I love winter.
I love the cold and the snow and the bundling up. And I miss it. Durham does not know much of winter, other than the passing glances — wintry mixes — that leave us reeling from time to time because they are less than familiar. This weekend, however, I’m back in Boston for a friend’s wedding, back in the a place chiseled and shaped by the cold, a place where the rivers are supposed to freeze, where you keep an ice scraper close at hand, a place where the cold is a part of life and not something that brings things to a standstill, a place that holds strong memories of being out in the cold together.
This Saturday morning, I set out from our hotel to find a coffee shop where I could sit and write. The hotel is attached to a mall, which is not my most creative climate. I bundled up and wandered out to a nearby place I had found online, only to find it closed on the weekends. The next place was too packed. I ended up in a Dunkin’ Donuts, with a coffee that always reminds me of New England and free wifi.
Last Saturday I was in Texas, shopping in shirtsleeves with my friend, Gordon, and preparing for a dinner with friends — a dinner I was to “demonstrate.” The menu was improvised, but, like a good improviser, I had been thinking about it. Though I was looking for seasonal things, I had one thing on my list that was not indigenous to San Antonio: scallops. Earlier in the week, I had done a dessert party in Houston for my friend, Heather, and one of the items I made was a shortbread cookie with cheddar cheese and crystallized ginger. That recipe came out of my ongoing fascination with the ways in which sweet and savory go together. As I ate the cookie, I imagined what I planning as I stopped at the fresh seafood counter: a seared scallop sitting on top of a cheddar and ginger shortbread.
And it worked.
My new recipe, however, was a long time in the making. The ginger and cheddar combination goes back to one of my first cooking jobs at a small bake shop in Hingham, Massachusetts where we made a ginger and cheddar scone. We didn’t do it often because the owner thought the crystallized ginger was too expensive, but I what I carried away was how well the two went together. I learned how to sear scallops from Tim, my chef in Plymouth. And Robert, my first chef/teacher, taught me how to make a beurre blanc, which is a staple in good kitchens and was the sauce I made for the dinner last Saturday.
My familiarity with my surroundings and my memory file of flavors set me to stirring and searing, though I was in a kitchen I didn’t know with a collection of folks who were mostly knew to me. At dinner, Amy — who had loaned both her kitchen and her house for the event — shared that the entire evening had been a rather unusual exploration for her. She, by her own admission, was a very plain eater, yet she had tried everything. She didn’t speak up until we were finished with our third course. “Tonight, I feel like a grown up,” she said, even as she displayed a childlike openness to our culinary adventure. She found courage in our common table, in the company of those she knew had nothing at stake in the meal other than to be there together.
Prior to our very first winter in Boston, Ginger and I went coat shopping. After watching her try on several things, the salesperson said to Ginger in an accent that revealed her familiarity with the frigid weather to come, “You don’t want cute; you want warm.” Her shared wisdom served us well. We certainly would have learned the lesson on our own, but she saved us both money and pain by speaking up. I learned to love winter because I learned how to stay warm. I could improvise on this icy morning because I have been prepared by the wintry mix of what I have been taught and told, what I have remembered, what I have shared.