the birthday dinner that wasn’t

Argh!!!

That was me just as I was set to serve Brian’s birthday dinner. 

I got off work early, ran to the store (gah! along with the rest of midtown DM…), got the kids, and headed home so they could sign their card, make a big birthday sign, decorate his chair with balloons and streamers, and have dinner nearly ready when he got home.    Picture it, he’d walk in to the delicious smells of dinner, I’d hand him a glass of chilled wine, he delight in the kids’ decorations and we’d all have a lovely start to the evening.  Lovely, no?!

scuh-reeeeeeeeeeeeeeech!!  That’s the needle scratching the record across that little pipe dream.   Instead, imagine the birthday guy walking in on dining room chaos (m’kay, maybe that’s a little strong, though it was messy!), markers strewn about and the birthday sign in progress, radio blaring, chair undecorated, kitchen not quite smelling delicious yet.  Well, it might have smelled like cake as I had just rummaged through the recycle bin to find an empty wine bottle onto which I could invert the angel food cake that had JUST come out of the oven.  (Thank you, Betty Crocker.)  Alas, no chilled wine; so I promptly moved to put that in the fridge.  Nor had I signed his birthday card–though I did leave it lying in the open on the table, hopefully too obscured by the big sign to stand out.  But in a stroke of luck, his replacement headlight had arrived that day, (not-so-)artfully wrapped in kraft paper and an entire roll of packaging tape.  So I handed that over and wished him a happy birthday.  He scuttled off to the basement with that so I could make the pork loin. 

Yeah, the pork.  I avoid pork because, well, I am completely incapable of cooking it properly.  It’s either completely dried out, tough, and tasteless or is underdone, pink, and tastes like the butcher counter smells.  I can eat a pink steak but cannot bear the thought of pink in my white meat (though much reading indicates that pork is safe and actually better at 155…hmm…).  (Have I mentioned my meat thermometer that must have been assembled by a paranoid nit (not me this time!) because it indicates that absolutely everything is undercooked.  I could stick it in a burnt hunk of meat and it *might* register 150.  So, yeah, need a new one, preferably an instant-read digital.)  BUT! I aim to please.  So I bought a pork tenderloin, figuring it’s the tastiest and tenderest of the bunch, and it should cook pretty quickly, and maybe I could not screw it up. 

I started with renewed confidence and a grand plan.  Butterfly the loin, pound it out to about 1/2 inch thickness, spread the sausage filling all over it, roll it up, tie it, cut it into 2 large pieces to it could fit in the already-seasoned pan, sear it on high on all sides and pop it in the oven.  I had the oven at 400 (mistake #1…or #31, but who’s counting?!).  It was nicely browned, though starting to burn on one side of the pan.  I splashed a little stock in the pan to settle the smoke, popped it in the oven for 20  minutes, figuring that would be enough because, eh, there were two smallish pieces and the oven was nice and hot and I didn’t want to overcook it.  Mistake #2…

Timer sounded. It looked beautiful, so I took it out and tented it, and set to work on the sauce.  In mistake #something, I forgot to saute the onions first, but went ahead and dumped in wine, a splash of cider, dijon, honey, and only then threw in the onions (tiny dice). Scraped up the brown bits and boiled it to reduce.  Seasoned it w/ S&P, readied some parsley.  Tasted — fantastic, perfect balance of sweet and tart.   While it finished up, I got ready to plate the pork.

Apparently, while camping out, the pork had elected to conspire against me for keeping it from my kitchen all these months. 

Slice #1, “Hmm, is that pink, I see?”  By slice #2, there was no doubt, “Yes, Watson, that is in fact pink.”  [)*(@$*$ insert any and every expletive here, along with the barely-quenchable urge to throw something and make loud, crashing, very messy sounds)#*($&]  While the rational side of my brain tried to hold the Other Side’s hand, pat it gently, and resume rational thought, the Other Side swore like a mute sailor.  (Hey, there were kids in the room!  Until I bid them “Go! Away! Get out, get out! Ineedtothinkpleasestoptouchingme! Out!”) 

Damn! I’d already turned off the oven AND used the pan from the pork to make the pan sauce.  So I busted out another pan, cranked up the eat and slapped (not an exaggeration) the medallions in the pan.  And, since the kids had alerted the birthday guy AND it was 7-something (more than an hour after I’d started cooking dinner), the kitchen was full of hungry bodies.  I whined/cried to Brian that his dinner was not, after all, done; it was not what I’d wanted it to be for him; and I was pissed/frustrated/near despairing that nothing EVER goes right in the kitchen for me/I’m a complete failure/F*CK/blah blah blah.  So, while the drama was clearly overdone, the pork was…not so much.

The supporting cast: 

Crouton salad with apples, raisins, celery and onion.  Also known as “Stuffing,” but for Stuffing one usually remembers to add an egg and adequate butter, along with the stock.

A pretty tasty salad with sliced Granny Smith apples and julienned pieces of aged sharp cheddar, served with a nice OJ/dijon/S&P/oil/honey dressing that I didn’t screw up actually made.

Angel food cake (from a box), frozen strawberries (wha?!…fresh were over $5 for the saddest looking box of berries you’ve ever seen.  Even berries shrivel up and pout when it’s this cold outside.), and sweet cream butter over-whipped whipped cream (note to self: don’t walk away from the mixer while whipping cream).

The kids, in their very sweet attempts to make me feel better, declared the pork to be “delicious,” “the best ever,” and because he’s a numbers kinda kid, Mason found it “about 90% better than [insert anything here].”  He even tried to fix my bruised ego by saying, and I quote, “that’s a nice, uh…, um…, shirt-thing, whatever that is you’re wearing!” 

Cliff notes version:

Dinner was late but delicious.

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