I started cooking for others when I was six or seven years old. I made a hamburger for my best friend Jared. It was a Play-Doh hamburger. I stuffed it with little rocks and I presented it to Jared, jammed in a Stroehman's bun.
"Go ahead," I said.
"This looks weird," he said.
Honestly, Jared was my enemy. I hoped he might die. At the very least, I hoped he might stop spending so much time with my real best friend, Chris. Jared actually tried the burger. He was a troubled kid, clueless and adventurous.
"This tastes weird," he said, chewing little rocks.
My early forays into cooking were always like this: I'd throw some shit together and see what happened. After The Jared Incident (as it came to be known in my house) I started experimenting with real, edible food, the type of food one swallows and digests. Still, my evil, youthful urge was to fuck around with people, so my early creations were always disgusting.
I enjoyed combining things (soda, mustard, bananas, for example) and blending them into a smoothie. I used a lot of ketchup, a lot of eggs (raw ones), and I'd make my little sister try everything. My sister, god bless her soul, developed a cute little eating disorder.
I never tried my own recipes. I learned my lesson early on, after a failed attempt to replace milk with Diet Coke in a traditional recipe. The recipe was Honey Nut Cheerios and milk. The Diet Coke gave it a tinny, disgusting medicinal taste.
Then something happened. One summer day I was hanging around, plucking honeysuckle flowers. I pinched the bottom, pulled out the stamen, and sucked the little drop of nectar, so exquisite and sweet. After about fifty flowers, I was struck with a profound inspiration: Why not make honeysuckle juice? I actually tried. I pulled out the stamen and deposited the nectar into a little Dixie cup. After two, three hours I had maybe one half teaspoon of nectar. I went inside, mixed the nectar with some water in a little shot glass and presented the drink it to my sister.
"I'm telling!" she said, which was what she always said.
Somehow, though, I convinced her to try it. She gulped it, actually.
"This tastes good?" she said.
I found this immensely satisfying, far more satisfying than, "This tastes weird." Sure it took me three hours to make the goddamn recipe. Sure my sister's gulp seemed brief and insignificant--but man, I'd made something good! That was new. That was surprising.
Today I make a living developing recipes. I make my recipes, and I let people try them. I feel genuine, heartfelt satisfaction when people try my recipes. I get a sincere kick out of watching people eat food I've made. I get so happy, too, when people love my food, when they smile and feel joyful, even if it's a tiny joy, a brief interlude in an otherwise ordinary day.
I try many of my own recipes, but I do have many recipes I've developed that I haven't ever tried. My diet is strange and idiosyncratic. I avoid many foods and food combinations. I'm allergic to some dishes, "sensitive" to others, and sometimes scared of others. If I eat a scallop I might die. If I eat pasta I develop a migraine headache. And something like eggplant just freaks me out. My eating disorder is strange and real.
Obviously, as a professional, I can't avoid these foods in my recipes. So I work on instinct, feeling my way through my recipes, and then I let other people tell me what they think.
I cook a kick-ass scallop (sauteed, lightly, in compound butter), I'm told. My Kasha Varnishkes, I'm told, would make my Jewish grandmother proud. And eggplant? Well, fuck eggplant.
Sometimes, when I think about these recipes, I feel like a sad clown: everyone else is laughing, but I'm crying inside. In my case, everyone's eating my recipes, getting plump and happy, and I'm on the sidelines, sipping my tea, feeling skinny and weird.
I think my most unique recipe is my Strawberry Avocado Salsa. I developed the recipe nearly three years ago for a strawberry festival and it was a instant, smash hit. Since then, at work at least, the recipes become my signature recipe, qualified by co-workers and customers alike as quintessentially Seth.
I love the way the salsa looks upon completion. I'm a big advocate of the disparate ingredients: strawberries, avocado, cilantro, scallions, jalapeño, and lime. Still, there's something about the combination of all these ingredients that scares me, and so I've never once even tried it. Not one single bite. I'm aware that this sounds ludicrous, even, perhaps from a cook's perspective, unethical.
What can I say? Strawberry Avocado Salsa sort of reminds me of my early creations--something that tastes weird. I envision myself eating it and feeling weird for hours.
I suppose I'm writing about this because I've recently thought I might try the recipe, perhaps paired with thinly sliced sweet potatoes, pan-seared in olive oil. I'm thinking about it, making my way there. It's a huge thing for me.
In the meantime, I'll keep making it for others, getting my kicks vicariously, with each little joyful bite.
Strawberry Avocado Salsa
I've already published this recipe on-line, elsewhere. That recipe is good, but I'm changing it a bit, below, in an attempt to "reclaim" the recipe for FoodVibe. Consider this recipe below the definitive Strawberry Avocado Salsa recipe, straight from the source. This recipe is about gentle, exquisite preparation. I suggest taking your time, following the recipe precisely...
1 pound strawberries
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
1/4 cup scallion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
1 lime, quartered
1/4 teaspoon sugar, optional
2 firm-ripe avocados
Remove the green stems from the strawberries. Gently chop the strawberries, using clean, swift knife strokes so that each chopped piece is only touched briefly by the knife.
In small bowl, gently, very gently, toss the strawberries with the jalapeño, scallion, and cilantro. Squeeze a quarter of lime onto the strawberry salsa and season with sugar, if desired, and sea salt.
Half the avocados, remove the pit and the skin. Finely, and very smoothly and carefully, dice the avocados and place into a small bowl. Squeeze two quarters lime juice onto the avocado and gently toss.
Pour strawberry salsa in the bowl with the avocados. Gently toss. Season with additional salt and lime juice, if desired. Serve...