a single layer and cook until golden, about 3 minutes.
-Then flip the cutlets and cook the other side for 3 minutes, or until golden.
-Transfer cutlets from pan to plate and set aside.
-Add the sliced shallots and garlic to the pan and cook until softened but not browned, about 2 minutes.
-Add the tomatoes, oregano and the remaining two tablespoons olive oil to the pan.
-Stirring occasionally, cook until the tomatoes have broken down and become saucy, about 8-10 minutes.
-Stir in the pitted olives and adjust the seasoning to taste.
-Return the cutlets to the pan, making sure to pour in any liquid on the plate.
-Cook until warmed through and serve, preferably with a side of bulgur.

2 thoughts on “Dreaming of Dinner

  1. Oh, yum! I just went to Costco this weekend and bought the biggest jar of olives I've ever seen. I've been eating them with lunch every day, and they are delectable. I remember so well the limbo of the job search. I think it's hardest in the beginning, though, and you are well on your way. You have many, many talents, and I will always bet on you:)

  2. Oh, you and Eric are Costco members? I've wondered if K and I should join; when we take Elektra to Point Isobel, we're right next to Costco, so it feels like it should be a “two birds, one stone” kind of thing. 🙂

    And, although I know you don't often eat meat, this is a really great recipe, especially when you have a huge jar of olives in the house.

    Thanks for the job support! I have the interview in a few hours; after that, I probably need to record the other ones (this online audition thing is weird and a particular ill of our age).

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