My parents live in a rural(ish) area of the Fraser Valley. There is a tiny downtown, a vestige of the village that was swallowed up by the municipality in which they live. They’re also twenty minutes away from suburbia in two directions, so they have access to everything they might want, including gourmet ingredients. What their area lacks, though, is reliable access to less usual ingredients at the last minute. It makes me realize that I’m spoiled. If I’m missing an ingredient, I can walk down the street, right up until around nine in the evening, and be almost guaranteed to find what I need. What I don’t have is the beautiful setting they live in. I also haven’t developed my mother’s instinct for planning ahead.
Knowing that I was making this week’s dish at my parents’ place should have caused me to take a look at the list of ingredients, then place a phone call to my mother to see what she had on hand. If I’d done that, I might have packed up the whole coriander and the cardamom pods in my pantry and run to the store for some fresh lemongrass. Instead, I blithely congratulated myself for remembering to pack the cookbook and headed out to the farm. When it finally came time to make a shopping list, my lack of forethought caused a scavenger hunt that amped up my (car-fueled) carbon footprint more than I’d like to say.
My mother has ground coriander and cardamom in her spice cupboard, but I thought I would be able to find whole versions when we went out for the rest of the ingredients.Two supermarkets and a specialty store later, I had managed to find everything but the cardamom and lemongrass. As I was being told there was no lemongrass by the third produce clerk of the day, another customer tapped my elbow. She told me she got frozen lemongrass from a little store downtown and that they might have cardamom pods, too.
Off we went. The store was packed full of all sorts of produce, spices and ingredients that you couldn’t find on the shelves of the local supermarkets – even mangosteen, which I rarely see around my neighbourhood. I enlisted the aid of the clerk, but she couldn’t find any cardamom at all. She thought she was completely out of lemongrass, too, until she remembered that there was some in a package of fresh ingredients for Tom Yum soup. More than enough lemongrass for my recipe, with enough left to try the soup mix another time. As I was paying, I mentioned how difficult it was to find what I needed to make a mildly Thai-influenced dish. “Not in this town,” was her response.
Well, my parents’ farm has its own attractions. They occasionally raise a few pigs, which keeps the whole family in pork for quite some time. They are coming to the end of their latest stock of pork, but we found some pork chops that substituted nicely for the pork butt suggested in the recipe. I took out the bones with a filleting knife and the thick chops cut easily into 1-2 inch chunks. Our late summer meant that there weren’t yet any root vegetables ready from the garden, but I got some nice carrots, potatoes and onions from the local co-op.
After browning the meat, toasting the spices and adding the coconut milk, the kitchen was aromatic. Which made it hard to wait the more than half-hour it took to braise the stew. I kept busy, cooking the vegetables and finishing last week’s Cold Melon-Berry Soup, which we had as an appetizer while we waited for the stew to finish. Though the suggestions for serving this pork dish include pasta or rice, we served it just as it was. The vegetables provided enough of an anchor for the pork and its thin sauce. The stew can be finished with a touch of honey, but I neglected to add it. It didn’t matter, the flavours of the stew worked very well without it.
I’m back home now, experiencing the best of both worlds, with some of my parents’ farm-raised meat in the freezer and all the ingredients I need just down the street.
You can find many other blogged descriptions of this week’s FFWD recipe here: Coconut-Lemongrass-Braised Pork