10 November, 2008

the first, and last, time I cook venison

I am increasingly of the opinion that I am not, in fact, a real cook. Certainly I am not a chef. I read of my mentor Orlando's brilliant escapades with sourdough, with triangular-shaped rolls that he bakes close together so that his restaurant guests can literally "break bread" together. The only bread that will ever be broken in my kitchen will be the hopelessly solid concoction that I am sure would be the result of me and yeast getting together. I just don't have it in me, the precision, the patience, the dedication.

And tonight yet another indication of my amateur status: deer. I mean, venison. But you get my point.

I am fine with chicken, beef, pork. As Avery points out, it's because the animals are not appealing. Lamb give me a minute, MINUTE pause. Partly because I can remember feeding their little selves at our Connecticut farmer friend's barn, and Avery later being given a hat made with their wool. But I tell myself they have had a long (well, not so very) and happy life in the fields of the very Cotswolds hills where we take long weekends. We should all have such a happy life and end up being eaten and appreciated.

Then, this weekend at my beloved Marylebone Farmer's Market (my weekly haunt when I lived nearby last year), I succumbed to the lure of the most beautiful display of meat I have ever seen: the butcher of Cleeve Farm, Devon, cutting up gorgeous venison into fillets, and "short-cook steaks." While John was waiting in the queue of Maldon Oysters, I ventured over and purchased three steaks. The deep purply red of the flesh! The soft texture, the assurance from the butcher that I would be back next week after I cooked his venison. And NO photographs of actual deer, at the stall.

I came away excited to try them. And I thought Orlando's sauce for fillet steak would be perfect with them, with a side of potato puree with creme fraiche and a nice big bowl of sauteed sugar snap peas with chili olive oil.

And... they were. Perfect, I mean. Gently sauteed in a mixture of olive oil and butter, seasoned perfectly, just medium rare so that the flesh was rosily pink. The sauce was a divine inspiration to go with venison, the sweetness of the shallots and Marsala a perfect foil for the intense flavor of the meat. But it was... deer. As in, the animals that crossed our lawn and our road in Connecticut this summer, to our awe and delight.

John had no such scruples. He happily devoured his steak, ate the remnants of Avery's once she had been defeated by her emotions. He was unmoved by our doubts, saying simply, "Just once, I wish you would cook something I like," grinning down at his plate scraped clean, and heading off to the new Apple store at Westfield to try to fix my computer. I was left to do the considerable dishes from this extravaganza, and to contemplate my moral dilemma. Deer.

The rest of my adventures at the farmer's market were quite peaceful and non-productive of ethical issues. I bought buffalo milk cheeses (one young and soft, almost like a mozzarella, and one a hard Cheddar-like confection called Junas, quite delightful) from Alham Wood Cheeses, and they were perfect to sample right at the stall. Although how we can have had any appetite for samples is beyond me, as we had consumed with total gusto a total of 18 oysters at the Maldon stall, farmed in the Blackwater River in Essex, ordered six at a time, and slurped down with the perfect combination of shallots in vinegar, Tabasco and lemon juice. There is no more divine thing to eat in this world than Maldon Oysters shucked as you speak, freezing cold and slippery. Heaven. Would you believe that on a given Sunday in my market he shucks 500 of the little darlings?

Then it was onto World Country Organics where I was suckered, I can only think of it now, into buying a quantity of small, GREEN tomatoes. Why did I do this? The stallholder assured me they would make lovely chutney. I don't want to make green tomato chutney. I bought them, God save me, and brought them home, and we tried to eat them, but they were a horrid combination of rock-hard and bitterly acidic. My mother in law, no mean cook, advises me to roast them with olive oil, garlic, maybe a real tomato or two and a red pepper to add sweetness... I will try tomorrow. Advice gratefully accepted.

This evening, before my deer adventure, found us at Avery's new school for Parents' Evening, to trail round the enormous Great Hall sitting down at five-minute intervals with her various teachers, being told of her exploits. And may I kvell? While we tried really hard, last year, not to obsess over school choice, it really was a thrill to have all six of her schools to choose from, and to feel we'd made the right decision pairing her up with this particular august institution. Tonight we were told in no uncertain terms that she's thriving. Absolutely doing wonderfully, asking thoughtful questions, looking out for her classmates, contributing imaginative ideas to the atmosphere. We both felt rather overwhelmed by happiness that she's been such a consistent personality: patient, intense, rather socially cautious (hmm, is that her father's influence or her mother's, one asks?), focused and dedicated. So funny to think that that is exactly how her kindergarten teacher described her, 8 years ago. I think there is actually not very much wiggle room in a child's personality: you get a certain person and it's the best you can do to nurture it and make sure it is listened to and appreciated. Well done, young Avery. We are very proud.

I have saved the best news for last: I am a new aunt! Devoted as I am to my beloved niece Jane, I have, in the last 36 hours or so, acquired a new little sprout, dear baby Molly. My sister is thriving after her ordeal, proud and peaceful, and happy to have it all over. I cannot wait to meet her, at Christmas time. Congratulations, everyone, on a new member of the family. How funny to think that suddenly, overnight, November 9 is someone's birthday. We love you already, Molly.

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