Smoked Duck Breast Salad

Well, it's no news to me that I'm the luckiest woman in the world, and I never, ever forget to be grateful.

Chief amongst my lengthy list of things for which to be grateful, has to be the joyous, loving relationships I have, and have had, with so many friends from all over the world and from all sorts of disparate times of my life.

Last weekend was a very special get together with a couple of my dearest friends from college.  David flew in from Ann Arbor, Michigan and Richard came all the way from Kabul, Afghanistan in order to send off our beloved friend, Dean, in a  way befitting his important place in the crazy quilt of our shared lives.

As they say: we laughed, we cried, we reminisced and told raucous tales from our shared past with Dean, starting in Charlottesville and meandering through almost four decades and locales too exotic and varied to make much headway in recounting here.

As Dean would have loved, feasting and toasting were all a very significant part of the proceedings and I cooked my way around the globe for our dinner on Friday night, and gathered a group of long-time Dean lovers together--including his beloved Godson Felix--for an epic Mamma Zu feast on Saturday night.

All too soon, after a Sunday morning of Chelsea football and bagels and smoked salmon, David, Richard and Felix were headed back to their respective spots in the world, leaving Jeff and me alone to mull over the weekend that had actually surpassed my extravagant dreams for a proper way to say goodbye to Dean.

When it came time to make dinner, I realized a special treat was waiting for us, somehow left behind in our mad rush to consume the most over-the-top,  very-best-of-everything all weekend as Dean would have wanted, and would have expected us to do.  

David had brought an incredible smoked duck breast all the way from Ann Arbor.  And not just any old smoked duck breast.  This came from Durham's Tracklements--a smokehouse that lives in the annals of the world's very best.  

We had already consumed the smoked salmon that he'd brought with the bagels, and that was, to quote Marian Burros in The New York Times, "The best of the best in 20 years of tasting. comparison." I therefore knew that whatever I did with the duck breast, it would need to be something to enhance it, but not to steal its elegant thunder.

Soon enough I'd whipped together this post-feast feast which was the perfect way to wrap up one of the most special weekends of my whole life.  Using some of Sarah's incredible gift of the dried cherries I'd hand-carried from Traverse City, Michigan, some toasted hazelnuts and a smooth, subtle vinaigrette I made using some wonderful sherry vinegar I'd been "saving for best," I compiled this simple yet stupendous salad for Jeff and me as the final chapter of our weekend of extremes.

What can I say? Even with many of the people I love being separated from me through time and space, I can't help but feel them close, yes, and even sitting at my elbow, as I tuck into a splendid meal, or raise a  glittering glass of something especially delicious.  So this is for you, my departed friends.  I am ever grateful to have you forever in my heart.

Smoked Duck Breast Salad
serves two

1 large superbly  smoked duck breast, (preferably from Durham's Tracklements),  sliced
Mixed salad greens
1/2 cup hazelnuts,  toasted on top of the stove in a dry pan with the skins rubbed off in a dishtowel
1/2 cup  superb dried cherries
Sherry Vinaigrette
1/2 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

in a large salad bowl, combine greens, hazelnuts, and cherries and toss well to combine.  Make vinaigrette by combining ingredients in a small bowl and whisking well to combine.  Drizzle dressing over the greens, not dousing them with the vinaigrette, but just moistening them.  Toss well and place the salad on two plates and place sliced duck breast artfully on top.

Serve immediately with a glass of something especially delicious, and toast your lovely life and your precious loved ones. Be grateful.