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Tuna-Avocado "Burgers"

We all need a reset button sometimes. We all get trapped between our immediate concerns and the petty squabbles of the day. We fight with the people we care about over things so small we won't remember them in a few days, while the big stuff--compassion, peace, love--slips away from us without our even noticing. We become so busy that we can't see the beauty two feet in front of our faces. We only notice the rosebush blooming when we run into it at full tilt.

I promised myself a long time ago that I would never become one of those people who don't have the patience to stare at the night sky or the time to trade in my work for a golden autumn afternoon now and again. There are clichés about how short and precious this one wild life is, but most often these sayings never make their way off our Facebook pages and into our hearts. I have always determined not to let myself be fooled into thinking I can just put off living until some later date. 

But sometimes I need to be reminded. I need that reset button. 

Last week we took our work to the Oregon coast. John's aunt graciously hosts us from time to time, and we try to get some work done in between hiking, kayaking, and gin and tonics. Something about the coast here--its rainy, fog-shrouded mornings and dramatic rocky shoreline--scrubs my mind clean. It sands the sharp edges off everything and gives me room to appreciate just being alive, which we all do less than we should.

I don't know if there are truly wild places out there anymore, but I know there are places that feel wild. A place where you can stare at a deer from a few feet away or watch a herd of elk graze on a high meadow above the ocean seems wild to my modern mind. It is wild enough, anyway, to bring me back to myself. I get a sense of who I am in a larger context--one that includes deer browsing and elk grazing and seabirds riding thermals into the vast and endless sky.

I know I have some pretty romantic notions, but I do think it hard to stand on the edge of the sea and not feel it in your bones.

John's uncle provided us with some pole-caught albacore tuna for dinner one night. As the fog rolled in, we grilled it just long enough to pick up a little char, and we ate it like the precious thing it was--a glistening, brilliant creature from the sea. It is hard to eat something so perfect and special without thinking about cooking not as an act of transformation--which it is, in many respects--but rather as an attempt to draw out what is already present in pristine ingredients. We are numbed by indifferent food into thinking that we have to turn everything into something else. And I suppose it is a useful skill to be able to turn something middling into a fine meal. But it is also a skill to know when you are holding something sublime in your hands; to know when to stop cooking.

Other articles you might enjoy: Broiled Salmon with Snail Butter and Orange-Hazelnut Asparagus, Spring Niçoise, Thai Fish Cakes

Tuna-Avocado "Burgers"
Serves 4

This is written for the grill, but you can easily make these in a lightly greased pan over medium-high to high heat (turn on the fan and disarm the smoke detector!) or 2 inches away from a pre-heated broiler. Regardless of method, cook these over very high heat until just opaque and barely beginning to flake in the center. This way, the tuna remains medium-rare and develops a flavorful crust. When choosing fish, please be conscious of sustainable fishing practices and types of fish that are not endangered by the fishing industry. It's hard to keep all the information straight, so we recommend the Monterey Bay Aquarium's guide to choosing sustainable fish. Because bluefin tuna is currently being fished at a higher rate than the fish can reproduce, we do not recommend it for this or any other recipe.

Generously season:
     4 six-ounce 1 1/2-inch-thick albacore tuna medallions or 2 steaks
with:
     Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Put on a rack over a plate or baking sheet and let the surface of the tuna dry out in the refrigerator while you prepare a hot grill fire. As the grill heats up, mix together in a small bowl:
     1/3 cup mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought
     1-2 tablespoons freshly-grated or prepared horseradish, or 1 tablespoon wasabi
     (1 clove minced garlic)
Set aside. Grill the tuna directly over the coals for 2-3 minutes on each side (4 minutes for steaks), or until the center is slightly opaque and reads 125°F on an instant read thermometer. Before turning, squeeze over the tuna:
     Lemon juice
In the last 30 seconds of cooking, squeeze more lemon juice on the cooked side and briefly turn over again. Remove to a plate and briefly toast on the grill, cut side down:
     4 hamburger buns or crusty rolls, split
Remove to plates and spread the horseradish mayonnaise on both sides of each roll. Top each half with a thin layer of:
     Arugula, watercress, mizuna, or cilantro leaves (we used cilantro and arugula)
Top the bottom halves of the buns with:
     Avocado slices (you'll need about 2 avocados for 4 people)
Nestle the tuna over the avocado layer, mash it lightly with a fork to flake out the tuna a little bit, and top the burgers with:
     4 generous slabs of ripe tomato
Top with the other half of the bun. 

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