Monday, June 09, 2008

Musings on Mealtime and Maple-Pepper Glazed Pork Chop

Maple-Black Pepper Glazed Grilled pork Chop with Asparagus and Herbed Potatoes

If my life were a movie, mealtime in our home would be the gory part.

I didn't know how good I had it before kids came along; I would prepare a nice meal, set the table, sit down with my husband or a friend and eat, simple as that. I would be able to use two utensils at the same time for such mundane tasks as cutting my steak or twirling my pasta on a spoon. I would get up from the table when I was finished and for no other reason.
No, I had no idea what a luxury those casual meals were.

Life is different now.

For starters, we eat every dinner as a family. Our children are young and need that time with Daddy in the evening, plus it's a family time that we cherish and structure that is healthy for a family.
So we eat together--even if it kills us.

Unfortunately, these days moments of domestic bliss around the table are very seldom. In fact, those of you future parents may not want to read on, as the picture I am about to paint is not a pretty one!

There are many things that drive me batty, but I'll just list a few, so not to bore you too much!
I always have to eat with one hand, and usually my left (that's right, I am not a lefty). This makes eating rice is a losing battle, cutting food impossible, and just forget about soups or cereal with milk.

I am generally always bouncing baby Mateo or nursing him, and although he's sat contentedly while I prepared supper, he is now ready for some serious attention. Oh, and there is generally one diaper change per meal. If you are a parent, you will understand when I say that it can NOT wait until after the meal; we eat first with our nose, right? Or is it the eyes...

If Danny has the baby instead of me, then I am dealing with Noah, who, on average, has one "time out" per meal for a repeat offense I needn't mention, but only a 2 1/2 year old can come up with.

It feels like I am up from the table about twenty times: getting a cloth for a spill, rinsing a fork that has been flung on the floor, fixing a sandwich because Noah hates what I've cooked, and microwaving my dinner, which has grown stone cold because I haven't had a chance to touch it. Of course, that means it usually end up overcooked, dry or rubbery.

But all that isn't even the hardest part.

I put love into my meals, you know I do, and it shows. Yet I find myself wondering "why bother?" when I can only consume a fleeting bite here and there (perhaps even while standing to bounce the baby) and my efforts are so seldom appreciated by Noah.

I can't look at this pork chop dish without remembering that particular meal. As Noah repeatedly spat out chewed pieces of pork from his mouth -after all the maple had been sucked off, of course- onto his tray, I muttered to Danny:

"I may as well just be feeding him poo."

I don't mean real poo, of course, but the food equivalent like Hamburger Helper or Kraft Diner.

So to those of you without small children yet, take time to enjoy your meal and maybe even make a toast to me. Savor the luxury of holding a fork and a knife; I'll be here, wearing out the side of my fork.

In re-reading this, I think I sound a little bitter. I'm not. My kids are good kids, and what three-month-old sits though a meal anyway? This is just me accepting the good with the bad in life. I can't complain, we are all healthy, have a fine roof over our heads, clean water to drink and good food to eat. Don't worry, I'll get over it. Then my kids will grow up and I'll wish they were home for dinner more often.

Still, I wonder, does this only happen around my dinner table? Am I alone in all of this?? Hmm.

Pork Chops in brine

Moving on to the pork chop!
It's not even a recipe per se, just a regular grilled chop that I've glazed with a reduction of maple syrup and a generous amount of fresh pepper; BUT, what makes it so juicy and succulent is the brine it soaked in for a few hours prior to grilling.

I am a fan of brining, which basically means soaking meat in a very salty-sweet water mixture to improve flavor and moisture content. I play around a lot with spices and sweeteners (maple syrup, honey, brown sugar) depending on what I am brining, but my brines always have garlic, black peppercorn and bay leaves.

Maple-Pepper Glazed Grilled Pork Chop
Serves 4

For the Brine:

1 litre cold water
1/2 cup coarse salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 garlic cloves, peeled,
5 whole pepper corns
2 bay leaves
1 whole star anise
5 whole cloves

Combine ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat and cool completely.

For the Pork Chops:

4 pork chops
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
brine (recipe above)

Place the pork chops in cold brine and refrigerate for 4 hours and up to 8. Remove from brine, rinse under cold water and pat dry. They are now ready for grilling.

Combine the remaining ingredients (syrup, pepper and vinegar) in a small, heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and let the mixture cook slowly until it is reduced by half. Cool the syrup; it should be thick, but runny enough to drizzle.

Grill chops, basting once with maple glaze toward the end of the cooking. Let rest a few minutes. Place on serving platter and drizzle with maple pepper glaze. Serve.

This recipe also works well with a pork roast. I like to wrap mine in bacon. Yum!


Peter M said...

Aimee, brining pork is long as the pork isn't soaking in it beyond a few hours...the meat breaks down too much (I found).

Wonderful touch with the star anise and sexy grill marks.

I'll occupy junior(s), you can cook and eat with both

J. H. Austin said...

Total mealtime sympathy. It *does* get better, but perhaps not for several years!

Hang in there,
Father-of-two jermudgeon

Sandy said...

Oh, you are not alone! And you are allowed to complain a little once in awhile. :)
It is disheartening to put love into something, and kids pushing it away. But it will get better. And your children will appreciate it, one day!

Emeline said...

Oh sister... you sing it!!
Mateo will only eat grilled cheese sandwiches (i manage to sneak in some spinach, but like you, it ends up on the tray or on the wall!).
So I make TWO meals and they are both made during the synchro naps... so we all eat lukewarm or reheated stuff.
Try having a glass of wine before the whole starts and try to make stuff ahead of time? Maybe limit the insta-serve stuff to once a week, as a date meal perhaps?
They say it gets better... but I'm not sold yet! Hang in there Mama!

cakewardrobe said...

I'm all about grilling during the hot summer months. Never knew it needed a bath before grilling to improve the moisture and intensity. Thanks for sharing!

RecipeGirl said...

I loved this post. Of course, being a mom too, I can relate to it all!!!

I'm a big fan of brining too. Without it, my pork chops are icky. I still can't really manage to do pork chops all that well, but I keep trying!

Anonymous said...

Hi Aimee, I have 4 kids from baby to 11 (all boys) and they were all local organicaly raised. Although no one really digs pork in the house, I can totally relate to your post. I especially like the fact that we have a big tongue happy dog in the combination that picks up all the grilled buttery asparagus the younger ones throw at him... (at least he acts as a temporary mop).

If it is any real comfort, all these years of spinach, braised lamb and risotto blended together for a newborn, all these home made cubes of questionnable color, or that weird coconut milk black rice pudding that actually does look like poo... All those efforts will be worthwhile, it`s amazing to see how my older kids have a knack for authentic and unauthentic food without ever having been to Macdonalds. It`s not that we forbide them hamburger helper, its simply that they feel like crap after having it. On the other hand, they get VIP treatment when we go to Schwartz (seriously, the nasty guy will pull them out of the line on a chilly day for a table...), they also know they want the harissa mayo on the belgium frie... I find they can appreciate what they eat and certainly know what they want to eat. As opposed to just ingesting cardboard proteins...

Anonymous said...

I often wonder if I will ever eat a hot meal again?

I love the brining recipe and will be giving it a go very soon. I am all about cooking outdoors now that it is a little warmer....My husband is going to try strawberry rhubarb pie on the grill...I'll let you know how it turns out : )

Unknown said...

This was such a wonderful post. I've been reading your blog for awhile now, in part because I have complete sympathy for what you describe. I totally relate. I love cooking, I love eating, and I try so hard to impart some of that feeling into my kids - both very young, and both suffering from their own degrees of pickiness and food issues.

It's absolutely exhausting, and I have no answers. The only thing that has brought me some measure of sanity is deciding on ONE plan of action and sticking with it - and then backing off. Eat, don't eat - that's up to them.

But I have to admit, my heart breaks every time I see all my hard work disappear down the drain, the trash, or into the dog's food bowl.


BBoydFlynn said...

Hear, hear! With prices as they are today, I'm swallowing a lot of anger when I shove rejected food into the trash or down the drain.

However much I hate wiping up the couscous or risotto or whatever, I won't give up family meal time, because it's too important for us to be really together even if for a moment. And I refuse to cave in to short-order cook status. They are welcome to eat as much as they want of anything I serve, but no special food if they don't like it. (And bedtime milk/fruit makes up for it if they don't eat much).

Toni said...

Your dinners sound a lot like ours. My boys are a little older
(4 and 11) so what you have to look forward to is constantly repeating "Boys, keep your hands to yourself!" "Feet too!" "OK, you don't look at him funny and he won't look at you" "No name calling, please" "Let's just try to have a nice peaceful dinner, shall we?" Both boys do enjoy the pork chop and they might like a little maple in the brine - but no black stuff (pepper) Aaah childhood! I keep telling myself someday I'll look back at these chaotic times and laugh.

Aimée said...

Hi Peter- Good tip, Peter, thanks.

Hi Jer- Yes, and then by that time we'll have a few more!:) Gluttons for punishment!

Hi Sandy- Thant's encouraging, thanks!

Hi Em- Good tips, thanks! I almost never cook dinner just before we eat, it's usually made in the morning or during the day...or the day before. Nope, that five-o-clock hour around here is the witching hour.

Hi Cakewardrobe- Now don't try this with everything!

Hi Recipe Girl- It's good to know I am not alone!

Hi Tipere- Very insightful comment, thank you. I really do hope my boys will have a strong palate when they are older. That would be a nice reward!

Hi anon- Wow, that should be interesting. Please do report back. If I can do sweets on the grill, I am set!!

Hi Sadaf- Thanks for reading! I rally appreciate your comment, and it's good to know I am not along in this battle! Hang in there.

Hi bboyflynn- I know I should be firmer, but if he goes hungry, it breaks my heart!

Hi Toni- Hmmm, doesn't sound anymore peaceful! :)

Hit Pay Dirt said...

I took your advice and stopped reading this post after paragraph 5.



LyB said...

Aimée, as a mom of three I can totally relate, and you don't sound bitter just like a normal mom, being stretched out in four different directions. All we can do is breathe and hope that it will get better as they get older! :)

Cannelle Et Vanille said...

oh yes, i relate to this aimee... I have a 22 month old and it's hard to eat out. always afraid to make a mess, not sitting still, no patience... it does take some lifestyle adjustments! but it is all part of life and i understand why it's happening and it's wonderful!

Emily said...

One day, they will appreciate your cooking. Probably not too far off, right?

The pork chops sound sooo good! My dad brines stuff a lot. I've never tried it, but I should.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Tee hee! Fantastic post Aimee as always. It will get better... I always feel a bit bad saying this as our eldest has always eaten virtually everything and sat and behaved beautifully. Youngest is like a whirling dervish. He's a grazer and likes to eat little and often all day so when it comes to sitting at the table to eat a meal he's never hungry enough to keep his attention there for long... Sometimes this drives me absolutely mental! Having said that this evening we all sat together and had a lovely family dinner. I behaved for at least 20 minutes. Large gold stars all round...

Culinary Wannabe said...

Hi Aimee! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now but never commented - but I feel totally inclined to today! I don’t have kids yet and your post has totally opened my eyes to what’s ahead. I’m planning a romantic dinner with my fiancé right now – which will include at least two utensils! :)

Cheryl Arkison said...

What an accurate presentation of dinner with a toddler.

I can deal with the mess and drama of dinner at home, but I'm not willing to do it in public... what I wouldn't give for dinner in a restaurant again.

Marie Rayner said...

You are making me re-think my decision to not eat pork anymore, seriously . . . those look fab!!!

Deborah said...

Yeah, I shouldn't have read that - it makes me scared to have kids!! But I do have to say that sometimes I spend all this time and effort making a meal, and my husband ends up covering it in ketchup or ranch dressing. Makes me think the same thing - I might as well be feeding him poo! The pork chops sound amazing!!

Aimée said...

Hi Gillian- :) Good for you.

Hi Lyb- That's sweet, thanks. I'm sure things will improve soon.

Hi Aran- and your baby is a doll, too! Of course I understand this is normal. Funnily enough, when we eat out, things are smooth!

Hi Emiline- Does your dad have a blog? :)

Hi Amanda- Congrats! 20 minutes is a long time! Too bad your boys couldn't give mine a few tips.

Hi Ashley- Don't worry, having kids is the best thing that has happened to me! Congrats on the upcoming wedding and welcome to UtHC. Thanks for your comment!

Hi Cheryl- Welcome to UtHC! I'm a Ukranian girl too. :) Well, partly.

Hi Marie- Thanks!!

Hi Deb- Haha! At least your kids you can influence somewhat. The hubby? Forget it!

Anonymous said...

Neither my husband or I usually like pork chops, but we both loved this recipe. The brining made a huge difference. Mine was even great cold after getting up from the table several times.
Thank you : )

Anonymous said...

This was really good! The brine makes all the difference...and it was super easy

Anonymous said...

Aimee, hang in there! Things will get better.
I had to laugh while I was reading your blog. - Yes, laughing. (But I wasn't laughing when my kids were small....)
I've been there, but trust me, it'll pass, things will change.

My kids are now 9 and 4 years old. Sometimes it's still challenging, but for the most part I can eat with a knife and a fork and most importantly can eat with my family. ( not alone like it used to be a few years ago!) But sure there are still days when I just bounce between the kitchen and dinner table and wonder why am I doing it for?
As I read the other comments, I saw that we are not alone.
But please keep doing what you're doing... Noah will respect that one day... and trust me, even if he dislikes the food now, he'll come around.
My son was very picky for the first 6 years, but then it changed and now he likes to eat all kinds of foods and taste different things.
Good luck! And thanks for taking the time to write the blog!
I appreciate your efforts! ( all the way to Scandinavia, where I live!)

Aubrey Z said...

My parents have two children who are much younger than me -- my little sister just turned 6, and my little brother will soon turn 3. My parents have completely given up on cooking meals. When they do, there inevitably ends up being two or three different kinds of meals on the table, because my sister won't want to eat what my parents are having, and then my brother won't want what anyone's having. My sister's chair is COVERED in old pieces of rejected and spilled food that won't scrape off. My parents now get take-out, delivery, or eat at a restaurant virtually every lunch and dinner. I don't know how they afford it! Anyway, just wanted to let you know, you are definitely not alone on the difficult-family-meals front. :) I admire your resolve to continue making healthy delicious meals for your family, and I'm sure it will pay off as their taste buds develop!

Anonymous said...

HI Aimee, I just discovered your blog, somehow. Enjoyed reading this post for it brought back those memories of when I had young children. Don't feel a bit of guilt, or the need to apologize for your feelings. I don't know any mom who hasn't experienced the same thoughts you've had. Things WILL get better...but most of all, when your kids are grown and you look back-what you will remember and feel good about is the fact that you did cook dinner, and you'll all laugh about the hard times at the table. And the kids will look back too, with appreciation. So, keep pluggin' along, it's not in vain!

Anyway, love your blog! Thanks for keeping it real!

Jenny from KY!

carisnell said...

I can not stop laughing! Did you tear a page out of my diary or hide a hidden camera in my kitchen!!?? Oh, I sooo relate and I feel for you. AND only a mother's love would keep us coming back for more!

Jenny Eatwell said...

All I can suggest is that you pace yourself and remember that it takes a young child (on average) eight to thirteen tastes of a new flavour, to accept it. No, don't throw in the towel, just keep putting that pork chop in front of your son (although not the same one, obviously!) - eventually, he'll be asking "when are we having pork chops next, Mum?". It does get better, although I have got to admit that it doesn't happen quickly!

foodieluisa said...

how did you prepare asparagus and the herbed potatoes please?

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