The first time my parents came to visit me, after I moved into one of my first apartments in Astoria, Queens, I worked hard to make all of the preparations. This included preparations typical for someone in their twenties (scrubbing the grout in the bathroom, making sure the four-footer was put away), as well as a few tasks I don’t think a lot of my peers would have bothered fussing over (orienting all of the labels on the spice jars the same way, marinating lamb for kabobs on the grill on the stoop). After two or three days trying to make sure that everything was just so, my parents arrived at around five o’clock in the evening. After showing them around my apartment (which didn’t take long, since it was about 15 square feet,) they asked if it might not be time for a cocktail and a snack. I panicked; I hadn’t made any provisions to host a happy hour for my parents.
“Just go down to the car,” my dad explained, “and grab those two coolers out of the back.”
I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on the contents of those two coolers, which I learned much later accompanied my parents on all of their road trips. The first held about 15 freezer-sized ziplock bags, each meticulously labeled and kept cool with ice packs, containing an array of cured meats, and exotic cheeses with names I had never heard. A separate container held a wedge of pate; another held lemon wedges and capers. There were jars of jellies and jams, a small container of cornichons, a real metal cheese knife, and another bag filled with toasted bread and three (three!) different kinds of crackers. The second container held a small flask full of good gin, two minibar-sized bottles of tonic water, cubed ice, and chilled (chilled!) rocks glasses.
It was the first time I realized that my parents took snacking very, very seriously. Where most people’s “road kits” might contain a tiny fire extinguisher or a can of Fix-a-Flat, my parents traveled with a perfectly respectable portable cheese and charcuterie board, packaged up perfectly for my parents to enjoy anyplace they ended up, whether that was in the eat-in kitchen at an Extended Stay America, or in the tiny apartment in their son’s first apartment.
“For emergencies,” my dad explained, an explosion of fizz hissing out of the cap as he opened one of the tiny bottles of tonic water. Gin-and-tonic emergencies, I guess. The only kind that were really an emergency, at all.
My mother would fix this quick and easy shrimp salad to serve along with cheese and crackers, vegetables, and creamy dill-flavored dip in the afternoons, during the time I would grow to think of as “the hour when you do a lot of eating before dinner is served.” She would serve the mixture cold, on a bed of mixed mesclun greens, on afternoons where you couldn’t risk heating up her Florida kitchen with anything more involved.
Taking a lesson in serious snacking from those two experts in the field, I’ve left her recipe (or what I remember of it) mostly intact, adding only avocado, since I seem to want them included in everything these days. When the fruit is overripe, it mixes in with the salad, adding another layer of creaminess and substance; if your avocados are a little firm, they work equally well cubed up for another element of texture in the salad. Serve in lettuce cups, or on tiny Dutch Crunch rolls, as I have here.
- 1 lb medium shrimp, unpeeled
- 3 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning, divided
- 1 cup celery, chopped
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 teaspoon horseradish
- Juice from 1 lime
- 1 avocado, cubed or mashed
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add shrimp, and 2.5 tablespoons of Old Bay seasoning. Cook until shrimp turn opaque and float, about seven minutes. Drain and peel shrimp, then coarsely chop and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine remaining Old Bay Seasoning, celery, onion, mayonnaise, ketchup, horseradish, and lime juice. Add shrimp and mix well. Toss with avocado and chill for at least an hour. Serve with freshly cracked pepper on beds of lettuce or piled onto sandwich rolls.