Saturday, September 12, 2015

Labor Day, Tomatoes and Mexican Dip

     On Labor Day, I feel a need to mark the end of summer.  Draw a line in the beach sand defining the beginning of the school year, going back to schedules, buses, homework and after school activities.  This is not just for the kids.  It gets me back on track, too.  Time to focus more on organization, paying bills on time, vacuuming and family meals.  When I was a child, my grandmother, Edie usually held the "holiday" cookouts at her house in Greengate, an upscale neighborhood a short walk from Main Street in town.  Labor Day was one of those annual events that often was celebrated in this fashion with hamburgers and hotdogs on the charcoal grill, that my mother or one of my aunts ended up cooking for hungry mouths while the adults enjoyed a vodka cocktail or two accompanied by Triscuits topped with  hot pink and orange colored port wine cheddar cheese.  So, in that tradition, I gathered family together to commemorate the beginning of school and the end to so much fun we had this summer.
    I am also obsessed with tomatoes at this time of year.  I want to be sure to eat my fill of fresh off the vine, still warm from the sun tomatoes from Val's garden.  Tomato sandwiches smeared with Hellman's on soft white bread piled so high, you have to eat them over the sink and use the dishtowel to wipe the tomato juices from your hands, wrists and elbows.  BLT's with warm bacon and Boston lettuce, chopped tomatoes drenched in Good Season's Italian Dressing.  There are recipes, too: tomato pie, salsa, fresh tomato sauce with quahogs to go over hot pasta for dinner.  But my favorite one, the one that perfectly compliments the celebratory feel of summer has always been
 "Mexican Dip".

   The story goes that my aunt Janet was introduced to it on the beach one day and brought this simple recipe to the rest of us, or something like that.  Val still has the 2.5" x 5" card written in my aunt's unmistakable handwriting so that's how I seem to remember it.  In any case, it's so easy, I no longer need to consult the written instructions.  Also, I recall, we used to serve it with Doritoes as true "Mexican" style food had yet to make it's way to Cape Cod.  Basic tortilla chips were not available in the supermarket.  Serve it with whatever chips you want.  But be warned: this dip is so delicious, hitting all the bells and whistles for hungry pre-dinner appetites, your guests will inhale it if served as an appetizer.  Before the main part of the menu was ready last Monday, I had to tell my father not to spoil his appetite: 
"Dad, this isn't the meal."  I said as I pulled the dip and chips away from him.
"No, but it could be." was his response.
It is that good.  I have been known to replace my dinner with a small batch for just myself.  When the children are watching Disney shows in the basement, I prepare a personal portion with a heaping pile of chips.  Pour a generous glass of wine and devour it all with my feet up on the ottoman while I watch some truly terrible T.V. (Real Housewives of NYC, anyone?)  Now that's a celebration.

Mexican Dip
(serves a group)
1/2 package taco seasoning (I use McCormick)
3/4 cup sour cream, divided
1 ripe avocado
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 2.25 oz. can chopped black olives
1-2 medium sized ripe tomatoes
1 small onion (optional)
6 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
tortilla chips
Combine the taco seasoning and1/2 cup sour cream. Spread over a large plate or platter.

In a small bowl, mash avocado.  Add remaining 1/4 cup sour cream, lemon juice, Tabasco and salt and pepper to taste.  Spread avocado mixture over taco seasoning mixture. 
Layer finely chopped black olives over avocado mixture.
Cut tomato and gently squeeze out seeds.  Dice seeded tomato and layer on top of black olives.  
If using, dice onion and layer on top of tomatoes. 
Top entire dip with shredded cheddar cheese. 
Cover and chill until ready to serve.  Can be made a few hours in advance.