...When we first knew each other, Hubby ascribed to me far greater chess skills than I actually possessed. Maybe it was because I knew chess openings by name. Maybe it was because I managed to capture his queen the first time we played chess -- he claims it was dark and he couldn't see her. I think he wasn't paying attention because his agile mind was grappling with the incongruity of the wild, incomprehensible moves I was making with the smooth expertise I was projecting. He didn't know me well enough then to know that it was a bluff. So we talked about books while he advanced chess pieces, every move skillfully divesting me of any advantage.
He urged me to read "Pale Fire," Vladimir Nabokov's sly masterpiece. It's one of his favorite books. He's shared it with several acquaintances, and was insistent that I read it. He gave me a copy of the book -- his second present to me -- and though it was borrowed recently by proxy, it is now back in my possession. I thought it fitting to return the favor for his birthday this year, presenting him with a first edition of the book (another wallet-wounding weakness from which we suffer jointly).
I wanted to do something special for his birthday dinner; and his certain fondness for this book provided the inspiration.
The concept was tongue-in-cheek and earnest (and definitely silly), but cooking is never fun for me unless there’s something whimsical (or lunatic) involved. What came out wasn't a particularly cogent approach that would have definitively suggested "Pale Fire." But you can't make a meal based on a novel which features a foreward and sycophantic commentary to a fictional poet's final masterpiece, a shadowy assassin, and the possible delusions of a man who believes he is a deposed king. Nor can you make dishes based on a 999 line poem in heroic couplets in which the author repeatedly breaks proscenium by entering information about his life and then musing about what exists in the afterlife. I couldn't catch a break and have characters with names that would lend themselves to culinaria either: no "Plum" or "Lamb" or "Mallard." No, they were "Shade" and "Kinbote" and "Gradus."
The end result: five of the nine courses paid homage to the book’s title, alternating between delicately light or fiery flavors; two intermezzos nodded to Nabokov’s most famous oeuvre, and butterfly motifs were scattered throughout because Nabokov was a noted lepidopterist.
Seared Sea Scallops in "Butterflied" Puff Pastry with Black Truffle Emulsion
Tuna and Asparagus “Matchsticks” Spicy Cream Sauce and Red Tobiko on Fried Wonton
Asiago Chèvre Soufflé and Baby Greens with Sundried Tomato Romesco Vinaigrette
Asparagus Wasabi Flan with Lemon-Caper Hollandaise
Intermezzo: “Lolita Granita” (Pomegranate Juice and Vodka Granita)
“Blaze” Ravioli stuffed with Blue Crab in Citrus-Vanilla Reduction
Butterflied Rosemary Lamb Steaks with Boursin Risotto, Haricots Verts in Roasted Pepper Coulis
Intermezzo: Williams and Humbert Dry Sack Sherry
Dessert: “Feu Pâle” (White Chocolate Parfait on Honey Tuile & Molten Ancho Chile Chocolate Cake)
Remember, silly is the key word here. Despite last minute changes that weren't reflected in the printed menu, the entire meal was an absolutely lovely affair, made so much better by the presence of friends, 6 bottles of wine, and the return of a friend who had been deployed overseas.
I tell Hubby I might not always be able to say with precision how I feel about him. But I can cook exactly as I feel; and so food is my open love letter to him (and a comic punchline).
Hubby, as always, makes the better move: he says nothing and hugs me tightly.