West coasters probably don't have to follow this dictum, but here in D.C., a ripe avocado in the produce section is not to be ignored. When I give a squeeze and feel that telling softness, I always snatch a few up in eager anticipation of their rich, savory goodness. Once they're in the cart, however, I never assume I'm home free. There's no worse feeling than standing at the kitchen counter, looking down at your treasure--mouth watering a little bit, imagining that first spoonful--and opening it up to find the fruit gray and mushy. So it is a truly special event when I cut in and see that inimitably bright but soft shade of green beaming all of its delicious promise back at me. I love cupping the nubby half in my hand, hacking into the pit with my knife, twisting it to remove, and slicing into the smooth contents with a teaspoon.
Last Sunday, we had some friends over for lunch. These are the kind of friends who host us far more often than we host them. And Claire's table always sports a lovely spread of nutritious and flavorful food. I come away from their home feeling pleasantly full, healthy, and well cared for.
I've been reading essays by M.F.K. Fisher recently, and one of her recurring themes is the pleasure of what I'll call conscious cooking. It's just this: as you prepare a meal, thinking about those who will consume it. Fisher writes that she would decide how she wanted her companions to feel during and after a meal, and she would plan her menu accordingly. My favorite example of this comes from a tender vignette about making a Valentine's Day supper for her two little girls. Imagine mother and daughters before the fire "drink[ing] soup slowly from solid little brown casseroles...sip[ping] cool milk from silver mugs." For dessert: "heart-shaped open sandwich[es] of dark, moist whole grain bread, sweet butter, and red currant jelly." It sounds magical to the little girl in me. To the mother in me, it sounds like love.
Following Fisher's lead, I had Claire in mind when I selected this salad for our lunch. It's healthy and hearty, and the flavors are unusual. I love the textures: the soft dried fruit, the crunchy almonds, the al dente quinoa, and the smooth avocado. Cumin, olive oil, lemon, paprika, and coriander mingle for a warm, slightly spicy dressing. I tossed the ingredients together in a pretty ceramic bowl (made by Steve--another, albeit non-culinary, embodiment of Fisher's philosophy, now that I think about it), hoping to cultivate for Claire the same comfortable feeling I have when she feeds me.
So here I was again, offering my cooking to others. But this time the result was totally different. No clotheslines, no grubbies, and no to-do list. Instead of the awkward pause, this time I got the highly-coveted recipe request. (Ding, ding, ding--we have a winner!)
More important, though, was that the conversation flowed while seconds were passed, and then everyone sat back feeling pleasantly full and glad to be together. It was a good comeback from the blueberry bread downer and some bland bran muffins I had made earlier in the weekend.
No doubt Fisher's conscious cooking approach figured into my success. And the ripe avocado? Well, that's always a good sign.
If you want to make the salad, here is the link: Quinoa and Avocado Salad from Fine Cooking.