Spice Holsters

vacation antipasti

Growing up, my family took a lot of road trips and camping trips.  We didn't eat out, we didn't stay in hotels, but we never wanted for the high life.  My mom was a magician in the front seat of the car, assembling little towers of crackers, avocados, and red pepper flakes and handing them to my dad while he drove.  I don't know who first coined the term "spice holster" to describe my Mom's readiness with portable food.  I think it may have been one of her son-in-laws.  They love to tease her.  She protests and acts like she's offended, but we love the stash of red pepper flakes in the glove box and kosher salt in her purse.

Thanks to the love and generosity of my in-laws, we just got back from a little vacation in Birch Bay.  Right before we left, I had gone with the kids to Pike Place and picked out assorted veggies--whatever looked good.  No plan except to throw them in the cooler.

dusk on the beach

But here's the trick--I had my vacation essentials.  These are:  olive oil (lots--don't want to run out and have to buy it at the corner store for $12.99), kosher salt, my pepper grinder, red pepper flakes, lemons, limes, lemon reamer, garlic, garlic press, and fresh herbs. Between my garden and Pike Place, I had tarragon, basil, rosemary, parsley, and thyme.  Anything--indeed, the most delicious of things!--is possible.  One might even say I resemble my mother with her spice holster.  Phyllis (my mother-in-law) thought all my accouterments were hilarious (in an I-love-you-and-find-you-amusing kind of way).

I hardly spent any time in the kitchen, but we ate like royalty and on the cheap.  We had a gorgeous antipasti spread the first night which included:

  • Avocado with tarragon, lime, olive oil, and chile flakes
  • Grilled radicchio with lemon and olive oil
  • Blanched green beans with chevre and garlic
  • Baby potatoes with thyme, lemon, and garlic
  • Tomatoes with basil, garlic, and olive oil
  • Assorted olives, salami, and cheese

This is Yancey's favorite dinner and the way to his cute little heart.  Eating this way encourages lingering--we end up talking about all sorts of things we might not otherwise, tying up loose ends from old conversations, and plying the kids with more bread while we do it.

I talked here about how eating creatively and on a budget requires forethought.  Spice-holstering (can I coin that term?) is another example of that.  It didn't take Herculean efforts to ready my spice holster, but it definitely took more thought than just stopping at the store.  I read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food while we were gone (in two sittings!  Ah, glorious vacation). He says our declining health is marked by a declining amount of time spent preparing, eating, and cleaning up after our meals.  If we want to eat well, this means we have to think about it.  I may spend too much time thinking about it, but you all indulge me.

Nothing in our antipasti spread required a complicated recipe, but I offer here two of my favorites--the radicchio and the avocado.  I ended up being away from this blog for four days, which is a lot for me.  I missed you and I think you missed me. We are in this thing together.

grilled radicchio

Grilled Radicchio
Buy a large head of radicchio from Pike Place Market.  Trim the outermost leaves that may be a bit wilted.  Cut it into 8 wedges, leaving the core intact.  This will keep it somewhat together on the grill.  Put wedges in a bowl--drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper.  Heat grill to medium-high, and grill wedges about 3 minutes per side, until charred and getting a bit wilted.  Put back in bowl, squeeze half a lemon over, a little more olive oil, and moan with delight.

Avocado with Tarragon and Lime
I just had one avocado with me, so this is a small yield.  If I had brought more, we could have eaten just this for dinner. With crostini, this would make an excellent appetizer to bring to a party.  Just make sure you don't cut the avocado horribly far in advance, or they will brown.  Lime juice does much to ameliorate this, but I'm careful anyway.

Slice a large, buttery avocado and fan onto a small plate.  Sprinkle 2 Tb. chopped fresh tarragon, kosher salt, and a pinch of red chile flakes over it.  Drizzle with olive oil and squeeze 1/2 of a lime over it.