…(A)nd many such good inventions are on earth like the breasts of a woman: useful as well as pleasing.
~Friedrich Nietzche

Speaking of hanging fruits, what is the story with a woman’s boobs and nipples?

Milking mothers either have to cover their functional breasts to avoid stern stares or, more rudely, are sometimes summarily banished or even ashamedly depart from rooms while lactating with child. Maidens and cougars must hide their bazookas on the beach, but man boobs or not, men do not.  Just another example of our boorish species, we are even more concerned when female breasts do not belong to young women or do not appear globule, ample and nips ever pert. Nubs and warts are out and gazangas, not hangers, are in. Real women’s bodies — not sculpted babes apparently those with guts, boobs, and butts. Oh, the hoi polloi. Are there any reasons for such degradation? Prejudices? Fears? Anxiety? Oppression? Obstinacy? No freakin’ idea.

Chests should always be treated similarly — women’s bared nipples are forbidden, men’s are now not, even though some 75 years ago almost all states prohibited “shirtless” men. So sad and disgraceful, women and men are still not considered the same in so many states and in so many ways. An almost vitriolic form of sexual censorship.  Second class treatment for such beauteous females. Much like women’s suffrage (1920) and a $10 or $20 bill (Harriet Tubman or Alexander Hamilton or Andrew Jackson?). And the backside of whatever bill? In my opinion, an insulted woman’s glaring bare buttocks would prove à propos. Womansplaining is in need.

Apparently, women’s naked breasts can even be unleashed almost like unholstered weapons. Consider Lady Godiva who convinced her husband to lower the taxes of medieval England by traipsing naked through the streets on horseback or even Marianne, the revered symbol of liberty who was depicted by Delacroix bare breasted hoisting the flag in one hand and a bayonet in another, leading others over fallen bodies…images and tales both before and thereafter.

The motion picture association (MPAA or CARA) has imposed its suppression and righteousness over history, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17, the current supposed “rating” system.  A woman’s buttocks or breasts are apparently cool, but a man’s full monte seems verboten. Some chaste actresses even go to the extremes of donning merkins (undercarriage wigs) to cover their unveiled vulvae.  A bizarre planet to inhabit.

Now, there is Free the Nipple, an open breast equality movement which attempts to address the scenes where a woman may not allowed to be topless, sparking some dialogue. Why should we have such discourse? Breast freedom on all tips seems so completely au naturel.

Even more concerning is the Blur Man Group from of all cable channels, Naked & Afraid, whose staff covers and opaquely blurs crotches and women’s breasts/nipples entirely, frame by frame, to make the contestants suitable for broadcast. Recognizing a nipple from several football fields seems rather strange. Up close and personal is more the norm. C’mon, man, the title of the show is Naked & Afraid, connoting “naked” directly. How disappointing, as nakedness should reign supreme.

So far, this article makes meager mention of genitals, female & male — as this writer simply wholly detests bathing attire and adores nudity. (This is in a land where some 70-80 million dogs and some 90 million cats are household pets buck naked year round — these numbers do not even include so many undomesticated scavengers.) There are so many secluded venues where yours truly has been gratefully denuded. Some say we all have nipples and genitals, right? There should be no shame at baring all, as one should be used to “private” parts. The cows are out of the barn, thankfully.

DUCK BREASTS WITH PORT, COGNAC, CHERRIES & HONEY

2-3  duck breast halves, 6 ozs each
2 T unsalted butter
2 fresh garlic cloves, smashed

1/3 C shallots, peeled and minced

1/2 C chicken broth
10 fresh sweet red cherries, halved & pitted
2 T port
2 T cognac
2 T local honey

1-2 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Place duck breast halves between plastic wrap. Pound with a mallet to evenness (about 3/4″). Score skin in 3/4″ pattern. Cover, again with plastic, and refrigerate for a few hours, perhaps overnight.

Melt unsalted butter and garlic in large, heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Sprinkle duck with salt and pepper. Discard garlic, and do not burn. Add duck, skin side down, to skillet and cook until skin is browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn duck breasts over, lower heat to medium, and cook until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to board or platter, tent with foil, and let rest 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour off most of drippings from skillet, but keep hot. Add shallots to skillet and stir over medium heat, about 30 seconds, and again do not burn.

Add broth, cherries, port, cognac, and honey. Increase heat to medium high and cook until sauce is reduced to glaze, stirring often, about 3-4 minutes. Whisk in butter. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Thinly slice duck and fan out on plates. Spoon cherry sauce over and serve (preferably over creamy polenta, noodles or rice and perhaps fresh sweet peas as an aside).

History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
~Mark Twain

These bosoms need little augmentation or enhancement — well, besides a few spices.

MAGRETS DE CANARD (DUCK BREASTS)

2 duck breasts, each about 1 lb, always equal
Salt and ground black pepper

1 1/2 T raw sugar, divided in half
1 C shallots, finely chopped

Zest and segments from 2 oranges or blood oranges
1 C dry red wine

1 T red miso

Heat oven to 200 F.

With a sharp knife, score the skin side of the duck breasts in a crisscross pattern but do not cut into the flesh. Season with salt and pepper. Heat an ovenproof heavy skillet to quite hot. Place duck breasts in pan, skin side down, and sear until browned, at most about 2 minutes. Remove and reserve 1 tablespoon of fat, discarding the rest. Return duck to pan, skin side up, and place in oven for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Place reserved duck fat in a heavy skillet on medium high.

Toward the end of roasting, sprinkle breasts with half the raw sugar and cook a couple of minutes, until the pieces start to brown but remain crisp, then remove to a platter or board.

In the meantime, reduce heat to medium low in a heavy pan or skillet, add the shallots and sauté slowly until very tender. Stir in both the orange zest and wine. Simmer gently until the wine is reduced by half. Stir in remaining raw sugar and the miso. Season with salt and pepper and then set aside.

When duck is finished, allow to rest, then slice the breasts on the bias and arrange on a platter. Briefly and barely the reheat wine sauce and fold in the orange segments. Assure that the salt and pepper is to your liking and spoon sauce over and/or under the duck breasts.

All sorrows are less with bread.
~Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

This late summer and early fall mark the centenary dawn (1914-2014) of The War To End All Wars. Well done, humanity — as a species, we have been in global conflict and slaughter almost continuously since then.  Strife upon strife.

So, perhaps a few words about French grub on or near the front lines during The Great War are in order.  Much like with latrines and other necessities, les générals and les officiers (generals and officers) always fared far better than les poilus and les soldats (infantrymen and soldiers).  Fine cognac and haute cuisine in opulent estates away from the Front prevailed for generals, while pinard or plonk  (a cheap, low class wine) and often inedible or even missing rations were issued to the regulars who daily lost their limbs, minds, and lives on the Front.

Some background is deserved. Early on, both sides dug a network of trenches on the Western Front that eventually extended for nearly 500 miles each from the North Sea to Switzerland. Each side dug labyrinthine lines of zig-zagging trenches for some 24,000 miles (nearly the circumference of the earth).  As few expected the war to last past Christmas, the first trenches were hurriedly made scrapes and shallow pits in the ground — mere hollows dug by soldiers to protect themselves from the rain of metal from the sky, machine gun barrages and incessant snipers. These hastily constructed defenses often flooded and folded. When the front line later stabilized, trenches became deeper and were more elaborately constructed shelters, which became the troops’ home away from home, often far, far away.  The conditions in soggy trenches remained deplorable with rampant cases of dysentary, trench foot, trench mouth, diseases, hunger, rats, vermin, and body lice mingling with the horrific stench of diseases, decaying bodies, open wounds, human filth and open sewage. The trench reek alone made it difficult for many to even eat.

Because France’s armed forces expanded dramatically from peacetime to the onset of war, the Ministry of War undertook a staggering juggling act to feed the troops. While relying upon a loosely drawn network of foreign suppliers, limited local production, and meager tithes from abroad, the French not only provided for their own troops, but for some allies, colonials, and foreign volunteers.

Among other things, French troops were provided at basic training with a bidon (canteen), musette (haversack), gamelle (mess kit), quart and utensiles (cup and utensils). The soldiers usually received two meals a day, breakfast and dinner. While there was no standard time for when the meals were scheduled while afield, breakfast (PDDMPetit Déjeuner Du Matin) was usually served around 8 or 9 am, with coffee or wine sometimes served a tad beforehand. Dinner normally was served sometime in the early evening depending on the day’s conflict. Sometimes, both meals were received in the morning, with half slipped into mess kits as reserves for later. Of course, conditions at the Front sometimes prohibited meals from either being prepared or even delivered to the men. It was not uncommon for a soldier to exhaust his reserves, in which case he simply went without until food supplies were replenished from the rear. Front line troops had to subsist on bread, fruit, wine and sausages. Sometimes, troops survived on some form of soup or stew (la soupe or rata), a morcel of greasy meat, hard dry biscuits, and perhaps a cup of coffee.

Major mess kitchens were set up near supply railheads and other rear echelon trappings, such as hospital posts, rest camps and training areas. Soldiers who were line infantrymen might also be cooks or food laborers, with fatigue details assigned on a rotating basis. The concept of mobile field kitchens ensued with meals prepared behind the lines, which would then be hauled to the trenches in large food transport tins with carrying frames similar to backpacks. These kitchens were dubbed roulantes (“rollers”), and they rendered certain camping implements superfluous. Stationed in the rear or in support or supply lines, rollers were staffed by cuistots (“cooks”) who stayed with the kitchens to prepare the meals.

Though the food was prepared in field kitchens, the task of transporting food to the Front fell to fatigue men quasi-organized into ration parties. Variously called cuistots, ravitailleurs or hommes-soupes, they brought up the rations on their backs to their waiting comrades. Bedecked with stew pots, mess pans, canvas buckets, sacks, loaves of bread and dozens of filled canteens, the ration parties would usually depart during the night to ensure enough time for them to return by morning. Cooked food was placed in Bouthéon stew pots, a label morphed to bouteillon (“bottle”) due to pronunciation proximity. A large camp mess pan called the plat-á-quatre (“plate for four”) could also be used to carry food to the Front. Loaves of bread were carried either by stringing the loaves together with twine to make a bandolier or by impaling them onto a stake and hoisting them over a shoulder (see above). Canned foods were carried either in haversacks or large canvas distribution sacks. Though the food was hot when it was in the rear, by the time it arrived at the front it had already turned lukewarm or usually cold. The beverages, such as pinard, coffee and water were brought up in individual canteens as well as in the bouteillons or canvas buckets. Not only were these journeys tedious, the hommes-soupes details were often considered more hazardous than combat, as ground covered by enemy artillery fire and machine guns had to be traversed while adroitly carrying bulky equipment making it difficult to seek cover.

Food that arrived at the Front was generally chilly, of dubious nutritional quality, often soiled, sometimes spoiled, usually overcooked, greasy, and nearly inedible. Bread was usually carried without wrappers, coffee (le jus), pinard, and soups or stews with beans or potatoes were transported in open cans and the like. The overall quality and invariance of diet was a constant source of complaint among soldiers. Fine dining it was not, far from a beatific merger with “the All.”  Most troops would have been flatly elated at a deep platter of warm cassoulet — a rustic, one-pot meal from southwestern France.  Afterwards, death would be more embraceable.

CASSOULET AU CANARD

1 lb. dried white beans, such as tarbais, Great Northern, or cannellini, soaked overnight and drained
4 oz slab bacon, cut into 4 pieces
12 or so C water

4 t whole black peppercorns
2 t whole cloves
8 sprigs thyme
6 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves

2 boneless duck breasts, with skin and gently, not deeply, scored in a crosshatch pattern
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 lb good quality duck or pork sausage

2 duck legs with drumsticks and thighs separated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

10 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 C duck or chicken stock
2 legs duck confit, skin and bones discarded and meat shredded
1 – 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, cut finely or puréed
3 T duck fat

1 C fresh bread crumbs (optional)

Baguette, sliced (and perhaps grilled or toasted)

Boil beans, bacon, and water in a heavy, large saucepan. Then place peppercorns, cloves, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves on a piece of cheesecloth, bundle with twine (bouquet garni) and add to pan. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, covered slightly, until beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Discard spice package and transfer beans and cooking liquid to a bowl. Cover loosely and set aside.

Season duck breasts with salt and lightly with pepper and place breasts, skin side down, in a sauté pan already heated over medium high. Cook, without flipping, until fat is rendered and skin is crisp, about 5–6 minutes. Set aside on a board or platter.

Cook sausage, turning once, until browned, about 3–4 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and slice 1/2″ thick on the bias.

Season the duck drumsticks and thighs with salt and pepper and working in batches and cook, turning as needed, until fat is rendered and the duck is nicely browned, about 5–7 minutes. Set aside on a board or platter. Add garlic cloves and onions to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 15 minutes. Now return the sausage, drumsticks, and thighs to the pan and add the stock, confit, tomatoes, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until duck is tender, about 1–1 1/2 hours. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage, drumsticks, thighs, and confit to a glass bowl and reserve broth for later.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Rub a large, heavy Dutch oven with some, but not all, of the duck fat. Using a slotted spoon again, layer the beans, sausage, drumsticks, thighs, and confit and pour 1 cup of reserved broth over the top. Slice duck breasts 1/4″ thick on the bias and arrange over the top. Melt remaining duck fat in a small, heavy saucepan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle optional bread crumb mixture over top of the dish and bake in the oven until the cassoulet begins to bubble, about 40 minutes (otherwise, just omit the bread crumbs). Increase oven heat to 450-500 F and cook until browned, about 3–5 minutes.

Let the cassoulet sit 10-20 minutes before serving with sliced bread. Bien mangé!

Tea + Duck, et al.

October 20, 2011

Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world.
~T’ien Yiheng

With due cause…tea is a cultural icon, a ritual, even the stuff of ceremony and likely the most beloved libation on earth for centuries—sating rich and poor alike.

Tea is made from processed and cured leaves and buds harvested from various cultivars of an evergreen bush, Camellia sinensis. The plant usually grows on plantations in tropical and sub-tropical regions at varying elevations. The cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for easy access, and only the 1-2″ tops of the mature plant, known as flushes, are plucked.

The leaves of Camellia sinensis soon begin to wilt and oxidize if not dried promptly after picking. Leaf size and post-harvest processing, particularly fermentation, determines the type of tea. The word “fermentation” in tea speak refers to how much the leaves are allowed to undergo enzymatic oxidation during the drying process. The oxidation may be stopped by heat via pan frying or steaming before the leaves are completely dried.

The more ubiquitous tea types on the market are green, white, oolong and black. Green tea is withered with little oxidation and then heated to impart its unique flavor. A rather scarce commodity, white tea is made from silver fuzzed buds that are barely unfurled. It is unprocessed meaning that very little is done to the harvested leaf. Oolong is plucked and then laid out on withering racks in the sun which causes evaporation. The dried leaves are then tossed so the edges are bruised to allow partial oxidization. The leaves are fired to halt the oxidization process. Black teas are heavily oxidized and fully fermented making them deeply fragrant.

The Chinese character for tea is 茶, but pronounciations vary by region. One is , which derives from the Min Nan dialect while the other is chá, used by the Cantonese and Mandarin dialects.

Tea-smoking has a long culinary history in China. Originally, it was a means of preserving food, but later was strictly used to impart scents and flavors. This dish calls for a more robust black tea, Lapsang Souchong, whose fermented leaves are pressed into bamboo baskets and hung over smoky pine fires to infuse the tea with its notorious flavor. But, feel free to substitute another black, oolong or even green variety.

TEA-SMOKED DUCK BREASTS

2 (3/4 to 1 lb each) duck breasts, whole and boned, with skin on
1 T Sichuan peppercorns
Sea salt

Marinade
2 T Chinese rice wine (preferably Shaoxing)
1 t fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 T nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce)
1 T nước măn chay pha sản (chilied soy sauce)
1 t sesame oil
1/2 T honey
2 scallions, trimmed and cut into strips lengthwise

Peanut oil

Smoking Mixture
1/2 C dry Lapsang Souchong tea leaves
1/4 C packed brown sugar
1/4 C packed raw sugar (turbinado)
1/2 C dry rice
1 T Sichuan peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
3 star anise

Toast peppercorns in a dry small heavy skillet over moderately low heat, shaking occasionally, until peppercorns are just fragrant, about 3-5 minutes. Allow to cool some, then coarsely grind in mortar and pestle or grinder.

Gently mix all of the tea smoking ingredients in a small bowl.

Pat the duck dry. Shallowly score the breasts in a diagonal pattern about 1/2″ apart, taking care to cut only into the fat and not into the meat. Season with the roasted, ground peppers and salt, massaging the mixture into the skin. Allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, whisk together the rice wine, ginger, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil and honey. Add the scallions to this mixture and stir.

Place the duck either in a ziploc bag or tightly covered glass baking pan and cover with the marinade. Refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight and then transfer duck to a platter and bring to room temperature before proceeding. Discard marinade.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet or wok over medium high until nearly smoking. Sear the duck breasts on the skin side only until golden brown about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and reserve.

To smoke the duck breasts, line a Dutch oven or wok by lining it with two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil, leaving an overhang. Wrap the top in foil as well for easy cleaning. Spread the smoking ingredients in the bottom of the Dutch oven or wok and place a steaming rack about one inch above the smoking mixture.

Set the uncovered Dutch oven or wok over high heat and cook until wisps of smoke emit from the smoking mixture. Place the duck breasts, skin side down, on the rack. Tightly cover and smoke duck breasts, about 8 minutes, then remove from heat and let stand, covered, and additional 8 minutes for medium rare. Carefully uncover as smoke and steam will billow out. Remove breasts to a cutting board, loosely tent with foil, and let stand for 10 minutes. Carve breasts across the grain in thin diagonal slices and serve.

Pourboire: with minor variations, this same technique of (1) marinading, (2) searing or steaming and (3) smoking can be used for a whole host of fin and feather, even swine.