and the Christmas songs are playing, and somewhere in the country it’s snowing thickly, dreamily, but here in Los Angeles it’s sunny and warmish and breezy, so I say–Christmas who?–looks like grilling weather. I have spent every Christmas in memory out here in the sunshine, and every year around this time I begin to suspect that I’m being robbed of something essential, essential to the inner life maybe, and to call that thing snow would be too easy, wouldn’t it?
I was eighteen when I first saw the stuff falling, and I marveled at how precisely it looked like snow. It looked like every image of snow I’d ever seen. Imagine my wonder. Nothing since has seemed so perfect. When it was thick on the ground and on the branches of trees it even glittered. I found it harder to feel lonely, somehow, when it was snowing.
But here, today, it is salad weather. It’s a nice day to go for a walk. It’s not a bad beach day. Sushi sounds better for dinner than a rib roast. This is how I have spent my Christmases, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t put me out a little bit. There is something to say about authenticity here, my expectation of it, and it’s something I don’t love about myself.
But I want you to know that this salad was not an attempt to get in the spirit of the season, as they like to say, though the flavors would be at home, I am sure, on any generic holiday table. I think there is some point, a certain age–maybe it happens when you’re young, maybe it’s after you leave home–when Christmas dies a little bit, and it is permanent, an enduring little death of the imagination.
And I have equated snow to a cure for this sadness, somehow. I am not just being nostalgic. I don’t think I am. This is what it is: snow forces me see what it is I’m not feeling, what it is I’ve lost, and maybe it makes me remember it, and maybe I feel a shadow of that magic stuff again, a ghost of it, if you will.
And maybe I lied. Maybe warm pears and Roquefort cheese and dried cranberries really are an attempt to feel something, some magic, some authenticity, my stand-in for snow this year. The flavors are all here, but in the end it’s a cheeky kind of replacement: grilled pears, grilled salad. I have not forgotten where I am.
I hope you try it. It’s wonderful. It tastes–even if it does not feel, it never feels–like Christmas.
Grilled Winter Pear Salad
– 2 Anjou pears, ripe but firm
– 2 oz crumbled Roquefort cheese
– 1 palmful dried cranberries
– 1 palmful roasted chopped walnuts
– 1 cup arugula
– 1 cup lamb’s lettuce (mâche)
– Squeeze of lemon juice
– 1 tsp honey
– 1 tsp Dijon mustard
– 3 tbsp white wine or champagne vinegar
– 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
– Kosher salt and pepper
Light the grill and clean the grate. You want a medium flame, not too hot. (You can also do this in the oven. Preheat to 375 degrees.) Prepare the pears. Peel them, halve them, and remove the core with a spoon or a sharp knife.
Place pears face-down on the grill. Lower the lid and cook, without moving, for 5-10 minutes. Cook time depends on the heat of the grill and the ripeness of pear. When you turn them over they should be tender but not falling apart, with distinct grill marks.
While the pears are grilling, mix the dressing. Combine honey, Dijon mustard, vinegar, and oil in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. In another bowl, combine crumbled Roquefort and dried cranberries with a fork.
Turn the pears. Mound the cheese mixture onto each pear, then lower the lid, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the pear is warmed through. Toss arugula and lamb’s lettuce in 2/3 of the dressing. Reserve the rest for the pears.
Assemble the salad. On a large plate, arrange the pears over a bed of dressed lettuce. Season with salt and pepper. Pour remaining dressing over the pears, and sprinkle the plate with roasted walnuts. Serves three or four as an appetizer, two as a light meal.