This morning I received a letter from my grandfather, written on the back of a large white envelope in small, black cursive:
I thought about you yesterday as I excitedly checked on the dinner I had prepared and was about to serve, all hot and bubbly in the crock pot. It looked fantastic. Underutilized equipment, the crock pot, in my opinion. It would serve many single men well to learn how to use it. Your parents were here and I knew everyone would be in for a treat with the stew that I made…
Suddenly, Ben rustled to get out of bed and sleep vanished -- and, so did the letter. It was all a dream. It had been so pleasant and so vivid, and I tried desperately to fall back asleep, to re-conjure the image of the letter, to continue reading. I wanted to know what else my grandfather would have said, if he were alive now. In just this small snippet of writing, I felt his excitement over food and joy of feeding loved ones. I imagined what I might say in reply…
You are very right, the crockpot is sorely underutilized. Every time I use it I come home to a lovely fragrant house and a hot, perfect meal ready for me, and I wonder why I don’t use it every day. I think of you often and I wish you could know the life I am living out here in Portland. Ben and I planted a huge garden last summer, with great success. You should have seen how tall our cherry tomato plants grew! I had to trim them every few days to keep them from taking over the house. The tomatoes themselves were amazingly sweet and juicy. I’m sending you a picture of just some of our bumper crop (see below). At the end of the season, we tried your trick of ripening the green ones in a sunny window sill (it worked!) and Ben pickled a great number of the remaining green ones. By the way, I wish you could have met him; like you he gets acutely excited about certain things. These pickled tomatoes were one of those things. He was like a mad scientist figuring out how he would do it. Grandma has met him and thinks he even looks like you!
Sending you much love,
I don’t know if my grandpa really ever used a crock pot, but he planted a big garden every year and certainly loved food. I remember several visits to my grandparents when it would be around noon and my grandfather would still be sipping his coffee and nibbling at his bacon, savoring the morning hours. He talked animatedly with us between (and sometimes during!) his bites.
Over the past couple of days, I had been mentally adapting a soup recipe from 101 cookbooks. I woke up knowing I would make that soup in the crock pot, maybe it would be something like the stew my grandfather had made in my dreams...
Pork and Lentil soup
I adapted this soup from Heidi’s Lively up yourself lentil soup. I wanted a different green vegetable and made it a bit heartier by adding pork. I also changed up the seasonings and garnish. It’s quick and easy to prepare, then simmers all day in the crock pot. A good test of any soup – Ben and I still liked it after eating it for three days straight!
1.5 lb piece of pork tenderloin
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 cup dried lentils (I used brown), sorted and rinsed
1 14.5oz can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes (I used Muir Glen)
1 small onion, diced fine
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 garlic cloves, minced or diced fine
2 cups tiny green beans, cooked and chopped into bite-sized pieces
Garnish: soft goat cheese
Place the pork tenderloin in the bottom of your slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients except for the green beans and goat cheese. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.
Shortly before serving, remove the pork with a large spoon/fork and place on a plate. Shred the pork with a fork and return to the slow cooker. Then add the green beans to the slow cooker (adding them at the end keeps them green and vibrant rather than over-cooked and brown).
Top each serving with a teaspoon or so of goat cheese.