French Pork and Beans

Saturday Night Dinner Party


Once we got word that Pop was headed our way for a long overdue visit, Mr. B couldn't think of anything else but sausage making. It seemed every time I'd round a corner and walk into a room, I'd find him deeply engaged in one of the many tomes dedicated to meat that lined our library shelves. The day he came home with a professional sausage maker in tow that he borrowed from a friend, I knew for certain that there was going to be a lot of meat headed our way.

True enough, he made the rounds of almost every grocery store in our town, headed straight for the meat counter and without hesitation, introduced himself to whichever butcher happened to be on duty.

Over the course of the week, I'd see him jotting his notes down into a small pocket notebook that he kept tucked away in his briefcase and every few days, he'd update me on how it was all coming together--where he was picking up a pork belly, who was ordering hog casings for him, and when the fresh pork shoulders would be available.

Once the logistics of his sausage making enterprise were worked out, he moved on to his ultimate goal--creating the most decadent, delicious, and impressive cassoulet outside of Languedoc-Roussillon, the famed region in the South of France known for its many gastronomical delights.

In truth, while cassoulet may be nothing more than a fancy French version of pork and beans, a hearty stew of slow cooked white beans, fortified with a medley of duck confit, pork belly, and sausage, this rustic staple is incredibly delicious if done right and just about the most soul-satisfying dish imaginable--especially on, as it turned out, the first rainy night in a very long time.

So there we were, gathered around the dinner table, the windows open, the rain coming down heavy and hard. The cassoulet was rich with pork belly, duck confit, and Mr. B's famous duck sausage delicately flavored with Chinese Five Spice Powder. The French bread was crisp and warm, the butter cold and salty; our favorite jazz tunes played in the background. Mr. B opened the wine and I passed a plate of fresh greens, lentils, beets, and goat cheese. As plates were served and forks made busy, everyone fell silent, absorbed by the richness of the duck broth, the firm, yet tender beans, and the sound of the rain falling in syncopation with the music.

We stayed like that, deep in reverie, for a very long time. And then, the oven timer sounded, reminding us that the pear and apple tart tartin that I'd prepared for dessert was ready and waiting for us.

A Recipe for an Extraordinary Fall Dinner Party

1, Entice your significant other, or someone with culinary know-how, to make sausage, duck confit, and cassoulet for you; bat your eyes and ask for a special duck sausage with Chinese Five Spice.
2. Go to the farmers market, or make friends with someone who grows organic apples and pears.
3. Buy good French bread and butter.
4. Use the good silverware, and cloth napkins--and, if you aren't too lazy, press them.
5. Invite friends and family.
6. Pray for rain--a big deal in California.
7. Play great dinner club music.
8. Drink lots of wine.
9. Enjoy dessert--with extra ice cream.
10. Savor everything!


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