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Thanks for checking out The Aix-Files, my

blog postings inspired by my time in and around

Aix-en-Provence and the Vaucluse. The spot includes travel tips,

discoveries of local food and wine, recipes,

cultural events, interviews and historical

tidbits about Southern France. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Duck

Here’s a quick update on what’s happening, as my blog is a bit behind:
The demonstrations and strikes (manifestations et grèves) are rampant at this moment, in reaction to the proposed reforms of retirement age in France. Even high school students near my French class have been burning huge garbage bins on the road to block traffic and have been racing through the street screaming in protest. Last night they burned two big garbage containers in front of our apartment. Our friend David spent hours trying to make his way from Paris on what is normally a quick train trip, and Dad and I drove around forever looking for gas the other day.

The family has been visiting for a couple of weeks: Mom, Dad, Corinne, Brad and Michael. Also Steve and Louise from Paris.

We have:
-Celebrated Mom’s & Dad’s 52nd anniversary several times.
-I completed another series of French classes, with extra afternoon and evening sessions on the topic of Provençal cuisine, with lots of hands-on cooking and tasting.
-Visited the Musée Granet and the special Alechinsky exhibit twice, the second time enlightened by our companions, Louise and Steve, who once owned a special Alechinsky print
-Visited the winery, Domaine Milan, near Saint Remy, also with Louise and Steve
-Bought my first French outfit (thank you Jim – my birthday present)
-Enjoyed (really enjoyed) my first French coiffure
-Toured Cézanne’s atelier (studio)
-Picnicked and hiked at Montagne Ste-Victoire with the family
-Drove the corniche road at the Gorge du Verdon (Grand Canyon)

THANKSIVING DUCK is a tradition that started thirteen years ago. I remember precisely, because it was our 10th anniversary. Corinne and Brad (no Michael yet) decided to rent Mas Marti near Uzès in Provence for their holiday and invited the whole family. Little did they know we’d all show up. Jim and I had planned to stop in Burgundy first for a couple of days to spend our anniversary at a hotel-restaurant that specialized in wild mushrooms. However, as events transpired, we ended up spending our anniversary in lovely Thunder Bay, at the airport waiting for the next flight… and the next flight, and the next flight. Our visit to Burgundy was cut short, but we did make it to Provence. And it was the start of our family’s fall adventures in France (and sometimes in Italy and Portugal).

Turkey is not a big food item in France, and one certainly never finds a whole one. So when we started coming to France, we developed the tradition of cooking magret de canard (duck breast) for Thanksgiving. We give it a Canadian touch by including a wild rice casserole from my family’s collection of recipes. It’s a team effort and over the years Dad and I have taken on and perfected the duck recipe. What’s funny is that the basic recipe is one I finally wrote down and sent the family by fax one time when they were in France and we were pining for them in Winnipeg. It’s now something of an antique and we take the fading, fat-spotted page with us whenever we travel. Here goes:
Duck breasts are generally quite large in France, so one will serve two, sometimes three people. At home they seem to be smaller, so you might choose one per person.

Score the fat in a crosshatch pattern, being careful not to cut into the meat. If you have time, sprinkle the duck breasts with salt and let them rest for a few hours or overnight. Wipe off, then pat dry. Brown them in a hot pan, fat side down, until nicely browned and crisp, 5 – 7 minutes or so. Add no fat, do not turn. The duck will give off a lot of fat. Place the duck breasts fat-side up on a baking sheet and finish cooking in a 350-degree oven, checking after about 6 minutes. They should be nicely pink – not gray! If you have a broiler, you may want to zap them just at the end to really crisp the skin.

Meanwhile, pour off most of the fat from the pan (keep it to sauté potatoes!), add one or two chopped shallots and sauté until soft. Add some fresh thyme if you have it. Add a splash of white wine or crème de cassis, then some chicken broth. Reduce. Just before serving, stir in a big teaspoon or so of Dijon mustard and a couple of big tablespoons of delicious berry preserve, such as cassis. Salt and pepper to taste. Slice the duck and serve with the sauce. Voila!

STRANGE CUSTOMS:- Bars often serve rosé with an ice cube in it (I love their relaxed approach to wine service)
- Cognac is often served with a couple of sugar cubes and a small spoon. What you do is put the sugar cube on the spoon, dip it into the cognac for a few seconds, then eat it (not recommended by dentists).
- They eat a lot of Nutella here.

A la prochaine,

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