things made by hand + guacamole with pomegranate seeds

I am back in Munich. This also means that I'm back in winter. North Texas may have surprised me with a white Christmas and temperatures low enough to require warm sweaters and thick mitts, but -2 in Texas ain't got nothing on -12 in Germany.

Texas never required those denim cut-offs I packed (however, thankfully my few days in Oaxaca, Mexico did so they weren't a total waste of suitcase space). I had envisioned spending my few weeks in the Lone Star state grilling, hiking and reading outside, all while wearing cut-offs, of course. And maybe some cowboy boots as well. The wind made the above only minimally possible (of course there was some grilling, I was in Texas after all); so, instead I spent a lot of time making things inside. Texas grapefruit are in season so I made Grapefruit-Ginger Curd and Grapefruit-Jalapeno Jam. Beyond things to eat, I also learned how to knit and I learned how to make things from wood. I thought that making food from scratch alone was a pretty empowering and satisfying feeling and to think that now I can make a bowl to eat that food in!

A few months ago my mom and her partner bought a lathe and in no time the two of them have become quite the woodworkers. It all began with pens and now they are making bowls and rolling pins, pizza cutters and ice cream scoops, bottle openers and wine stops. It is quite something to see a piece of wood transform into a different shape and to watch its grain emerge with a little polishing and oil. They've opened an online shop and they should have an Etsy shop running shortly once they've replenished their stock.

I admit to taking quite a bit of that stock back to Germany with me. I just couldn't help it. I've been a long time hunter of handmade wooden things. I like the weight of wood in my hand as I stir a pot of stew. I like how a pile of apples looks when framed by a wooden bowl. I've hunted in flea-markets, street stalls and second-hand shops for things made from wood. I have a collection of wooden spoons from India, Germany and Mexico. To hear that my mom and her partner have started making such things themselves was total music to my ears. I'm exactly the type of person who appreciates the curves of a piece of wood and the rhythm of its grain. 

Another thing that I took back to Germany with me is an even deeper love for Tex Mex and Mexican food. I would be lying if I pretended that Tex Mex cuisine wasn't a part of this love triangle. That, and there would be no triangle without it. I just can't pretend to only be into "authentic" Mexican food. I love sour cream, sharp cheddar, and Monterey Jack just too much. Most of the time I'll opt for a corn tortilla taco, but every once and a while I crave a wheat tortilla burrito. Nopal is my new favourite ingredient and I'm tempted to try my luck at growing a prickly pear cactus in my apartment in Munich just so I can eat it in Germany, but even nopal does not replace my love for nachos and nachos are as Tex Mex as can be.

In fact, guacamole as we think of it is also more Tex Mex than it is Mexican. An article from Bon Appetit describes the linguistic origins of this addictive avocado dip. Two Nahuatl words, an Aztec language, form the base of the word: ahuacatl which means avocado and molli which means mixture. Spanish speakers mashed together these two words, similarly to how we mash avocado and some onions and salt with a fork, to create a word that refers to a whole culinary category. Mashed avocado plus anything can be called guacamole. The idea that guacamole is a particular dish that is best eaten with tortilla chips belongs to Tex Mex food and the idea that it is a whole culinary category belongs to Mexican food.

  I know that you know how to make guacamole. Of course, I too know how to make guacamole. I've been making it for probably longer than most other things. In fact, I think that guacamole isn't even something that you really learn how to make. It is just following one's intuition. It is second nature. See an avocado and mash it. Add a few things so that it is even tastier. However, when I was in Mexico City I was reminded that sometimes it a good idea to relearn what you think that you already know.

   My last night in DF we went for dinner at La Capital in Condesa. It is a sleek restaurant with modern takes on Mexican classics. The star of the evening was, without a doubt, our appetizer. This does not imply that the rest of the food wasn't as good; it is just that food doesn't get any better than fresh guacamole made with local avocados, topped with pomegranate seeds, and served with homemade banana, yuca, and plantain chips. It just doesn't. This truly felt like a victory dish. It celebrated both the brilliant week that I had just experienced in Mexico, as well as all of the brilliant food that I was going to make at home because of it.

I haven't quite gotten around to making those banana chips, but I still haven't even gotten over the idea of them alone. Most of the banana and plantain chips that I have encountered have been thick horizontal cuts of fruit. Such chips have always come in packaged bags and, with the exception of some amazing cayenne pepper specked banana chips that my aunt once brought home from Costa Rica, the chips that I had previously encountered were always more good than great. The chips at La Capital, on the other hand, were thinly sliced on the vertical. Sure, sometimes they were a little impractical for scooping up the guacamole and they would break, but I didn't care. They were that good. 

If you have a mandolin or a very sharp knife and some patience, I absolutely recommend making homemade banana chips to eat your guacamole with. Or go to Mexico City and eat at La Capital. You have to try these chips at least once. That said, blue corn chips are always a good bet. Either way, do add some pomegranate seeds to your guacamole the next time that you make it. It brightens it up and makes it taste new again. 

On one last note, it is winter in Munich and it is probably winter where you live too (with the exception of our friends in the Southern Hemisphere). But winter in the Northern Hemisphere means pomegranate season. Guacamole probably does go best with denim cut-offs, sunshine, summertime and cold beer, but sometimes cravings just don't recognize things like logic or seasons or weather.

Guacamole with Pomegranate Seeds


1 ripe Haas avocado
the juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp finely chopped white onion
a handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped*
1 tbsp of minced jalapeno chile, or to taste, or a sprinkling of dried red chile flakes
a large pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds, plus more for garnish

Halve and pit the avocado and then mash it with a fork in a bowl or with a mortar and pestle. Add the lime juice, onion, cilantro, chile and sea salt and then mix well. Once everything is mixed, stir in the pomegranate seeds until incorporated.

Serve right away, garnished with more pomegranate seeds and cilantro, and with banana or plantain chips, yuca or other root vegetable chips, or good ol' tortilla chips. 

*It pains me to write that the cilantro is optional, but I usually approach recipes with the mindset that all ingredients are optional. A recipe is a set of guidelines as opposed to a set of rules. I personally cannot imagine guacamole without cilantro, but I do recognize that sadly there are some people (such as my own sister) who consider cilantro to be about as edible and as delicious as dish soap. 


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Update: My mom's Etsy shop is up and running. Check it out here.

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