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carswell

Who makes the city's best confit de canard?

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It's probably the combination of the frigid weather, the bag of new-crop lentilles de Puy in my cupboard and the bottle of Madiran (Château d'Aydie '95, which should be hitting its stride about now) in my drink-soon queue, but I've suddenly developed a major hankering for one of my favourite winter combo, duck confit with warm lentil salad. The problem is the duck. Back in the good old days, Boucherie de Paris, the little butcher's shop on Gatineau across from the former HEC building, sold the best confit de carnard I've ever tasted anywhere. After a quarter hour in a hot oven, it would emerge all golden and crispy-skinned and falling-off-the-bone tender. The meat had a texture somewhere between unctuous and silky and a mild yet deep, dark flavour with salt and fat in perfect balance. Had he done nothing else, then-butcher André Philippot would have earned my eternal gratitude for this triumph of gastronomy. (In fact, he did much more. I first learned of the shop when Bee McGuire proclaimed it the winner of the Gazoo's toulouseathon, its search for the Montreal's best toulouse sausage. André's terrines were also works of art.) Alas, the Philippots sold their shop a decade or so ago and retired who knows where. And while the new owner does some things as good or better, confit isn't one of them. (Neither are the toulouses; I suspect the main problem is his decision to cut back on salt and fat in deference to les goûts modernes, as he once put it.) It's not that his confit is bad, it's that it's not great. So, finally getting around to my question, who in your opinion now makes the best duck confit in the city? Although I'm mainly interested in retail outlets, please feel free to mention any restos that do a bang-up job. Thanks!


Edited by carswell (log)

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Not a real answer for you: has anyone tried Boucherie France-Canada on Van Horne and de l'Epee? I haven't, but I noticed them listed in the Quartiers Gourmand guide and keep meaning to go try. The guide says they do more than 300 confits a week.

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Not a real answer for you: has anyone tried Boucherie France-Canada on Van Horne and de l'Epee? I haven't, but I noticed them listed in the Quartiers Gourmand guide and keep meaning to go try. The guide says they do more than 300 confits a week.

Haven't tried their confit, Andrew, but thanks for the reminder. I, too, had noticed that blurb in Quartiers Gourmands back in November when I was trying to source a bunch of raw duck legs for a pot au feu. I made a mental note to check the store out but, what with work, travel, family and the holidays, it had slipped my mind. I just called and asked if they had duck confit on hand and they replied "bien sûr," so I'll probably brave the cold and drop by this afternoon. Report to follow.


Edited by carswell (log)

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Made it to Boucherie France-Canada (BFC) on Saturday. The store was a bit less fancy than I expected, certainly not as upscale as, say, the Lescurier Tradition Gourmande a couple of blocks to the west. The first thing I noticed on entering was the smell: a clean but pungent mix of game, red meat and other aromas. Not unpleasant but a bit disconcerting compared with the antiseptic odourlessness of most other butchers I frequent. A big refrigerator case well stocked with sausages and meat, including fresh turkey, runs along the left side of the store; some shelving and, a bit incongruously, a small table with two chairs, are to the right; and a small refrigerator case is at the back. That's where the duck legs, along with related delicacies like gésiers confits, were to be found. Service was solicitous and friendly if a bit formal in that French kind of way. I bought three legs and a box of lentilles vertes du Puy because it was a brand — Vivien Paille — I'd never seen before and because I'm a sucker for blurbs like Les sélections du terroir and Cultivé sans engrais and for AOC labels prominently displayed on packages. I didn't notice the price until I got to the cash: at $6.59 for 500 g, they're the priciest lentils I've ever bought.

As usual, we put the legs in a baking dish and heated them in a 400°F oven for c. 20 minutes. They smelled delicious. We plated them with sides of warm lentil salad, poured the Madiran and dug in. First impressions were mixed. The skin hadn't crisped up the way André Philippot's used to. A bit of fat squirted out when I first cut into the meat, which surprised me, since that never happened with André's (and he sold his duck legs encased in a substantial block of duck fat, which you could save and use for sautéing vegetables and seafood, while BFC's legs were devoid of salvagable fat). In the piehole, the flesh was saltier and fattier than expected and, while savoury, didn't taste strongly of duck. While pleasant, the flavour was a bit odd in that it reminded us of something else. With only a duck leg apiece, we didn't have the opportunity for extended analysis. Toward the end Leslie began to nail it: while the confit was in no way fishy, it reminded her of fish, maybe high-quality olive oil-packed tuna? I countered with grilled reconstituted salt cod. She thought I might be right but, alas, the duck was gone by then. That particular flavour was not nearly as pronounced in the third leg, which I ate by myself on Sunday.

In short, BFC's duck confit is good. I'd guess the preparation involves the liberal application of herbs and salt, both of which give the meat a certain savour. But, in the end, it doesn't achieve the sublime scrumptiousness of André's legendary duck confit. And while I expect I'll visit BFC again, I'm also going to continue my search.

By the way, the lentils took forever to cook, about 45 minutes to achieve al dentetude (the box said 15-20). They held their shape beautifully, however, and tasted great.

Boucherie France-Canada, 1142 Van-Horne, Montreal (corner de l'Épée, a few blocks east of the Outremont metro station), 514 277-7788


Edited by carswell (log)

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Keep up the search and thanks for the report.

For what it is worth, several years' ago I bought a package of cryovaced confit -- six legs and thighs -- from John Dewar's, a good butcher in Newton, certainly one of the best in the Boston area. I prepared them carefully and truly enjoyed them. They were imported from Canada. More recently I returned for another go at confit de canard. The old brand was no longer in stock. A new Canadian supplier had replaced them. The new brand was more convenient, two legs to the package, but much inferior.

The original had a crispy salty quality that returned with the cooking. Using the same technique for the second, yielded disappointing results. Perhaps one of the Canadian board might give me the names of the confit suppliers and I could remind the people at Dewar's who did them well.

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Saturday saw me raiding the Atwater Market for duck confit. I came home with legs from five purveyors, all located on the second floor. Here's a report on two.

I was rooting for the leg from ominously named S.O.S. Boucher because it was the only one not cryovaced. What's more, it looked the genuine article. Twenty minutes in a 400ºF oven turned its skin an appealing golden brown with crispy edges, and it smelled fantastic. Plated alongside a mound of lentils, it was picture perfect. Which all goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover. While the duck taste was there, it lacked a foil, had nothing that raised it to a higher plane. Did they use any salt or herbs in making this? I certainly found a shake or two of sea salt improved matters, a first in my many years of preserved duck consumption. The texture was more chewy than melting. The word scrumptious did not spring to mind.

The leg from Boucherie Les 2 Frères was nicely packaged in its cryovac shell, covered by a small mound of duck fat decorated with a thyme sprig and pink peppercorns. Since this is a comparative tasting, I prepared it as usual: c. 20 minutes in a hot oven. It, too, emerged nicely golden, though the skin was soggy. This was one meaty duck leg, about half again as big as the others. Advantages: it tasted of duck. Disadvantages: it didn't taste of duck confit; it, too, was undersalted; the meat was stringy; and a thick layer of fat lay under all the skin, so I ate next to none of what can be the best part of the dish.

The lentils were cooked with garlic, pancetta lardons, carrot chunks and thyme and garnished with cracked black pepper and fresh winter savory. This time they were lentilles vertes de Berry, another Vivien Paille product that took a bit less long to cook and were, perhaps, less earthy than last week's lentilles vertes de Puy (if so, the terroir moniker is not out of place, as Puy and Berry are about 30 km apart).

Our wine was a 2000 Cahors, the Cuvée particulière from Château Lamartine, which retails for just under C$23. Young, it needed an hour or so in the carafe to tame the tannins. Lots of plum on the nose with notes of crème brûlée. Round and fruity on the palate with a distinct layer of vanilla oak, a tannic rasp and not much in the way of complexity. Unremarkable finish. Agreeable enough for a modern-style Cahors; for my part, I'll stick with the more traditional Triguedina (a few bottles of the lovely 1997 are still to be had at the SAQ).

S.O.S. Boucher, 138 Atwater (Atwater Market), Stall 17, 514 933-0297

Boucherie Les 2 Frères, 138 Atwater, Stall 9, 514 931-7125


Edited by carswell (log)

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Carswell,

Cheering you on in your search for the best confit. Have you tried that poultry place on Roy just east of St. Laurent? The name escapes me. Fernando or something? I believe they make confit. Will check the Quartiers Gourmands guide, which is where I think I saw the reference.

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Cheering you on in your search for the best confit. Have you tried that poultry place on Roy just east of St. Laurent? The name escapes me. Fernando or something? I believe they make confit. Will check the Quartiers Gourmands guide, which is where I think I saw the reference.

You mean Les Volailles et Gibiers Fernando on Roy and Coloniale. And the answer is nope. It is on my short list, though. Along with several other Plateau establishments. And the Boucher du Marché (Jean-Talon). And Anjou-Québec. And the Maître-Boucher on Monkland. Hope I don't O.D. Am renewing my gym membership tomorrow...

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carswell, what other three spots have you tested. The lady at SOS has brought a lot of good products to Montreal over many years, but it seems that she is a bit overwelmed by variety now. They used to have a spot on St-Hubert street south of UQAM campus, made the best sandwich ever about 15 years ago. I've always been tempted by her soukraut but nothing beats making your own really... I'm sucha fan of that lacto fermented saurkraut that nothing else will do. SOS has also had the unfortunate experience of being cited in the food inspection section of the newspaper, nothing major...

Quite curious to find out if you got one from the organic purveyor just across les 2 freres... not even sure if they duck confit. This is a great report. Have you checked out duck confit offered from Pied de Cochon or from Queue de cochon (laurier or St-Hubert) ?

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What about that French butcher across the street from Olive and Gourmando? He makes confit. Anyone tried it?

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i find it strange how some seem to be connaissseurs of food tracking down the best confit in town ,where all you have to do is just make some .very simple .

then i think you could say its the best .

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i find it strange how some seem to be connaissseurs of food tracking down the best confit in town ,where all you have to do is just make some .very simple .

then i think you could say its the best .

Thanks for the wet rag. Maybe instead of ace you should have chosen the nickname partypooper?

You're right that making confit is a simple matter. All it takes is meat, fat, seasonings, time and cool storage. But, as I can attest from recent experience, it's not easy to source affordable duck legs on less than two weeks' notice. And then there's the copious quantities of fat required; either you render it yourself (which means buying more than just duck legs) or you buy it. Maybe you can point us to a cheaper source, but where I shop duck fat runs $3.50 a small tub. Then there's the time factor. Larousse Gasto suggests rubbing the legs with salt and leaving them for 26 hours, then cooking them for two hours in fat, then transferring them to a crock, covering them completely in fat and "to obtain an authentic confit, store in a cellar for 5-6 months." (Yes, I'm sure that none of the local purveyors age it that long, except maybe Anjou-Québec, whose duck confit comes packed in a jar.) Also, where am I supposed to store the stuff while it ripens? I live in an apartement with a galley kitchen and no cool spots. So, simple it may be but not very practical, especially when you've suddenly got the jones. Also, believe it or not, a lot of people just won't go to the trouble; should they be deprived as a result? What about visitors from out of town (there are lots who read this board) who live in places where decent duck is non-existant and what duck there is comes whole; are you for forcing them to buy three frozen birds to harvest six legs? And anyway, what's objectionable about surveying the purveyors of any product? Are you going to bop over to the NY forum to lecture the Burger Club members on the pointlessness of their endeavour since they can make a perfect burger at home?

I also take issue with your contention that making confit at home automatically entitles one to say it's the best. While I've never made duck confit, I have preserved half quails and guinea hen legs. Based on that experience, I'd guess that any duck confit coming out of my kitchen would pale beside André Philippot's. That's the Holy Grail as far as I'm concerned. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll continue on my quest for it.

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carswell, what other three spots have you tested. The lady at SOS has brought a lot of good products to Montreal over many years, but it seems that she is a bit overwelmed by variety now. They used to have a spot on St-Hubert street south of UQAM campus, made the best sandwich ever about 15 years ago. I've always been tempted by her soukraut but nothing beats making your own really... I'm sucha fan of that lacto fermented saurkraut that nothing else will do. SOS has also had the unfortunate experience of being cited in the food inspection section of the newspaper, nothing major...

Quite curious to find out if you got one from the organic purveyor just across les 2 freres... not even sure if they duck confit. This is a great report. Have you checked out duck confit offered from Pied de Cochon or from Queue de cochon (laurier or St-Hubert) ?

ID, I don't often shop at Atwater Market, so this was my first encounter with S.O.S. Didn't notice the sauerkraut but wish I had; I'm out of homemade and refuse to buy the canned stuff. While I didn't ask about confit at the bio butcher's, they didn't have any on display. Will do so next time if you or somebody else doesn't beat me to it. The other three purveyors are: Terrines & Pâtés (see below), A. Bélanger et fils and the abovementioned Boucherie Viau, who were selling duck confit from Élèvages Périgord. The Queue de Cochon was already on my Plateau list along with several stores on Mont-Royal and Laurier. Surprisingly, Pied de Cochon's confit had escaped my notice; they don't list it on their take-out menu but I'll ask next time I'm in the 'hood. Thanks.

What about that French butcher across the street from Olive and Gourmando? He makes confit. Anyone tried it?

Lesley, thanks for the tip. Hadn't noticed there was a butcher there. Will check it out provided I don't O.D. first.

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He appears to be very old school. I saw his store profiled on the -- ahem-- Debeur show (hate the guide, like the show). His foie gras looks quite nice as well and he makes all his own sausages. Definitely one to check out.

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Things are looking up. The preserved duck leg from Terrines & Pâtés was the best I've had in ages. Rich, meaty flavour with real depth to it; surprising, then, that the package lists the contents as duck leg, duck fat, salt (i.e. no herbs or other flavourings). Salty it was but not too. The texture was firm yet, unlike most products tasted so far, not dry; in fact, it bordered on succulence. The skin browned nicely and, once scraped free of its subcutaneous fat, was a treat. What makes the difference? The quality of the duck? The type of salt? The prepping method? The only downside —­ you knew there had to be a downside, didn't you? — is the price. All the other duck legs have cost between C$5.50 and C$6.50. This one weighed in at 355g, slightly bigger than most. At C$25.95/kg, that worked out to C$9.21. Still, this gets a quack from me.

Consumed with leftover lentils and the tail end of a bottle of 1990 Poggio Antico, Brunello di Montalcino (praise be to Private Preserve, god's gift to moderate wine drinkers). I suspected the wine's dryish tannins and highish acidity might be just the ticket to cut through the fat. As it turned out, they were, but the dusty cherry-tobacco flavours of the wine did nothing for the salty duck and vice versa. They didn't dance, just sat there staring at each other. So much for mixed marriages... in this case at least!

Terrines & Pâtés, 138 Atwater (Atwater Market), Stall 7, 514 931-9559

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sorry carswell dont take it the wrong way.since eat duck ,just buy whole ducks debone ,now you have breasts ,legs and rendered fat .dont make a big deal out of it.as far as visitors are involved i dont think they will come to montreal to search for confit .there are excellent choices online that ship overnight,leaving the visitors to montreal look for cool spots.

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I recommend trying some of the Chinese or Vietnamese grocery stores to buy raw duck legs. Kawloon in Ottawa has them including a whole bag if about 5 lbs. There must be somewhere in Montreal to find them.

When I made confit du canard at home I bought a whole duck and a couple of leg/thighs, rendered the fat from the whole bird and kept the fat from cooking the bird breasts. With fat from the legs that came out when cooking, there was enough fat to create the confit. I am not sure what the seasoning I used but I am pretty sure I used allspice, thyme, salt pepper, bay leaves and a bit of cloves. I used whole spices to keep the texture from getting gritty. I kept the confit in the fridge for a few days before eating. There was no way they would last more than a week. The taste and texture was very good.

Good luck on your quest!

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well, i am not sure if he sells his confit de canard sous-vide, as he does many of his classic french preparations, but Alain Loivel of Le P'tit Plateau makes confit better than any i have ever tasted. You could eat at his resto, order it, and if it lives up to your expectations ask if it could be a take-out item.

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From the start I had my doubts about the legs from A. Bélanger et fils. Cryovaced two to a pack, they were to all appearances free of fat and already well-browned, browner in fact than many legs after reheating. The 20 minutes in a hot oven only confirmed suspicions; there was very little sizzle and pop and not much fragrance. And when I pulled them out, instead of the quarter cup or so of fat usually rendered, there was less than a tablespoon. All signs pointed to disappointment.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Though parts of the meat, mainly the inside of the thigh, were stringy, most was moist: firm yet giving. The flavour was definitely duck but with the savour that's the hallmark of a well-made confit. While the first bite had me wondering whether it was a tad too salty, the question didn't occur to me again. And, scraped of its fat, the nut brown skin was certifiably delicious (eat your heart out, cracklins!). Tellingly, at the end of the meal, the bones of both legs had been gnawed clean. All in all, more than acceptable.

I must not be the only person who thinks so, by the way. There was a vertiable duck confit production line in operation at A. Bélanger et fils on Saturday afternoon. Probably 30 or 40 legs already in the display case and easily another hundred waiting to be cryovaced. Somebody has to be buying them.

Our side was a delicious "salad" of roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes and shallots with crispy kale and a roasted garlic/balsamic vinegar dressing, whose sweet sharpness proved a great foil to the salty duck. A 2000 Pauillac, Les Tourelles de Longueville (the second wine of Château Pichon-Baron) was a deluxe match: austere but rich; finely structured with light, tight tannins; classic plum, tobacco, cedar, graphite and forest floor aromas/flavours subtly underpinned with oak (quite the contrast to Sunday's heavy-handed Lamartine); and a lingering finish. If the second wines of Bordeaux are this good in 2000, it must indeed be a vintage to remember.

A. Bélanger et fils, 138 Atwater (Atwater Market), Stall 12A, 514 935-2439


Edited by carswell (log)

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Thanks for the details, Lesley. If I can swing it, I'll drop by Villette this weekend.

Good suggestion, Kenk. When looking for duck legs in December, I checked out Kim Phat on Goyer (no luck) but didn't have time to scout Chinatown. I also wonder about the flavour of bargain-basement poultry. Industrial duck legs might be fine for red-cooking (Chinese prep that involves braising meat in soy sauce with star anise, ginger and other flavourings) but how do they hold up on their own? And as I mentioned to ace (not that it seemed to have made any impression...), the lag time in making confit is a downside in some situations. It was great to be able to think "I'm in the mood for duck confit tonight" at 3 p.m. on Saturday and then bop over to André's place and satisfy the craving.

oceanfish, though I've eaten at Le P'tit Plateau countless times (it's my favourite BYOB), I don't think I've ever tried Alain's confit. Well, maybe in the cassoulet. He didn't have any in his fridge the last couple of times I checked. Will give them a shout in the next week or two. Thanks for the lead.


Edited by carswell (log)

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here goes carswell again.......all the confit you have eaten in the past week you will start growing wings.........i wonder whats next. do you realy think that you will be writing for the gazette....wanna be critic

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Carswell, A Belanger are the folks who I mentionned (across from 2 freres) they are my main butcher, I used to go to 2 freres for the ham but now A Belanger has Natural Ham that is quite nice.

Half of their offering is from free run, certifed organic animals. Do you know if it was the case for your duck ? I'm not suprised one bit of your description, but this butcher works hard at the produce itself instead of the preparation, so the taste should be there. Their chicken is always very good and the difference of stock on an organic carcasse and a regular one is quite impressive.

Another point is that we have a major duck producer in Quebec in Brome, Brome duck has invaded counters around the contry and have certainly gained the ranks of industrial producer of good quality meat (The Brome appelation was overstated in many retaurants of Canada and eastern US, maybe a tad too much in my opinion). Anybody who lives in Brome knows that it's not a mom and pop shop anymore and sometimes huge batches of ducks are shipped far away in true muslim certifed butcher techniques (as an example of large market). I'm fairly certain that Belanger has a smaller private producer for them, might even be their own farm... who knows.


Edited by identifiler (log)

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Normand Laprise has long been a supporter of Belanger. His foie gras used to come from the same farmer who supplied Belanger. Not sure that's the situation anymore.

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      I can't. You need to keep things cool to take care of your sausage, and it's challenging to stay cool when I'm all a-flutter about the prospect of a culminating, perfect, harmonious bind. If you read the books and you watch the shows, everyone acts just about as cool as a cucumber. But that's not real life with my sausage.

      It's a frenzy, I tell you. I know I should chill and relax, but I get all hot and bothered, start hurrying things along, unable to let the meat chill sufficiently, to take things slowly. Hell, I'm sweating now just thinking about it.

      I have to admit that I don't have this sausage problem when I'm alone in the house, have a couple of hours to kill, and know I won't be disturbed. I just settle in, take it nice and slow, not a care in the world, and everything comes out fine. But with someone else around, forget about it.

      Despite this mishegas, my wife is as supportive as she can be. She humors me patiently about these things, gently chiding, "Slow down! The house isn't on fire. It's just your sausage." Though I know she loves me despite my foibles, that sort of talk just adds fuel to that fire -- I mean, she can speak so glibly because it's not her sausage we're worrying about.

      Even if I am I able to relax, the prospect of sudden, precipitous sausage humiliation comes crashing down upon me. Think of it. All seems to be going so well -- a little too well. I'm keeping things cool, making sure that I'm taking it easy, following the plan step-by-step, trusting my instincts. I smile. I get cocky.

      And then, the frying pan hits the fire, and within moments I'm hanging my head: instead of forming a perfect bind, my sausage breaks and I break down. I want a firm, solid mass, and I'm watching a crumbly, limp link ooze liquid with embarrassing rapidity.

      Given my gender, in the past I've tried to subdue sausage anxiety with predictable contrivances: machines, science, and technique. If there's a tool or a book useful for perfecting my sausage, I've bought or coveted it. I calculate ratios of meat, salt, cure, sugar, and seasonings past the decimal; I measure out ingredients to the gram on digital scales; I poke instant-read thermometers into piles of seasoned meat; I take the grinder blade to my local knife sharpener to get the perfect edge. (We've already covered the stuffer above, of course.) I've got a full supply of dextrose, Bactoferm, and DQ curing salts numbers 1 and 2. The broken binding of my copy of Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie has xeroxes and print-outs from eight other sources, and the pages are filled with crossed-out and recalculated recipes.

      It's the sort of thing that I used to do when I was younger: arm myself with all things known to mankind and blast ahead. It hasn't helped. I've learned the hard way that my hysterical masculine attempt to master all knowledge and technology has led, simply, to more panic and collapse.

      There is, I think, hope. I'm older, and my approach to my sausage has matured. I'm in less of a hurry, I roll with the challenges, and when the house is on fire, I just find a hydrant for my hose.

      If things collapse, well, I try to take the long view, recall the successes of my youth, and keep my head up. I mean, it's just my sausage.

      * * *

      Chris Amirault (aka, well, chrisamirault) is Director of Operations, eG Forums. He also runs a preschool and teaches in Providence, RI.
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