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 sensual appeal.
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.
Before 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.