If you drive through historic Fredericksburg, turn right on George Street and head up Hanover, you’ll pass a little brick house with a chimney. Inside the walls of the house are white and bright making the wood floors shine. The kitchen is old enough that you forgive its age and find it charming. In the yard is a fence lined with vines that you initially mistake for some spindly weed worth trimming back and forgetting, but if you happen by on a sunny morning you will find the most beautiful purple flowers—morning glories.
At one time I was the woman who lived in that house, newly pregnant with just a hint of a belly bulging beneath my flowy pre-maternity clothes. None of the neighbors could tell as they glanced up through their kitchen windows to see me setting a table in the yard in front of the fence where the morning glories, closed tight for the evening, also hid a secret.
The table in the yard was bold white and cold beneath the warm wool blanket used as a makeshift tablecloth. In the kitchen focaccia topped with juicy roasted grapes and Parmesan was filling the room with the smell of fresh bread, while at the end of the house my young daughter was waking up from her nap. Dinner prep would pause as I helped her become reacquainted with wakefulness, understanding just how hard it is to be awake sometimes. Eventually she’d melt into the couch as I turned on the TV and returned to the kitchen to pull together a green salad with goat cheese, peanuts, and pomegranate. A cast iron skillet for roasting the pork sat at the ready on the counter while I waited for a text from my husband that the train he and our dinner guests were on was pulling into Fredericksburg. These days were so often long and lonely that it went unnoticed except in those pre-dusk moments when the train was late and I craved sharing a meal and conversation with others.
By the time the train arrived I had filled up on bread and a scattering of leaves had collected on the table outside. The sun would set shortly after we sat down to eat and the chill in the air would cut the dinner party short.
A year later I cook this meal with a baby on my hip and a preschooler playing upstairs. This time my husband will emerge from his home office to entertain the baby while I finish up dinner. As we sit down to eat maybe I’ll mention the memory of making this meal last year when the house on Hanover was ours. Maybe we’ll wonder who lives there now and imagine them making dinner in that kitchen—a stranger stirring a pot at the stove as the dust from our days there still settles into the corners of the house and the morning glories outside fade towards winter.
Roasted Grape Focaccia
This bread can be made a few hours ahead of time and served at room temperature. The grapes take on a sweet flavor that complements the Parmesan cheese. The dough could double as a delicious thick crust pizza base.
For the dough:
1 ½ cups lukewarm water
3 Tbsp. canola or olive oil (plus more for drizzling into the pan)
1 tsp. salt
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 packet active dry yeast
3 garlic cloves peeled and chopped
1 ¼ cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
For the topping:
1 ½ cups red grapes
1 tsp. canola or olive oil
1 tsp. fresh rosemary needles
Coarse sea salt (optional)
Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle 1 to 2 Tbsp. oil in bottom of pan. In a large bowl, combine all of the dough ingredients except the cheese and garlic. Beat at high speed with an electric mixer for 60 seconds. Add half of the cheese and the garlic, beat on low to combine. Pour the sticky batter into the prepared pan and spread to the edges with a spatula. Cover the pan with a kitchen towel and let dough rise at room temperature for 60 minutes or until it becomes puffy. While the dough is rising, roast the grapes. Preheat the oven to 425°F. On another sheet pan toss the grapes with 1 tsp. oil. Roast for 20 minutes or until softened. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F. Sprinkle the risen dough with the roasted grapes, rosemary, and remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake the bread till it’s golden brown, 30 35 minutes. Remove flatbread from the oven and cool 5 minutes in the pan. Slide the bread onto a cooling rack to cool until easy to handle. Sprinkle with coarse salt, cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.
Skillet-Roasted Pork Tenderloin
This recipe serves 6, but it could easily be doubled to serve a crowd. My general rule is to plan for one pork tenderloin per 3 people. This technique works best in an extra-large cast iron skillet, but if you don’t have one then you can use another oven-proof skillet or roasting pan.
2 1- 1½ lbs. pork tenderloins
2 tsp. coarse salt (such as kosher salt)
2 tsp. dried oregano
1½ tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
½ cup water
Fresh herbs to decorate the pork such as oregano, thyme or rosemary sprigs
Up to a day ahead, prepare the spice rub by combining the salt, oregano, coriander, cumin, and garlic powder. Sprinkle the rub evenly all over the pork and lightly press into the pork. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook. Half an hour before cooking, remove pork from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature. Preheat oven to 450°F and place a large cast iron skillet in the oven to heat. Once the oven has preheated, carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and place on a trivet. Drizzle the oil into the hot pan then add the pork tenderloins. Return pan to the oven for 10 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and flip the pork. Return pan to the oven and reduce the heat to 400°F and roast for 15 – 20 minutes more, or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the tenderloins registers at least 145°F. Remove from the oven and place the pork on a platter and loosely cover with foil and let rest 15 minutes. Meanwhile, add 1/2 cup water to the hot skillet and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits from the pan. Thinly slice pork and arrange on a platter. Pour liquid from pan over the pork. Sprinkle with herb sprigs and serve.