A Trip to the Shore and Dinner from the Great Plains
I was about to write that we spent last week in Avalon, New Jersey, but “spent” is too active a word for my week which consisted of reading, cooking, eating, walking and just sitting around with the boys and SWMBO.
Avalon was, of course, the name the ancient Britons gave to a paradisiacal place across the sea to the west. This is what leads me to speculate that New Jersey was discovered by Camryn II some time in 323. I can find no other provenance for the ‘Old British Cask Ale’ served at the Princeton Inn and Grill.
What makes Avalon so special are its dunes and beaches. The resort has kept some of the dunes which used to protect the Jersey shoreline – most beach communities have removed them to build housing. These dunes create the sort of wide beaches that used to be everywhere in Jersey in my youth.
There are several paths through the preserved dunes along which you will see a tangle of underbrush and the little stunted trees and bushes that can handle the sand, sun and salt of the shore. Two of the paths are now paved and the wild jumble of vegetation that I saw in the 70s and 80s seems to be tamed. When I first walked these paths, they were magical – sort of like walking through the vegetation on Dagobah, minus the swamp.*
*Dagobah was the Star Wars Planet where Luke was trained by the Yoda. If you didn’t know this, you are normal. If you did – well, God bless.
One day, feeling a bit puffy and out of shape, I began to amble down Dune Drive to my favorite path through the Dunes – Lois Lane. I thought it would be, maybe, a half-mile. Well, the half-mile came and went and then another half-mile, and then Lois Lane. I was now faced with the question of whether I should walk through to the beach and then back up the beach to our street and then back through the dunes. I went up the path. About ¾ of a mile later, after a necessary rest on a bench, I finally made it to the beach and began my trek southward to our street. This meant angling across the beach to hit that part of the sand that the tide had firmed for easy walking – maybe another third of a mile.
As I started toward our place I saw what cannot be seen from the road – the houses that have been built (it must have been by Saudi Princes, sports super-stars and hedge fund managers) in the dunes.* Many were larger than the motels in the town. I was moving along quite nicely, with a breeze, thank God, in my face, when it occurred to me that I had no way of knowing which path through the dunes would lead to our street. A lucky guess took me in the right direction and right past our son Andrew who was reading on the beach. This was reassuring because I was beginning to think I needed to lie down and pictured myself falling asleep and being dragged out to sea by a particularly vicious high tide. Andrew would not let this happen, unless he got really involved in his book. Back safe, I drank a lot of water, took a shower and collapsed for a nap. That’s my idea of a perfect workout. Oh – and the martini I had upon waking up.
*This is different from removing dunes to build houses. All of these houses are built near the street and the owners agree to protect the dune between the house and the beach and to make no improvements or alterations.
Alas – we took no pictures. Pictures are work and we were on vacation. So you’ll have to imagine the meals. I have sprinkled some pictures of Avalon through the blog . We ate well, but not sumptuously.
We did have a delicious dinner at Il Polpo and two quite satisfactory dinners at the Avalon Brew Pub. Two dinners at the same place because the shore is still somewhat crowded and it was impossible to get into the Diving Horse or Spiagetta before 9:00 p.m. when booking only one week in advance.
We did grill shrimp on the barbie one night, but otherwise read, relaxed, sunbathed, played scrabble, watched Billy watching soccer and Andrew reading and, generally, had a nice, unstressed time.
And now, as Monty Python used to say, for something entirely different. About those Great Plains . . . Ree Drummond is a celebrity tv chef. Already, I can see the true foodie elite beginning to shiver. She lives on a ranch and cooks unabashed comfort food – big food, fit for cowboys who’ve been out mending fences or branding calves or . . . well, whatever they do – I’m a salesman for God sakes, how should I know?
Ree names her dishes in an flagrantly American commercial style: “Best Ever Tomato Soup”, “Best Ever Grilled Ribs”. You get the idea. There is every reason to avoid Ree Drummond except for: a) her striking daughters, who appear quite often on the program, b) scenes of work on the ranch which are interesting for those of us who work at desks or out of our cars, c) her cooking, which is delicious, easy to replicate and, trust me, will bring cowboys and others ‘a runnin’ to your table.
Last night, we cooked her relatively demurely named “Sticky BBQ-Glazed Pork Loin.” (Don’t know why this wasn’t the “best ever pork loin.”) You cannot pack more flavor into a dish, unless you are a Chinese or Indian cook willing to use a world of spices, lots of chilis and coconut milk. This is an absolute knock-out of a dish. It includes a pineapple-pepper relish which takes just a bit of work, and can be skipped if you’re not up to it.
I’d pay more attention to Ree and her daughters. But, even if you can’t fit Ree’s program into your schedule, do cook this dish. Gather all your local cowboys, sit back and wait for the Yee-Haws.
STICKY BBQ-GLAZED PORK TENDERLOIN w/ OPTIONAL GRILLED PINEAPPLE-PEPPER RELISH
(adapted from Ree Drummond)
Timing: Less than 1 hour (50 min?)
Ingredients: Feeds 6 – Recipe halves, easily
For the pork:
2 pork tenderloins
1 cup barbecue sauce (use store-bought if you don’t have your own go-to)
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the Grilled Pineapple-Pepper Relish:
½ pineapple, cored, sliced into rings
3 jalapeños, halved and seeded (leave some seeds in for more heat)
1 poblano pepper, halved and seeded
1 large red bell pepper, quartered
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
¼ cup fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
1 lime, zested and juiced
Start charcoal or put grill pan over burner and bring to medium-heat
Preheat oven to 400 F
Mix spices together in a bowl
Pat pork loins dry, remove any hard fat or silver skin
Season the pork loins heavily with the spice mixture, set aside
Put the olive oil in a skillet (preferably cast-iron) on the stove top
Put 1 cup of BBQ sauce into a bowl with a basting brush next to it
Make the pineapple-pepper relish now – it will improve from sitting:
Bruch the pineapple lightly with olive oil
Toss the peppers with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and then salt and pepper
Grill the pineapple and the peppers for 5 minutes or so, until slightly charred on both sides.
Chop peppers and pineapple into small dice and put in a bowl, add the cilantro, agave, lime zest and juice. Toss to combine. Taste for seasoning. Set aside.
Cook the pork loin:
When the oil in the skillet is hot, sear the pork on all sides – 5 or 6 minutes.
Brush the pork with barbecue sauce and put into the oven to cook for 15 minutes.
Every five minutes, turn the pork and baste again.
After 15 minutes, baste heavily, one final time and put under the broiler for 2 minutes. Set aside to rest for five minutes.
Slice the pork loin into rounds and arrange on a platter, spoon some of the pineapple-pepper relish over the slices.
Serve with extra barbecue sauce and pineapple-pepper relish on the side.