Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.
I am a Millennial, which means three things: (1) I prefer taking selfies over forming meaningful human connections, (2) because I got so many participant medals growing up, I absolutely LOSE IT if I don’t get enough positive reinforcement, and (3) I love avocado toast!
Most of the time my homemade version consists of one slightly burnt piece of toast, a thick smear of avocado that’s either underripe because I got impatient, or half-rotten because I forgot about it, and, if I’m feeling fancy, a splash of balsamic vinegar. I love these fast, ugly creations, but they are admittedly subpar, and look like the inside of a baby’s loaded diaper. So I decided to attempt something more elevated, more photogenic, and much more complicated — the avocado toast with pickled carrots, garlic cream, and house spice mix from Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking.
Sqirl is chef Jessica Koslow’s hip L.A. restaurant, famous for its elaborate, indulgent toasts. It has a cultlike following (the #sqirl tag on Instagram has more than 10,000 posts of its bright, colorful dishes) and the tiny Silver Lake space always seems to have a line snaking out the door. Or so I’ve been told. Personally, I’ve never actually been to Sqirl, because the majority of people I know in California are my grandparents. My parents and I were visiting them in Santa Barbara last week when I announced my fancy avocado toast intentions. My grandma suggested we shop for the ingredients at Gelson’s, a Southern California supermarket chain, which she said would make it more authentically SoCal. (It seemed like a regular supermarket to me.)
My first challenge was locating all the ingredients, of which there are 22, including, but not limited to, avocados, bread, carrots, garlic, crème fraîche, cardamom pods, unsalted butter, lemons, dill, and ground sumac. My mother offered to help me locate everything, breezing briskly and confidently through the aisles as I fumbled around the produce section trying to determine how many carrots are in a pound and Googling what shallots look like (I basically knew but just wanted to double check!).
Technically, the recipe for Sqirl’s avocado toast is two recipes, and takes more than a day, because you have to make pickled carrots beforehand. Unless, of course, you happen to have pickled carrots lying around, in which case, wow, look at you.
When my parents and I got back to our Airbnb, which was full of crystals and reclaimed wood and boob sculptures, I turned on a murder podcast and got to work on the carrots, slicing them lengthwise with a vegetable peeler. At first I was just cutting off thin, puny strips, but when I laid the carrots down on their sides and pressed down on the peeler a little harder, I was able to get thicker slabs like the ones Sqirl achieves using a meat grinder. I put them in a one-quart pot with dill and cilantro, and then combined 1¼ cup of apple cider vinegar, a dried red chile, some sugar, salt, black peppercorns, cardamom, coriander, garlic, and a cup of water in another pot, which I heated until the sugar and salt dissolved. I poured this mixture over the carrots, and covered it, just as the hosts concluded an episode about the 1912 Villisca, Iowa, ax murders.
The next evening, the whole apartment smelled vaguely like vinegar, and it was time to make the toasts. I made the garlic cream while my mother prepared the “avocado bologna,” pitting and peeling two avocados, then slicing them into thin slices that she pressed between two pieces of parchment paper, which was a very messy process. I was glad to not be the one doing it.
Now, the garlic cream. Oh my god, the garlic cream. In her “Note on Garlic Cream,” chef Koslow writes, “You’ll end up with more garlic cream than you need for two servings of toast, but this stuff is good on a lot of things …” This is a gross understatement. It’s not good on a lot of things, it’s amazing on everything — spread on a piece of toast, or on a piece of grilled meat, or enclosed in a perfumed envelope and sent to your lover. The garlic, shallot, lemon juice, and crème fraîche is whipped until it’s fluffy, and is perfectly tart and velvety. I put in so much garlic that after a few bites I could feel my nose hairs curling up when I talked. It was wonderful.
We toasted fresh bread, slathering it with butter and broiling it on each side for about two minutes, then layering on the garlic cream (*angel chorus*), slices of avocados, pickled carrots, and finally, topping it all off with a spice mix made of oregano, sesame seeds, and sumac, and some thinly sliced scallions. Then it was time for the final test — seeing how my grandparents liked it.
We took an Uber, and the driver was very nice and chill about the fact that I was stinking up his Honda Civic with vinegar carrots. He asked me about my avocado toast, because there was so much of it, and it smelled, and even in Santa Barbara that’s probably not a thing Uber customers have in their laps all the time. After I explained, he told me about the kombucha he and his wife make, and it was the most Californian interaction I’ve ever had in my life.
At my grandparents’ house, the first thing we had to do was stage a good picture. Because, as everyone knows, if you make a fancy avocado toast and don’t post a picture of it to social media, your soul shrivels up like a raisin, or worse, you get eight years of terribly lit selfies. The chic avocado-toast ’gram is an influencer staple. It evokes sunlit afternoons in minimalist cafés, scribbling in your Moleskine and reading a battered copy of Madame Bovary. I got my picture with the help and heavy input of my parents, grandparents, as well as my grandparents’ Lhasa Apso, Gracie, who remained close by for moral support, and their zaftig cat Puck, who kept slamming his doughy body against the windows in an attempt to escape. Or maybe he was trying to knock himself out because I kept saying awful things like, “But is it California enough??”
It only took the seven of us about 15 minutes to nail the perfect shot. And when we finally tasted the toasts, they were well worth the effort and the smell of vinegar that seemed to cling to my person for the next few days. Not only are they a visual delight — with their bright, energetic clashes of color and texture — they taste incredible, familiar and exciting at the same time. The acidity of the pickled carrots pairs perfectly with the rich creaminess of the avocados (though my mom did suggest I top them with slightly fewer carrots next time, to avoid overpowering the other flavors) and, well, I think I’ve made it abuntantly clear how I feel about the garlic cream.
“If someone invited me to their house and had these, I would be very excited,” my dad said, which is the highest praise I can imagine for any dish.
And I mean, just look at this freakin’ picture.
My report card
My Overall Performance: A