You know, I have always loved to cook. Always, always always. I remember clearly my immense pride the first time I managed to make cinnamon toast for my mother. I was three, and my dad helped. But I loved it. It didn’t stop there. I learned to cook. By eight I was making cakes. The Thanksgiving that I was twelve, my mother ended up in the hospital, giving birth to one of my precious brothers. I was dismayed at the thought that we might not have a proper Thanksgiving dinner, so I just decided to make it myself. I pulled out our tattered old Joy Of Cooking, and I looked up every dish, one by one, and made them one by one. And it was awesome. I was so proud. After that, I was the Boss of Thanksgiving (and Christmas, for that matter) until I left home. (I stole the Joy of Cooking when I left home and damnation, I’ve just realized that I left it behind in the Kitchen of Shattered illusions. Gonna have to plan a raid.)
As I grew up, I got more and more adventurous in the kitchen. I begged my parents for fancy ingredients the way some kids begged for Nintendos. I had a few disasters, and a few more triumphs. I also just made a lot of spaghetti (I come from a very big family, and exotic flights of culinary showmanship just weren’t sustainable on a daily basis.) People suggested that I should be a chef when I grew up. I considered it, but a few early waitressing gigs were enough to turn me off the idea for life. The pressures and challenges of cooking on an industrial scale just weren’t for me. What I love is cooking for the people I love.
And it makes sense. I don’t come from the huggiest/kissest family in the world. There are metric boatloads of love in my family, we just often have more subtle ways of showing it. And food is one of them. When I was small, my mother would decorate the most fantastic themed birthday cakes every year. The painstaking hours of mixing up twenty different shades of icing. The incredible little props. Those birthday cakes were thrilling, and you’d know she’d been up all night before, while you were sleeping, getting it just right, just for you. Because she loves you. For thirty years I’ve seen my father painstakingly choose the very best bites of his steak and sneak them over onto my mom’s plate when she wasn’t looking. Because he loves her.
One night, a few years ago, I was on my annual visit home. (I live abroad) My father’s head appeared around the kitchen door. His face was a picture of mystery and suppressed glee. He gestured me over to the fridge, and opened the fridge door a crack. “Look in there...” he hissed. So I did. Crabs’ legs. Piles and piles of crabs’ legs. Now, crabs legs are a nearly unheard of luxury in my family, but he’d bought them just for us. Because I was home. We cooked them up and barricaded ourselves in a room and ate them all ourselves, slathered in melted butter for what felt like hours, watching old episodes of The Office. It was one of the best evenings of my life. I felt extremely loved.
I was thinking of this when I headed out to the market. We have a great weekend market in town. There are some touristy stalls and some hippies selling incense, but mostly it’s farmers and cheesemakers and fishermen from just a few miles away, offering incredibly fresh, beautiful produce. Everyone is friendly and light-hearted, and especially on a sunny day, it’s a wonderful place to be. I got paid, and I was thinking of treating myself to some crab’s legs. But when I got to the fish stall, there were none to be had. There were some very anxious lobsters desperately waving their claws at all passersby, (they aren’t going to help you, Mr. Lobster.) but the idea of having to kill my dinner tonight was too much for me. There were some especially fine scallops for sale, though, and I got 3 big gorgeous ones for 2.50.
(By the way, if you are starved of affection, I suggest you go to the market. You are everyone’s darling, everyone’s dear, everyone’s love, everyone’s pet. It’s great.)
I treated myself to a hot chocolate and walked around in the cold clear sunshine, picking up lovely ingredients here and there. I felt moments of real joy, and I got some really lovely things that I can’t wait to cook and write about. But first, the next dinner:
Selfish Scallops with Asparagus Spears
This recipe was my main inspiration. Mostly because it has the words “Butter Fried” in the title.
3 large scallops. (Mine came with the pink “coral” attached, and I cooked them intact. I tried them because, Hey! I Am Trying New Things In My New Life! but I hated them so I fed them to the noisy cat that hangs around the backyard. She loved them.)
Big ol’ chunk of butter
Salt and Pepper
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 Bunch Asparagus
Another big chunk of butter
¼ cup grated parmesan
Cut the bottom inch off the asparagus. It’s woody and not that tasty and anyway it helps you fit them into the pan. Pour in a few cm of water and cover, cooking over high heat for about 5 mins, or until the asparagus is a pretty bright green and easy to pierce with a fork. Please don’t overcook it. Overcooked asparagus makes me cry, and I have enough things to make me cry this week, okay?
Pat your scallops dry with some paper towels, and grind salt and pepper over them generously.
Heat the first butter in a frying pan over medium high heat. Chuck in the thyme. Once it’s nice and hot, toss in the scallops. Don’t move them around if you can help it, this helps them get a nice crust. After 1-2 mins, flip them over and do the same on the other side. Give them a little poke with your finger. If they aren’t mushy anymore, they are done. It’s better to undercook them a little than overcook them. .
Asparagus is another of my father’s favourite luxury foods, and I prepared it the way my daddy taught me. Take the asparagus out of the water, lay it on the plate, and smother it in butter and parmesan.
Lovingly lay the scallops on top.
Eat it all. All of it. By yourself. Under no circumstances share. (Except for giving the bits you don't want to a cat.)
I absolutely loved these flavours together, and it looked and tasted really really posh, when the actual cost to me was something like a fiver. Total win.