Juicy burgers grilled to perfection, vine-ripened tomatoes, the gentle growl of a neighbor's lawnmower on a Saturday morning, the smell of the ocean, birds singing in the trees -- the signs of summer are numerous. For me, an overflowing bin of avocados at the grocery store is proof that summer has arrived. Avocados are an ugly vegetable. Their brown, lumpy skins look unappealing, like the warty back of a toad. Yet, when the skins are peeled away, they reveal a smooth creamy green flesh with a somewhat bland taste. There is no better way to eat an avocado then in a batch of guacamole. For many, many years I never knew about guacamole. I grew up in a tiny New Hampshire town where dinners were mostly meat and potatoes and frozen vegetables boiled on the stove. When I moved to California, a whole world of food opened up to me. I remember the first time I scooped a dollop of guacamole onto a tortilla chip and slipped it into my mouth.
"What is this?" I said, a slow grin sliding across my face.
Since then, I have tasted many recipes for guacamole. My least favorite is the store bought kind. It is too smooth, too processed. To be truly magnificent, guacamole must have texture: tiny bits of red onion, juicy pieces of tomato, and (most importantly) unmashed chunks of avocado. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine whose main culinary achievement happens to be her guacamole, told me the secret to creating her masterpiece.
"Bernstein's Italian Dressing," she said, one finger raised in the air for emphasis.
"How much?" I asked.
"As much as it needs."
That's the problem with making guacamole. There are no exact measurements, no words of ultimate wisdom. Every batch comes out different. Sometimes I use the juice of one whole lemon. Sometimes I use less. How much pepper? I have no idea. I cut and squeeze and pour, tasting frequently, until it's right. Over the years, I have honed my skill at making guacamole. Friends now ask me to bring it to parties. I no longer look at it as a dip, to be enjoyed only on the end of a chip. I slather it atop my burgers and drop a spoonful next to my steak. It has become its own food group.
So this year, I didn't hesitate when someone asked me, "What do you like most about summertime."
"Guacamole," I said "done well."