chasing minimums
November 5, 2006

Section 11a of the Whole Foods Market Natural Meat Program and Animal Compassionate Standards for Ducks [pdf] directs that "ducks must be caught with a minimum of chasing."

I'm not sure what constitutes too much on the chasing front, but I've been pursuing this particular dinner menu for some time now. It started in September, when I was eyeing this roasted pineapple and serrano salsa for a late-summer picnic to see a broadcast-in-the-park Red Sox-Yankees showdown. We were thwarted by an outbreak of West Nile Virus (and too-shallow pitching). With the onset of autumn, I re-envisioned the salsa to accompany my next culinary feat, duck. I planned to test it on Tracy and Sara, then show off on my rain check trip to Boston. But an unexpected flight to Mississippi cancelled both meals.

So when I finally make it to Boston for this much-delayed dinner, I'm ready for a minimum of chasing. I've packed Ziplocs with fire-escape cilantro and basil, as well as turmeric and saffron, so we can shorten the grocery list. (Is it common to smuggle saffron on the Chinatown bus?) Beyond the 12-ingredient salsa (which seems to be premised on the idea that all things yellow should be consumed together) I want one-ingredient food.

But I also have a set of parameters which would be at home on the logic section of the GREs: Jason can't eat nuts, corn or berries with seeds; Dave can't have milk or cream or most cow cheeses; Poppy doesn't eat meat.

I sell Poppy on wild rice by daringly pairing it with a second starch: potatoes with olive oil (ostensibly so as not to risk lactose ire, but really because mashed potatoes are just better this way). And while we're living on the edge, we throw in spinach (e coli be damned) tossed with red wine vinaigrette.

The trouble comes when we approach the meat counter: no duck. Their bills are being trimmed, the butcher tells us, so Whole Foods has strong opinions about this. (Section 6b on the Physical Welfare of Ducks; section 7a says there must be no more than 12 hours of natural darkness in every 24 hour period, 4f states that all ducks should have constant access to feed and 4g that there should be minimum competition for that feed, and 9e, ducks must be protected from extreme temperatures. Basically I'm starting to suspect ducks have a better quality of life than most New Yorkers.) We chase down a pork chop alternative.

Since I've had to nix pumpkin and key lime pies for their dairy content, and I've reached my menu-chasing maximum, Poppy takes over and bakes and scrumptious apple pie, including piecrust from scratch. The rest of the cooking really does reflect my designs on simplicity (any meal prepared in an hour and a half counts as simple, according to Tiny Kitchen). The pineapple salsa mixes well with both the rice and potatoes, and it's spicy enough that extra starches are welcome intermediaries. The pork is maybe a little too dry, and I feel compelled to admit that I've never cooked pork chops before. I've been more frightened by them than by duck breasts.

That seems to be the issue: My cooking comfort level raises in proportion to the amount of chasing needed. I'm afraid these tales suffer when I'm not reaching my chasing minimums.