Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cari Shanks: Food, Nearly Glorious Food

Living in LA, I feel compelled to talk about the perfect stereotype of figure and fashion that is all about me, but I won't. You’ve heard it all before. Yes, women these days are way too thin and way too blonde, and when California falls into the ocean, unfortunately the few with built in flotation devices will be left to run our wonderful state - but I digress. Instead of talking ad nauseam about how society is ruining the female image, I want to talk about food.


Lovely, wonderful food. I consider myself an amateur chef, having actually worked as a chef for a short stint during my career of odd jobs. I've found there are a few foods that I can't make. You know what? Let’s not say “can't make” - let’s rephrase that to “food that is so frustratingly simple that I always seem to screw it up.” Guacamole, for instance.

I am one of those cooks who will throw a pinch of “this” and a pinch of “that,” tasting as I go. I learned my cooking technique from my father who was a fireman and had to cook large portions of hearty food for several men and then come home and cook for four picky children. My mother, God bless her soul, burned TV dinners, though to her credit she did pick up a few signature dishes along the way. My father taught me how to make bread by hand - not with one of those crazy machines - and taught me the art of smelling and tasting everything around you. Taking it all in.

So through my upbringing I picked up a few tricks for cooking from my family - I still bake bread every year at Christmas, make fudge, do crazy things with tofu and other ingredients that weren’t ever invented in the Midwest. I can chiffonade, julienne and marinade with the best of them. I make soups and pot roasts, jams and jellies - and yet I can’t make guacamole.

Perhaps I'm a tough critic - or maybe my boyfriend is. He's the one who loves everything I make, aside from my guacamole. He says I use too much lime juice - but I taste as I go, how could that be? He suggested I use a recipe and I told him that was preposterous. For a dish that has only four ingredients why would you need a recipe?! I hadn’t used a recipe for that stir fry I cooked last night that you loved or the couscous that I whipped up before work - why would I need a recipe for guacamole? It's not like it’s a cake that needs baking soda and salt to equal the flour -

- And breathe.

Guacamole is my nemesis, a nemesis that which everyone has - that one thing that, no matter what you do, it always gets the best of you. For me that nemesis is guacamole. Every time I see an avocado I think of all the things I could do to it to put it in its place, but it always seems to get the one up on me and show me my imperfection. My stubbornness for not willing to follow a simple recipe for a simple dish and the fact that I am humbled by a piece of fruit.


  1. This is totally delightful. Rice is my nemesis, so I dig it.

  2. Guacamole is the only thing I make consistently well: avocados, lemon juice, salt, garlic, dash of hot sauce, sometimes chopped tomatoes. Not too much smooshing -- you need chunks. For ballast.

    I've been thinking a lot about cooking lately, and how my relationship to food has changed since I married one picky eater and gave birth to a second. I used to enjoy it. I don't any longer.

    Someday I hope to get my cooking mojo back. In the meantime, I'll bring the quac, but nothing else.

    [Liked your piece!]

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  4. Avocados are evil and not worth getting your panties in a bunch over. And since you live in LA, you should pop on down to Fresh n Easy, which makes the best guac I've ever had.

    Also, the only thing I know how to cook is funeral potatoes.

  5. PS-- Josh didn't comment and then remove it; I accidentally commented as him and then had to fix it.