Like any through-and-through New Yorker, I have a secret, almost an illicit fantasy – moving. In this recurring dream, my destination is Northern California, where I’d live in an actual house, somewhere near the sea or grape vines, and do California things: like become a morning person and walk a big beautiful dog on the beach, or ride my bike everywhere in the super wide bike lanes I find on every road (except when off-roading through the rocky, windy paths in wine country), and never, ever again wear anything heavier than a sweater.
Maybe it’s that last point, but something about November makes my fantasy kick into high gear. It happens every year. I haven’t quite gotten around to packing up my summer clothes and hiding them under the bed, in some far-flung hope that there’s one more warm afternoon in store for one last balcony BBQ, when it happens:
First Daylight Savings Time, then, and next thing I know, I’m walking down 14th street and there it is: a Christmas tree, string of lights, or a wreath with a goddamned red bow. An undeniable sign that Christmas – or, as winter’s PR guy would have it, “The Holidays” – have begun.
Now, I’m no Scrooge. I don’t have anything against the holidays themselves, and I love all the excuses they give us to get together with family and friends to cook and eat big dinners. No, it’s the build-up that I hate: the dumb-comedian-plays-Santa movies, the long lines at stores and the craft stalls that take up half the greenmarket in Union Square, the rampant consumerism, the Christmas carol Muzak compilations that start playing everywhere, and the dreary fact that all of this is going to last until January, and then it’ll be freezing ‘til March. Of course, I know that Christmas craziness happens in CA too, but in my fantasy home by the beach or grape vines (haven’t decided which), the multi-colored lights and holiday jingles are a lot easier to ignore with just a whiff of briny salt air and bottles of a homegrown Syrah in the cellar.
Luckily, as they say, there’s no cloud without it’s silver lining. Only in this case, its lining isn’t so much silver as a pearly, creamy white. That’s right, I’m taking about scallops, specifically, Nantucket Bay Scallops whose season begins abruptly in the first week of November and lasts just about as long as the Christmas carols. Nantucket Bay scallops, hailing from Massachusetts, are the black truffle of the seafood world. About twice the size as your standard bay scallop, they’re still not much bigger than your thumbnail, a far-cry from the big ‘ol sea scallops you may know.
Available at some of the finer greenmarkets and fish mongers around the city, these autumnal treats are the epitome of local. So much so that a large percentage of the harvest is eaten by Nantucket residents themselves, and a very small percentage makes it farther a-field than NYC, which makes them about as North-East a treat as you can get.
It’s a thought that gave me great comfort this week as I returned from Lobster Place with a small sack of the tiny little guys in tow. Bay scallops are so delicate that they’re done (and delicious) just about as soon as they hit the skillet, but since the winds were roaring and my winter coats were begging to come out of hibernation this week, I opted to make a rendition of my very favorite seafood chowder instead. Creamy and subtle with hints of tarragon and pink peppercorns, the result was enough to make me forget all about California daydreaming and be happy to be right here in New York City. At least, until my neighbors cranked up the Bing Crosby classics mix…