A scallop avocado dish… and ramblings on yin & yang

Contrast has been on my mind recently (among many other things, it’s pretty crowded up there!). It is such a key concept in the universe, isn’t it. As babies, contrast is the first thing we distinguish in the world. That’s why a baby will look at your hairline or eyebrows, because he can see the contrast. It is the way we learn, by contrasting things from one another. I see Pablo figure things out this way every day. That’s how our brain makes sense of the world (or tries to). Contrast is also what makes a beautiful photograph. Contrast of texture is what makes a perfect bite (for some reason, a bite of crunchy asparagus, warm rice and melt-in-your-mouth salmon sushi comes to mind). Cultural contrast is what gives countries, cities, families, all their richness.

I think contrast is also where gratitude and acknowledgement come from. We can only be truly thankful for the good things in our lives, if we have also allowed ourselves to acknowledge our pains, needs, frustrations and resentments. Perhaps contrast is just a fancy word for life’s ups and downs. It’s life’s duality. Yin and yang. Life and death. Past and present. Something and nothing. These things cannot exist without each other.

Encountering this idea so often, in parenting, in photography, in cooking, in learning, I’m beginning to realize understanding this is the necessary step to acceptance. And acceptance, the necessary step to serenity and inner balance and peace, things I have been longing for, for a long time. Wisdom would be to embrace all of life’s contrasts, to learn from them, to savor them the way we would savor that bite of asparagus salmon rice, or a beautiful image.

It’s the holidays, so I think of these things. Things I don’t have, wish I had in my life. Things I do have and am thankful for. What this year has brought me, what it has taken away. But instead of thinking of it as have/have not, or win/lose, or success/failure, I’m trying to think of it as the dual flow of my life. And I’m going with the flow.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this, is this idea of contrast and duality in your mind’s eye, or do you function differently in your life?

What brought on these thoughts today is this very festive dish which is my mother’s creation. She used to make this for dinner parties when I was little. And the very key to this dish is the hot and cold contrast between the chilled avocado dressing and the hot seared scallops (“chaudfroid” is a culinary term for that contrast). It really doesn’t work without that. This makes a lovely first course for a smaller dinner party, I hope you’ll get to try it some time.

Tomorrow… posting recipe for our roasted capon with apple chestnut stuffing…

(And since this week is a mini-holiday recipe marathon, if you haven’t already, go take a peek at some holiday appetizer ideas here, and check the recipe for my sunchoke chestnut vanilla soup here.)

Chaudfroid of seared scallops and avocado

Recipe by my mom

Serves 4

Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 5 mn

Age for babies: 12 months and up, since this is shellfish

12-16 scallops (depending on their size)
4 avocados (2 of which should be very very ripe)
1/4 cup chives
1/4 cup fresh tarragon and Italian parsley
1/2 cup olive oil + 2 tbsp for searing the scallops
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Some mâche (or baby spinach or arugula)
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp butter

Mince the chives. Chop finely the tarragon and parsley.

In a food processor, mix the herbs, the 2 ripest avocados, oil and vinegar. Salt & pepper to taste.
Cover with a plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Shortly before serving, place the mâche on the serving platter. Slice the 2 remaining avocados and place over the mâche around the platter. Cover with plastic wrap to keep the avocado from browning.

Rinse the scallops and pat them dry.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a frying pan over high heat. Sear the scallops, about 3 mn on one side, and 1 mn on the other side, using tongs to turn them over.

Place the hot scallops on the bed of mâche and avocado, spoon the chilled avocado mixture over the scallops and serve immediately.

Asparagus, arugula, avocado soup recipe

Last weekend, I went foraging, for the first time in my
life. And I think I fell in love. There I was, with a new group of people, in the woods, learning about a completely new topic. I felt so alive.

This was the
perfect symbiosis of nature and cooking. And you probably have gathered by now
how much I love cooking. Perhaps I can share a little bit here about my love of nature.

Not to be overly dramatic, but the love of nature might have
saved my life, many years ago. 

When I was 16, I had what you might call a crisis of faith.
Faith in life. In its value. I was a cerebral kid, who spent a big amount of
time in my own head. My head was my space, for better or for worse. And so not
so surprisingly, at 16, I reached the very cerebral conclusion that one should
live only as a deliberate act, provided one could find something worth living
for. Something that could justify going on living when everything around seemed
hopeless and dark.

And I had come up with nothing. Everything that might make
life worth living seemed either inaccessible or inauthentic. And so I was
coming close to the inevitable conclusion: I had no business going on living.

Then, there was a trip to the United States. A backpacking trip
with a group of other teens, traveling across the country.

And there was the Grand Canyon.
The day I flew over the Grand Canyon,
the overwhelming beauty and immensity of it, I thought for the first time: this is worth living for. Seeing this.

So this land, this
beautiful land, now my land, gave me
a reason to live when I needed one.

As I spent more and more time in the United States (I ended up actually working at
the Grand Canyon for a few summers before
moving here), my love of nature became less cerebral and more real. It got me
out of my head and grounded me. Ever since, it has made me feel like I belong
on earth. I love to seek it out as much as I can, whether it’s hiking through Yellowstone, or going camping, or simply eating outside.

And now, there’s foraging.
I mean, what’s not to love: you go hike in the woods, learn about wild
edible plants, learn how to cook them or how to use them in your cooking.  (And it will be so great to take Pablo
foraging when he’s a bit more of a functional hiker :-))

I am so thankful to my good friend Linda for introducing me
to Pascal Baudar and Mia Wasilevich this weekend, the lovely and talented couple who guided our
foraging experience. (If you are in the LA area, definitely check these guys out.)
Pascal Baudar, a Belgian man who has lived in the US for many years and a forager for
the past 13 years (he forages for chefs too!), had black fingers, from
harvesting thousands of black walnuts, he explained. How I love hands who tell a
story.

He guided us down a trail and talked (among many things) about green, red and
black currants, elderflowers and berries, wild peaches, wild fig leaves, mugwort,
thistle and chickweed. I munched on wild mustard flowers that taste like broccoli,
smelled white sage and sage brush.

What better way to commune with nature than to actually eat it? Its flavors open up every one of your tastebuds at once. Nature as a tastebud opener. I like that. Next time, I can’t wait to forage wild spinach,
wild radishes and watercress.

After our walk, Mia, a very talented wild food chef (more
about her right here) had prepared some treats for us: roasted potatoes with her foothill spice blend made with local wild aromatic
plants. Wild spinach empanadas. Nectarines roasted inside a wild fig leaf. And a wild watercress gazpacho with wild watercress flowers (picture below), that tasted like a cool running creek at dawn. And there was Pascal’s fermented white sage lemonade and wild mugwort beer too…      

I plan on experimenting first with fermented sage lemonade
and elderflower syrup, recipes I will be sharing with you here soon (should they be
successful, that is ;-))  

I have so much
to learn it makes me feel young.

So if culinary hiking sounds like something you would enjoy,
I highly recommend you give foraging a try! And if you have gone foraging,
please tell me all about it! What have you made? What have you found?

It’s such an appropriate metaphor for life too. Let us spend
less time in our heads and more time in the real world. Let’s forage the good
stuff out of life, for it is so flavorful…

In the meantime, I leave you with this lovely & seasonal asparagus wild arugula soup, nicely
complemented by some wild mustard flowers foraged by yours truly. 

Asparagus, wild arugula & avocado soup with wild mustard flowers

Barely adapted from Small Plates and Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

Serves about 4 generous bowls

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Age for babies: Without the crabmeat (just the soup), 6-8 months.

2 tbsp coconut oil

1 shallot

2 cloves of garlic

1 bunch of green asparagus

3/4 tsp salt

3 cups vegetable stock

2 cups (about 2 oz) wild arugula

1 avocado

4 oz crabmeat (optional)

2 tbsp sheep’s milk yogurt

Foraged wild mustard flowers (optional)

Mince the shallot and garlic. Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus, and dice them. Peel, pit and dice the avocado.

Heat the coconut oil in a large pot of medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic and asparagus with 1/4 tsp salt, stir, and cook for about 3 minutes (do not brown).

Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes, until the asparagus are tender.

Add the arugula and cook for another minute. Remove pot from heat. 

Pour mixture in the blender, add the avocado and remaining 1/2 tsp salt. Blend thoroughly, until very smooth. 

You can serve hot or chilled, topped with some crab meat, a swirl of yogurt, and a few wild mustard flowers on top.