How do you spell relief? I spell it M-A-R-C-H.

February, the month that roared and brought Washington to its knees wimpering for mercy, has finally melted away. In the endless shortest month of the year, there were, according to the National Weather Service, 18 days of "measurable precipitation." In layman's terms, it rained, snowed or sleeted and was generally miserable for almost two-thirds of the month.

We emerge soggy, with two choices. One, we can continue to wait patiently for March 20, the official beginning of spring, each slouching around like a groggy bear.

Or we can start right now living and eating as if the sun were shining, the wind were warm as bath water and flowers grew on trees.

Here are a few ideas to help you spring Spring early.

First off, cozy is out. Put away the crock pot, the soup bowl and the tea kettle. Hide the cocoa, the cabbage and anything resembling squash.

Return to sorbets and pasta salads.

Plan an herb garden. Parsley, lemon thyme, sage and lavender plants can be popped into the ground in just two weeks. At the end of April, tuck in fennel, lemon verbena, poppy, rosemary and dill. Be sure to wait for the beginning of May for basil, as it is a tender plant.

Scrape the crud off the grill from the last summer party. The sun might come out tomorrow and actually radiate heat for your first alfresco dinner of the year.

Increased importing by local supermarkets has brought spring to the shelves practically year round. Asparagus, shad roe, rhubarb and fresh herbs with their bright colors and light taste are being presented now to alleviate the winter blues.

Following is a meal that exudes warmth and sunshine. The asparagus can be served as a first course or as an accompaniment to the salmon; just avoid the two sauces mixing on the plate. The pretty pink of the poached salmon is as delicate as it is delicious. This complete meal will take a snap in the express lane.

EXPRESS LANE: Shallots, tarragon or white wine vinegar, salmon fillets, dry white wine, whipping cream, sorrel leaves, eggs, lemon juice SALMON SCALLOPS WITH SORREL SAUCE (6 servings)

1 to 1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons shallots, finely minced

1 cup fish stock or dry white wine

Salt and pepper to taste


Fish poaching liquid

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup whipping cream

2 egg yolks

Salt and pepper to taste

Lemon juice to taste

2 cups sorrel leaves, cut into strips (if not available, substitute 2 cups watercress leaves and the juice of 1/2 lemon)

Put fish in the freezer for 10 minutes. Holding a very sharp knife at a 60-degree angle, cut the fish into thin ( 1/8-inch) slices, 3-by-4 inches.

Butter a jelly roll pan. Sprinkle minced shallots on the sheet. Put the pan in the oven for 4 to 5 minutes at 375 degrees.

Put salmon scallops on top of the shallots in a single layer. Sprinkle with stock and salt and pepper. Cover with buttered parchment or waxed paper and return pan to oven. Bake 4 to 5 minutes at 375 degrees. Do not overcook or the fish will dry out. Remove the fish from the oven and transfer to a heated platter. Keep warm while making the sauce.

Strain any liquid from the pan into a saucepan. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the cream and boil 5 minutes.

Beat the egg yolks in a bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the hot cream mixture drop by drop, whisking continuously. Add the yolk mixture to the remaining cream mixture. Do not boil. Season with salt and pepper and lemon juice. Just before serving heat to below boiling point and add the sorrel. Cook without boiling for 2 minutes.

Pour sauce over and around the salmon. Serve hot. ASPARAGUS WITH BEURRE BLANC

(6 servings)

3 shallots, peeled and finely minced

1/2 cup tarragon or white wine vinegar

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

24 to 30 asparagus spears (4 to 5 spears a person)

To make sauce, simmer shallots in vinegar for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain.

Whisk the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, into vinegar until smooth. The mixture should have the same consistency as thin mayonnaise. Season to taste. Use immediately, or keep warm over warm water. Do not reheat, or the butter will melt and the mixture will separate.

To prepare asparagus, steam stalks on a rack over boiling water until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately with beurre blanc.