Children’s toys are so much more sophisticated now than they were when I was young.  They include many of the things my contemporaries and I had to produce with our imagination.  However, sometimes I think we were better off because we learned to be creative.  It’s funny, though, how even now kids will choose to play with boxes instead of the toys that came inside.

For some reason, I keep picturing some of the favorite toys my sisters and I had when we were little.  One of us possessed a soft plastic elephant (of the squeeze-toy variety) that was a coral pink.  It had a tear molded into its sad face.  We could press the air from it with barely a whooshing sound; when it expanded, the elephant made a loud squealing noise.  It was fun to hide it under a couch or chair cushion.  People didn’t notice it when they sat down, but they sure were surprised when they stood up and their seat began to shriek!

Another sister had a stuffed indigo dog.  It was made from a cotton print material, and just as sad looking as the elephant.  The dog had a string that, when pulled, caused the dog to speak.  Although it uttered different sentences, the only one I remember is, “You’d cry, too, if you were painted blue.”  We thought it was hilarious to hear the dog make that statement, which probably explains why I recall it.

Just like kids today, we loved to play with boxes.  We were thrilled when Dad brought home a refrigerator carton.  Mom helped us make a playhouse out of it, complete with windows and a door.  We used crayons to make decorations on the inside and outside of its cardboard walls.   After a while, our “house” began to sag, not able to stand up to the hard living it endured.   We weren’t the only ones that led to its overuse, as the neighborhood children joined in our playtime.  We may have been sad to lose our playhouse, yet we didn’t give up on the box.  We laid it on its side, and several of us crawled into it, backs against the upright side.  Then we began rocking it back and forth until we got it to roll across the yard.  Finally, the box met its demise and ended up in the trashcan.

Cardboard boxes weren’t the only containers we used.  Wooden crates served as pretend zoo cages or doll beds.  When taken apart and reassembled in various ways, they made couches, chairs, and stools.  Dad made us a chair; we copied his ingenuity to make the rest of our play living room furniture.  We were only limited by the scope of our creative abilities.  I  guess you could say we were thinking outside the box…

Now I need to transition the random memories to this week’s recipes, which are focused on October’s designation as National Pork Month.  Several years ago, my daughter Molly was at our house when my late husband, Bob, was preparing to receive a stem cell transplant.  The hospital postponed the procedure for a day, so Molly and I used the time to try a recipe I found for Bottom-of-the-Box Crushed Cracker Pork.  The finished product was delicious!  I am sharing it again, plus some other tasty recipes from previous years.

Bottom-of-the-Box Crushed Cracker Pork

1 pound pork tenderloin

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon steak sauce

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 cup finely crushed cheese crackers

2 tablespoons canola or olive oil, divided

Combine egg, steak sauce, and garlic in shallow dish.  Put crushed crackers in shallow dish.  Cut tenderloin crosswise into 1/2-inch slices.  Pound or flatten slices with the heel of your hand to 1/4-inch thickness.  Dip each slice first into egg, then into crumbs, turning to coat.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large non-stick skillet over medium heat until hot.  Add half of pork slices and cook 4 to 5 minutes per side until browned.  Remove from pan and keep warm.  Repeat with remaining oil and pork.  Serve with a dipping sauce – ranch dressing or barbecue sauce are suggestions.

Apricot-Stuffed Pork Chops

10 dried apricot halves, snipped into pieces

1/4 cup boiling water

1 garlic clove

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons molasses, divided (I used sorghum)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

4 (3/4-inch thick) boneless pork chops

3/4 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup whipping cream (may use evaporated milk)

2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Place apricots in heat-proof dish.  Add boiling water and let stand for 10 minutes; drain off water.

Pulse apricots, garlic, pecans, thyme, 1 tablespoon molasses, salt, and pepper in a food processor 5 or 6 times until finely chopped.  (May be chopped by hand, if desired.)

Trim any excess fat from each pork chop.  Cut a slit in 1 side of each chop to form a pocket.  Spoon apricot mixture evenly into each pocket.  Pinch edges to seal; secure with wooden picks if necessary.

Brush chops with remaining 1 tablespoon molasses.  Place on a rack in a lightly greased broiler pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until done.  (Pork chops should be slightly pink inside; do not overcook.)

Remove wooden picks, if necessary, and place chops on a serving platter; keep warm.  Add chicken broth to pan; place pan over medium high heat, stirring to loosen browned bits from bottom.

Stir together whipping cream and flour until smooth.  Stir into broth; cook 3 minutes or until slightly thickened.  Serve over chops.

Old World Pork Roast

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon rubbed sage

1-1/4 teaspoons salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided

1 boneless pork loin roast (3-4 pounds), trimmed

1/2 teaspoon browning sauce, optional

2 tablespoons corn starch

Potato dumplings or mashed potatoes, optional

In a small bowl, combine caraway seeds, sage, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; rub over roast.  Place roast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 2 hours or until a meat thermometer reads 160-170 degrees.  Remove roast from pan; keep warm.  Pour pan drippings into a large measuring cup; add enough water to equal 2 cups.  Pour into a small saucepan; add browning sauce if desired, cornstarch, and remaining salt and pepper.  Stir until smooth.  Bring to a boil; cook and stir until thickened and bubbly.  Slice roast; serve with gravy and dumplings or potatoes if desired.  Yield: 6-8 servings.

Pork Chops with Rosemary and Fennel

2 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves

2 teaspoons fennel seed

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1-1/2 teaspoons onion powder

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons olive oil

4 bone-in pork chops, cut 1-inch thick

Combine rosemary, fennel seed, garlic and onion powders, pepper, and salt in a food processor or blender.  Process until fine.  Stir in oil.  Spread the mixture on both sides of pork chops. 

Broil or grill 4 to 6 inches away from heat for 14 to 16 minutes or until done.  Turn meat once during cooking.  Serve immediately.