Food + Wine

Woodpeckers, Angry Bears, and Duck Fat

Do you ever wonder how ducks sleep?  Do they sleep floating in the water?  What if the current took them somewhere?  Do they wake up the next morning and not know where they are and just go with the flow, so to speak?  So are they like gypsies?  Like groupies following a band?  I hear they sleep with one eye open to watch for predators, with their heads turned backwards and tucked into their feathers to stay warm.  I’ve also heard that some sleep out of the water, standing on one leg, with the other tucked into its feathers to stay warm.  If that’s true then ducks aren’t like gypsies or groupies.  They’re like gladiators, they’re way more bad-ass than I thought.  But that all sounds like a ton of trouble to go through for some sleep.  I guess if they can still sleep through all those strange conditions, ducks must be excellent sleepers.  Maybe that’s why people sleep on pillows stuffed with their feathers.

I like my sleep.  I like to sleep as much as possible, which, for me, is very hard.  I am not a good sleeper and it takes the perfect concoction of circumstances and ambiance to get me to sleep and stay that way.  I would not make a very good duck.  Sleep is very important to me.  During the week I go to bed on the early side and wake up very early, anywhere from 5-6 am.  I like to get up before everyone else does so I get a bit of quiet time before rush hour begins.  But I don’t set an alarm, in fact I hate alarms.  I like to get up when my body is ready to do so and not a minute before.  My husband, however, could sleep anywhere at any time for however long.  He would make an excellent duck.  So he often uses an alarm to wake up.  He also has been known to sleep through his alarm, which makes me incredibly angry.  This is a problem.  If his alarm goes off and I’m still sleeping, even if I would have possibly woken up on my own a minute later, it drives me absolutely nuts.  So I found a way to remedy this situation.

I gave my husband (among other things) a new alarm clock for Christmas.  I know, I know, alarm clocks are my devil, but this one is a special alarm clock.  I bought him one of those wristbands that vibrate when it’s time to get up.  No sound, just vibration.  It was a selfish gift.  He’s been wearing it the past few nights and I don’t think he likes it very much.  The first night I was the first to go to sleep and as I had just drifted off, I was jolted awake by what sounded like a giant mutant woodpecker, pecking away on his night stand.  I ignored it because if I got up to fiddle with it, I would be too much awake and would never get back to sleep again so I didn’t do anything, figuring it was just a one time thing.  Then, an hour later it happened again.  At this point my husband was now in the room and as the angry bear (that would be me) tried to shut it off, he realized he had somehow set the clock for an every hour alarm.  Now, why that is an option on any alarm clock, I have no idea.  But he fixed it and I (eventually) fell back to sleep again.  The next night he wore the wristband and it worked fine.  I didn’t hear it go off and it accomplished the difficult task of getting my husband awake.  He says it’s quite an alarming experience, being woken up by a powerful shaking, but I silently hoped he would simply get used to it.

Neither one of us set an alarm on the weekends.  We have young children so they do the job for us.  They both get up between 7-7:30 and I usually sleep in on the weekends because I’m staying up later to watch TV and drink wine with my husband.  Last night I went to bed somewhere between 10:30 and 11 and was the first to be in our bed.  As I had just fallen asleep, I heard that damn woodpecker again.  I jumped out of bed, so angry (it’s amazing how quickly I can go from sleep to anger…I may not make a good duck but I would make an excellent gladiator) and went to his side of the bed to find the thing.  I turned the light on, and found the wrist band, but not the clip-on alarm clock part.  At this point, my husband came in and asked what was going on.

‘That damn alarm thing is going off again!  Grrrrrrr.’

He goes over to try to find it and I try to go back to sleep, covers over head, still angry.  He is over on his side, for about 30 minutes, looking for the thing.  He can’t find it anywhere, he thinks I dreamt it, and is able to slide into bed and fall asleep within 10 seconds of being there.  The Angry Bear still has a bit longer before that’s possible.  And then, just as I drift off again, Woody the Woodpecker is at it again.  I lunge forward, ready to attack.  My husband lay next to me still as a stump.  So I hit him.

‘It’s doing it again.  That damn alarm thing.  Where is it?!?!

He gets up and is down by his bedside for another 30 minutes.  He’s opening drawers, lifting tables, he’s taking apart furniture.  I, again, hide under the covers and try to go back to sleep.  He eventually gets back into bed, his search incomplete.

This went on all night.  It felt like I was back nursing my babies again, being woken up around the clock.  Only there wasn’t a sweet, hungry baby to feed, only my anger and resentment and hatred towards an inanimate object.  At one point I was up looking for it too.  The thing was nowhere.  Did I actually dream it?  Because, as far as I could tell, I was the only one who was hearing it and only when I punched my husband in the back, did he know anything was going on.  And since it only went off once, we could never follow the noise.  I just knew it was somewhere on his side.  First thing in the morning though, just before the sun was rising, as we both were in a deep sleep, Woody started pecking again, but this time he kept at it.  The nonstop vibrating allowed my husband to follow it and find it.  And turns out we were way off.  This thing was lodged back behind the dresser on the opposite side of the room, against the wall.  (I believe our 22 month old is to blame for that one.)  So, being in between two hard surfaces, the noise was as loud as it could possibly be.  Woody the Woodpecker may as well have had a megaphone attached to his beak.  But we finally found it and shut it off (and by we, I mean he).  I somehow fell back asleep and it wasn’t until my run later this morning in the freezing cold, after the large mug of hot coffee and kisses from the babies, did I actually begin to really wake up.  I’m writing this, on my second large mug of coffee, at 3 pm, still trying to get over my night of feeling the vibrations.  Bad, bad, not good vibrations.  Now that damn Marky Mark song is in my head.

But the moral of this story is that I have now learned my lesson.  I will never, ever give a gift with a selfish reason attached to it.  Doing things for selfish reasons will always come back to bite you.  Because being selfish brings out the wild animal in everyone.

*Duck Fat White and Sweet Potatoes

(Next time you cook a duck or duck breasts, save the fat by pouring it into a glass jar with a lid.  It will keep for a very long time in the fridge this way.  It’s also freezable.  You can also buy some at certain gourmet grocery stores, or by ordering it online.  These do not come out tasting like duck, per se, they just come out tasting like nothing you have ever eaten before.  These are the best potatoes you will ever eat.  I promise you that.)

-Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

-Soak 2 pounds total of whatever mixture you’d like of both waxy white and sweet potatoes, cut in bite-sized chunks, in a bowl of cold water for at least 30 minutes, but up to a couple hours at room temperature.  I like an even pound of each.  And I prefer the golden or fingerlings, or Dutch baby potatoes over the starchy Idaho or Russet.  I also don’t believe in peeling potatoes.  The only time I do so is for gnocchi.

-Before you’re ready to cook, drain the potatoes and pat completely dry with a couple of kitchen towels.

-Slice 1 medium onion into similar sized chunks.

-Preheat a large, cast iron skillet (mine is 20 inches.  if you don’t have one this big, use a large roasting pan.  you want the potatoes to be in a single layer) to medium high heat and add about 1/4-1/3 cup of rendered duck fat.

-Add the potatoes and onions to the hot fat and toss to coat.  Season with a lot of kosher salt.  Potatoes are quite bland on their own, so they like salt.  Allow some browning to begin.

-Once all the potatoes and onions have been coated in the duck fat and you can see the edges begin to brown, place the skillet in the preheated oven and cook for 20 minutes.  You can check after 15 and stir, but if yours were all coated in the fat and were laying in a single layer before they went in, they should be ok.

-When they’re done, they will be a crispy, a deep, golden brown all over and will be tender on the inside.  They will appear to be irresistible.  That, my friends, is how you know they’re done.

-Carefully remove from the oven and allow to cool before eating.  I failed to do that, I never do actually.  I tasted them, right out of the oven, and am still recovering from it.  But they were absolutely delicious.  Best potatoes ever.

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