Thursday, November 15, 2012

There and Here (Avocado with Black River Blue Dressing)

In spite of my mother’s best efforts to cultivate an avocado forest in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, in the 1960s and '70s, impaling the smooth round pits on toothpicks and suspending them in water-filled juice glasses on the kitchen window sill, I still have yet to taste a Minnesota- or Wisconsin-grown avocado.  Amazingly, those gargantuan seeds did sprout roots, then sent up spindly leaders, which produced a few leaves, and then…who knows their fate?  Perhaps a few got potted, but I don’t recall alligator pears drooping from any of Mom’s houseplants. So, no, avocadoes can’t be counted among the delights of local and seasonal eating in the northland.

Which does not mean that I don’t eat them.  I do.  Lots of them.  They’re among those non-local foods that are regulars in our kitchen, but which I rarely mention here, preferring to focus on the local, but perhaps that gives a weirdly skewed version of our diet.  I would say that probably 90 per cent of our diet is locally sourced—all our meat and most of our fish, all our grains except for rice, pretty much all our vegetables and fruits.  Dairy?  It would be kind of absurd to look outside America’s Dairyland for milk, cream, butter, and cheese, wouldn’t it?  

Still, I would find myself pinched in the kitchen without imported rice, lemon, olive oil, black pepper and other spices.  Our condiment cupboard is not terribly local, with its soy sauce, sambal, rice wine, sesame oil, canola oil, Chinese vinegar—though things have improved there with the relatively recent appearance of local pumpkin seed and sunflower oils; and I am going to figure out how to make my own sambal, with homegrown chiles, next year.  I rarely take a sip of orange juice anymore, and I think I might have forgotten how to peel a banana, but my morning cup is tea from afar, and I enjoy a cup of coffee every once in a while.  

In the pantry I find ketchup made from homegrown tomatoes, honey from hives a few miles down the road, wild blackberry jam distilled from Bide-A-Wee berries, and our very own maple syrup; there is pasta from North Dakota, but also from Italy, China, Japan, and Vietnam.  We should be producing good tofu in our region, but I’m not aware that any is made here.  It’s a staple ingredient in our house, the basis for one of our most common one-dish meals, Sichuan mapo doufu.  I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned that, nearly five years into writing Trout Caviar.  I should have.

My point here, I guess, is that even as I become more impressed, year by year, with the ever growing breadth, depth, and quality of our local food sources, I don’t agonize over trying to make x-percent of my diet local, and I don’t apologize if a drop of Coke passes my lips from time to time, or a lobster from a distant sea finds its way into my pot.  I think it’s fair to say that my kitchen is locally based, and globally garnished, as this salad supper of avocado with blue cheese dressing illustrates. The proportions might seem reversed here, but there are more local ingredients in this than imported.

Avocado, mayonnaise, and blue cheese has been one of my favorite combinations since way back in my vegetarian days.  It’s sort of a study in close textural contrasts with wonderfully diverse flavors.  For the dressing I combined these local ingredients:

Wisconsin Black River blue cheese (1/2 cup crumbled?)
Minnesota Cedar Summit cream (2 tablespoons?)
Minnesota Smude sunflower oil (1 tablespoon?)
Wisconsin Menomonie Farmers Market red bell pepper and red onion and Wisconsin celery root from the co-op (about a tablespoon each minced for the dressing, more thinly sliced for garnish)
Menomonie market garlic, a medium clove minced

And these imports:

Hellmann’s mayo (couple tablespoons)
Sambal oelek (about a teaspoon)
Squeeze of lemon juice (I sometimes wind up with naked lemons after the rind has been stripped off bit by bit to garnish martinis….)
A few grinds black pepper

Mix well and adjust seasoning with sambal, lemon, pepper, and thickness with cream and oil—it should just flow. Unless you’re an absolute salt fiend, added salt is not necessary.

Spoon over sliced avocado—or over poached or sautéed shrimp; a nice grilled steak; any kind of salad; a sliced pear or apple; a hearty pasta like penne or rigatoni.

Serve with toast (from bread made with my nearly 10-year old house leaven, MN and ND flours) spread with Minnesota Hope Creamery butter.  Or serve on toast.  Not a bad breakfast using morning-after dressing.

Eat locally, think globally; shop thoughtfully, cook vibrantly, and have fun.