Friday, January 28, 2011

The Simple Joys of a Ripe Avocado...And Other Things I Almost Missed

Warning: Descriptive food language ahead. Stop now if you're related to my husband and that kind of thing grosses you out.

I came home from a hard day's work and allowed myself my newest sinful indulgence.

I grabbed a ripe avocado from the fridge and slowly drew my chef's knife around the fruit all the way to the pit, breaking the fruit into taut hemispheres. I hacked into the pit with one swift thwack of my knife and twisted it out with a practiced turn of my wrist. Then I drew the velvetty meat out of the yielding skin with a large spoon, giving me two perfect pieces to slice up like butter.  I sprinkled some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper over the blemish-free slices and ate every bite, standing over my kitchen sink, basking in the sheer joy of it. How can something be both creamy and fruity, both rich and refreshing, all in the same bite? It's bliss.

I've been finding myself craving avocados with the kind of intensity usually reserved for Dove dark chocolate, and I don't know why, but there could be worse things I could be doing at 4 every afternoon. Some people shoot Jack Daniels; I devour green fruit. I save the Jack for Saturday night.

I can't eat an avocado without thinking of how, in my naive youth, I used to absolutely despise them, and how very close I came to missing out on this newfound joy.

I can both credit and blame my mom's distant cousin. Faye lived in the apartment below us the year we spent in Knox County; hers was one of two full apartments in the building and actually had its own bathroom, so we were very glad that it was occupied by someone we knew. Faye wasn't like the rest of the kin I met that year; she was worldly and well-travelled. When she had been married, she lived with her husband and son in California. California! It seemed so exotic. When I camped out at her place one morning through a one-hour snow delay, she told me how her son had once been dismissed early from school because of a real-life earthquake that had opened a huge crack in the road outside his school. Sure made my snow and flood days seem like nothing special.

I stayed with Faye quite a bit when Mom had to work late, and on one of these occasions a commercial for salad oil came on TV. A cheerful-looking woman dipped a slice of something vibrantly green into the oil and seemed to really enjoy that first bite.

"Oh, my God," said Faye. "What I wouldn't do for an avocado."

"What's an avocado?"

"It's a green fruit with a big pit that you can't find here in Kentucky. Not good ones, anyway."

"What do they taste like?"

She struggled for a while and told me I would just have to taste one someday myself.

"Put a little salt and pepper on it," she advised. "That's all it needs. But it is something of an acquired taste."

After that she went outside to smoke a cigarette, and I was old enough to know what human activity people usually wanted to smoke after, so I figured these avocado things must be REALLY good.

A year later we were living back in northern Kentucky and my dad had taken me to a new produce market that opened. I was allowed to pick any fruit or vegetable I wanted, even if it was something I'd never tried before. Dad was fresh out of rehab and was trying in vain to get us all to be healthier. I spied some wrinkled green things: avocados! Yay! Never mind that I hadn't the faintest idea what to do with one.

With much work, Mom peeled and pitted the thing  and presented it to me ceremoniously on a salad plate. I picked up a slice; it was so slimy it fell out of my grasp. My mom shuddered. I wanted to like it, so I grinned at her as I was trying to make that first bite actually go down. I was repulsed, but I had been talking about these things for a solid year, and I didn't want to look like a rube.

"You don't like it, do you?"

"Sure I do. It just maybe needs some salad oil."

It went into the garbage. Acquired taste, indeed.

For the next 25 years, I avoided avocadoes and its byproduct, guacamole, like most people avoid liver or brussel sprouts. I gagged at there mere sight of any of that green sh*t next to my nachos, thank you very much. I passed up recipes that called for it and put it firmly on my "I Hate..." list.

Then a funny thing happened. I got a coupon for free chips and guacamole at Chipotle after my very first 5K. I sat on the coupon for a while because, you know, apparently I hate the green stuff. Then I figured if it was there in my purse, I might as well use it for the chips, anyway.

But something compelled me to try it the guac. It was there, after all, and I was still hungry, and it looked quite wonderful. It was nothing like the stuff that used to haunt my late-night nachos at Denny's in Danville.

About a year later I got the nerve to try Faye's favorite fruit in its pure, unadulterated form. For old time's sake. Oh, dear Lord, she was right about them. Why did I ever think they were foul? And they've been a regular in my fridge ever since.

I almost missed out on one of the culinary loves of my life simply because I didn't like them as a kid. I shudder at the thought just the way my mother shuddered when she watched me try to force-feed a slimy avocado to myself at the tender age of 10. What else have I been missing?

There are some things in life you simply have to acquire a taste for. You have to want to like them, and try them enough times that finally, one day, it sticks. The question always is, though, what's worth all that effort? What's worth aquiring a taste for?

Well, beer, for one. Would I be healthier if I'd never tasted an ice-cold beer on a hot summer day and all of a sudden started loving it when as a young adult I thought it was even nastier than avocadoes? Maybe, maybe not. A drink a day is good for you, you know. But would I be happier without that particular acquisition? No. Absolutely not. A good beer is a work of art.

I've also acquired a taste for salmon, which I used to think was the devil's own creation. But it's very good for you, so they say, and on practically every decent restaurant menu, so I am glad I kept trying that one until I discovered the one way that I actually enjoy eating it (marinated and grilled to a char.)

It's not just food; the first time I read both The Great Gatsby and Great Expectations, I hated them. I didn't understand why either of those was considered good literature. But in college, under the instruction of a pair of great teachers, I grew to love them. Dicken in general may be an acquired taste.

I haven't made a New Year's resolution yet, but maybe it should be to give another shot to some things I think I hate. Just to make sure there aren't any more avocadoes out there. Maybe I'll start with Nickleback or Two And a Half Men. (Give me strength.)

Have you ever given something a second chance and realized that actually you kind of love it? Is there anything you'd like to give a second chance? Sound off below.


Melmart said...

Great, now I have to try an avocado. Thanks. And btw, I LOVE 2 1/2 Men. Didn't really want to even try to like it but Mike started watching it and now I actually snort-laugh at least once an episode. Funny stuff. Not for the kid though....

DRoss said...

Let's see - wine, sushi, and children.

Karen said...

Noooo! Not Nickleback!! Don't do it! If I can find it on the cable, I am about to try watching the Princess Bride again. Don't know if I'll love it though. ;)