Sicilian Spice Crusted Pork Loin
You’ll need to bear with me, because I WILL talk about the Sicilian Spice Crusted Pork Loin, but first I need to talk about our deck.
Yup. We sure are still building a deck outside, that’s for certain. It’s been eight long, arduous days now (not that I’m counting or anything) and we’re still…..not done. I mean, we’ve made progress. Lots and lots of progress. IMPRESSIVE progress, if you ask me, but it’s still not done. I’m starting to wonder if this deck will ever be done, or if this is some sort of Tina-inflicted Sisyphusian horror where every time we come close to completing something, I decide, “Huh. But it could be better if we just did this instead…..”
Right now, if you were to saw me in half, I think you could read my aches and pains like the rings on a tree. “Oooh, look, that thick black line of hate has got to be from last Monday when she got heatstroke digging out two tonnes of earth on the ONLY hot day we’ve had so far this year.” Or, “Let’s see a cross section of her left leg to identify why it is that she waddles like a duck every time she tries to ease herself into a seated position?” Awesome.
So I decided that despite the fact that deck construction is notably off topic for a food blog, I wanted to show you what we’ve been up to for the last week or so…if only as a reason why we’ve gone from home made bread and slow cooked tagines to oven baked zucchini crisps. I mean, it’s important that you realize that our in-progress deck is the same size as your average New York city apartment. But hey, that’s why we live in the ‘burbs, for god’s sake, so we can MAKE monstrosities such as this! And the Canadian suburbs, at that. Right now, all the energy that I usually pour into making us both fatter is getting channeled into creating a 500 square food outdoor living space. And I love it. So please, let’s talk about the deck.
The first deck! Oh, the original deck. That hateful deck of ours. We decided to put aside money to rebuild our deck last fall, when I was outside for some….’fresh air’, and a few of the boards felt a bit springy. Dangerously springy, to be exact. It was kind of a “Sure, you COULD fall through at any point, but you could also be killed in a devastating car crash on your way to work but I still see you driving…” We didn’t want to put it off too long though, so we decided that we’d start to build before the end of the summer…or before I needed a tetanus shot from walking around barefoot. Whichever came first.
Now you can’t build a new deck without first demolishing the old deck, right? So that was our starting point. Project Demolition 101. We had some friends over almost two weeks ago, and while Al and I went shopping we left the guys with a twofer of beer and instructions on how best to use a crowbar. We came back to find this:
Huh. How ’bout that. So our deck? Our ‘original’ deck? Was so not the original deck. We had a deck’o'decks, whereby our otherwise strange but nice previous home owners had simply covered up a dangerously rotten old deck by building the new one DIRECTLY ON TOP. Yeah. Like, board-on-rotten-board kind of action. And hey, if you’re going to keep the original original deck and just build on top, why bother laying new foundations? Foundations are a lot of work, right?
These were some of the FOUNDATIONS that we pulled out. Some of them were literally whittled down with rot until they were about a pencil’s width. That was what supported our deck. When we had parties and there were 15 people out back smoking? This is what kept them from crumpling into a heap of debris on our dead patches of grass. I’m amazed that we lasted this long without a strong gust of wind having it’s way with us.
Oh, OH! And have I mentioned our slugs to you before? Our mammoth Jabba The Hut style slugs, which are the reason we don’t have any normal garden slugs because they PROBABLY ATE THEM? Well, at least ol’ rotten deck solved the problem of where they were living. I found clusters of slug eggs nestled between boards, in the sand, on the G.D. wall, and pretty much everywhere that a slug COULD lay eggs. I also found The Mother Slug, but was too appalled to take a picture as I ran around shrieking to Mike, “SEND IT BACK TO HELLLLLLLLL!!!!”. This was the slug from whence all other slugs came. I swear that when that 7″ beast reared it’s ugly head and looked me in the eye, it actually started to chuckle. Have you ever heard a slug chuckle? I have.
Anyway, this is one of our more mediocre slugs. I figured that out of a sense of fairness I should show you what most look like, rather than the exceptions. This little guy is all squashed up and probably only 2.5 inches long….right now. When he stretches? About 5, maybe 6. See how his back is all black? It’s not, really. When he starts to mosey on toward my tomato plants he’ll elongate and you’ll see a spotty gray leopard print running his length….which is also probably an indication to you of exactly how squashed up he is right now. These are the slugs which we found two days after we moved in, when all I could do was shake my head and mutter, “Goddammit, it’s not like we live in the bloody rainforest, do we??!”
But enough about that. The ‘original’ and the original deck were eventually decimated, and we began the process of digging holes to lay down patio stones and concrete support blocks. The basic process is that you dig a square, flat bottomed hole that is slightly larger than a patio stone (2′x2′) and about 1′ deep…depending on where it was in our awkward and lumpy back yard. So the patio stone goes down, the concrete support goes on top, and then you slip a foundation board through and make sure it’s level.
Note: it’s never level.
Out comes concrete support, out comes patio stone. Get ready for more digging (or adding of soil) until the angle is corrected (you think) and you can try again. So you put the patio stone back down, you put the concrete support on top, and you slip a foundation board through to make sure that it’s level.
Yeah. You guessed it. Try again, chum.
This process went on and on….for sixteen supports. Oh, and don’t forget: once they’re level with the ones that are parallel? They also have to be level with the stones which are perpendicular. Uh huh. Oh! And I almost forgot: In between each block, where the foundation board is going to sit, you need to dig a trench so that the wood isn’t touching soil (to prevent decay). So….more digging.
This is when you can start feeling sorry for Mike and my father, our experienced Foreman on the jobsite. We dug, we leveled. We dug some more, we leveled some more. After TWO DAYS we had *just* the foundations laid, and we were all exhausted to the point where the thought of digging ONE MORE INCH would have caused a mutiny among the crew. This, of course, is when I cocked my head to one side and said, “Huh. That doesn’t look right. That’s not like my vision at all. The lower deck? It stops short. We’re going to need to extend that out another 4 feet, which means…..huh. Yeah, we need to dig ONE MORE HOLE just – HEY! OUCH! STOP THROWING THINGS AT ME!!!!”
I’m sure Mike is just “Standing Around With A Crowbar” in this picture, but to me I think he’s pointing accusatorially at that last far block in the lower left, and cursing me with every fiber of his being.
Once the foundation boards are down, though, it goes really quick. You just need to lay out the ‘stringers’, which are the perpendicular boards which sit on top of the foundation boards. Then attach each one of them into the foundation board on a bracket and hammer in 5 nails per bracket….and then lay the actual decking boards on top of the stringers, with three screws per board where each one sat on a stringer.
I think the picture below is of Mike saying, “Wait a minute, so we’ve got three screws per stringer, and 6 stringers per board, and…..wait, HOW MANY BOARDS?? Mother F’er. That’s FIVE THOUSAND SCREWS.”
Silly Mike. It totally wasn’t five thousand, you know. Way closer to 4,500.
But lo! What light in yonder patio breaks? Eventually all tasks must come to an end, and like Romeo and Juliet, so too did our boards get screwed. All of them. Even when I thought that I’d rather punch a kitten than screw another board, with a bit of perseverance we made it through.
On to the pergola. Yes, the pergola. Did you really think that I’d design a deck and NOT include a fussy structure like a pergola? Well, my friend, let me tell you: Now I understand that pergolas are highly overrated. Sure, they’re pretty. Yeah, yeah, a bit of refuge from the sun but not enough to obstruct the sunlight to the garden. That’s great. Whatever. YOU try lining up, securing, leveling and evening out SIX twelve foot 4×4″s.
This picture was taken at about 7 pm tonight. At the bottom, ie “the part of the picture that you’re not allowed to see”, we have a pile of angle-cut 16 foot 2×6″s which are just waiting to get notched and fitted onto the bottom half of the pergola over what will eventually be the dining area.
But….but not tonight. We just couldn’t do it anymore. We could have put in another 3 hours of work (at this point my Mother had come to help us as well. You know the expression ‘many hands make light work‘? It’s a lie) and cut, notched, and set the pergola. But I am only human. And I like to eat dinner and go to sleep sometime before midnight on a Sunday night. The pergola will just have to wait. Along with my bench seating. And the privacy screen. And the sweet little railing around the dining area where I’ll also have my set-in flower baskets. One day, oh, one day…..soon.
Now then, you understand a bit more about where we’ve been this last week, and hopefully you forgive the scant and lazy posts. Next week? Well, I really want my bench seating with the built in storage, so we’ll see.
But on to more interesting things….like dinner. And pork. Do you remember when I told you about Mike’s tacit aversion for pork? Well, good news! It’s just as I expected: get him hungry enough and he’ll like anything.
(Thank you, manual labour. I owe you one.)
Sicilian Spice Crusted Pork Loin
- 1-1.2 kg boneless pork loin (about 2.5 lbs)
- 5 large cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp fennel seed
- 2 tsp coriander seed
- 1 tsp anise seeds
- 1 tsp hot red pepper flakes
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 lemon (1.5 tsp zest + juice of 1/2 lemon)
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat your oven to 450ºF with your rack in the center or lower half of the oven.
In a small food processor measure out the spices, olive oil and vinegar. Zest about 1.5 tsp of lemon rind into the bowl, cut the lemon in half and squeeze in the juice from just one half. Save the other half for cocktails. It is summer, after all (note: come September that will read, “It is fall, after all…”). Peel the garlic and chop it up rather loosely. After all, the food processor will do most of the work for you. Season the mixture with salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. I rarely measure out my salt and pepper, sprinkling more by eye, but I would probably use about 1/2 tsp or slightly more of kosher salt to add some good flavor to the meat.
Pulse the mixture until the garlic is quite finely chopped and incorporated, and the coriander and fennel seeds have been broken up somewhat.
Pat the pork dry with paper towel and place it fat side down on your board. Slather about 1/3 of the spice mixture onto the bottom of the pork and then flip it over in your hand (for better control and ease of coating) and smother the top or ‘fat side’ of the pork, as well as the sides, with the remaining spice.
Place the pork on a rack set inside a roasting pan, making sure that it is fat side up. No roasting rack? No worries! Roll some tinfoil up into three tubes, each about 8 inches long, and place them underneath the middle and ends of the pork loin to keep it elevated.
Let the pork roast at 450ºF for about 7-10 minutes. You’ll smell the spices start to release and hear some tantalizing sizzling and snapping coming from behind that magical oven door. After 7-10 minutes, turn the heat down low, or about 300ºF. Continue cooking the pork loin for 60-75 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 140-145ºF. Remember that the temperature will continue to rise several degrees because the meat will continue cooking through the radiant heat as it rests.
Lift the pork out of the roasting rack and tent it with tin foil. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes, which is a good chance to finish up any sides that may be in the works.
Now here are my thoughts about internal temperature of pork, whether you wanted to hear them or not. There was a time when pork was….dicey, to say the least. Homemakers the land over were taught that in order to kill the bacteria and parasites (such as trichinosis, a name that I just love to say) you had to roast the hell out of your poor little piggy. With advances to our laws on the safe butchering and handling of meat, for the most part that is a bygone era. Therefore, so too should be the days of cooking your sad little pork roast for two hours or until it’s a flat shoe-leather gray all the way through. I mean, c’mon, it’s the other WHITE meat, folks, not the other gray and unknown.
Federal food safety still recommends that you cook your pork to an internal temperature of 160ºF. But remember, these are the same people who tell you to cook a turkey for 15-20 minutes per pound…..which is similarly the sole reason that I refused to eat turkey until I was 27 years old. These are safety guidelines that will eliminate potential pathogens (nasty illness causing buckaroos) and bacteria to ensure that your meat is “safe”. But are these guidelines still understood to be true? In a word: no. Well, not really. You may want to serve rubbery meat to the elderly, young children, people with compromised immune systems or pregnant women (I’m terrified of getting pregnant….everything I love -liquor, raw meat, chocolate and caffeine- gets stripped out of life in one fell swoop) but for a healthy adult that’s really going above and beyond the call of necessary.
So all that to say that I cook my pork loin to a temperature of somewhere between 140-145ºF. I let it rest for about 10 minutes before cutting in, and I’m always rewarded by that genteel little ever-so-moderate rosy blush and succulent, juicy pork meat.
We ate our Sicilian spice crusted pork loin with a some pan fried sun-dried tomato polenta medallions, and a fresh tomato and basil salad from the garden. It was hearty without being heavy, and exactly the kind of low-effort, high-reward meal that we needed to close off this week of Deck Building Extravaganza.
Next week? I expect you’ll see a LOT MORE BEER and another appearance from the zucchini which is officially haunting my dreams. Consider yourself warned.