It’s raining again today. We had a few days of summer this week, complete with dark and heavy humidity, but the storms keep coming, and it seems that there are more emergency weather announcements on the radio than anything else that NPR has to offer. That strange radiohead-ish animated voice that comes on gives me a swirly feeling in my stomach, perhaps because the announcements are filled with morbid catch phrases every time- “lightning is a killer!” or “most flash flood deaths occur in cars. Don’t drown! Turn Around!”
Yes, I’m particularly stirred by violent weather, but it just seems to be the tone of the week.
I got news the other day that a really wonderful man I know has had his brain overtaken by a tumor. He is such an evolved, wise and kind person, and father to three young boys. The doctors are going in there next week to try to get the tumor out, and the best case scenario will be that he’ll lose some sort of brain function. In the same hour, I found out that another mother that I know has breast cancer. Another one. This summer has been especially stormy. Joey’s best friend lost his father, the most gentle aging rocker you would ever meet, to cancer earlier in the season. It’s hard to take all this in, and to explain it to the girls when we have to. To tell them that we won’t go away and that we will stay healthy. Sadie has gotten to the point where she hears the word cancer and starts with her death questions again.
There are good stories too, though. My dear and lovely friend Denise, who kicked cancer’s ass this year, and is back in a world that missed her so much while she was sick. She’s recovering from this year, and palpably glowing with optimism.
I know that we have a lot less death around us on a daily basis than people on some other parts of the planet. But maybe because illness and premature death are so blessedly rare, it seems that my first reaction is often fear. Narcissistic as it may be, my empathy turns into something else, the lines start to feel blurred, and one friend’s mortality is my own as well, or my child’s. But there’s a strong value to the awareness of mortality in that, cliche as it may sound, life is too damn short to choose unhappiness. And more importantly, best not to take for granted the lovely things that happen every day, don’t you think?
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the early tomatoes coming from Al and Elizabeth’s miraculous greenhouse. They grow the first tomatoes of the season around here, and those greenhouse tomatoes carry us through, maybe one or two per week, until the tomatoes start to pour out of the farm and our own gardens like water. Whatever my own garden doesn’t produce, I buy from the farm in cheap 20 lb. boxes, slaving through the night to make sauce and slow roast those beauties for the freezer. As I spoke of last week, this perfect tomato cycle is one arch of desire that is essential to the experience of August around here.
But last week at the farm, the endless tomato plants in the fields waiting to take over when the greenhouse had finished its turn caught the dreaded late blight. This is the big-box store bred special blight (big surprise). It is the same fungus that caused the great potato famine in Ireland, and tomatoes are dying all over the Northeast. A few days after the blight hit the farm, my tomato plants started to yellow, and Joey and I took every blighted leaf we could see at 9:30 at night and bagged them up. I’m still not sure if my tomatoes have just regular late blight or scary nightmare walmart blight, but I don’t have high hopes. But as Elizabeth stoically announced to all of the CSA families that there would be no boxes of tomatoes this year, I thought about all of her work in creating those tomatoes, and how much they depend on that crop, and blight became a dirty, stomach churning word this week.
I know, blight equals cancer? Feel free to rail on me for that. But I’m not creating an equality here, I’m just thinking about how much I appreciated my two greenhouse tomatoes this week. And how truly wonderful and worth their weight in gold they were. Really good food can give such an opportunity for the thought, “I might never eat something this good again.” And the last tomato you’ll ever eat should be savored, enjoyed, and celebrated, I think.
So I’m hoping to make a few of my favorite tomato recipes with these perfect and rare tomatoes. I think that this one might be at the top of my list.
Tagliatelle with Fresh Tomatoes and Balsamic Vinegar
adapted from Lynne Rossetto Kasper, The Splendid Table
This recipe is truly perfect when made with fresh pasta, but if you’ve only got 15 minutes, dried is fine too.
1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced (note: right now, if you’re lucky, you can get fresh garlic that has just been pulled. Use it here)
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2-3 fabulous and wonderful tomatoes, cored and cut into bite-size pieces
2/3 cup tightly packed fresh basil, minced
generous amount of freshly ground pepper
1 recipe fresh tagliatelle, or 1 lb dried (see recipe below)
salt to taste
1 1/4 cups parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler
1/4 cup olive oil
Measure the vinegar into a medium-size glass bowl or large measuring cup. Add the garlic and onion. Marinate about 15 minutes. Set a large pot of salted water to boil. Fold the tomatoes, basil, and black pepper into the vinegar mixture and let stand for another 10 or 15 minutes. Cook the pasta to just barely done. If it is fresh, this will take 1-2 minutes, dried will take longer. Drain, toss with the olive oil, then gently toss with the tomato mixture. Top with the shaved cheese and more pepper.
14 oz. flour
pinch of salt
Put the flour directly on the counter in the shape of a volcano. Break the eggs into a bowl, add the salt, and then slowly pour the eggs into the center of the volcano with a bench knife ready in your other hand. As the eggs spill out of the volcano, push them back in with the bench knife, mixing the egg and the flour with a chopping motion. Chaos will ensue, but it’s okay. Keep chopping with the bench knife until the eggs are incorporated into the flour. Then knead the dough with the palms of your hands for ten minutes. The dough will be fairly stiff, so this is a good moment to get some aggression out, if you happen to have any. Then cut the dough into 5 equal balls, cover the whole thing with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 20-30 minutes. Then you can put the dough through your pasta maker, or roll it out and cut it if you have all day and no pasta maker. Hang to dry on a drying rack for a few minutes before it goes into the water.