life and thyme

The Drink of August + Watermelon-Lime Agua Fresca

All photography by  Josh Telles

All photography by Josh Telles

There are better ways to begin a blog post featuring a watermelon recipe, but I feel I should be honest.

I've never liked watermelon. 

Then I made watermelon agua fresca, and I should be honest again and reveal that with the exception of two small glasses shared with my husband and a very talented photographer (more on him in a minute), I drank the entire pitcher myself in less than twenty-four hours. There was no remorse, no hesitation, and no regret, except when the pitcher was empty and I did in fact regret not making more immediately. 

But it's been a week and the issue has been rectified. I've made another pitcher for myself, and officially declare this beautiful pink liquid the drink of August.

Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)

Lately, it's the small things that get me. Literally small, like the stack of onesies I opened at my baby shower earlier this month. Or figuratively small, like a series of moments strung together in a day.

Sipping this drink, rolling down the car window and smelling salt water, having my feet rubbed, sending an email to a friend, the melodic sound my necklace makes as I let the long string collapse into the bowl that holds it each night, reading three pages of a book before falling asleep with my Kindle in my right hand. I'm trying to remember everything. 

So you can see why something like agua fresca, fruit and water, can be both plainly refreshing and mildly life-changing. Most days, it's the little things, like these four lines by Charles Simic. 


Watermelons

by Charles Simic

Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.


Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)

Our baby arrives in eight weeks, give or take. In between arranging the nursery, writing thank you notes from my baby shower, cleaning out closets, shredding old files, and folding baby clothes, I'm also trying to finish up several freelance writing projects before October, which brings me to the photographer I mentioned earlier.

I've worked with Josh Telles on Life & Thyme stories over the past year, and this time he came to my house to snap photos while I cooked two recipes for my most recent story featuring produce from Farm Fresh to You.

Read more here, plus find a bonus recipe for a refreshing summer salsa!

Josh graciously agreed to let me share some of the images with you, and I'm so glad he he did, because they're too beautiful not to send into the world. It also gives you a glimpse into my kitchen, and a small peek at the belly, too.


Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)

WATERMELON-LIME AGUA FRESCA

When the days are warm, a refreshing seasonal drink is always in order. This popular Mexican beverage gets something right: celebrating fruit at its peak of freshness. Use what’s in season, add a splash of citrus, and enjoy all summer long.

4 cups diced watermelon, rinds removed
3 cups water
2-3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon sugar

In a high speed blender, puree the watermelon with half the water (1 ½ cups), lime juice, and sugar until smooth. Strain into a large pitcher, then stir in the remaining water. Taste, and add more lime if desired (I added an extra squeeze!). Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving over a tall glass of ice, garnished with lime wedges and/or a few sprigs of mint.

Life & Thyme Excerpt: A Virtuous Fish

Photo by  Josh Telles

Photo by Josh Telles


Note: This story was originally published in Issue One of Life & Thyme. To read the full feature in its entirety, purchase Issue One from the online shop or from one of their local stockists.


The Purveyor

It’s 5:12 a.m. Behind a thick panel of plastic curtains, fish bones are ripped out under fluorescent lights and blood smears on plastic cutting boards. I’m standing in a small puddle next to Alfredo Gurrola, one of the most sought-after seafood purveyors in Los Angeles, marveling at the pink tuna bellies standing at attention on nearby table, awaiting their fate.

With scales splattered on my leather boots, I turn to Gurrola and ask how he chooses fish.

“It’s a combination of learned technique and instinct. Even though you can know why the fish should be one way, or look for clear gills, you must have the feeling. You have to love it.”

What he loves is a market that smells of salt and the faintest wisp of seaweed. Six days a week, Gurrola walks the floor at International Marine Products (IMP) in downtown Los Angeles, overseeing deliveries and meticulously inspecting orders placed by his roster of restaurant clients. Silver mackerel straight as a board is still in rigamortis. Abalone from New Zealand, the size of a grown man’s fist, suctions itself to the interior of a plastic bucket. A  five hundred pound bluefin tuna marked SG—sushi grade—with a red felt pen is unearthed from beneath a tarp.

Photo by  Josh Telles

Photo by Josh Telles

In spare moments, Gurrola calls markets on the east coast and sends texts to local chefs with the morning’s updates, like when storms prevent a box of Nantucket bay scallops from arriving on time. It’s a fast-paced, twenty four hour job. Some might buckle at the intensity, but the daily challenges have helped fuel his passion for nearly thirty years.

Growing up in Zacatecas, Mexico, fish was rarely in his mother’s kitchen, and Gurrola softens into a smile when I ask how his role developed from driving a truck for IMP—his first job in 1985—to working directly with chefs and brokers. “I saw how IMP handled the fish, how the chefs prepared it, and the freshness.”

Although his depth of knowledge was cultivated slowly, Gurrola’s confidence can be traced to one memory. Early on, Gurrola was showing an IMP customer a fish he was particularly in love with that day.

“It looked so good, so beautiful,” he recalls. “When I showed it to the chef and explained how the fish was cut, he looked at me and told my boss ‘I want to buy that fish just because I see the passion he has.’”

Gurrola turns away and opens a box of tiger prawns, pulling one up by the tail before it curls its body in protest. The rest remain covered in wood chips.

“To prevent suffocation,” he says, noticing as I lean in closer.


The Chef

For Chef Michael Cimarusti, relationships are as important as the products. He worked with a handful of IMP reps before Gurrola took over the account for his two-Michelin star Hollywood restaurant, Providence, and the two bonded quickly.

“I trusted him immediately,” Cimarusti says. “I know he has his eye on everything that comes to us and understands the quality we’re looking for.”

Years later, Gurrola still insists he is not a salesman.

“I can’t sell fish by talking. My selling point is offering quality.” Cimarusti is quick to interject. “That’s the point! He doesn’t have to sell anything to me. I just know that when I need something, there’s nobody else to get it from.”

Chef Michael Cimarusti and Alfredo Gurrola | Photo by  Josh Telles

Chef Michael Cimarusti and Alfredo Gurrola | Photo by Josh Telles

Providence maintains strict sustainability standards and doesn’t mind paying more for wild fish. “It’s a value choice that people need to make,” Cimarusti notes. “When you’re guaranteed the fish is wild and sustainable, there are costs associated with that. Do you want to pay $10 for a piece of grilled salmon that was farm raised irresponsibly in a foreign country and not tested for its wholesomeness, or do you want to buy something wild, that’s keeping American fishermen on the water, that’s being harvested in a sustainable manner?”

This conviction, stemming in part from Cimarusti’s lifelong devotion to fishing, translates into the seasonal menu at Providence. “Whatever we do to the fish here is as important to the experience of our guests as anything else. I tell the cooks all the time, that fish didn’t come all the way from Japan or Australia to be mistreated. Somebody went and pulled that fish out of the ocean and shipped it around the world. It’s incredibly precious. Not only monetarily, but honoring the ingredients. To have it go to waste is a cardinal sin to us.”

Want to read the full story? Find it in Issue One of Life & Thyme.