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How a Pork Tenderloin Saved my Life - Part 1
There is an indentation that runs right up the middle of all of our palms called the fate line that, according to legend, dictates the nature of our journey through life. Mine has a break right in the middle on both palms, as though I was destined to travel along on one course, and then midway through, suddenly shift gears and begin a whole new path.
I know the exact moment my fate line began to split; and though it happened with far more whimper than bang, the stars aligned and ignited something in me that would lead me to a pork tenderloin, and an experience that would eventually change my life.
It was a Saturday night in February of 2011, and I was sitting on the couch aimlessly searching through the TV channels as my husband Vaughan snored contentedly down the hall.
Although there was a time in my not so distant past when the thought of sitting around in flannel pyjamas on a Saturday evening with a half eaten tub of Ben and Jerry's by my side would have evoked terror, I had somehow settled into a life of well worn ruts and grooves so narrow and so deep that it wasn't only difficult to conceive of climbing out, I didn't even know I was buried to my neck.
One son, two birds, several hamsters, two cats, and a dog later, Vaughan and I found ourselves in uncharted territory: Empty nesters in our mid forties with absolutely no idea what the next half of our lives would bring.
Gone were the days of bake sales and birthday parties, waiting in terror for our teenager to come home with the car, or standing for hours in the rain on a sports field watching, forever watching, as little boys turned into men before our eyes.
First haircuts, first steps, first words, first day of school, first job, and first apartment - each milestone bringing fresh waves of grief as we smiled at our child's excitement and blinked back tears vowing we would never be one of "those" parents.
No one informed us going in that having children would involve the endless saying of goodbye and though we are repeatedly told when they are young to hold the moments tight because they go by so fast, few of us ever do.
We can't wait until our kids can sleep through the night, go potty, make their own toast, or drive.
But when the day finally arrives and they drive off for good - time, in retrospect, takes on new meaning as we realize the finality of moments - and from the vantage point of twenty years gone, I took this as a lesson: The next 20 years, if I was so blessed to have them, would be lived.
But that isn't where I was at, exactly, that Saturday evening in front of the TV. Oh sure, there had been ambiguous resolutions made at the start of the new year to take more chances and get out of my own ruts, but unless switching brands of paper towel could be considered life changing; I was still deep in my own sense of denial and living life vicariously through my favourite TV shows.
Our son Matthew had not only moved out of the house, he had gone to another city. In one day, the entire fabric of our home and family life had changed, and we were expected to pick up and carry on as though nothing had happened.
It occurs to me now that the twenty five pounds I gained after he left home, and the multitude of casseroles and baked goods I cooked and froze for his return were connected to grief.
Some people medicate with alcohol or pills. I chose pie crust – and clicked over to the Food Network in the hopes Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives might be on.
I was really only half watching - multi tasking with my laptop tucked securely onto my knees - when an advertisement came on that caught my attention: "Calling all cooks," the announcer's voice said, "Are you a home cook with a recipe you would like to share? If so Food Network Canada wants to hear from you!"
My attention was immediately grabbed.
Food Network Canada was hosting a cooking competition called Recipe to Riches where the winning recipe would receive a huge cash prize and the competing cooks would get to appear in an actual Food Network television show!
To say there were stars in my eyes would be an understatement because from the second I heard about the competition, it was ON!
For years I had been hosting an imaginary cooking show from my kitchen, striking a variety of poses as I mashed potatoes and described their desired consistency while dreaming of an alternate reality where people tuned in once a week to see myself as Food Network Star, looking fabulous while preparing four course dinners and cocktails for an ever changing array of guests.
In reality, I worked for a crisis center and routinely delivered education programs to local high schools where I was now known as “The Crisis Lady,” – a position I cared a great deal about but one that, after so many years of giving my heart and soul, had left me feeling somewhat worn out.
Students in school hallways all over the district would go silent as I walked past them, social groups parting like the red sea, whispering in hushed tones “The Crisis Lady” as I dreamed of a gentler existence of cooking wild rice casserole and holiday appetizers for legions of adoring fans.
The next day I began thinking about the kind of recipe I would submit.
With several categories to choose from, I went back and forth between appetizers and entrees, finally deciding on a recipe for chilli con carne made with turkey chilli topped with a sweet potato cornbread mixture.
Not only was I certain the dish was a winner after having made it many times over the years, I was excited to present a food item that was not only tasty it was also very healthy.
I submitted the recipe and a video and then waited in hopeful anticipation for the phone to ring - and two days before the open calls in Vancouver I received a call from Toronto! It was one of the field directors for the show letting me know they liked me, but that they felt turkey chilli con carne was not creative enough for the contest.
I was asked to come up with something different - perhaps a twist on the original recipe as an appetizer - but I only had until the end of the day to submit something suitable. Further to that, it had to be a dish that could be made ahead and frozen.
Terrified my future as a celebrity was ending before it had even begun, I took to my bed (the place I have traditionally always done my best thinking) and wracked my brains, trying to come up with a winning idea that would wow the judges. And then it hit me: At Christmas that year I had baked peanut butter cup cookies in mini muffin pans.
What if I lined individual mini muffins with healthy sweet potato cornbread, spooned a little turkey chilli con carne into each cup, and then topped the cups with more cornbread – thus making delectable little mini-muffins?
Further to that, what if I called them Gobblers?
*cue the thunderbolts*
Inspired by the powers of my culinary creativity, I threw down the gauntlet and got cooking to see if the idea was going to work. But time was at a premium and there was no way I was going to to be able to hit the grocery store, whip up a chilli, and put it all together with photographs of the finished product before my end of day deadline.
I had no other recourse than to create a dummy version of The Gobbler and decided on prototype using pork and beans as the filling instead of chilli to see if the muffins would actually hold together as I had hoped and at exactly 30 minutes until deadline, I pulled them out of the oven.
They were perfect. And though I will not comment on taste, my 6’2 husband had just walked in the door and, starving after a long day working on a construction site, ate half the batch as is.
(These are the actual fake gobblers )
I took a few quick pictures of what was left, re-adjusted the chilli recipe (without actually trying it), and sent everything back to Food Network Canada in an email – hoping this time my recipe would impress – and sure enough, within the hour I had secured an audition time...
Click here for Part 2 of our saga!
We have only just begun!!!
Tomorrow I will be sharing a step by step video for my delicious Pork Scallopini with Wild Mushroom Gravy - you don't want to miss it!
If you missed yesterday's Jambalaya video, check it out here...