Duck-Billed Platitudes

Beginning last night, it rained for about 36 hours straight. The stream out back rose to the highest I’ve ever seen it, and it got to 60˚ outside- warm enough that it was noticeably warmer outside than in, especially in the outbuildings. It’s great to have March weather in January, but the problem is that I’m noticing some swelling in the buds of a few things around the house; if this keeps up, I’m afraid everything that wakes up will be cruelly punished by the hard cold that is sure to follow. Today was 40˚, and tonight it will get down into the 20s, so winter is back whether we like it or not. In a way, I’m kind of relieved, because it was getting awfully easy to imagine that we’d skipped February altogether, and that there was a recipe for heartbreak.

It’s amazing to me how much nostalgia can be triggered by shifts in the weather; spring and fall continue to be astonishing in their evocative power. Having a child also cues all sorts of long-dormant memories, so the result can be kind of overwhelming. Watching torrents of water rush over the field and pond in the yard brought back all sorts of highly specific sensations from the distant past. There’s something about the sight of water flowing on top of ice and snow that takes me back to those woods of my childhood that I explored so completely over the seasons and years.

An accidental sort of dinner fell together while I pondered such things as time, and mortality, and why I even bother buying Burgundies that cost less than $50 any more. I had soaked some triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid, grown locally and organically) with an eye towards doing something with it, but then did something else entirely, so it soaked for 24 hours. Inspired by the bowl of wet grain, I took the bones from a couple of ribeyes (post to follow soon) which I had broken down prior to cooking, so they were raw, and made a stock with them using carrot, onion, parsley, star anise, leek, and cloves. It simmered for a couple of hours, since I thought to get it going in the afternoon. Once ready, I strained it and used it for the grain cooking liquid, adding in diced carrot, leek, and fennel to add more flavor and texture. And let it go. These grains are tough to cook; they need a ton of time to soften up and it was a close call–having soaked them made all the difference.

Once they approached done (though still with a pleasingly gut-scouring firmness to their outer layer) I got some duck sausages going in a pan. Once browned all around and cooked through, I removed them and deglazed the pan with white wine, pouring the result into the grain pot to add extra fondtastic depth of flavor. And that was pretty much it, with parsley to finish. The little things made big differences here: the quality of the sausage and stock, the freshness of the grain (and the soaking) helped a bowl of very simple food get some complex work done in the flavor department. I like this grain, but next time I’ll use the pressure cooker to get a quicker result; it has lots of nutty character and can hold up to a ton of abuse, making it a good candidate for all sorts of braise-type things.

As for the Burgundy, another 1er cru Givry (though this time a 2006) well, all I can say is that I should open these two days before I drink them. It’s the only way to tell of they’re any good. I’m going to save money by cooking peasant food and then spend it on real wine. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

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Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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