i say tomato

“August is the cruelest month,

breeding tomatoes out of the green land,

mixing hunger with desire,

stirring my stomach with red globes

filled with the sun’s rays.” — T.S. Eliot

Late August, a turning point. Summer teetering on its long legs, delirious with spent heat, drunk with ripeness, ready to fall. Unexpectedly warm days like memoirs of June flirt with September’s impinging chill. It’s my first full summer to fall transition here in central New York, and I don’t really know what to expect. My Canadian urge to wrap myself in sweaters at this time of year is consistently fought off by summer’s persistence.

A summer I am happy to enjoy so long as she keeps bringing me her ruby gifts.

Yesterday’s gift, an heirloom tomato. Or, as I saw on a sign at the market on Saturday, an example of “what tomatoes used to taste like” before they were domesticated and shipped thousands of miles still in their green skin. I can’t remember what cultivar exactly this one is, but it sprung from seeds saved by friends and generously passed on to me in the spring.

Heirlooms, often scarred and sometimes bulbous, make up for their “ugliness” in taste. Fleshy and meaty and with few watery bits, it seems like they were made for the Toasted Tomato Sandwich: Queen of August lunches.

This particular one wasn’t the ultimate, but I grew it myself, and that more than made up for what it lacked in taste.

There’s such pleasure in watching food happen right under your fingertips. Nurturing the seedlings and then transplanting them to the wider world of the garden. Tomato plants yield an almost overnight jungle, which in the face of other failed crops (radishes, beets and peas) provide much-needed satisfaction for rookie gardeners like myself. Witnessing their small buds break open in the early summer and then turn to green globes is a procession full of mouth-watering expectation. The red rewards are now just beginning to emerge.

They began like this, reaching for sunlight through a window:

As a child, the Toasted Tomato Sandwich (TTS) was synonymous with summer. Known in other households as the BLT, in ours the presence of bacon was a once in awhile treat. As ubiquitous in our home as Kraft dinner was in most, the TTS was usually served on the softest of white bread, either rye or my mother’s homemade. Sometimes smothered with Miracle Whip for a tangier bite than mayonnaise, the simple harmony of flavors was unmatched in our sandwich world. Bread, mayo, tomato, salt and pepper: Childhood summers suddenly tangible.

As I got older I experimented with whole leaves of basil, sprouts, different lettuces, and more grainy breads. But the taste of a soft white bread (in yesterday’s case, Panera’s sunflower loaf) caramelized slightly in the toaster, three thick slices of home-grown tomato, and the rare touch of crisp bacon was a taste I wished could’ve lasted all day long. Ever as satisfying, I was instantly transported to a sunny kitchen in small-town Manitoba:

As T.S. Eliot suggests, my stomach felt full of the sun’s rays indeed. And as we march steadily into fall, I hope the red globes — just beginning to peek through foliage in my garden — will help keep me sunny for weeks to come.

sandwiches, sweeping the clouds away

Sometimes I miss watching Sesame Street. I don’t even know if it’s on anymore, or what name it’s going by now, or what they’re teaching kids these days. I feel so out of the loop.

Maybe what I miss is waking up on a Saturday morning with nothing but cartoons on the agenda. Maybe it’s that unapologetic and unproductive laziness we’re so discouraged from as adults. I miss the time when play was serious business and games my most prized accomplishments. Sometimes my nostalgia points its compass squarely in the direction of childhood.

Today was one of those drifty days. I felt a pervasive lack of direction, the clouds of limbo thickening around me. Today was a day I ached to be too busy, and then chided myself for this wish. I made a mental note to be evermore grateful for a full schedule. Today was a day that reminded me of the exquisite balance needed to live a healthy life. Rest and involvement in equal measure, calm and momentum in an intricate dance.

As I thought about youth and adulthood, playing and working, being and doing, my thoughts naturally led to peanut butter. (But it could be the influence of Peanut Butter Planet, a cookbook I recently picked up at the library.) If there’s one thing that’s inseperable from childhood, it’s peanut butter. Yet in adulthood, as I strive to eat less meat and still get all the nutrients I need, peanut butter has risen to new heights in my protein cache. It’s convenient, bursting with fiber, protein and unsaturated fats while being almost endless in versatility.

This book also reminded me that peanut butter is (hold onto your celery) really just ground peanuts. I’m sorry to break it to you, but we’ve been had. This revelation isn’t new; I recall trying to make it with a bowl of peanuts, some water and a fork. Needless to say, what we eight-year-olds ended up with looked like something that hadn’t agreed with her cat’s palate.

We go through PB around here like the nuts are going extinct. And that’s when my fellow peanut butter monster remembered the food processor attachment that came with our hand blender. I tell you, forgetting about this piece de resistance has been my biggest kitchen blunder since getting hitched. Not charring stuff, not poisoning dinner guests, but realizing that I actually could have made ALL THOSE THINGS THAT CALLED FOR A FOOD PROCESSOR and didn’t. Just thinking about the pestos, dressings and ground-up things we’ve missed out on brings me deep sorrow, but boy am I ever going to make up for lost time.

3 cups of bulk roasted peanuts + 5 minutes with electrical magic wand = 14 ounces of peanut butter so smooth and airy I’m don’t think I’ll ever go back. Sorry Teddie. It’s not even about the savings, or eliminating the packaging and transportation. This pure peanuts-and-that’s-it goodness is enough to keep me on the Skippy boycotting bandwagon for at least a few more idealistic years.

And in hopes of bringing on my own “sunny day,” I whipped up this little open-faced sandwich on some new sprouted grain bread I’ve discovered. And even though I didn’t see even a feather of that old yellow friend of mine, the sun did come out to greet me, if only for a minute or two.

Sunny Day Sandwiches

serves 2, half the recipe for one person

Combine the following in a small bowl, and spread on whole-grain or sprouted bread:

½ cup natural peanut butter

¼ cup shredded carrot

2 Tbsp. sunflower or pumpkin seeds

2 Tbsp. raisins or craisins

2 tsp maple syrup

Homemade Peanut Butter

In a food processor, grind 2 cups of good-quality roasted peanuts at a time until they turn buttery. This may take about 2 minutes. For a crunchy version, grind up another cup of peanuts into small pieces and add them to the peanut butter. For an even higher fiber variety, use the peanuts with the reddish skins on them. Enjoy!