How is it already the end of June? I took a break. For most of the winter and all of spring it seems. I’m not sure where the time went. I have a vague memory of doing things. Writing, reading, researching, playing tennis… I know I planted flowers on the terrace at one point, too early, and then watched as the cold devoured them whole. The rest is hazy.
I remember Menorca in crystal clarity, though, as I always do, where I watched the sun set over the giant hay bales dotting the countryside as I drove across the island. I love the way they blend into the dry grass, a monochromatic palette of brushed gold that gives me certain peace. “Isn’t it beautiful?” I asked over and over again. I raced my horse through the open valleys and down onto empty beaches each evening just before the sun sank below the horizon, before it carpeted the sand and sea in shadow. I sat on white sand beaches, listening to the water lap against the shore, and shaded my eyes against the shrapnel of light thrown up from the water in sharp relief. I watched the clear-bodied jellyfish skate under the surface of water too aquamarine to be true, tiny dangers that caused more alarm than delight. I never grew tired of the trill of a tiny voice calling medusa from the water’s edge.
I thought about all of the photographs I wanted to take but didn’t. I thought about how easy it is to want and how hard it is to do. I thought about discipline, how difficult it is to cultivate it. The back of a horse is a good place to reflect in silence on one’s state of being.
This year, like all of them for an ex-pat, is filled with adeus. Today, I have to say goodbye to a friend who has enriched my life over the last years in ways I can’t describe. I will miss the way she squints when she listens to my stories, the honesty she brings to the table, and the tireless support and motivation she’s given me. I will miss, too, her homemade Thai dishes she feeds me when I need comfort food, her giant crispy spring rolls, her perfect pad thai, her too-hot soup that makes both of our noses run. Today she is throwing her last rooftop barbecue and all the talk of leaving will finally become reality. I made this salad for my friend Heather, who always inspires me to be better.
Ginger Garlic Pork Summer Salad
- 1/2 pound pork neck, ground
- 1 bag vermicelli rice noodles*
- 1/2 purple onion, sliced
- 2 teaspoons five spice powder
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/4 cup mirin wine
- 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
- 2 large garlic cloves, sliced
- 1-inch piece of ginger, cut into short matchsticks
- 1 lime
- handful basil leaves, torn
*The kind that I buy has two separate dried noodle cakes in it. I only needed one for this recipe. Cook all if you want and save the rest for another meal, or use just one.
Heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Add the onions and stir for 30 seconds. Add the fish sauce, the pork, and the five spice powder and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and the ginger and then continue cooking, stirring constantly, until pork is no longer pink in the middle and the garlic is cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, heat 3 cups of water to just to boiling, add the rice noodles, making sure they’re thoroughly submerged, and turn heat to low. Let sit until noodles are cooked through. Drain and set aside.
In a bowl, add the mirin, rice wine vinegar, and both types of soy sauce, and stir until blended. If needed, adjust to taste at this point. Add more mirin for sweetness, vinegar for tang, or soy sauce for salt. When it’s as you like it, add the sauce to the pork, and then combine with the noodles until well mixed. Add the basil aMs a healthy squeeze of lime and serve slightly warm.