It was hot today: the type of hot that makes your bare skin beautiful with glittering jewels of sweat and leaves you feeling strangely sensual. It is in this type of heat that you realize your thirst, both physical and metaphorical, has not been quenched. And, it is in this heat that I wandered around the greenmarket, looking for something to satisfy my parched soul.
I noticed a booth with colorful heirloom tomatoes and envisioned a simple dinner: a crisp, cold salad and slices of warm tomato tart.
The idea of this dinner made me think about my future, about the day that Dave and I will own a house, about dinners on the deck under the stars after Aubrey’s gone to sleep. I imagined us, reclining lazily in the balmy night air, laughing , and noshing on slices of tart made with tomatoes from our garden. Delicious simplicity.
Needless to say, I bought the tomatoes.
Once I was home I started gathering the ingredients for a quick, flaky tart dough; cake flour, salt, a pinch of sugar, tiny cubes of frozen butter, and a splash of cold water. Having made this dough on many other occasions, the time passed quickly as my hands went through the motions. Just a short time later the dough had been rested, rolled, lined a tart ring, rested again, and blind baked to 75% doneness.
Though the time had passed quickly and mindlessly while making dough, it slowed now and I took pleasure in the sight and smell of each ingredient. I filled the tart shell with silky butter-softened onions, colorful wedges of juicy heirloom tomato, and deliciously pungent crumbles of blue cheese. The pop of peppercorns passing through the pepper mill seemed to drown out the world around me.
Once the tart was in the oven, I turned to my cutting board to indulge in the remaining wedges of tomato. I sprinkled the first with coarse salt and popped it into my mouth letting a long, satisfied “mmmmm” escape.
As the bliss subsided, I sensed that part of my satisfaction was rooted in nostalgia; one bite of tomato and I was instantly transported to my parent’s kitchen in our childhood home on Gleason Road. I remembered the wall-mounted phone (whose long curly cord was always tangled) where I used to talk to my mommom and poppop and the ceramic cookie jar that was filled with spare change. I remembered the smell of freshly-baked Jiffy-Mix cinnamon rolls and the sound of the vacuum cleaner perpetually humming in the dining room next door. Most of all, I remembered how my father and I would stand in the kitchen, glass salt shaker in hand, calling dibs on the pieces of tomato that couldn’t be sliced for sandwiches. My father, who, rather than carving the tiny stem from the fruit, would slice off the entire top section of the tomato, taught me to sprinkle it with salt and eat my way around the stem. (Looking back on the experience now, I am almost certain that my father knew better than to “discard” such a large slice of tomato). Those tomatoes were simple and delicious and they satisfied me almost as much as spending time with him.
The sweet smell of roasting tomatoes brought me back to the present as the sound of cartoons and battery powered toys quickly filled my consciousness. I took the tart out to cool.
Later that night, after the tart was sufficiently cooled and Aubrey was tucked in, Dave and I sat down to share our humble dinner, the one that linked my past, present, and future. Though we lacked the star-studded sky and dream-like quality that moonlight provides, we settled for an open window and a summer night’s breeze. Enamored by the good company and comforted by waves of warm, sweet juicy tomato, I thought about how the simplest foods, and the simplest life experiences, are often the most wonderful…a deliciously simple revelation.