Yesterday my peripatetic dear friend Lexi Rome called from northwestern Montana, where she and our mutual pal Burr Heneman (a great conservation hero, but that's another story) had been birding at the Nature Conservancy's Pine Butte Preserve, on the east front of the Rockies near Glacier National Park, under the guidance of the one and only David Allen Sibley--himself, not the book--the Bull Goose Birdman of them all; and Lexi wanted to know if she and Burr could drop by for dinner here at the Langston House.
Normally I'm not thrilled by last-minute self-invitations, but Lexi has permanent carte blanche with me on just about everything, and I was intrigued by the idea of tossing together something good from whatever I had in the fridge. I knew I didn't have any dessert--my cherries had just gone moldy--so they were going to pop in at Ft. Benton and see what they could come up with, which turned out to be excellent cherries and pretty darn good brownies.
I had stocked up pretty liberally when I passed through Bozeman last week, and one of the things I had was a rather opaquely frost-covered package labeled "duck breasts." I thought it was going to be two big ones, which would be fine for the three of us, and I had managed to keep four pluots alive since I left San Francisco, from the great Frog Hollow orchards; and I had this idea of serving grilled duck with grilled pluots and toasted walnuts and yogurt. I'd never heard of the combination before, but it sounded good, and then when I googled around a little I discovered that it's actually not an uncommon combination in the Middle East. Thawed, the duck breasts turned out to be four small ones, from Mary's Farm in Sonoma County, and that got me to thinking, How come the Bozeman Co-op has to sell California ducks? That is, why aren't some of these ranchers around here who are always moaning about how they're going broke in the cattle business also raising a few ducks--and so on? Chickens, turkeys, guinea hens, squab pigeons, pheasants, you know--come on! It's really not all that hard. The kids can do most of it.
So I marinated the duck breasts in olive oil and a lot of black pepper, and I toasted the walnuts and cut the pluots in half. Then I prepped some spiced rice: I fried a little fine-chopped onion in butter, then added whole spices--cardamom pods, cloves, coriander seeds, peppercorns (just three or four of each of all of those), a tiny cinnamon stick, and a tee-tiny pinch of turmeric--then basmati rice, and fried that all up together till the rice turned opaque. That was all a couple of hours in advance. When the guests arrived and we all agreed we were half an hour from hungry, into a 300 oven went the rice (with water). Came out gorgeous. Except I forgot to add the goddam frozen peas at the end, which would have made it even better.
Besides the duck, the onions could have been local, maybe the walnuts (not sure about those), certainly the yogurt and the butter. We do get local cherries, but later. The brownies might in fact have been local, I don't know.
Andway, back to the cooking. You can time all this within an inch of your life, or you can hold the rice warm easily and then do the rest. I chose the latter course. I grilled the duck to medium rare, rested it a while, sliced it across, served it with the hot fruit and briefly warmed nuts and cold yogurt nestled up against it; and the rice had actually improved from the wait--fluffier, I think--and I gotta tell you that was one yummy dinner. Lexi and Burr had brought a pale rose de Provence that was just the thing. The late afternoon was still warm ,with no skeeters, so we ate outside under the sunset and you could not have beat that dinner with a stick.