The garden's demise
Earlier today, I went outside and leaned on the wooden rail of the front porch and looked down at what had become of my garden. Some people find pulling and tugging at weeds cathartic. I am not one of those. The ground was so overgrown with grass and weeds that I could no longer make out the globe basil, sage, or tarragon plants. Maybe they had already bit the dust, but there was no way to tell. I could see there were still some usable chives, flat-leaf parsley, oregano and a slim plant or two of sweet basil, though these too were half-buried. The tomato plants hung like skeletons, a handful of tomatoes still dangling from a few vines, and the cucumber patch consisted of brittle, crinkled, brown leaves.
On the advice of a Master Gardener, back in spring I had uncharacteristically planted both thyme and rosemary in pots on the porch. They hadn’t grown profusely, but were still in excellent shape, and I realized the recommendation had been so they could be brought inside for the winter. Since my sister and I are weekenders, this isn’t a viable option. Indoors, the plants would dry out during the week and soon die. Still, I was happy to have them and a handful of other herbs to use in the next few weeks, unless a frost kills the ones planted in the ground. So far we have been lucky.
Cooking with fresh herbs is totally different than with dried. It transforms every dish. Each April when we open the house after a three-month hiatus, I wait with great impatience for the first week in June when I can finally plant my herbs, tomatoes and cucumbers. The growing season in our area is short and sometimes made shorter by uncharacteristically cold weather in late August or early September. This ruins the flavor and consistency of the tomatoes, toughens the skins on cucumbers, and destroys the more delicate herbs.
But when the herb garden is at its peak, I dip into it daily. I grow three types of basil: traditional sweet basil, Thai basil, and what’s referred to as either pistou or globe basil. The leaves of the latter are tiny, and the plants look like miniature well-manicured trees. Chives return on their own each year, and I plant Italian flat-leaf parsley, rosemary, French tarragon, lemon or regular thyme, and, finally, oregano and sage (though sometimes neither). Mint grows like a wild beast both inside and outside the garden; luckily I am fond of it. I have zip luck with cilantro, a favorite herb of mine, as well as with dill.
The garden’s demise is genuinely depressing to me. So, while I have a tiny window left, I am taking advantage of what it still has to offer. Breakfast this morning was soft scrambled eggs with torn basil and chopped flat-leaf parsley, grated Parmesan and Romano (sheep’s milk) cheeses. For lunch I am marinating a pork tenderloin, destined for the broiler, in olive oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, honey, shallots, fresh ginger and sprigs of rosemary and thyme. And for dinner we will most likely have a savory bread pudding known as a strata. The great thing about stratas is that just about any variety of vegetables can be used, along with day-old bread, cheese, an egg custard and an assortment of available herbs thrown in for depth of flavor. It is definitely autumn, but I’m holding onto the last vestiges of my garden until the first frost. Holding on tight.
Broiled Herbed Pork Tenderloin
Pork tenderloin may also be cooked on a traditional gas or charcoal grill or on top of the stove on a ridged grill pan or a deep cast-iron skillet.
2 pork tenderloins, about ¾ - 1 pound
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup dry sherry
2 – 3 tablespoons honey
1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
1/8 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary of 3 or 4 whole sprigs
3 or 4 whole sprigs lemon or regular thyme
1/2 tablespoon minced shallots
½ teaspoon minced fresh ginger
Place the tenderloins in a shallow baking dish. Combine the soy sauce, sherry, honey, vinegar and oil in a medium bowl, whisking until well blended. Stir in the rosemary, shallots and ginger. Pour the mixture over the tenderloins. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate at room temperature for at least 2 hours.
Preheat the broiler. Remove the pork from the marinade, shaking off any excess. Place the tenderloins on a jelly roll pan lined with aluminum foil and lightly oiled with olive or vegetable oil. Broil, turning once, about 7 – 8 minutes per side, depending on width. Transfer to a platter, cover with foil, and allow meat to rest about 5 minutes before slicing. Meanwhile, place the marinade in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, simmering it for about 8 minutes, until slightly thickened. Slice the meat into 1/-inch thick slices and spoon the hot marinade over the pork.