My first high school French teacher had a tremendous impact on my future. She was a young woman just out of college whose name I do not recall, but she was determined to teach us at least a little about French language and culture. I think that she taught the class both years I studied the language at Hayward High School. Now after 56 years I am finally getting around to thanking her.
Before that class, my knowledge of French was confined to the nursery rhyme, “Frère Jacques” and some exclamations by Pierre in “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.” Her patience and persistence made it possible for me to struggle through articles written in French when I was a college student and gave me the courage to take and squeak through the Graduate Record Examination in French when I desperately needed the language certification.
But she deserves an even bigger thank you for introducing me to avocados and chocolate mousse. One day she brought a box of crackers and two strange-looking fruits to class. They were avocats, she told us, the same word we had learned meant a lawyer. Avocat is the French word for avocado.
She peeled and mashed the two avocados and spread the green stuff on the crackers. We left class that day with a new word and a better understanding of why the French used the same word for lawyers and an oily fruit with a tough skin. To be honest, not all the crackers got eaten that day. I liked the flavor, however, and a few years later was enjoying avocados regularly as a college student.
Our French teacher had much better success with the chocolate mousse demonstration. Working with the home economics teacher, she folded mounds of beaten egg whites into a chocolate sauce. My mother folded egg whites into lots of things, but our French teacher that day not only showed us how to fold the whites into the chocolate but also explained why folding worked: Stirring would break up more of the the air bubbles in the whites that made the mousse so light and fluffy. The bowl was empty when we finished class that day and we had learned a new French word, mousse, which means foam.
I was in college when I learned a wonderful way to enjoy avocados–as the main ingredient in guacamole, a dish invented by the Aztecs, and I liked it from day one. The best guacamole I have ever eaten was made by Meche, the wife of my fishing partner’s younger brother. Meche is from Mexico, and I tried to get her recipe for several years without success. Then at a holiday gathering I took a photo that she wanted. I told her that I would trade the photo for the recipe. Two days later we made the exchange.
Here is how Meche makes guacamole.
2 large avocados
1/4 cup finely chopped tomato
2 T lime juice
2 T grated onion
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 – 2 T finely chopped jalapeño
1/4 cup sour cream
Since avocados, like apples, start turning brown as soon as they are cut, I like to have all the ingredients ready before I cut into the avocados.
Peel and mince very finely about two tablespoons of onion. Wash, remove the seeds and white membrane from a jalapeño pepper and chop it finely to about an eighth inch dice. Wash, remove the pulp and seeds from a tomato and chop it finely. Wash a lime and have the juicer ready.
Rinse the avocados and cut them in half lengthwise by slicing around the seed in each. Twist the halves slightly to separate them and remove the two seeds. The easiest way to do this is to chop into the seed with a chef or butcher knife, twist and lift out the seed. Use a teaspoon to scoop the flesh from the peel into a medium bowl.
Mash the avocados with a fork. Squeeze the lime and stir in two tablespoons lime juice along with the salt, tomato, onion and jalapeño. Add the sour cream and mix well. Let the guacamole rest for two or three minutes, then taste and adjust the lime juice and seasoning. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Serve with good tortilla chips or as a condiment for hamburgers.
NOTES: One of the secrets to great guacamole is starting with perfectly ripe avocados. Ripe fruits are purplish green and the peel gives slightly when you press gently on it. Unripe avocados will ripen at home. Just check them daily. I often use three medium sized avocados when the fruit are not as large as usual.
If you or your guests are sensitive to spicy foods, start with just one tablespoon of chopped jalapeño and add more after tasting. Meche says you can also substitute green bell pepper for the jalapeño.
Meche has since told me that I should add some chopped cilantro and garlic powder to the guacamole. I’ll try it soon.