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Greg Bardsley

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guacamole

I hereby declare ….

By the power invested in me, I hereby declare this day, Nov. 7, the end of the 2007 Guacamole Season.

As I sit here looking at the overcast skies, I am reminded that all good things must come to an end — the youthful beauty of a rose, the brilliance of a sunrise, the innocence of a child, and yes, even the wild success of a phenomenal guacamole season.

So as I reflect on the past year, I realize that I’ve grown. As many of you know, I learned this year to embrace the finer subtleties of the guacamole craft. I learned to use a little less of “this,” and a lot less of “that.” And thanks to a hotly contested guacamole showdown at work, I even added a new ingredient to my personal recipe (again, don’t ask; I ain’t gonna tell you).

But alas, the 2007 season is over. Two recent batches of guacamole came out very poorly, forcing two awkward and unsuccessful attempts at culinary improvisation at our household. Apparently, November avocados are best left for sandwiches and salads.

Yes, my children, soon the wind will come. The rain will fall. The frost will descend on the West Coast. Darkness will envelope us. But keep that chin up. One thing will lead to another, and before you know it, the warm months will return, the avocados will be ready, the salsa music will be shaking, the Tecate cans will be perspiring, and a new season will be upon us.

My new love affair … with the chile relleno

All those years, and I never gave the chile relleno a real look. All those years, I was enamored with carnitas and huevos rancheros and tamales. All those years, I was missing out on the wonders of my brand new love — the cheesy, plump and complex chile relleno.

Suddenly, I can’t get enough of her.

In my family, Mexican food always has been serious business. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of things like my grandmother, Maria Cristina, making hand-made tortillas in our kitchen, my mom passing her guacamole secrets down to me, and my family driving into Oakland to buy hand-made tortillas from one restaurant on East 14th so we could have them at another restaurant around the corner. Back then, I found the chile relleno to be a too little exotic; the fact we were talking about a big pepper dipped in egg batter and smothered with a mysterious sauce didn’t help with my picky adolescent sensibilities. Decades went by, and I continued to look right through the chile relleno.

Then something strange happened: By pure chance this past spring, I bumped into her, grabbed a hold for a stolen moment and realized I didn’t want to let go. One thing led to another, and just like that, I have become addicted to her, lidding my eyes at the wonderful sequence of senses unfurling in my mouth — first the extreme softness of it all, then the mild tomato sauce with the Mexican kick, then the pronounced statement of the poblano chile pepper, and finally the creamy comfort of the melted queso Oaxaca cheese, the cheese that had been stuffed inside and was now arresting my brain in pure taste-bud pleasure.

So now here I am, completely enamored with the chile relleno, kind of blown away, thinking of this wonderful dish at unusual hours. As for why, maybe my sensibilities have matured. Maybe my physiology has changed in some mysterious way that advantages the chile relleno. Maybe I am simply in the right frame of mind — finally — to enjoy what the chile relleno has been offering all along. And that’s frightening — terrifying, in fact. What else have I been missing out on?

I’ve been fooling myself

The past few years, I’ve been cocky about two things: my ability to sleep-train a baby and my success with homemade guacamole.

Last night, I came plunging back to reality. Last night, I realized I wasn’t quite the man I thought I was. Last night, my guacamole delusions shattered into a thousand little green globs.

You see, I’ve made a big deal about my guacamole. I’ve puffed my chest and sighed contentedly. I’ve nodded in silence as friends and family tasted my guac and widened their eyes in delight.

But now, I’m questioning all that. Maybe people have been humoring me. Maybe friends and family have been too kind to tell me the truth, too kind to tell me my guacamole isn’t really that special after all. Maybe I’m just a big joke.

It all happened last night. I came home, and my wife mentioned casually that she’d whipped up some guacamole. On any other day, this would have been a blatant attempt to strip me of my power, akin to her saying, “Honey, I think there’s a leak in the bathroom, so why don’t you stay here with the boys while I go crawl under the house?” But on this night, I was starving. I was thrilled to see the guac sitting there on the kitchen table.

And let me tell you, it was phenomenal. My eyelids lowered. My brain melted in pleasure. My mouth was on drugs. And I wanted more — more more more. Nancy smiled to herself and went about her business.

Then I realized. I realized Nancy’s guac was better than anything I’ve made in a long time — maybe better than anything I’ve ever made. Hers had the personality that I love in good guac, but it wasn’t trying too hard. It contained nearly all of my secret ingredients (don’t ask, because I won’t tell you). But there was a light-touch sophistication that my guacamole has lacked. This guac was like a symphony, and mine suddenly seemed like a one-man band on “America’s Got Talent,” some needy freak with eight different instruments attached to his torso.

“This is beyond anything I’ve ever accomplished,” I said, taking a pull off my Tecate.

Nancy was at the counter with her back facing me. She adopted the gentle, motherly tone she’ll use with the boys at critical moments. “Well,” she soothed, “I just think the best thing about guacamole is the avacado.”

You see, Nancy likes my guacamole. And she likes my ingredients. But she has told me over the years that maybe I need to take it down a little. Maybe I don’t need to put so much of “this” and so much of “that” in my guacamole. I agree with her, but at the end of the day, when I’m there at the counter and I’m doing my thing, and the Latin Jazz is playing and my can of Tecate is open, and I’m having a grand old time there slicing and mashing and sipping, I can let it go too far. I lose myself.

Thinking about it last night, I wondered if there were any parallels between my guacamole and my writing. After all, isn’t it funny that I have learned that sometimes it’s better to tone down my fiction, that a little “personality” goes a long way? I shuddered at the thought. How deep does this problem go?

 

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