Greg Bardsley



No, I will *not* retire

Some of  you know that the only thing I’m cocky about is my guacamole. I have won more than my fair share of guacamole showdowns, and last summer, after years of secrecy and paranoia, I released the recipe to Guacamole Gregorio to the world.

Then, at the end of the 2008 gaucamole season, I announced that I was considering retirement, Brett Favre style (meaning, I would tease the public throughout the off-season as to whether I truly would retire).

I was on the fence until this past weekend, when I whipped up perhaps my best batch ever. It all worked — the organic red onion, the ripe avacados, the cilantro, the touch of cumin — and I was able to create joy in my small corner of the universe.

So today, I am announcing that I am returning for one more season. One more season for this crafty old bird. One more season of wholesome ingredients, Latin jazz and ice-cold Tecate. One more season of making my friends and family smile. One more season of working very carefully with my hair-trigger ingredients.

‘Nuff said. … Let the 2009 guacamole season begin.

A mixed-breed, far from home

Last week, I went to a really nice place. I went to Scandinavia.

More specifically, I went to beautiful country of Finland for too short a time — two days and two nights — as part of a video project I’m producing. In short, it was the farthest I’d ever gone from my native California, and the signs of it were everywhere. This place was green in late June. It had street names like Pohjoinen Makasinkiinitu and Kaisaniemenkatu. I got lost, and loved it. The sky was blue at 11 p.m. The brunettes had blond roots. I felt like I was perhaps the only person in the greater Helsinki metropolitan area with Mexican-American blood. It was a pretty special feeling.

My time in Helsinki, followed by two days in London, also presented a chance to learn a little more about myself. Some things I learned:

I only speak English — One would think I had realized this much earlier in life. But it wasn’t until Helsinki that I realized just how pathetic my monolingualism is. Maybe I was fooling myself. Maybe I was thinking my two years of high-school Spanish made me something more than I was — a simple man who can’t pronounce “Vuorimiehentie” to save his life.

I smile a lot — Of course, people over the years have told me I smile a lot. My mom says I was a big smiler right from the beginning. I guess I can’t help it. And hell, what’s wrong with smiling? … Well, apparently, in Europe, my level of sidewalk/bar/restaurant smiling is just plain weird. On one occasion, a Finnish man gave me the international sign for “cut it” — wagging his flat hand at the base of his throat — as I smiled at him with an open mouth. … I never was able to cut off the smiling.

People don’t like Americans — Now, I have known this, too. But again, there’s nothing like experiencing it firsthand to truly understand what it really means. And what does it really mean? People don’t like us. They don’t like our over-smiling, they don’t like our brash confidence, they don’t care for our down-home ways, and they don’t like our politics (I kept telling everyone I’m for Obama). Of course, not everyone felt this way (case in point, the Finns), but I got the message loud and clear in London.

So now I’m back, and I have to admit I’m smiling like there’s no tomorrow. And I’m doing it with a new appreciation for all the great things that make us, as Americans, so unique. I’m also smiling with the realization that, at the rapidly ripening age of 41, I’m still such a babe in so many respects, with so much more to learn about myself and my country. Looking forward to it.

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?

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