LISTENING TO BIRDSONG

leisure (noun) – use of free time for enjoyment.

Leisure, as the definition implies, is commonly understood as a kind of remainder — it’s what we do with our time after work is done. Wake up and put yourself together. Commute to work. Put in your eight or nine hours. Pick up groceries on the way home, prepare dinner, maybe attend to kids, clean up. That hour before bed: leisure. We spend it watching TV, surfing the web, exercising, reading, painting, making music. For many people, myself included, leisure involves struggle. We struggle for more free time, and we struggle to use more of our free time for enjoyment. This is the way it goes.

Then a bird comes along and chirps in your ear, “Do what you love.” You swat at it initially. Annoying birds with their annoying chirps. But it comes back — that diva of a chickadee that keeps chick-a-dee-dee-deeing at the break of dawn. The only way to make the torment stop is to take a deep breath, loosen up, and hear its song through. The song’s refrain is simple: it tells us to expect more leisure out of life. Slowly, gradually, hours once cordoned off for sleep and work present themselves as hours designed for enjoyment. We begin to see opportunities for extracting free time from every waking moment. There’s still work to do — and many responsibilities — but leisure is no longer consigned to life’s few remaining hours.

By virtue of its extraordinary demand on time, this dish would seem to defy rationality. Its creation engulfs staggering portions of day and night. But if cooking makes your heart beat faster, there is no better way to spend your leisurely hours.

IMG_6003

CRISPY PORK CONFIT with SMOKED BACON JAM,
ASPARAGUS & PICKLED TURNIPS

for the pork confit, recipe by Thomas Keller:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
12 bay leaves
3 large rosemary sprigs
1/2 bunch thyme (1/2 ounce)
1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley (about 2 ounces)
1/2 cup garlic cloves, crushed, skin left on
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 cup kosher salt
8 cups water
2 ½ lb slab of pork belly with skin
4 cups of pork lard

for the smoked bacon jam, recipe by Martha Stewart:
1 1/2 lbs. smoked bacon
2 medium yellow onions, diced small
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
3/4 cup brewed coffee

to assemble:
4 small turnips
4 tbsp. each of salt & sugar
1/2 cup of white wine vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 bundles of asparagus (about 20 spears)
several spoonfuls of smoked bacon jam
4 portions of pork confit

Prepare the confit: Combine the first 9 ingredients for the brine in a large pot and bring to a boil. After 1 minute, remove from heat and let cool completely. Place the pork belly in the brine and refrigerate for 10 hours. Remove the pork and pat dry. Heat the oven to 200. On the stove, melt the lard in a Dutch oven, bring it to a simmer, and place the pork in the lard so that it’s fully covered. Cover the Dutch oven, transfer to oven, and cook for 4-6 hours until the pork is tender. (If desired, you can shorten the time by cooking at a higher temperature) Remove the pork from the oven to cool. You can now remove some of the fat between the skin and meat if desired. Store the pork in its fat in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Prepare the bacon jam: Cook the bacon in a skillet, then remove the bacon and dice it. Pour off all but 2-3 tablespoons of bacon fat and add the onions and garlic to the skillet. Cook until translucent and slightly caramelized. Add the vinegar, sugar, syrup, and coffee and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to lowest and simmer for about 2 hours until the liquid is syrupy, stirring occasionally.

Prepare the turnips: Peel and slice the turnips so that each one yield 6 slices. Cook the turnips in simmering water for 15-20 minutes until tender. Rinse them under cold water, then combine the cooked turnips in a bowl with salt, sugar, and vinegar. Set this aside for at least an hour, then rinse under cold water.

To assemble: Remove the pork from its fat and cut 4 portions. Slice the skin in a cross-hatch pattern. Heat the pork in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Heat a bit of olive oil in a large pan, add the asparagus, and cook on medium-low. Add a cup of water and cover to steam the asparagus for 4-5 minutes, then set aside. Remove the pork from the oven. Heat a non-stick skillet on medium and fry the pork skin-side down until the skin is crisp and nicely browned. Plate one portion of asparagus. Spoon some bacon jam on top. Rest one portion of the pork confit on top of the jam and place several slices of turnip around it.

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