Art, Trade, and Guacamole

August 11, 2011

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
Serves 4-6

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
3 avocados
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.)


  1. LOVE the painting… so expressive, your pose is perfect, Randy’s arm around Graham, and Spencer’s hand in the water…brilliant… amazing treasure. xo

    ps…. guac looks great, too, but you know me. Purist. Can’t put tomatoes in guac ;)

    Comment by Chef Gwen — August 11, 2011 @ 6:01 pm

  2. That painting is amazing!!! I love doing trades/barters so much, hooray for the old economy! Love this guacamole – I add tomatoes to mine too :)

    Comment by kickpleat — August 11, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

  3. LOVE, love, love the painting for your dining room! Lucky you! I too am a guac purist — avocados are too good almost on their own…

    Comment by Pam — August 11, 2011 @ 7:28 pm

  4. Guacamole is one my favorite Latin foods. Yours looks beautiful.

    Comment by Nisrine — August 11, 2011 @ 7:45 pm

  5. I love this! Graham is so charming and warm – it seems too fitting that his arm is around his dad. Beautiful!

    Comment by Nicole L. — August 12, 2011 @ 12:17 am

  6. THe painting is simply superb! Loved it!

    I am very far behind reading your blog, missed the three year celebration – shame on me – but being out of the country and with very iffy connections left me out of pretty much all things internet

    Great guacamole recipe, will show to hubby, the guacamole-maker in our home, and see if he can give your recipe a try

    Comment by SallyBR — August 12, 2011 @ 12:31 am

  7. I LOVE this family portrait! Granted, I’ve only met you in real life, but that image is so spot on that it’s insane. I love that the kids’ personalities are also captured. Perfect.

    Being quite the guac purist myself, I’d have my doubts about this also…but you’ve quelled them. Looks great!

    Comment by Joanne — August 12, 2011 @ 1:47 am

  8. My guac is almost the same on most days, minus the oil and vinegar.

    I LOVE the painting. I think she captured all of you perfectly.
    Enjoy it. It’s wonderful! xo

    Comment by stacey snacks — August 12, 2011 @ 1:55 am

  9. oh that does look different, i like it. and I LOVE that spoon piece SO MUCH! Dana, its stunning, so worth it.

    Comment by sara — August 12, 2011 @ 4:28 am

  10. The painting of you and your family in the boot is amazing! So fun and colorful! I would love to do more bartering! Maybe with the way things are going lately in the economy more people will embrace the idea! :)

    Comment by Deborah — August 12, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

  11. What a great painting! I love that it captures how fun your family is– I dont think it could be more perfect. Dave and I have been joking for years that we are going to commission an oil painting like all the ones we see in the chateaus of france– overly serious, of course– with him, me and the cat, all of us with serious looks on our faces. I like irreverence in art ;)

    Comment by brooke — August 12, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

  12. All of these pieces are so great! The family portrait is fantastic, and you are so elegant in it. Your walls must come alive with these pieces on them.

    And, I can’t believe there was leftover guacamole. You must have made a huge amount! I love adding tomato to mine, and I always use lemon instead of lime so I’m thrilled to see it here. I don’t know why, I just like lemon better in guacamole.

    Comment by lisaiscooking — August 12, 2011 @ 10:42 pm

  13. Oh I a so glad that I found your blog! That guacamole recipe sounds awesome!!

    Comment by Alicia@ eco friendly homemaking — August 13, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

  14. Such a great painting Dana, so fun! Love the guac too. Avocados in an form are alright with me!

    Comment by fresh365 — August 15, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

  15. this looks like a great guacamole recipe to me!! And that painting is gorgeous! I’ll have to pass on the gallery info to my mom too – she loves discovering new galleries :)

    Comment by Gaby — August 15, 2011 @ 9:43 pm

  16. Oh my, the portrait is fabulous!! What fun! I only know Graham through photos of course, but I also think she has got him spot on.

    Comment by Hilary — August 16, 2011 @ 3:49 am

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