the end is near

The sun came out today, for what feels like the first time in weeks. The last of the golden leaves are still clinging to the trees, but every gust of wind releases fluttering waves of them, dropping to the wet sidewalks, sticking together in slick masses. Last weekend, Alex slipped in one of these, a cartoon spill, and came up damp and hurt and crying.

Christmas is being set up here in Luxembourg: a handful of wooden stalls for the market have been parked in the Place d'Armes--there will be dozens--and a couple of towering trees have been installed, but as yet they're undecorated. School has sent out an email that itemizes all the Christmas and St. Nicholas activities--there are 5 events--in between increasingly frantic missives about the outbreak of H1N1 (aka swine flu) with references to partial and full school closures, and vague allusions to doomsday.

The end seems to be hurtling toward us: the end of the school term and calendar year; hopefully not the end of the world; but definitely the end of this adventure. It's already been a month since we decided to go back to New York, lured by an exciting new job for Madeline (it's just like 18 months ago, in reverse). But it's not exciting, going home. Coming here was exciting. Going home is something else--it's comfortable. It's nice.

What's not nice is moving; moving is tedious. We've met with a relocation company, two movers, a cleaning service, and a painter; we've sent registered letters; started sorting through our possessions, yet again, trying to weed out at least as much as we've added. We've created "for sale" lists (with photos!), and have already collected (and spent!) some cash for our television. We've promised away our beloved stab mixer, which back in New York we will have to refer to by the much more pedestrian "immersion blender." I spent the better part of today hunting through our financial records and filling out forms for rental applications--we need to rent a place to live, in NYC, without being there! No, this isn't exciting.

And the thing of it is: it was just beginning to get fun here. We have friends, and something that resembles a social life. We travel all the time--Paris last weekend, Amsterdam next. We zip around in our big German car, crashing into stationary objects. (Does anyone want to buy a banged-up Audi?) We no longer have to learn how to do everything, except the new thing we need to learn, all of a sudden, how to do: leave.

a recipe: duck breast

One of the things I will miss is that magret du canard here costs about the same as chicken breast. I've always loved duck, and I've recruited Alex as an ally--"I want the duck!" he announces in brasseries--so I've been making a lot of duck breasts. But the other night, rushed, I didn't let the cooked pieces sit long enough before slicing them. Which meant that a lot of the juices escaped into the plate, forming pink pools. "What's this?" Alex asked. I told him that it was mostly blood. He looked at me like I'm crazy. "Blood!?" He looked down at his plate, then up at me. I thought he was about to flip out. "Blood is delicious!" he exclaimed.

A duck breast can be finished so many ways, but my favorites are sweet-tart combos: orange sauce (see my earlier entry); a spice-honey glaze; some reduced balsamic vinegar; or even just a heaping spoonful of well-made preserves. Or, as I made it for the children, finished with nothing at all.

duck breast
salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Score the fat of the duck breast with a knife in a crosshatch pattern, which will allow it (the fat) to shrink during cooking without shriveling and disfiguring your whole operation; but be careful not to cut into the meat. Then do the normal thing with salt and pepper.

Put the breast in a nonstick pan, skin side down. Raise the heat to medium-high, and let cook for a couple of minutes, at which point there will be a pool of fat in the pan. Carefully--carefully! it's bubbling-hot spattering fat!!--pour this duck fat out of the pan and into something to allow it to cool before you throw it away (or before you strain it and keep it and use it for other things, like smearing on country bread before toasting). Let cook another couple of minutes, and again pour off the fat. Do this until the skin has become a deep caramel color, and crisped up, and looks irresistible.

Now flip the thing, and let the flesh side sear for just a minute. Move the whole shebang into your hot oven, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let sit at least 5 minutes for the juices to settle. Or if you want to see how your children react to a pool of duck blood, just slice and serve and hope for the best.