Monday, September 14, 2009
ANNA'S TOMATO SALAD
LUNCH WITH MOM
I had the somewhat rare experience, for a person of my generation, to have had two generations on my mothers maternal side influence and shape my earliest experiences. Anna Romano was my great grandmother and she lived in a two family home that she built in Netcong New Jersey. She raised her family there and continued to live there when most of her children and grandchildren were grown, with my maternal grandmother, her daughter Rachel. When I was young my mom returned to work, and Rachel, my grandmother, also worked; so I was naturally left in Anna’s care.
What do we really remember from our early life? I don’t know, but in some ways I think those memories or rather “re-memberings” are the most true reflection of our souls impressions of those moments. I sense this is because they are not filtered by the developing ego. So here is what I remember: lots of sunshine and the earthy, wet smell of the dirt in the garden and the constant changing into crisp white frocks, but most of all I remember LUNCH with Grandma ‘Mano!
Lunch was always something from the garden with warm, freshly baked bread and some sort of warm soup or grain dish, but the highlight was always the salad. Depending on the time of year it would have various lettuces or dark, leafy greens and of course in the mid –late summer TOMATOES! This tomato salad was tossed with red onions and herbs, also from the garden, and dressed with olive oil, coarse salt and red wine vinegar. Perhaps the memory of those summer tomato salads is still so potent, because Grandma ‘Mano let me be free with picking up the salad platter and drinking the juices from the salad after the meal! But where did all that juice/dressing come from? There was never too much oil and the vinegar was just splashed.
Last week the mystery was solved and here is where I am reminded that re-membering our memories often happens in concert with others.
It happened over the lunch that my mom, Patricia Anne, and I made together when she came in to help me refresh and organize our live/work space. My mom has always been my number one go to person when I know I need “third eye” in my life to help me execute and follow through on visions and plans. We arrange a date (well really we arrange and rearrange several) and Patricia Anne arrives with her usual mom accoutrements: paper towels, witch hazel, extra towels, etc., and her own home grown TOMATOES. Actually, it was one tomato, one perfect green heirloom variety. That tomato became the center of that sweet and simple lunch.
Our lunch was a salad of local arugula with red scallions, herbs, olive oil, fresh lemon and Celtic sea salt and then we made a the tomato salad. A plate of sliced tomatoes, with red scallion, some fresh oregano and thyme, a drizzle of olive oil and bit of Celtic sea salt, and here is where the secret to the abundant juice/dressing was revealed. as we are getting ready to sit, my mom asked if I had an ice cube, well Anna must have been watching over our freezer, because we NEVER make ice cubes, but there happened to be some, deeply contracted, cubes lingering in the tray from who knows when. Even though I find this request odd, I don’t question my mom because I sense that she is up to some sort of inherited alchemy. I hand her the ice cube and she promptly tops the tomato salad with it! “What’s that about?” I ask. And she tells me that this is something Grandma Romano did to chill the salad (after all you don’t keep real tomatoes in the refrigerator), and that it was the secret to a flavorful juice at the end of the meal!
Anna’s Tomatoes - Remembered
Obtain a wonderful tomato grown from your own hands or from a local farm, where you know the people who own the farm still get their hands in the dirt. Slice the tomato. Thick or thin, just have a sweet sense while you do it. Thinly slice some scallions or red onion,then clean and gently tear some fresh herbs; fresh oregano and thyme are a wonderful change from basil and strew over the tomatoes. Then drizzle the best olive oil you have over the salad and season with some sea salt and a grind or two of fresh pepper. Finally the magic, place an ice cube on top of the tomatoes and pause a few moment to let it begin to melt into the salad. Savor the salad and the nectar of the juice at the end with someone you hold dear. That is nourishment.