I drove into town the other day specifically to buy more yarn for the snood I
‘m making just finished for myself. The woman at the yarn store said I would have enough with one skein, but well obviously I didn’t quite follow her instructions….
I’ve become completely
obsessed enamored with the beautifully produced television series Outlander and its costume design. The Starz original (I sound like an advert) is very truthful to the books – I’ve read five of the eight already – and quite possibly better! While the executive producer Ron Moore is fastidious about keeping all the details from Diana Gabaldon’s novels, he’s also very astute and perceptive by incorporating the personality of the actors and making small modifications, as he did in one of the last episodes where Caitriona Balfe does a singing and dance performance to the tune of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, which was a very popular 1940s song. Apparently Cait does a lot of humming and singing when off the set and Ron thought it was a perfect way to include her own personality to enhance the drama. In the books, one knows what Claire is thinking because she’s narrating most of the story. But in the television series, there’s a lot less of that. So, by adding these scenes, we get to experience what it feels like for Claire to be caught between her two worlds, post WWII and the mid-18th century. In my opinion, the result is an improvement on this seductive and mystical story.
I won’t get into the storyline to not spoil the suspense for those of you who are watching the show and haven’t read the books, although I believe they were written something like twenty years ago. So, it’s really a revival. In fact, I read somewhere on the internet that when the story was originally going to be taken to Hollywood, they were thinking of casting Liam Neesen as Jamie. I’m so glad they waited… I have nothing against Mr. Neesen, he’s a fantastic actor. But Sam Heughan is Jamie. He’s captivating, elegant, regal, yet rugged. And so beautiful to look at. And his acting is impeccable. Can you imagine that Diana Gabaldon thought he was grotesque when she first saw him? That’s simply scandalous. A sacrilege. And my nieces will find that tidbit of Hollywood gossip rather upsetting. They are completely
obsessed smitten with Sam (and Jamie). In fact, they are rooting for Sam and Cait to get together!
Anyway, back to what I was saying. My snood. Claire’s wardrobe is fetching, even the every day outfits. And she wears a number of knitted pieces which are so in to-day. I have to say that the costume design is magnificent!
According to the Outlander customer designer, Terry Dresbach, the costumes for the series are as authentic as possible, including what’s underneath. “No Velcro, no zippers, not a lot of shoes, and kilts are worn as kilts are supposed to be worn – with absolutely nothing underneath. These are true Scots! What’s not authentic are the effects of war and journeying through the highlands. To achieve the look of well-worn clothing, the costumes are attacked with cheese graters, burned with blow torches, and aged by tying them up with string and baking them.”
We have a saying in Spain: el habito no hace al monje, which means that the habit doesn’t make the monk. Nonetheless, I do think that what we wear greatly influences how we are perceived, and more importantly how it makes us feel and act in a certain manner befitting of our ensemble. Think about it: You most certainly act and feel differently in a long, ballroom gown versus a pair of jeans or a mini skirt. There’s something magical about wearing a long dress. It’s grand. Feminine. Sensual.
To digress again a little, growing up in Spain, we used to go to an annual pilgrimage called El Rocío. Most of the two-week long event takes place outdoors, in nature, as pilgrims from all over Spain make the journey on foot, on horseback, in carretas, and aboard horse carriages or in 4×4’s, traversing the countryside and marshlands of Western Andalucía. We sleep out in the open, sometimes inside carriolas, sometimes in tents or sometimes on a blanket under a tree. Very Outlander-like. It’s like going back in time with no need of crossing any ancient stones! And as it’s a traditional Andalusian festivity, women wear flamenca dresses, which are typically long and more flowy than the style worn during ferias. Wearing a bata rociera or a flamenca dress transforms you. It makes one feel special, all women become extra pretty with their colourful dresses and flowers in their hair. And it also connects one with traditions and a simplicity otherwise unattainable in today’s frantic urban world. Preparing meals and eating out in the open nature is also transforming. One must keep things simple and organise dishes in advance, so that they can be quickly and easily prepared and cooked during one of the stops or at night for the evening meal. We rely on blocks of ice to keep things cool and we cook on charcoal, wood or gas stoves. There’s a camaraderie that develops from sharing one’s food with others, as happens every day during the Rocío. And although the hardships are different than in past times (civilisation if necessary is really only a car ride away in most cases), the experience of being outdoors surrounded by nature with none of the modern comforts is invigorating, relaxing, healing and restorative to the soul. It’s also a lot of fun!
So, back to Claire. And the snood. Inspired by the series’ costumes, I’ve already made myself a snood with the leftover yarns from a sweater my mother almost finished for me. It’s a special piece because the yarn will always remind me of my mother. But something happened as I was making it: I was reminded of how fulfilling it is to create something with one’s hands like people did in the old days, albeit then out of necessity. Knitting is making a come-back, even in unexpected circles. I’ve seen quite a few posh fashionistas sporting snoods on social media and encouraging their friends to knit. I think influences such as the Outlander series and a return to nature are the culprits of this revival of sorts. I learned to knit when I was a teenager in Spain. My mother taught me and throughout the years, I’ve made sweaters and scarves for myself, for family members and friends. So picking it up again feels natural, like coming home. And that’s therapeutic.
Revivals are a funny thing. We pick up something long forgotten and usually do so with more enthusiasm and sometimes more knowledge as well.
Home cooking is also making a comeback and with a vengeance I think. And so is healthy eating, something I’m very passionate about. I’ve recently discovered a number of websites and magazines that are dedicated to inspiring and encouraging readers to become home cooks and to realise that home cooking is not a daunting task, but something that brings us closer to our food and to nature. And that can be very fulfilling.
In the Outlander novels, I have a number of pages whose corners I’ve turned marking recipes or interesting pieces of information. Diana Gabaldon’s imagination is impressive, and so is her accuracy for details. One is truly transported into the 1700s especially with such things as food, food preparation and small tidbits about health and medicinal practices. We’ve come a long way from the 18th century, and now it seems like we are trying to recapture what we left behind and the forgotten positive aspects of life in the past.
Many are going back to learning how to grow our own fruits and vegetables and rearing chickens for pasture-raised eggs. We are learning to respect the environment and sustainable farming and fishing. And with all that, we have come to appreciate that it all ties together with home cooking. For me, that’s the definition of Paleo, sourcing and preparing one’s food. And nothing can be more satisfying than going to the market to buy seasonal produce and come home to invent a dish or create something traditional that is nutritious, healthy and pleasurable.
A couple of days ago when I bought the first skein of yarn for my new snood, I also picked up some seafood at our local fishmonger, Seawell on Mason’s Island. We’ve been patronising them since my brother recommended that we should. And it’s always an exciting experience. I love that they are trustworthy, one knows what they sell is the freshest of the fresh (we have insider information of course as the owner is a good friend of my brother’s), and I like that they label everything letting one know whether the seafood is wild caught, farmed (rarely, mostly the salmon when it’s out of season), and where it’s from. I also love to be surprised with what is in season and available on the day I visit. For those of you familiar with TJ Maxx (my favourite store), the surprise element is not disimilar. You know you’ll get something, but exactly what one will come home with is an exciting mystery to be uncovered only on the day of purchase. Farmer’s markets are also like that.
I only buy wild caught and try to stick to local as much as possible. On my last visit, I got some fresh Stonington mussels, which I made immediately, following a version of this recipe, as you can see on my Instagram feed, halibut filets with skin, some wild-caught Gulf shrimp (the woman before me was lucky to buy the last of the Stonington red shrimp), and some beautiful sea scallops.
Scallops are lovely on their own. But today I wanted to enliven them a bit. I did so with some nectarines, whose season is just commencing. And I served them with broccoli rabe, a favourite of my mother’s and mine. I hope you enjoy! For other scallop recipes, please see here, here and here.
Pan-Seared Scallops + Nectarines with Balsamic-Honey-Mustard Reduction
Ingredients, serves 2-4
1 lb (approx. 500g) sea scallops
1 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup raw honey
1 heaping tablespoon wholegrain mustard (I use Moutarde à l’Ancienne from Delouis fils, which doesn’t include sugar)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Prepare the reduction first. Pour the balsamic vinegar, raw honey and mustard into a small pan. Over medium heat, bring to a bubble. Lower heat and cook until reduced to about half, stirring frequently.
In the meantime, rinse the scallops and pat dry with a paper towel. Salt and pepper on both sides. Set aside.
Rinse the nectarines and cut into 16 slices. Sprinkle with some freshly ground pepper. In an iron skillet, over high heat, add a drizzle of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, sauté the nectarines, stirring only to turn a couple of times, about 2 minutes. Remove the nectarines from the skillet and place on a serving dish. (If you have a BBQ, they are also delicious made that way.)
Now to cook the scallops. Make sure the skillet is clean. If needed, allow to cool, wash and dry (unless you have another iron skillet to use). Drizzle a little bit of olive oil into the skillet and heat over high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the scallops, cooking about 1-1 1/2 minutes on each side. I like my scallops almost raw inside. If you cook them too long, they will become dry and tough.
To plate: Place scallops over nectarines and drizzle with the balsamic reduction. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired. We ate them as lunch with broccoli rabe.
Broccoli Rabe with Golden Garlic
Ingredients, serves 4
1 bunch broccoli rabe (enough for 4)
8 cloves garlic, sliced
Cut the ends off the broccoli rabe and rinse in cold water.
Pour water and a couple of pinches of sea salt into a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Place the broccoli rabe into the water and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.
While the vegetable is cooking, in an iron skillet or pan heat a drizzle of olive oil. Put the garlic slices into the pan and cook until golden, stirring constantly. Remove immediately from the skillet so as to not burn. (Burnt garlic turns sour and is not very palatable.)
To plate: Simply place the broccoli rabe on a serving plate, drizzle with olive oil and place the garlic over top.
*Note: The images of Jamie and Claire of Outlander I have downloaded from the blog of Terry Dresbach. The images of El Rocío, I have taken off the internet.