It’s no secret that I love all things Alexander McCall Smith (except for that bulldozer one) and consider time spent reading his books a chance to catch up with old friends. When I finished reading it I was smiling and hugging the book. I know I’m not alone in this, even if other readers are reluctant to admit that they, too, hug their books. In this latest Scotland Street incarnation, one of the characters is questioning their love for a significant other; Bertie experiences a dream come true, finally; Irene has contact with Dr. Fairbairn, Bertie’s former psychologist; Stuart is a up for a promotion; and intimations of a possible love interest for Big Lou are a big tease.
In a somewhat touching exchange as Matthew escorted the Duke to his car after dinner at Nine Mile Burn, the Duke sincerely thanked Matthew and Elspeth for their friendship, saying that we live in difficult times. “It’s the destruction of civility,” said the Duke. “Twenty years ago, people may have had their differences of opinion – of course they did -but they did not abuse one another for it. They respected those with whom they disagreed. They spoke courteously.” He went on to say, “And now there’s something very unpleasant on the loose. We may pretend that it isn’t; we may deny it, but we know that there are more and more people who hate those whom they used not to hate. And there are even some who encourage this hate, who harbor that hate within themselves, are are happy to see it flourish in the breasts of others.” I love how AMS (Sandy to his friends) references current cultural trends. It’s comforting.
THE BEAUTY: There is always so much beauty in AMS’s books, it was a challenge to highlight just one. I settled on an occasion that Bertie got to share with his father and his best friend. Stuart planned a special outing for his son, and his best friend, Ranald Braveheart McPherson to a rugby match between Scotland and New Zealand. It was an especially important game because Scotland had never beaten the all-powerful New Zealanders. After the Scottish fans sang their national anthem, “Flower of Scotland,” New Zealand responded with their haka, of which I had never heard, although I had seen similar gestures made by Samoans in a dance at a luau in Hawaii years ago. So here it is – a unique demonstration of power and intimidation. Ahead of the final of Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, the French team formed an arrow as the All Blacks performed their pre-match tradition – the haka.
THE FOOD: For food, I wrote down the following: king scallops, white onion veloute, Glass and Thompson’s on Dundas St. or the Cumberland Bar. I didn’t write down the page number and have been unsuccesful finding the reference by skimming the book. Loving scallops, that’s what I decided to go with.
White Onion Veloutè and Seared Scallops
For the veloutè:
5 T unsalted butter
6 large white onions very thinly sliced*
3 sprigs of thyme
sea salt and white pepper
⅔ C white wine
3 C chicken stock
¾ C crème fraîche
optional black pepper to serve
10 large sea scallops, tendons removed, patted dry
To serve: extra-virgin olive oil and finely chopped chives
To make the veloute:
Peel, halve and slice the onions. Melt the butter in a large pan over a low heat.
Add the onions and thyme, sprinkle over a heaping teaspoon of sea salt and fry
for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the onions from coloring. By the
end they should be lusciously silky and soft. Pour in the wine, turn up the heat a little and simmer until it is well-reduced. Add the chicken stock, bring to a simmer and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes.
Remove the thyme stalks, and then purée the soup in a blender or food processer, along with the black pepper.
*White onions have a particular character and finesse, and here it’s quite important to use these rather than the ordinary brown ones that are better reserved for French-style onion soup.
To make the seared scallops:
It’s important that the scallops be absolutely dry before searing. If they aren’t, they’ll steam instead of sear, and you won’t get the sweet, carmelized crust that makes seared scallops so delicious.
Heat a 10 inch skillet over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add the oil and heat until quite hot. Pat the scallops dry once more and put them in the pan in a single, uncrowded layer. Season with salt and pepper and let sear undisturbed until one side is browned and crisp, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, turn the scallops and sear until the second side is well browned and the scallops are almost firm to the touch, 2 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and place 5 scallops on plate over a layer of the hot veloute. Drizzle some good extra virgin olive oil over the scallops and veloute, sprinkle with chives, and serve.
So, so good. The chives at the market looked lousy, and mine in the garden aren’t big enough, yet, so no chives. But still delicious!