Thank you all for the sweet comments on my one, two, and three years ago posts. I will keep on keeping on! Today I have a recipe for a most special, and very different, guacamole. If you visit here regularly, you know there is sometimes a story that must be told. Feeling impatient? Feel free to scroll down to the bottom – I don’t mind.
The story goes a little something like this. Four years ago, we met an artist named Erik Hall. We were looking for a painting to fill a large wall in our dining room and we stumbled upon him (in the old-fashioned way, not the internet way) at an art fair. We were struck by the beauty in his work and learned that he took commissions for paintings. Over the course of several dinners, we became friends with him and his then-girlfriend/now-wife Amy, who is a talented artist in her own right. And we got the most beautiful painting, one that makes me happy every time I step foot in the dining room.
Erik and Amy are not only talented artists, they are good business people with an eye for the talent of others. They have opened a beautiful gallery where, once a month, they do an opening for an artist they represent. Last year, we attended several of those openings – lovely all of them. Amazing art, nice wine – but the foodie in me thought they needed a nibble. When you invite people somewhere between the hours of 5 and 7pm, there needs to be at least cocktail nuts. So I offered my services. I told them I would cater one of their parties pro bono and if they and everyone else liked having food there, we could figure out some kind of deal.
At that party, where gallery owners and visitors alike really did like having food there, I fell in love with some spoons. Not just any spoons. This simple beautiful painting of a trio of spoons. In a gallery full of stunning art, I was immediately drawn to this lovely piece. It was on a back wall, not even the star of the show, but I just stood in front of it, mesmerized. Which, as it turns out, did not go unnoticed by Erik.
The day after the opening he called with a proposition. We could pay a bit of money for the painting and do the rest in trade. Food trade. I didn’t even ask for details before I said yes. What we ultimately agreed to was I would cater six of the year’s openings which I thought was a very fair deal. I have done five so far, Erik’s show in November is the last one, and all have been so much fun and more than worth having those spoons hang on my dining room wall ever since January.
(A beautiful woman makes beautiful art.)
I catered last Thursday’s show and it was a special one for us. Gretchen Gammel is an artist that we have had our eye on ever since we have known Erik and Amy. Around the time that Erik finished our commissioned painting, we saw our first Gretchen show in their gallery. Gretchen features a theme each year and that year it was people in boats. Randy, having been in the Navy, got it in his head that he would like, some day, to commission Gretchen to do a family portrait of us in a boat. The timing was tricky. She was ready, we weren’t. We were ready, she moved to France. Finally early last summer, we had her over so she could get to know us, meet the boys, get a better sense for who we are as a family. Gretchen started reading my blog too. Just before Thanksgiving, she brought us this.
There are so many reasons I love this painting. The obvious of course – it’s our family. But there are so many special things she did here.
She put me in purple (my favorite color) and got my tattoo (and made me look quite glamorous, I must say). She put Randy in, what we now call, a “Daddy shirt”, totally his style. Seeing Spencer, my little somewhat-tyrant, in a Napoleon hat totally cracked me up.
And I think of all of us, she got Graham’s face just right. That flag he is flying behind us – well, Gretchen copied what his handwriting looked like from the photo in this post. Amazing, huh?
So let’s see. Art, artists, spoons, people in boats, Napoleon hats, and now finally guacamole. I was paging through The Essential New York Times Cookbook looking for ideas for the show when I saw this recipe. I am a guacamole purist. Avocados, lime, salt, pepper, cilantro. Nothing else needed. Sometimes I will add tomatillos but even then, I feel like they are just helping out the limes with sour and acidity. Here we have onions that have been marinated and grilled, tomatoes, jalapeño peppers – all things that of course go with avocados and lime but for a moment I wondered, would it just be too much? Amanda Hesser, in her head note to the recipe, put me at ease. She is also a purist but really liked the flavors here and if it’s good enough for Amanda Hesser… Obviously, it was fabulous. A little more work but worth it for a little more oomph in something is already basically perfect. Finally, I have a theory that no matter how much guacamole you make it will all get eaten. I put that theory to the test for this party and it turns out that if you make a serious ton of the stuff, there will be some left over. Oh darn.
Guacamole Previously on Dana Treat: Simple Guacamole
One Year Ago: Israeli Couscous with Olives and Roasted Tomatoes
Two Years Ago: Cheese Balls Three Ways
Three Years Ago: Farro with Green Beans and Corn
Grilled Onion Guacamole
Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. ground cumin
¾ tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp. cracked black pepper
1 large red onion, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
1 large tomato
1 garlic clove, minced
2 serrano chiles, seeded and chopped
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of 2 limes
Combine the oil, lemon juice, vinegar, cumin, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Pour into a shallow dish, add the onion, and let marinate for 1 hour.
Heat a charcoal or gas grill until hot (or heat the broiler, with the rack 6 to 8 inches from the flame).
Drain the onion and place on the grill (or on the broiler pan under the broiler). Grill for 3 minutes per side (4 minutes per side if broiling). Let cool slightly, then coarsely chop, discarding any bits that have charred.
Peel, halve, and pit the avocados, and cut into ½-inch dice. Seed and dice the tomato.
Combine the grilled onion, avocado, tomato, garlic, chiles, and cilantro in a bowl, mashing the avocado slightly as you go. Season with salt and lime juice.
(As we all know, guacamole starts to turn brown as it oxidizes. You can stall this process slightly by place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guac, trying not to trap any air. You can store it like this in the refrigerator for several hours. Bring it to room temperature before serving and stir gently before doing so.)