I love ballroom. I love ballroom in the way you love someone who doesn’t call you for a few weeks and you are like “I am not doing that. I am better than that. I don’t need that.” And then when they call, your heart breaks your ribs from beating and the world gets beautiful around the edges and you say, “hey. how you doin’?” You can’t quit it.

I graduated from beginner’s level yesterday by the skin of my teeth, and when I finished, the woman who runs the place said to me, “come to my desk and we’ll talk.” I can’t afford private ballroom lessons. On the train there, I talked myself out of signing up for more. I figured I could practice with YouTube on my computer and Salsa Basics.

What happened was, they put the music on. The instructor took my hand with the grip of someone who is never going to let go, and without stopping, moved through every dance I learned. It is the first time you got on a swing with nobody pushing you. Just you and your knees; and each time you go a little higher until your butt comes off the swing and you have to grab on to keep from falling. Everything changes. Time stops.

I got to the desk and the woman opened her book. 20 lessons is more than it cost me to go to my first year of college. 9 months of basic health care. Who needs heath care? I do!!!! But first I am going to take some dance classes. She told me I have to get shoes with a heel so that I can lean into my partner properly.

I made cassoulet at work. I am going to have to work more.

You can make your own duck and armagnac sausage, your own French garlic sausage, confit your own duck legs, or you can order all of that and make the rest. That is what I do. I have no shame since I got sick. Where does shame get you? Make sure the quality of the meat is top. Sear the duck legs until they deeply caramelized on every possible inch of skin. Sear the little sausages, and because they come uncooked, wipe out the excess fat from the pan and add a good pour of white wine to the pan to braise them until they are cooked through. Slice the garlic sausage. Put everything in the fridge until you are ready with the beans. The classic is Haricot Tarbais. Soak them overnight, or bring them to a simmer, cover the pot, wait an hour and start again with fresh water, bouquet garni of leek, an onion with a few cloves jammed in, celery, thyme sprigs, parsley sprigs and bay leaf, ventreche (pancetta) and good quality salt. Cover with paper towel and a lid, and simmer until tender. (another hour or so) Taste the beans to make sure they are okay for salt. If they are lacking, add a little more salt to the water and let them go another 10 minutes. You don’t want them to be over salted though; they are going to spend a couple of hours with a lot of sausage. Drain all of that cooking water. Keep the bouquet garni. Rub duck fat on the bottom of a dutch oven. Layer in some beans. Layer in the meat. Add another layer of beans. Dab that with a little more duck fat. Pour veal/duck demi-glace over the whole thing. There should be plenty of liquid. This is against the rules, but I cover everything with parchment that fits neatly into the pan, and cover with a lid that is just askew, no more, and it over a low flame for an hour. I want until the second hour, to put it in a 325 degree oven. A crust will form, but because you went low and slow on the stove, you won’t lose your liquid. Then I break another rule for service. I push down on the crust with a ladle and scoop out liquid, without getting anything wet on top. I heat that liquid in a pan to a simmer, and give it a pour of white wine. Let it go for about 5 minutes, and taste for acidity. You want to be sure that it doesn’t have the raw taste of the alcohol. Swirl in a little butter. Put some of that on each warmed plate, before making sure everybody gets some of everything. Make fine bread crumbs and warm them through with butter, an uncut garlic clove, and finely chopped parsley. Remove the garlic clove and scatter those over. I served it with a plate of planked oranges, a plate of watercress with a French vinaigrette, and red cabbage braised with onions and apples. If you are going to keep a ballroom habit, you have got to compete. xo

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