My Kitchen, At Last
Diana Kennedy's Meatballs in Tomato and Chipotle Sauce

Mark Bittman's Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp

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Hmmm. Okay. I think I know what you're thinking. But you try and scramble eggs mixed with soy sauce and see if you don't end up with a plate full of, well, brownish-brackish-looking slop. Thank goodness there are those little bits and pieces of pink shrimp to brighten things a bit, but still, I know this dish won't be winning any beauty contests any time soon.

And that's just fine. I'm used to comfort food looking gorgeous, though that may be my cultural chauvinism talking - after all, I think tomatoes in any form are superstars - but it's about time I settled down and realized that comfort food isn't always pretty. What it can be is, um, comforting and warm and perfectly balanced between salty and plain - a mishmash of elements that make eating dinner feel like being coddled.

I made this after bringing my mother to the airport (an absolute pleasure, if that can be believed, now that I live in Queens) - when I got home again, Ben wasn't there yet and the apartment felt empty - lonely, for the first time. My mother's presence, so tangible just hours before, had vanished with nothing but a faint whisp of her fragrance hanging in the air. There were other signs of her, too, the precise ordering of the detritus on our dresser top, the neat pile of old newspapers in a corner of the office, all the loose buttons on my pants and Ben's tightened once again.

Normally, I would have made spaghetti with tomato sauce to soothe the sting of saying goodbye, but we'd had it for lunch (how's this for weird - making a dish your mother taught you and having her ask you when it's time to throw in the basil). What I wanted and needed was something swift and simple and there's nothing like Chinese (pseudo or not) to cheer you up when things are threatening to look stormy.  So a pot of boiled rice came together easily enough, and sauteeing shrimp with beaten eggs and soy sauce wasn't much harder.

It was a good dinner, nothing spectacular, but it was interesting and warmed our bellies, slipped a comforting arm around my shoulder and squeezed. It was a relief to have Ben home at the table with me finally, filling up the apartment. We ate our little dinner, alone for the first time in a week, and laughed about our mothers and our families. A good night, unexpectedly.

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(It's funny how eggs become a conduit for all things - good and bad. The flavors of earthy truffles or delicate chives are amplified in a pile of beaten eggs. So, too, the faintly saline quality of tender little shrimp. Make sure your soy sauce and sesame oil are good and fresh, otherwise you risk eating eggs that have an edge of unpleasantness to them. And don't let your eyes be bigger than your stomach. This dish will serve four and no more - not because of ample portions, but because the richness will fill you up before you know it.)

Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp
Serves 4

3/4 cup raw shrimp, peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons peanut oil, corn oil or butter
8 eggs
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 cup chopped scallions
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish, optional

1. Devein shrimp if you like; if large, cut into bite-size pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. Put oil or butter in a large skillet, preferably nonstick or cast iron, and turn heat to medium. When hot, add shrimp. Cook, stirring, until shrimp is somewhat pink. Beat eggs in a bowl with soy sauce and sesame oil.

3. Turn heat to medium high and add eggs and scallions. Cook, scraping pan with a rubber spatula. Fold eggs over themselves, breaking up curds. If mixture clumps, remove it from heat and stir, then return to heat.

4. When eggs are creamy, adjust seasoning, garnish if you like and serve immediately.

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