Saturday, March 15, 2014

The East Coast Blues (or Corn and Avocado Salad)

The sun is shining. The sun is shining. Did you hear me? THE SUN IS SHINING!

I do fully realize that in a great portion of the world this miracle is a daily occurrence. Once on a trip to San Diego for a conference, I stood on a hillside at Point Loma University looking down, way (way, way) down the curvy streets, to the bay. It was just newly March, and at home the weather was still fragile, but here butterflies and hummingbirds flew in colorful, fluttering packs. I turned to a local professor, and asked "How in the world do you get any work done?" Many of the buildings were nearly glass-walled, showcasing a view of sunlight dappling blueish jade waters. I pictured myself getting lost in the water mid sentence, mid lecture.

"Oh, you get used to it," she replied.

I want you to know that I controlled myself. I really did. I wanted to shake her, to give her a good yinzer education. Back in Pittsburgh, we'd call her crazy, punctuated with a "ya jagoff," but I already told you I controlled myself. "Give me your job!" I wanted to shout. I'd willing trade my classroom for hers and let her have a taste of life in a grayed-out city where the sun plays tag with us, coming out to play just 160 days a year.

 Years ago, my husband and I had a moment when we thought we'd move to North Carolina. Only two of our four had joined our family at this point, and the idea took on texture. Why not? Well, it turned out that the why nots had names: my mother, my sister, his mother, his father, his grandmother--all of our history bound us to Pittsburgh. We'd grown up here, falling in love the first time in our high school's hallways, growing up taking the bus to Carnegie Library in Oakland, marking time by the addition of new rides at Kennywood Park.

One of my daughters lives in California and the other in Arkansas. There's no doubt that the Cali girl has the best year round weather ("Hi Mom! I'm wearing's 75 today!" happens most days in Moraga), but my Arkansas girl wore a sundress last weekend. Me? Well, if you are anywhere in the East, you'll know that we're having a day of sunshine today, but Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday of next week have snow in the forecast. (I think of North Carolina and give myself a good yinzer shake.)

And now we stay because Pittsburgh is the place my children call home.

To celebrate the sun, I'm pulling out a summertime favorite: Corn and Avocado Salad. If you live in the sun-challenged part of the country, like I do, stick a spoonful of this liquid sunshine into your mouth and run outside at 1 p.m. (with your eyes closed, so you won't see the bare branches on the trees),and, just for a minute or two, you can pretend it is indeed June.

Corn and Avocado Salad

This is one of those recipes that can grow or shrink according to the number of people at your table. On a typical Blue Plate kind of day at my house, people are dipping spoons into the bowl as I mix, so I usually make a plus-size version. For a nice side dish to serve six, I'd use these quantities:
4 ears of corn on the cob 
1/2 of a sweet onion, chopped
1 red pepper or green pepper, chopped
1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
2 regular avocados or 1 giant
 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 of a large or one whole smaller lemon,  juiced
salt and pepper 

Of course, during the winter in Pittsburgh, there's little fresh corn to be had, so you can substitute a bag of good quality frozen corn. Now is not the time to save money; the cheaper brand kernels lose firmness when thawed. Buy the silver bag, and defrost by running a little cold water over the niblets in a colander.Let them sit for a while to drain fully. Repeat after me: Do not cook the corn.

When my daughter studied at UC Davis, near Sacramento, she'd buy her veggies and fruit for the week at the Davis Farmer's Market. Twice a week, the center of town is taken up by booth after booth of the crispest, the ripest, the plumpest, the sweetest, the est of the est. I made a spectacle of myself taking iPhone pics of the display, my mouth hanging open a bit in awe...or perhaps in anticipation. The man selling avocados looked at me skeptically as I snapped a photo. 
"I've never seen anything like this," I apologized, gesturing at the six-foot mound of avocados.
"Where are you from?" 
"Well, surely you have avocados in Pennsylvania," he said slowly, over enunciating as if instructing a very young child.
Whoa, buddy, I wanted to say. You avocado bully, you just don't even begin to know. I buy my avocados at Sam's in a net bag, five small for $5.95. Sometimes there are even ten bags in the pile.

I do, however, live within spitting distance of Simmon's Farm, where our friends grow sweet corn that will make you smile. Robert Irvine says that good food should make you dance. If you drive by our deck during corn season, you might find us in the midst of a happy dance.
Believe me, we've set the record for mowing through a dozen, but I have a certain fondness for the curl of corn shaved from the cob. Back in the old kitchen on Clairhaven Street, at the old yellow Formica, chrome-legged table, my father used to strip the corn for me, spinning the cob between his fingers. Perhaps that is why the corn of my childhood good. Now, Rachel often asks for her corn to be cut from the cob, and my hands have become my father's.

The last into the bowl should be the avocados and tomatoes. Don't cut the avocado until just before. Squeezing the lemon juice directly onto the avocado keeps it from browning. The Chopped judges love a touch of lemon to "brighten the flavor." I think lemon is a little bit of liquid sunshine.

We all know food is love. Maybe, just maybe, it's sunshine, too. If you are standing outside right now with a spoonful of Corn and Avocado Salad on your tongue, you know what I mean.