Some maudlin maunderings…
by Bernard Brandt
Well, the house blessing is coming Sunday. The house is getting cleaned, more slowly than I would like, because of the residuum of this damned cold/flu. Meanwhile, I’m putting together the items of the menu for the priest, the rest of our choir, and a few friends. There are a lot more that I’d like to invite, but space and time are limited, especially in my little hovel. Maybe another time and place. In the meantime, I must say that I’m sorry that I can’t provide for all of my other friends. Maybe in the Kingdom of Heaven. Maybe.
Chief among the items of the menu are the cassoulet. I’m using the plural verb because it’s THAT involved. Something of an experiment, or set of experiments, actually. It started with sourcing the duck, from a local store at $2.99 a pound. I bought two ducks last monday, or ten pounds of duck. The four legs, thighs and wings of the duck are currently turning into duck confit, having been salted and spiced for two and a half days. The carcass of the duck has since become a gallon of duck stock, and two cups of duck fat. As to the duck stock, have you ever heard the expression, ‘It’s as easy as duck soup?’ Yeh. I’ve found that it is just that easy.
The duck fat, the duck parts, and two more cups or so of olive oil are now in a small casserole, and in the oven for the last hour at 250 degrees F. They will remain there for another hour or two, until they become morsels of wonder, and another contribution to the cassoulet. Half of the remaining fat and stock (that I don’t put in the cassoulet) will go to the friend who introduced me to a beautiful chicken cassoulet, and the whole Platonic Ideal of the cassoulet. The other half of fat and stock, and a leg, thigh and wing of the confit, will go to my nephew, John, who is one of that rarest of creatures: a chef who is also an accomplished baker. I’m told that only unicorns and honest politicians or lawyers are more rare.
And, from the local Italian market, I managed to score two pounds of smoked ham shanks, and two pounds of dried cannellini beans, instead of the great northern variety. The beans are soaking in good water and a gallon zip lock bag, and the shanks have been immersed in boiling water for a half hour, cooled, and been separated from the bones and fat to provide nearly a pound of scrumptiousness. That has been bagged in preparation for the main party.
Let’s just say that the duck (confit, a quart or two of the stock, and some fat), combined with the beans, cooked with the smoked pork bits, some cubed pork loin (properly spiced the previous day), some properly garlic-ly Italian sausage (since I can’t get the frog variety), and perhaps even some cheap chicken thighs covering the top, are gonna wind up in my dutch oven, to spend an hour or so there until they get together, cooking. And, after they have cooled, they will reside in my refrigerator of a Sunday morning, until I can get back to warm the lot up, in preparation for the festivities in the afternoon. I’m told it is better that way. We shall see.
Of course, some champagne (or at least a frog or spic sparkler or three), a couple bots of Bogle or a mid-range red, together with a gallon of Mirabella’s finest Dago Red, a nicely cured gravalax of a pound or so of salmon fillet (with sugar and dill and some salt, O my!) , the fixings for lox and bagels for the abstemious or unadventurous, a Trader Joe’s Rasberry Tart, and maybe even (courtesy of my late wife Carolyn, her mother Mary, and my daughter Dree) a patented Fabulous Flying Fox Family Peanut Butter Pie(!) will be players at that party.
It is now raining, furiously. It is the hardest rain of a hard winter. I am inside and dry, toping upon my post-prandial quaff, watching my little casserole convert duck into gold. The beans, in Dylan Thomas’ erotic phrase, ‘unwrinkle like a fig’. I am happy and thankful to live in my silly little atelier. I hope that our Lord God will allow me to infest this silly and beautiful world for another decade or three.
And yet I know that I will die alone, in poverty, and in great pain. I hope it may be at least thirty years from now. I fear it will be sooner. I have seen so many die. My teacher Marie, the only teacher I ever loved, when I was eleven. My wife, Carolyn. My friend, Brent. My friend, Mary. My brother, Charlie. My brother, Jim. My mother by my first wife, Mary. Her former husband, and my father by my first wife, Del. My second wife’s godmother, Lola/Macrina. And my second wife, Elizabeth. I had not known death had undone so many.
Sorry for the maudlin thoughts. I am alone in a warm house in a wet world. It tends to lead to such thoughts. At my first wife’s mother’s funeral, I read the Prayer of the Old Horse (or Le Priere du Vieux Cheval) written by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, and translated by Rumer Godden. I read it to my wife, Carolyn, before she died, and she made me promise that I would say it at her mother’s funeral. I kept that promise. Sorry I can’t find the book now. It’s in a box somewhere. Maybe later.
But at the top of this page are the words, and the music, of how I would like to die, if that mercy might be granted to me. ‘Just a friend or two I know, at hand.’
I decided to see how much it would cost to buy duck confit, duck fat, or duck stock.
None of them are available at my local Whole Paycheck.
I found a place where I could get a confit leg at $10.50 per. No thighs. No wings.
As it seems that legs, thighs, and wings come to the same amount of flesh, I would estimate that the four legs, thighs and wings I’ve made into confit would come to $126.00. If there were anywhere in La La Land which sold them all.
Most places sell duck fat for $10-15 per half pint. My two pints (admittedly, infused with olive oil) would therefore come to probably $40.00.
And I am unable to find anywhere which offers duck stock in L.A. I suspect that were I to sell the stuff, I could probably get $10 per quart. At four quarts, that would come to $40.00.
So, for an outlay of $30.00, I managed to get a warm and wonderfully fragrant house for a day, and a return of more than $200.00.
And I find that rate of return for value entirely acceptable.
I think I have a new dish for Pascha at St. Andrew’s.