24 November 2007

Duck update

The duck was lovely in all of the aforementioned ways. I then proceeded to become cooking geek: made duck stock from the duck bones, made homemade cornbread and then used both to make cornbread stuffing for thanksgiving, celebrated last night (Friday) at the Cornish-Scottish-American friends' house with Welsh, French, and English guests in attendance. Much fun and (too much) brandy had by all.

Our menu:
Apricot cranberry sauce
green beans with bacon
Cornbread stuffing
mashed potatoes
grilled sweet potato halves with yogurt-dill sauce
ratatouille (completely traditional of course)
slightly mashed parsnips roasted in the grease from one of the turkeys
green salad with pomegranate seeds
french bread (aka 'freedom bread')

butternut squash pie
lemon cheesecake
key lime pie
cinnamon rolls
mince pies

2007 Beaujolais Nouveau
other wine, red and white

18 November 2007

Advise and Consent (1962)

This Henry Fonda/Washington insider film is amazing, from the framing of the architecture (one of the first shots focuses on the 'In god we trust' inscription in the senate chamber while including in the bottom of the frame a somewhat rancorous debate spurred on by hovering press) to the sugary-sweet construction of the suburban home one senator inhabits, one that is revealed to be both very real and an utter façade. What's great about the film, if you (like me) know nothing about it before watching it, is that the plot is a sleeper plot. It starts out very slowly and vanilla but then grows into something utterly other than that. And the ending is brutal.

From our jaded perspective at the beginning of the 21st century, it starts with the fervor over the nomination the President has made for his Chief of Staff. In fact, the first scenes are very like the short-lived show K Street, with a senator getting the news of the nomination by looking at the morning headline, rushing over to a colleague's hotel room, where he finds him already on the phone with the president protesting the choice.

The rest of the film is about the senate committee hearings vetting the nominee. Wow. Sounds like the action film of the century, no? No. But it's fascinating in the way it exposes the workings of politics, the problem with idealists, the legacy of WWII, the various subcultures (the unmarried hostess of Washington poker games and gala parties; the gay New York club/bohemian culture), gender relations, and the way in which before the penetration of the media into the minutiae of every public figure's life, these people could walk around Washington, have meetings in the open, discuss issues--all without a gaggle of reporters everywhere they went. The unfolding of the plot moves it from political sparring almost to the point of political thriller.


17 November 2007

Duck à L'Orange and other mistakes

Having eaten a low-sugar diet for four or five years now, the ol' tastebuds have changed such that things others consider to taste 'normal' taste, to me, unbelieveably sweet. Like Havarti cheese. Or low-fat milk. or 85% chocolate. Probably my cooking states unbelieveably bland and/or spicy and/or something to other people. Who knows. But one of my favourite meats (mm. meat. it's all good) is duck. there are several excellent reasons for this. [note: my sole reader who does not eat duck for reasons that they are lovely cute creatures and it is cruel might want to stop reading here. also my other two readers who are vegetarian. so, the one carnivorous friend that's left, read on.]

1. Duck is fatty. Fat is good. It makes meat taste good and it helps with cooking the meat and did I mention it's lovely?
2. Because of #1, duck meat is usually quite moist and juicy.
3. If you like dark meat on a turkey, you love duck. It all has that taste of dense but juicy dark meat. And the ducks aren't (I don't think?) perversely fattened to produce large breasts for the (again perverse) taste for breast meat that the North American public seems to crave.

We like our birds breast-heavy with thin legs. Hm. What else fits that description? Coincidence? But I digress.

4. Duck is often used in fabulous Chinese cooking--and I'm not talking about the drive-up hole-in-the-wall university take-away Chinese that we all know and love for entirely other reasons having to do with fried, breaded goodness.

Duck is often on the menu here in the UK at 'normal' 'British' restaurants of the post-1980s variety (that is, the food is quite good and well-prepared). We went to one such restaurant which is excellent where the duck leg entree is served with this amazing lentil/dal-like sauce. It goes perfectly with the richness of the duck meat, providing a sort of horizontal taste next to the wavy curviness of the duck (spatial/visual thinker here--bear with me).

Our dining companions also ordered the duck and didn't like it. Their complaint: too salty.

But it was not salty at all. No salt was used in the sauce, our friendly waiter graciously reported. My conclusion from this? British/North American palates expect duck + something sweet. Whether it's an orange glaze or a Chinese plum sauce, the idea is that duck is equated with sweetness. To have a lovely perfectly spiced horizontal low-level buzz of dal underneath the duck means to be forced (against their will) to taste the duck itself. And so, Duck à l'orange has ruined duck for an entire population spanning the Atlantic. Very very sad.

This is borne out by my experience today trying to find a recipe to use to cook the duck I purchased this week in my Sainsbury's delivery. It was on sale. I'd never cooked duck before and I thought: hey, I like duck! and then hey, why not? So I have a duck in the fridge. Sorry Ruth. I looked in a variety of cookbooks, and aside from the basic roasting instructions for all birds in the Good Housekeeping, all of the recipes involved apricot jam or some sort of citrus-honey sauce or, in one interesting innovation, a honey-thyme sauce which sounds lovely but frankly still ends up in the too sweet category.

I did find a recipe--Madhur Jaffrey to the rescue once again--she's got a whole stuffed duck recipe in her Invitation to Indian Cooking that looks lovely. It has raisins and dried apricots in it (sweet) but they are in the stuffing, entirely different from a glaze. I may cook dal with it as well. I will report back.

14 November 2007

8.5 x 11 is so wrong

isn't it? it just occurred to me (again) that this was the case. A4 is an elite, svelte paper size, is it not? hm.

11 November 2007

Activist judges

FFB noted the disparity between the sacrifices that the Pakistani judiciary and body of lawyers has made in the face of martial law (oh--sorry. it's not martial law it's 'emergency-plus' which I think is in fact a vitamin-C drink, is it not?).

This article from OpenDemocracy illuminates some of the reasons for the ire of the lawyers in particular, and also illustrates why the announcement today by Musharraf that elections will be held in January does not, in fact, solve the underlying problem. It also belies what I'm perceiving in the press coverage in the UK the distinct impression that Bhutto is the country's only/best hope--an impression that seems to stem largely from the fact that she feels 'comfortable' to a western audience, where Musharraf never quite did, despite appearing on the Daily Show. She too benefits from this emergency-plus situation with corruption cases suspended against her, as Raja at OpenDemocracy argues.

05 November 2007

yea, o holy book review...

I would so much like to write book reviews like this one from time to time. Well, only when it's entirely appropriate, as this one is. Check it out.

02 November 2007


  1. No, Patrick Stewart was not as brilliant as you would expect him to be. He was quite a bit better than that.
  2. And still, it was Kate Fleetwood's Lady Macbeth that almost stole the show.
  3. But the real winner was the production and direction.
  4. And the icing on the cake? Sitting next to Marina Sirtis in the best seats in the house