|A different sort of Christmas
The duck has to be talked into getting cooked
By Hossein Samiei
December 24, 2002
I tried to remember everything the old woman, the goddess of food and delight,
had taught me; all her words, all her instructions. I had asked: "But how can
it be possible without a turkey? Without its unsavory smell? Without all the tasteless
stuffing...?" "Have no doubt," she had assured me. "If your mind
is with it, if you let the heavens help you, you shall be able to make a different
kind of food, a food that transcends life itself..."
And when I had foolishly asked for the recipe, she had laughed... "You do not
want a recipe. Recipes are for mediocre people, to make food with no subtle taste,
food that looks like mud, unworthy of people with any awareness... You do not want
a recipe. Remember, duck 'fessenjoon' is food fit for kings. You have to prepare
it with your higher senses; just remember my words and then let your heart take guidance
from the stars..."
I looked outside the window, Christmas was everywhere. Turkeys were being slaughtered
in every corner. In the southern sky, a star I had not seen before, was shining brightly.
I began my journey into the unknown. I took out the duck from the fridge and put
her gently on the kitchen counter. I stared at her, she stared back, with a telling
smile, her voluptuous body ready for my advances.
I remembered the old lady's words... "The duck has to be talked into getting
cooked, into tasting good. She has to take part in the feast, she has to be an accomplice.
You have to understand, only her body is dead, you have to invoke her soul to make
her take part... Like the rest of us, for her too, this world is a prison of souls,
a temporary passage to a higher life. Let her take part in your feast and free her
soul of earthly pain..."
I quietly hummed an old song as I made rapport with the duck... "...Tonight
my head is filled with passion... Tonight my heart is filled with light..."
She appeared ready for the adventure, even as my knife penetrated her body, as
I removed her skin, as I removed the fat in the hip area. She seemed to understand
this was for the good of all. Then I washed her well.
I took two onions. With a sharp knife, I peeled them and cut their curved bodies
into halves, from top to bottom, then into quarters, then into thin layers, always
maintaining the same top to bottom movement of the knife, with each layer following
the curve alongside the onions. Then I fried them in olive oil, as the old woman
had explained to me: "... until it feels right, until they are golden, neither
pale yellow nor brown".
I wrapped the duck in foil after putting the onions around and inside it, after adding
salt, pepper, turmeric, and a bit of cinnamon, and put her in the oven. "By
roasting her first you cleanse her body of the fat she has gathered while living
on this earth, before letting her eternally join with the rest of the ingredients...",
the old lady had explained.
I crushed the walnuts, until they were almost fine. I put them in a large pan and
fried them while frequently stirring them. "How long do I fry the walnuts?"
I had asked. "You would know, you would feel it... it is not 3 minutes, it is
not 5 minutes, it is not measured in minutes. When the smell is right your senses
will signal to your hands, not any sooner, not any later." When the time was
right my hands removed the pan from the fire.
Next, I turned to the pomegranate syrup... " ... pomegranate is key to happiness...
it is the first fruit God planted in paradise," she had explained. I poured
a large amount in a bowl, added water, sugar, real lime juice, tomato paste, cumin,
ground cardamom, and some saffron, not too much, not too little, just until I could
be certain the duck would feel the aphrodisiac effects. And last but not least, I
put in the magic potion the old woman had given me. I put in a tad more than she
had instructed me to...
I let the divine mixture settle in, while I prepared
the rice. "The rice has to be delicate, voluptuous, soft but not too soft. Your
teeth have to feel it, and yet it should melt in your mouth..." I let the rice
brew gently after adding some butter and saffron..
I took the duck out of the oven and poured out the now melted fat. Her body was clean
now, possessing that special aroma needed before being served to a king. I added
the pomegranate mixture and the fried walnuts. The duck enjoyed swimming in that
heavenly sauce. Then I let the food for kings cook leisurely. I looked outside the
window once again; people were rushing home, carrying dead turkeys to their loved
ones; the star in the southern sky was now glowing magnificently.
The guests arrived one by one and sat around the table. A table set for kings. The
duck was now ready to take part in our feast. Before serving her, I threw in some
raw pomegranate seeds and pieces of walnut, and a few rose petals to add to the duck's
We ate slowly, to enjoy every bit. I told my guests about love and loyalty. I told
them how once, a long time ago, on an evening like this, I, together with two others
of my sort, had dressed as kings and took gold and perfume and other offerings to
a newly born boy in a faraway land. They told me about their adventures, mostly relating
to overeating turkey on evenings like this.
long, we became oblivious to the material world. We felt nothing but the sumptuous
taste of the food from heaven. Then ecstasy and passion took over. The lovers among
us pressed each others' hands secretly. Others took new lovers. We moved slowly,
step by step, experiencing the secrets of joy. We danced, the dance of the senses,
aroused by the secret taste of the food, the surrender of the duck, the aphrodisiac
effect of walnuts and saffron, in a dialectical interaction with the juice of pomegranate,
with the magic of the potion the old woman had given me. We tasted the infinite pleasure
of being free.
That evening, we sensed everything, everything that had been denied us before. The
glowing star brightened the whole universe, the duck was king, and the world was
filled with the aroma of love and passion and pomegranate and saffron and walnuts....
It was a different sort of Christmas altogether.
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