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June 8, 2006

Heading: Talk of the Table, Avocados and Sunday Brunch, by Bob Doran

What does a food writer/former chef eat at home on his own? This Sunday it was a relatively simple late morning breakfast, which I suppose qualifies as brunch.

I actually ate a light breakfast earlier with my wife Amy, a slice of raisin bread toast with coffee and half a kiwi. I should note, Amy has been getting flack from friends over my comment last week that she does not eat breakfast. As soon as she read it, she complained that she often eats before I get up: a small bowl of yogurt or cottage cheese (she prefers Knudsen's small curd) and/or a half of a Thomas' English muffin.

Anyway, today she was off somewhere doing this or that when mid-morning hunger struck. I decided to prepare breakfast for myself inspired by a couple of things: eggs and avocados.

My mom went on the first ever North Coast Open Studios guided tour Saturday, visiting potters and glass artists with Keith Schneider as tour guide. Among the artists they visited was Cathy Ray Pierson, a welcoming hostess who gave my mom one of her signature pit-fired Spirit Horses and a dozen eggs —— not ceramic eggs —— fresh eggs from her farm: green, brown and white and, judging from the color of the yolks, free range. My mom left them with me for a couple of reasons: She routinely borrows eggs from me when she's out (she eats a lot of eggs) and she recently picked up three dozen eggs (of the politically incorrect type) at Safeway. If you ever shop there you know the deal, buy a carton of 18 and you get another carton for free, which makes for a plethora of very cheap eggs.

The avocados were scored last night on a run to Murphy's Market. Around dinnertime I had to drive my mom to the Bayside Grange to attend a birthday party for Jane, one of her singing partners in the Raging Grannies. We didn't have much in the fridge, so Amy suggested I stop by the market on my way back and see what Chef Chuck Kirschner had prepared for the deli case. I grabbed a couple of slices of his always excellent meat loaf, a whole key lime pie and a couple of side dishes, then wheeled over to see if they had Amy's favorite bottled sparking water, Apollinaris, which sounds Italian but comes from Germany. (They were out.) Before cashing out I swung through the produce section where I found perfectly ripe Hass avocados on sale, two for a dollar. I bought four.

While I'm a major avocado fan I have to admit, I don't know a whole lot about them, aside from the lesson I got in how to pick a ripe one from the late, great Joe Carcione: Squeeze them gently (they should give just a little), or push the "button" on the end. If it doesn't go in, the fruit is not ripe.

A visit to the California Avocado Commission website filled me in on some stats and history. They confirmed what I'd guessed, that the avocado originally came from Mexico. Evidence suggests that the trees go back at least 8,000 years and have been cultivated there since 500 B.C. The vast majority of the avocados eaten in the U.S. today (90 percent) come from California. Most of them are grown in San Diego County (60 percent of Cali avos) and almost all of them (95 percent in California / 80 percent worldwide) are Hass avocados (often misspelled Haas).

These avos take their name from Rudolf Hass, a postman who bought a single tree in Whittier some time in the late 1920s from avo-aficionado/horticulturist A.R. Rideout. The tree grew tall and proved quite productive. In 1935 Hass took out a patent on the plant and formed a partnership with nurseryman Harold Brokow, who took cuttings from the "Hass Mother Tree" and marketed the variety rather successfully. It overtook the Fuerte variety, in part because the fruit tastes better but also because grocers appreciate its longer shelf life.

I cut one of my avos in half, removed the pit, scooped the flesh into a wooden bowl, mashed it with a fork and squeezed a bit of lemon juice over it, both to add flavor and to slow the oxidation, which quickly turns the green flesh grayish brown. I added half a probably over-priced vine-ripened tomato my mom gave me, finely diced, a sprinkle of salt, a spoonful of Casa Lindra salsa and a couple of splashes of Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce, a new variation on the classic that adds a smoky twist to my favorite condiment.

While preparing the guacamole I heated up a sauté pan. I sprayed the pan with olive oil using a Misto (a very cool hand-pumped atomizer that creates a fine mist of whatever oil you fill it with) and heated a Bien Padre corn tortilla on one side. When I flipped it over I piled it with some grated cheddar cheese —— to be exact, Tillamook Extra-Sharp White Cheddar (a good deal by the 2-lb. brick from Costco).

After folding the tortilla over, while the cheese was melting, I sprayed a bit more oil on the other side of the pan and fried two of the eggs. The quesadilla came from the pan just before I flipped the eggs. I cut it into thirds, piled each piece with the guacamole, and slipped the over-easy eggs onto the other side of the plate. A grind of the pepper mill and a dash from the saltshaker and brunch was served.

And it was good, if I do say so myself.

Among the food related events coming up this weekend: the 18th annual Art and Wine in the Park on Sunday June 11, in Fortuna's Rohner Park, a benefit for the Fortuna Rotary's youth projects and scholarships. They'll have jazz by Sam Maez and friends and Mary-Jo Casasanta, displays by 40 plus local artists, all for free, and for $10 you get a Fortuna Centennial commemorative glass and the opportunity to sample "more wines than ever before," according to organizer Dave Reed, including your favorite locals and various other California wines.

Sunday, June 11, it's the annual Trinidad Fish Festival, which includes the usual festive fare: music, kids' distractions, arts and crafts. But the main attraction is the fish dinner. Choose between fresh-caught salmon grilled over a charcoal barbecue and white fish battered and fried to perfection.

Mayor Chi-Wei Lin has been working the fryer side for eight years and, perhaps out of respect for his office, has risen to what he terms "organizer and supervisor."

"The fish is crispy and tastes pretty good," he declared, noting that cole slaw, beans and a roll are offered on the side. And what exactly is "white fish," a somewhat vague term? "I don't know; I don't know much about fish," the mayor admitted.

"We're getting rock fish and true cod and ling cod," said fish supplier Bob Lake of Katy's Smokehouse, adding, "all of it hook and line."


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