It’s strange how easy it can be to define joy. After years of looking for happiness in a profession or in a mate, I find myself ever more capable of satisfaction and elation from mere moments. As I walk toward the farmer’s market on Wednesday morning, I feel like a dog dragging its owner to the park. My ebullience at the stalls of ramps, lilacs, lily of the valley, is such that $12 for a 1/4 lb. of mesclun can’t even bring me down. The soft air on my arms and ankles as I unfold myself from the car in Millbrook on Friday at twilight both comforts me with nostalgia and excites me with promise.
Yesterday I went morel hunting, which is one of my favorite ways on earth to spend an afternoon. By all accounts, I was a week late. The mushrooms popped in Dutchess county and the Berkshires a week ago; and three hours of foraging produced only six morels. But I can’t say that I was disappointed or that the day was a failure. How could it be when the sight of that first glorious morel growing up through the forest floor—staring at me as though it had been waiting for me—could inspire such joy. Before I used my trusty Opinel to harvest it, I took a photo with my iPhone and a “Mind Shot” of the sensation with my mind’s eye.
“Mind Shots” (preferably pronounced with a French accent, as it was by its inventor) are how you take a photo of a moment, a feeling, not just an image; a trick taught to me by my dear old pal, Da French Mouse, Stephanie Betant. The serenity that came over me at finding that perfect specimen growing up from dark leaves and verdant weeds on the forest floor, the accomplishment of finding that one flawless morel, it’s enough—even if the afternoon’s literal yield is only enough for a garnish.
My mother roasted two pork loins, drenched in Dr. Pete’s Praline Mustard Glaze (phenomenal Morrell pantry staple) and Domaine Faiveley Burgundy and I sautéed my freshly foraged morels with shallots, garlic and madeira.
Pork Loin: Pre-heat the oven to 450°F.
While the oven is heating up, clean your morels by slicing them in half lengthwise. Remove any grit (or critters) with running water if you prefer, though I dab them with a wet paper towel. I want the morels as dry as possible so that they soak up the flavors of what I cook them with. To that end, I briefly roasted my morels in a warm oven while I prepped the pork and got other ingredients ready.
Pork: Poke small holes in pork loin and stuff with garlic cloves/slivers. Rub pork loin with olive oil, sea salt, fresh pepper and dried thyme. Add some Dr. Pete’s Glaze if you can get your hands on it. Pour madeira and/or red wine into the bottom of the roasting pan (this will help keep your pork moist, imbue it with boozy deliciousness and eventually become a gravy.) Put the roast in the oven and turn the heat down to 400°F. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes (basting with the booze occasionally) or until the loin feels springy when you squeeze it. Slice the pork into medallions on platter. Reduce pan juices over medium heat on stovetop.
Morels: Chop 1 large shallot and two garlic cloves for every six morels you are lucky enough to find. Heat oil in a large pan (you don’t want to crowd your mushrooms). Add chopped garlic and shallots, sea salt and some fresh pepper—white, if you have it. Let simmer, stirring often, until the shallots soften but do not color. Add halved morels. Let cook. Gently turn the mushrooms. When the mushrooms have become golden and shrunk slightly, deglaze with a healthy douse of madeira and let simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Add a few spoons full of cream, and again let the liquid reduce until the mushrooms are lying in glossy shallow puddle that clings to them. Add freshly chopped parsley. Serve draped over pork loin and spoon mushroom cooking liquid over pork or add it to the reduced pan juices for gravy.
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