The wedding was a thrown-together affair, organized on the run, practically an elopement. “Run over to City Hall, why don’t you, file the papers and pick a date. Any date. You choose.” And I did. Stumbling along in my timid schoolgirl French, I explained that I was to be married. I excitedly pushed the required papers across the chocolate brown counter and chose the first Thursday after the required 3-week wait. A Thursday, the 23rd of the month and my fate would be sealed. I had heard somewhere that getting married on a Tuesday or Thursday was good luck in my religion, so Thursday it was. And it didn’t really matter what day I chose. It wasn’t like there would be a dress to order or a long list of friends and relatives to haggle over, 300 invitations to have engraved and sent out, hotel rooms to reserve, caterer and rock band to arrange. No, it would just be the two of us, a few of his friends and his immediate family. So we really only had ourselves to please. We’d tie the knot at City Hall in front of M. le Maire Adjoint then simply walk back to the house for lunch. Simple as saying “I do!”
So I ran back home to the house we shared and announced the chosen date as soon as he walked in the front door from work. “A Thursday? Why did you pick a Thursday? My parents won’t be able to come; they haven’t closed the shop on a weekday since they opened 35 years ago!” But close the shop they did, tickled pink and excited that their only son was to wed.
I wore white and deep violet blue, bits and pieces picked up here and there, my hair a wild, uncontrollable mass of dark curls. His sister created a gorgeous bouquet all in violet and lavender and cream, thistles and roses and baby’s breath, a bouquet to do any bride proud. He wore a funny old suit, a zoot-suit he dug up from a secondhand store in Paris, black with thin cream stripes, something that suited our crazy madcap adventure, our eccentric outlook on life. His best man came in outrageous red tartan plaid from head to toe, my witness in colorful gypsy garb. And his dog, of course his dog, would sing at the party. And yes she did!
A simple affair it was indeed. The lunch was held at our modest house in the suburbs that we shared with 8 others. I spent the Wednesday in my soon-to-be Mother-in-law’s kitchen baking cakes in the scorching heat, whipping up batches of choux puffs and ratatouille, marinating chicken and trying to stay calm, cool and collected as gorgeous cognac buttercream melted down my arm as I tried desperately to pipe it onto chocolate cake, words garbled as they rushed out of the pastry bag. The lunch itself was a modest affair, all homemade, with bowls of fresh fruit and platters of cheese, laid out on a table dressed all in white, crowned in stunning floral arrangements in jewel-like colors and springtime extravagance, like a cortege of lovely bridesmaids accompanying the bride.
A simple affair, indeed, but there was Champagne for everyone, Champagne à volonté! My in-laws sent over case upon case of the stuff, cool bottles of French Champagne, their gift for this special occasion. Champagne to toast the newly married couple, Champagne to giddily, joyously see us off on our way, into our new life together. So with glasses lifted, glasses clinking, voices raised in celebration, we drank to our health, to our love, to our life together; drank in carefree abundance, laughing and singing, and a simple affair, when served up with Champagne, becomes a splendid affair indeed.
Champagne has never really been my drink. The bubbles tickle my nose, the flavor is just a tad too strong. One glass and I’m light-headed and woozy, two and I’m giggling out of control. At JP’s office holiday parties he pointedly instructs me to stay away from the Champagne as he fears my bubbly-induced silliness and tipsy magpie chattering in front of his employees. No, Champagne only brings out the quirkiness in me, accentuates my idiosyncrasies and is better off left alone. A glass of fruity white wine is just as good, even better, in my opinion, but, then again, Champagne is Champagne. There is a certain mystique surrounding this sparkling, gorgeous, jewel-like libation; it is wrapped up in romance, it lends an air of elegance and cool sophistication, it is enveloped in luxury like a black & white film star draped in silk, fur and diamonds.
Six years ago we moved to Nantes, a city a mere stone’s throw from the ocean, a city known for her abundance of products of the sea, oysters and perch, lobster and periwinkles as well as France’s most famous salt. And sea scallops. Gorgeous, plump, shimmering like pearls, Coquilles St. Jacques are to be found on the market almost all year round, to be simmered or sautéed, baked, gratiné or eaten raw. Richly paired with morels or porcini, delicately seasoned with ginger or saffron, splashed with citrus, sherry vinegar or nolly, drenched in porto or our own Muscadet or served with beurre blanc, à la nantaise or in marmite du pêcheur, scallops are jewels from the ocean, a rare delicacy to be savored on special occasions, no matter how abundant. It is no wonder that Botticelli’s Venus arises from the sea, is borne up from the waves on the half shell of a sea scallop. Voluptuous, alabaster pale Venus, like the scallop, a rich, luxurious, royal treasure from the deep.
What can be more celebratory, more festive than the pairing of sea scallops and champagne, one so precious, tender, delicate, the other so noble, brilliant, powerful? Seared quickly in the pan, scallops become beautifully golden and crispy on the outside, the inside tender though meaty and dense, the perfect foil for the richest, most flavorful of sauces. Champagne adds something spectacular to a simple cream sauce, a fruity sweetness that astonishes. Add to that the surprising earthiness of the distinguished truffle blended into flecks of salt that recalls the sea, a masculinity that heightens and complements such a feminine sauce and you have something decidedly rich and luxurious. And this dish, though a regional specialty, is so special, so delicious, so festive that I decided to make it to celebrate the 4-year anniversary of Meeta’s blog What’s For Lunch Honey? She is hosting this month’s Monthly Mingle and has chosen Champagne for this event to celebrate this special occasion.
Now, I have met so many wonderful people through food blogging and am lucky enough to count several among my closest friends, and Meeta is one of them and more. Meeta is incredibly talented, as a cook and baker, as a writer and as a food stylist and photographer. She is the rare food blogger that does it all to perfection. Like the finest of champagnes, at the risk of being trite, Meeta is bubbly and delightful, light and joyous yet earthy and rich, a personality to savor, someone truly generous, someone who gives more than she takes. A rare gem indeed, and I am truly lucky to be counted among her friends. So cheers to you Meeta. I raise my glass of bubbly and toast a friend who has given me so much, who has encouraged and supported me, instructed and mentored me, made me laugh and shared my tears, a true friend. Congratulations on 4 years of food blogging and wishing you many more. Your blog is a wonder and a pleasure to read.
SEA SCALLOPS IN CHAMPAGNE CREAM SAUCE WITH TRUFFLE SALT
Served over fresh pasta
4 sea scallops per person for main course, 3 per person for starter *
3 or 4 medium-sized shallots, about 1 ½ oz (50 g)
1 cup (250 ml) white champagne
1 cup (250 ml) cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil or butter for the scallops
Sea salt with truffles
7 oz (200 g) fresh pasta per person
Olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice to season to taste
* This recipe easily makes enough sauce to serve 4 people. I served 2 and had sauce leftover for another dish the following lunch.
In a large pot, start the water boiling for the pasta. If it comes to a boil before you are ready to make the pasta, simply lower the heat and allow to very slowly simmer until the sauce and scallops are nearly cooked.
Rinse the scallops then pat dry with paper towels.
Peel, trim and mince the shallots. Place the minced shallots with the champagne in a small, heavy bottom saucepan and, over medium heat, cook until the champagne is almost (but not quite) evaporated, stirring often. There should be just a tablespoon or two of champagne left in the pan. Lower the heat under the saucepan and add the cream, stirring, and allow to cook just a few minutes until slightly thickened. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
Meanwhile, when the champagne is partly evaporated, start the scallops. Heat a skillet or frying pan over medium heat and add just enough olive oil or butter to grease the bottom and, when hot, add the scallops and allow to cook, turning occasionally, until golden and crispy on both sides and cooked through (you will see the scallops turn from translucent to opaque white all the way through), lowering the heat if the scallops look browned enough on the top and bottom but don’t appear cooked completely through. This should take up to 5 minutes per side for very thick scallops.
If the sauce is done before the scallops are cooked through, simply turn off the heat under the sauce and then very gently reheat the sauce when ready to serve, if necessary.
Cook the fresh pasta (which only takes 3 minutes or so) in salted boiling water then drain. Place the pasta in a bowl and add a few glugs of olive oil, the juice of about half a lemon or to taste and a good grinding of black pepper. Toss and dress the plates with a serving of pasta each. Place a few spoonfuls of the Champagne Sauce on the pasta then place the scallops on top of the sauce. Sprinkle the scallops with Truffle Salt and serve accompanied by a glass with extra sauce if desired.
Serve with a glass of chilled Champagne.