The return trip went smoothly, though it took longer than I would have liked. It was particularly galling to fly right over my home town–I even saw my house, since we were descending into Newark and roofs were visible–since if I could have jumped out there and parachuted down it would have saved me four hours of flying, customs, and then driving back up. Notwithstanding the time, it still amazes me that one can travel so far so fast. I love it. And even though my ten days in France were full of fun and flavor, it was very nice to get home.
The season in France (especially in the south) is a bit farther advanced than here, but because we’ve had such a freakishly warm winter the garden has been an ongoing concern in a way that it hasn’t in the past. I went out and cut a lovely salad of all the burgeoning winter greens: mâche, claytonia, parsley, radicchio, arugula, chervil, and a few little lettuces, and I dug up a big bunch of parsnips and carrots. Overwintered roots are one of early spring’s great rewards, and the smells of soil and plants and the warm edge to the breeze got me excited in a decidedly vernal fashion.
I had pulled a venison roast out of the freezer to thaw a bit, so I salted it and browned it hard on all sides in the iron skillet, removing it to a smaller pan with a lid to rest and finish cooking. The half-frozen meat makes it easy to get a rich crust on the outside while keeping the inside nice and pink which is especially important for lean meat like the red deer/elk hybrid that they raise at Highland Farm. (My article about them at the link). But it’s true for any red meat; if you want to cook like the French do, err on the side of rare. It’s so much better. I threw carrot and parsnip coins into the pan to revel in the deery fond, deglazing them with blackcurrant vinegar and a bit of homemade maple syrup and letting them steam a bit before I pulled them out and tossed them with minced parsley. I added more vinegar and a pat of butter to the pan and cooked up a quick pan sauce to use every bit of flavor that lingered in the skillet, then sliced the meat and served it over the carrots with sauce and this nifty pistachio oil I bought because both Kate and Cathy told me to.
Apart from the oil, which blended fabulously with the pan sauce and really set the meat off handsomely, everything else on the plate was pretty micro-local. The salad was wonderful; dressed with the standard house vinaigrette of olive oil, vinegar (cider this time), garlic, mustard, salt and pepper, it was tender, sweet, bitter, sharp, and buttery. And the meat/root combination had just the right amount of sweetness to favor the venison while still being earthy and not at all cloying. Travel is important, even essential to inform our perspective on everything, including food. But at the end of the day, food is about the place and time where it’s being made and eaten. And there’s no place like home.