Maybe I’m getting a little cranky as summer’s heat and humidity set in, but some things are really riling me up these days in the culinary world. I’m focusing on an irksome trio I’d like to discuss:
1) Pricey Avocados. Whether Hass, Bacon, Pinkerton or Reed, avocados are beloved throughout the lands. But what’s with the sticker shock? In part, the mercurial rise in the cost of avocados can be simply explained by a basic principle of Econ101 — supply and demand. Avocados are no longer just the darling of Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo, but a year-round treat that can be incorporated into every meal (including snacks and desserts, along with cocktails and smoothies).
Demand far exceeds supply, not just statewide, but domestically as well as globally, pushing prices skyward. Although the United States imports roughly 1.7 billion pounds of avocados annually from Mexico to supplement California’s crop, which is primarily Hass, it’s still not enough to satisfy the cravings of avocadophiles. This ravenous demand coupled with cool climes, followed by heat waves, a series of droughts over the years, along with water shortages all contribute to rising avo prices.
In addition, the trees are delicate, and they’re thirsty rascals — a single avocado guzzles 320 liters or 84.5 gallons of water till it grows to maturation. One organic Hass was recently on the auction block for $3, a conventionally grown one for around $2.50 — almost double the price from this time last year — confirmed by a recent report by the Department of Agriculture.
My suggestion to hedge the cost is to extend a mashed avocado by blending with hummus (see recipe below), green peas, roasted eggplant, red peppers, heirloom tomatoes or edamame, so a little goes a long way.
2) Vintage Pyrex measuring cups and colorfully painted mixing bowls. These transport me back to my childhood and nostalgic memories baking with my mom and grandma. In fact, I still use these cups and bowls, which are now collectibles. Alas, most of these treasures (manufactured between the 1940s and 1980s) have tested positive for lead — in the red paint markings on the outside of the cups, and in the pretty magenta, turquoise and yellow paint-coating on the bowls.
This is concerning since lead is a toxin that accumulates in your body and has been found especially harmful to children. It affects the nervous system, cognitive functioning and behavior. Particles of lead-laden paint could rub off on a finger or palm, on other dishes or cutlery in the dishwasher or sink, or on a dishtowel.
To be on the safe side, I’m retiring them to a box in the garage, and replacing my collection with a modern set of cadmium- and lead-free measuring cups and mixing bowls.
3) Drinking straws of all manners. Statistics from 2017 report that an astounding 390 million straws (give or take) are used daily in this country, enough to fill 127 school buses to the rafters. Plastic ones are the worst culprits constructed of polypropylene, and likely BPA (Bisphenol A) — chemicals that can leach into the liquids, especially hot drinks posing assorted health risks, including cancer.
There’s more. Since they are neither recyclable, biodegradable, nor fully degradable, straws get dumped into landfills and oceans where they remain in perpetuity polluting the planet, as well as harming wildlife and marine creatures. Many restaurants and establishments have replaced plastic straws with more eco-friendly paper, wheat, hay, or bamboo straws, which are biodegradable, but don’t hold up for drinking purposes.
BPA-free glass and stainless steel straws are reusable, but can be hazardous to your teeth, and the glass ones can chip leaving dangerous chards behind. Then, there are edible-sugar straws, which are also bad for the teeth. All straws also encourage vertical lines around the lips from the sucking motion — a good enough reason to ban them all completely.
Recipe: Avocado Hummus
• Ingredients: 1/2 cup cooked asparagus; 1/2 cup cooked broccolini; 1/2 cup hummus; 2 large Haas avocados, mashed; 1 teaspoon lemon juice; 1 teaspoon lime juice; 1/2 small red onion, diced; 1 handful cilantro, chopped; 1 garlic clove, minced; 1 Roma tomato, diced; splash of hot sauce like Tabasco
• Method: In a blender or processor, add asparagus and broccolini and process until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl. Fold in avocados, hummus, tomatoes, garlic, onion, cilantro. Add juices and spices, blend well. (Serves 4)