The Blessed Tomato Sandwich

I wrote the column below for the Oakhurst Leaflet. After yesterday’s excursion to the Farmer’s Market, it seems like a good time to post it.

If I were to open my own restaurant, this would be the signature dish: “Summer Sandwich: Sliced heirloom tomatoes served on toasted home style bread with sea salt, cracked pepper, and mayonnaise.”

Southern natives will immediately recognize this as a gussied-up version of the humble tomato sandwich. I offer this as the signature dish for my imaginary restaurant because this ordinary concoction is to my mind one of the greatest pleasures of the summer–and with summer coming to a close, you have precious little time left to enjoy one.

No food is more perfect than the tomato while it’s in season. The plastic blobs tossed carelessly on our dinner salads and the pale tasteless linings to our fast-food sandwiches blind us to the glorious and heady wonders of an authentic, home-grown, blood-red tomato, sun-warmed and sweet. It’s the kind my grandmother described with joy in her old age: taking a jar of tomatoes she’d canned in August, she would sit down in the middle of December and lay one, whole, on a sandwich, just to get a taste of the bygone summer in the dead of winter.

Everyone who loves tomato sandwiches understands this feeling. The tomato is one of those foods whose days of wine and roses, like ours, are not terribly long. To prepare one for eating therefore requires an appropriate sense of reverence. The tomato sandwich–a blessed sacrament of warm bread and sunny tomato resting on a bed of cool creamy mayonnaise–provides a wonderful opportunity to experience this blessing.

Here is my version, honed after years of practice:

1. Go out into your garden and pick a tomato. Failing that, get the best local tomatoes you can find, preferably from a roadside farm stand. Hurry, because you won’t find them in the store from October through May.

2. Take two pieces of white bread and toast until lightly brown. Do not use wheat bread–it will overwhelm the flavor of the tomatoes and, even worse, will deteriorate into sogginess almost immediately.

3. While bread is toasting, slice your tomatoes, then halve the slices. This allows for proper distribution of the tomatoes on the bread.

4. When bread has toasted, spread a thick layer of mayonnaise (no light or nonfat!!) on both slices of bread. Distribute tomatoes over one of the slices. Salt and pepper tomato slices. A New York Italian friend who spent many years down South suggests celery salt. I am skeptical but he’s a great cook, so I offer it as a variation. Press second slice of bread on the first and cut into two triangles.

5. Pour yourself a glass of milk and head outside. Enjoy your tomato sandwiches while the last rays of summer shine on you. Then stay outside for a little longer and watch your neighbors walk by. Later, play with your children or give someone you love a phone call. Life is short, but tomatoes are still around, and there’s always hope for another summer.

Raleigh Farmer’s Market

Yesterday was my first excursion to the Raleigh Farmer’s Market, and what a great event it was. I can’t yet download pictures but will show them in all their glory in a later post.

Obviously re-invigorated by the sight of the field-grown tomatoes, the multi-colored peppers, the slightly crooked home-baked cakes, and the piles of okra, the tattered remnants of my East Tennessee accent suddenly mustered themselves and came charging out of my mouth.

“Kin ah git sum of those tahmaytahs?” I heard myself say.

“Sure, hunny.”

The best part was picking up tomatoes and knowing their ACTUAL VARIETIES: Mountain Spring, German Johnson, Brandywine. The Brandywine were by far the best I sampled but it’s easy to see why they haven’t become widely popular: not only are they tender and easily bruised, but they also look like mutated creatures from outer space. Unfortunately I ate the most interesting sample last night for supper, but it looked like a red spaceship that had sprouted multiple horns.

My wallet empty and my car full, I went home happy. I have no recipes to report–the best way to prepare vegetables this good is sprinkle them with salt, pepper, a little olive oil, and maybe some balsamic vinegar if you feel zippy.

I just wish I could transfer some of these vegetables to Fred, who is apparently subsisting on hot dogs, wings, and corned beef sandwiches.


We return to blog-land, but now with a whole new life.

This morning I start a new job in Durham, NC, leaving our beloved ATL behind. Fred has gone back there to finish his job and sell our house. He will join me in January if all goes as we hope.

I miss him. But I’m living with a friend here, enjoying reconnecting with good friends here, and glad to be starting this job. And looking forward to visiting the Raleigh Farmers Market this weekend.


Last night we went to Figo. This morning I learned that “figo” is Milanese slang, used to identify something as good, cool, great, whatever. It’s all on the Figo web site, which doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2005 or so, since our Decatur location isn’t even listed.

I had cold cucumber soup with salmon and a salad. Fred, in a bout of healthful recklessness that still leaves me astonished, had a chicken salad and fried calamari. Maybe it’s all the walking we’ve been doing lately.

It was very warm and we sat outside in the setting sun, glad to be together.

Happy Birthday to Me

Dear Readers, I am sorry to be so lax lately. We have had a lot going on in addition to the kitten. I am going on a temporary hiatus and will post only erratically in the next couple of months. Look for The Newlyfeds to return sometime later in the summer.

My Food Network

Really, sometimes I wonder why I started this. Perhaps I imagine myself publishing a cookbook. (Cooking with the Crazy Cat Lady; Everyday Cooking with Goose Fat). Part of me imagines myself on a food show, delivering witty commentary while whipping up beautiful dishes.

Then this happens.

Plus I realize that my earlier “discovery” of calabasa, to someone who actually has training in cooking, probably makes that person feel like I did when my Yan–oops, sorry, Northern friends asked me if I’d ever heard of okra.

But I press on for the sake of the little people, like me, who want to cook from scratch every day and try new things. We may not know what calabasa is. We may be trained only by our grandmothers, who had to kill their own chickens with their bare hands, churn their own butter, and eat poke salad because they could get it for free. We may burn our cauliflower soup on occasion. But (music swells to crescendo) we are going to COOK our calabasa and our cauliflower soup and IT WILL BE GOOD!!!

Which it was. Here’s what the final product looked like:

Recipe to arrive later. I need a break.