I wish I was in a place where we could talk warm yellow heirloom tomatoes, or crisp radishes drizzled with olive oil and speckled with flecks of ashy black salt, or fat red berries dipped in vanilla sugar. But I am in Vancouver, with wet socks because my galoshes both now have holes in the soles, half wondering what the hell I’m still doing here.
When we talk about our respective cultures, those muddled European backgrounds we cling tenuously to, what is important to Nick and I is less about the place – his heritage is roughly Dutch in the same way that mine is vaguely British – than it is about the food. When people talk about where they’re “from,” often they talk about a somewhere else, as if they really came from there, as if they identify more strongly with some other place than the place they are now. And maybe they do.
In the ongoing (and tedious) pursuit of a novel, I have been writing about the idea of reclaiming my culinary heritage. Mine, I guess, but to be honest the further I go with it the less sense it makes. Are the meals I grew up eating the only thing that counts? Are my grandmother’s recipes more significant than the dim sum I have eaten almost every weekend for more than half my life? Is the influence of Nick’s family recipes worth mentioning, or are they too new to count? I don’t know.
When I started writing about my grandmother’s shortbread, I had a direction in mind, but the further I go, the more I realize that culture is fluid, and I am Canadian which means nothing and everything all at once. Meatballs and maple syrup and smoked salmon and Szechuan green beans and Southern Barbeque are equally weighted here. And I loathe ketchup chips.
Being from the west coast of Canada, my food is everyone’s food – this is the meltiest melting pot I’ve ever seen. Way to add confusion, Emily. Never finish that culinary memoir, you feeb. So as much as I’d like to be able to write a simple book of recipes that speak to a simple culinary heritage, I can’t. My grandparents never ate tofu.
Do you claim a cultural heritage different from the one in the place you grew up? How do you self-identify, and is it more complicated than simply “the place you grew up is where you’re from?”
On days like these, after weeks of rain, the food that comforts Nick and I the most is the kind of food that goes with a lot of cold cheap beer. Food that is fried and rich and bad for us. Maybe the culture we most subscribe to is pub culture, as we are creatures of deep-fried habit. Tonight we ate a dish that has its origin in Scotland, where my grandmother’s family emigrated from. No relative of mine ever made it for me, but I make it whenever it’s rained too long, and whenever the pantry runs low and payday is still a long way off.
For Scotch eggs, I recommend starting with soft-boiled eggs. You will not overcook the yolks this way, but they will be set and cooked through by the time you’re done. Peel the eggs carefully.
- 4 soft-boiled eggs*, shells removed
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs, divided
- 1/2 medium onion, grated
- 1/2 cup finely grated carrot
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp. coarse salt
- 1 tsp. ground yellow mustard
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 egg, beaten
Combine ground beef, 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, onion, carrot, parsley, garlic, oil, Worcestershire sauce, salt, ground mustard, oregano, and black pepper in a large bowl, and mix with your hands until thoroughly blended.
Divide meat mixture into four even portions. Spread meat across your palm – about twice the width of your egg – and press to an even thickness. Carefully wrap your egg in the meat mixture, pressing the meat to ensure the egg is completely sealed within.
Dip each meat-wrapped egg in the beaten egg, and dredge through bread crumbs until coated on all sides.
Fry in 1/2″ of oil over medium high heat, about four minutes per side, making quarter turns until each side is golden and meat is cooked through.
Remove to a plate lined with paper towel. Salt to taste.
Serve hot, with mustard as an accompaniment.
* I have never had any trouble using soft-boiled eggs, but my sister-in-law made these and found soft-boiled eggs hard to work with. Feel free to hard-boil the eggs; they might be easier to work with.