Let Them Eat Guac

The weather is turning warm, and the avocados are on sale. This means one thing in our household: we will, over the coming months, consume ridiculous amounts of guacamole.

The best guac I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating was served at Lula (the defunct restaurant that [I’m beginning to realize by the frequency at which it appears in my posts] had an astonishing influence on my culinary endeavors). They did crazy things to their guac — well, crazy by East Tennessee standards. I’m guessing that folks in more couth parts of the country had been stirring grapes and pineapple into their guacamole since the eighties. Am I right, Californians?

All the tropical fruit fanfare aside, my favorite version of Lula Guacamole was the Roasted Tomatillo Guac. Tart, a little smokey, and smooth — it was a perfect balance of acidity and creaminess, with chunks of avocado available to hover on the end of your tortilla chip. I never got their recipe, but a year or so later, stumbled upon one for Tomatillo Salsa in The Joy of Cooking. You simply roast a pound of tomatillos (instructions for this are very clearly described in the recipe), add some garlic, jalapeño, lime juice, and cilantro (I have actually used real cilantro in this one before, albeit much less than what’s called for, because of the whole ‘cilantro=bar-of-soap’ factor). And I’m probably forgetting something, so don’t quote me on that ingredient list. Anyway, you make your salsa, and then just chop up a ripe avocado or two, and add salsa to your desired consistency. A little extra salt usually helps bring the flavors together.

It is heavenly — just like I remember from Lula. But who has time to roast a pound of tomatillos every time we are hit by an urge for the stuff? So we came up with a cheap, easy, on-the-fly, more-than-adequate substitution:

Purchase some good salsa verde. Our favorite brands include Herdez Salsa Verde, which you can get at most supermarkets, and Trader Jo’s Salsa Verde, which is delicious and even a bit cheaper. Then, take a ripe avocado, and chop up half or the whole thing, depending on your appetite(s). You can either leave big chunks of avocado, or mash it up a little more with a fork. Then just pour some salsa over it, and stir it up. Taste it (with a chip, if that’s how you’ll be eating it), and add more salsa and/or salt if necessary.

That’s it. Tomatillo guac, practically ready-made. Great for last-minute visitors, or a quick dinner appetizer, or lunch on a Thursday.

Pick of the Months, February/March ‘08

Well, the pressure is on. If I’m going to make you wait two whole months for a Pick post, it had better be one Paris Hilton of a veggie. Although, I’m not quite confident that the star of this post will warrant all that pomp and paparazzi. But I have a special affinity for the underdog, and am always ready to paint a fresh new face when a garden specimen has been, shall we say, misunderstood? Today’s subject has baggage, for sure. But it’s a wonderful transitional vegetable, and with the two months in question spanning two seasons, that’s a helpful thing. We probably all have reasons to dislike cabbage, but today I hope to quell your misgivings.

My husband has told a story from his childhood, where he vividly remembers sitting at the dinner table, refusing to eat a dish that consisted of cooked cabbage and apples. He wasn’t allowed to leave the table until he cleared his plate, so he just sat there and cried, for who knows how long (probably not very, in reality, but it’s an eternity in his mind) — because eating cooked cabbage was so much worse than sitting at a dinner table alone, crying. My childhood memories of the leafy green don’t involve tears, but do involve disgusted glances and avoidance tactics when a giant styrofoam container at the church picnic was filled with tiny, pulpy bits of the stuff swimming in mayo and sugar, in what Kentucky Fried Chicken optimistically labels “coleslaw.”

But the head of cabbage has so much more to offer. Being in high season in the cooler months, and packed as such with a whopping 60% of our daily need of vitamin C, it’s no wonder it shows up in many winter soups and stews, and boiled and braised in the hearty cuisines of the cooler European countries (not to mention its countless uses in Asia). Boiling the stuff does cause a distinct odor to float about your kitchen, which could be attributing to all those bad childhood memories. I usually don’t boil, but braise it in the winter months, served as a side to meat and potatoes. This method cooks it a bit quicker, which can limit the memory-recalling aroma. Braised cabbage is especially nice with ham and pork — we had it a few weeks ago when my mother-in-law prepared a scrumptious meaty ham for dinner (I never cook ham, though I’m not sure why). I’ve cooked versions with apples added, which lends a balancing sweetness to those saltier meats (Tyler Florence has a recipe here, on the FoodNetwork website). But the simplest version is the solo green head, with butter, a touch of low-sodium chicken broth (this recipe is one where it’s handy to freeze a can of broth in a ice cube tray, in tablespoon measures), and a teaspoon or two of fresh herbs (a post about YES! Grow an herb garden this summer! is coming up), is by far the easiest, and still quite lively.

Since it is officially spring, albeit sternly cold in Athens today (I think I could see March shaking a fist at us this morning as I moved my potted herbs back outside from their overnight indoor haven), I thought I should leave you with a discussion of slaw. No, it’s not what KFC tells us it is — it is actually almost as infinitely versatile as the word “salad.” It can star red or green cabbage, and have as much or as little from the garden added to it as you desire, and can (gasp) actually be made without mayo — being dressed with a simple vinaigrette. I have a favorite simple recipe, from a back-issue of Everyday Food. It does involve a small amount of mayo (but feel free to reduce it), and is a great dish to serve at a cookout. It has made more than one person reevaluate their previously-held disdain of coleslaw, and I think the red variety of cabbage has something to do with it. It only calls for a half-head, but wrap the other half in plastic and stick it in your refrigerator, and you can make it again in a couple of weeks (we grill every weekend in the summer, so coleslaw is always an appropriate side).

In the words of Dr. Seuss, which we have on more than one occasion used to encourage our 4-year old to eat something new, “Try it, try it, and you may! Try it, and you may, I say!”

Simple Red Cabbage Slaw (adapted from Everyday Food, June 2005)

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp white-wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar could work here, too)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 small red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh italian parsley

In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Add the cabbage, and toss to coat. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 1 hour and up to overnight. Just before serving, stir in the parsley. Taste for seasoning, and serve.


If you’ve spent much time at all reading this blog, you might have noticed my weakness for cherries. Primarily tart cherries, served up dried, in pies, or in a newly-discovered fruit conserve. (note: I have searched for the difference between a conserve and preserves, but came up with somewhat contradictory results. One source claimed that a conserve is made with more than one fruit, and is used more like a chutney. Another claims that the word is simply an alternate name for jam. I like the first definition better, although my cherry conserve only contains cherries, and yet is still labeled as a conserve. Any ideas out there?)

I’ve lusted for seen this brand of organic fruit spreads at the grocery before, but couldn’t justify the doubled price tag over my regular brand of jam. But today, the jars had that lovely, magical, bright-yellow tag underneath, happily reading “buy one, get one free.” So I splurged.

PEOPLE. This stuff is good. The fruit flavor is fresh and intense, and it’s not too sweet; in fact, less so than any jam I’ve had (though still plenty sweet enough to top your toast). And if cherries just don’t do it for you, they have a crop of other varieties. I bought mine in the health-food section of Kroger, so it can’t be that hard to find. After the kids went down for their naps (I’m gonna be stingy with this one), I toasted a leftover pancake from yesterday morning, and spread a healthy layer on top. Happy times ensued.

Funny how I have no problem eating these:

Well, that’s not exactly true. I have actually passed them up on many occasions since buying them. But it is true that there is only one left, and I haven’t seen anyone else in my family eating them. If you have the luxury of living near a TD’s, you should pick them up. They are carefully, market-drivingly placed right where they know they’re catching you at your weakest: in huge display at the check-out line. What was I supposed to do? My 2-year-old had chewed flat all six of the straws that came in the pack of juice boxes I snatched up to pacify him (rendering them useless), and had dropped said juice box no fewer times; I was a tired and hungry woman-with-child (though not yet showing, therefore garnishing no sympathy from onlookers) who had yet to see anything in TRADER JOE’s OF ALL PLACES that she wanted to eat. Until that moment at the checkout line.

Get it while you can

I just visited the Cook’s Illustrated homepage, and noticed that one of their free recipes is for “Multigrain Pancakes,” one of the best pancake recipes ever. They’re a bit labor-intensive, but totally worth it every once in a while. I’m not sure how long the recipe will be freely available, so you might want to hasten to get it (you might have to scroll down the page to see it).

When food becomes a problem

That’s a fairly open-ended headline. Once you sit and think about it, one can think of many ways that food can become a problem. The first one that pops to mind is when there’s a lack of it, as is the case in many places around the globe, and people go hungry. Then, there’s the flipside over-abundance of it, where we have so many choices that we consume everything we can get our hands on (it’s safe to say we lean this way in America, yes?), losing sight of the true luxury of nourishment. We struggle with eating disorders and cyclical dieting, where food becomes a method of control, or lack thereof, and becomes a panacea of deeper emotional pains. Then there’s allergy and sensitivity, where what someone eats can make them suffer pains, rashes, or even death.

Food has effected me negatively in some of the above ways, in the past. But for the most part, over the course of the past decade or so, food has primarily provided me with sheer enjoyment. It interests me in ways both scientific and artistic, and can excite all five senses (hearing isn’t involved quite as often as the rest, but still plays a part). It is a constant test of both form and function, and while one might trump the other according to specific needs and desires, both should be considered as often as possible.

At the moment, however, for me food is a problem. I am in the first trimester of my third pregnancy, and just as with the previous two, I suffer from moderate to severe morning sickness. I’ve found that the feeling is difficult to explain to those who’ve not had the displeasure of suffering in a similar manner; and while I don’t want to bore you with sickly details, I would like to share a thing that I’ve been struck by in the past week or so: it quite simply turns my eating world upside down. I become Bizarro Katy (not suggesting superhero status here), doing everything the exact opposite of what is normal in my gastronomical world.

I don’t want to eat what I prepare. This means that if I cook, I can’t eat it. I have not the slightest desire to eat anything in my house; it’s almost as if the very virtue of entering my house deems something inedible; something I would probably eat in abundance if it were at a friend’s house. My morning coffee went by the wayside about a week ago, not to return until sometime in April or May. I have turned up my nose at anything leafy or raw vegetable in nature, and shunned my usual cereal-topping soy milk. I began consuming vast, unheard-of amounts of dairy, including cow’s milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese, cheesy cheese. I am driving through fast-food joints to get sweet iced tea, making special trips to a local bakery to get a cinnamon bun, spending much of our month’s eat-out budget on daily California rolls (ok, that’s not too much of a stretch, but still… daily?).

Can I stress here that this is not a cute phase of pregnancy “cravings” — I’m not the woman in the tv commercial who just gets this itch for sardines and ice cream and sends her husband to the corner store (yet). This is survival, and it is miserable. I spend much of my energy each day trying to think of something — anything — that I could consider eating without gagging. And it’s just so freakishly weird!! I know that hormones are to blame (and those are powerful little suckers), but it is still hard to imagine how one’s body goes into such full, violent revolt.

I was talking to my sister earlier today, describing my various pangs of pickiness, and she replied, “Welcome to my world.” (She has, for her entire life, been what most would consider to be a severely picky eater.) And I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s a singular positive thing that I can garnish from this season of life — perhaps like so many of life’s bitter experiences, it can help me to empathize with someone who lives in a similar manner (though the circumstances are different). I’m not usually an optimistic person, but I’ll take that little glimmer of value-added and hang my hat on it.

But this is what I’ve really meant to say all along: it’s hard to write about food. The only way I was going to be able to write today was if I was complaining about it. And that might be the case for another 6 or 7 weeks (I’ve tended in the past to carry this thing a little into the 2nd trimester). So, please bear with me as I vent, and perhaps occasionally praise a food item that was edible for a moment or two. Of course, by publishing those thoughts I’ll necessarily destroy the magic that enabled its consumption, but so be it. The temporary devotion would’ve gone by the wayside soon enough, on it’s own.