Monday, May 23, 2011

Eat Here embraces summertime, or Involving Tomatoes

Well met, my dear friends. I could say, "I've missed you," but that wouldn't be true, precisely: each of you dwell with me in some inner reflective space, perhaps more than you realize. If I don't know you but you've done me the favor and honor of dropping by for a read, it might be fair to say I dwell on you more than perhaps I myself realize. So then, I do miss you, whether or not you're a regular presence. AND I have this confession to make: all the things I meant to write about as winter drew to a close remain unwritten. I've been caught up in Work and Stuff, (go ahead say it you've been cheating with The Twitter oh all RIGHT, it's TRUE, everyone knows about me and The Twitter so now shut UP!) and, you know, important stuff like Gardening.

It's true enough that my gardening is lazily focused on tomatoes and could be said to be rather one-dimensional. I have a few desultory marigolds functioning largely as splashes of color, masquerading as useful bug deterrents. Basil is a fortunate and wholly accidental side effect of tossing some seeds near the dirt. Rosemary is a coveted triumph which apparently only occurs in the gardens of others. (Ahem. Some of these "others" are dear friends, from whose gardens I have fruitlessly or bootlessly stolen bits of rosemary. Do not tell them. And don't worry; they won't find out when they visit my garden. The evidence seldom remains.) Still, as the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and these are those beautifully golden, rather too hot, lengthening summer days where the best may come before the end of any of them.

So brace up, everyone. Truly, you can be the same lazy gardener I am and still manage to put this together. Back in the day, Jayne and I used to make these at the office during summer tomato season, using a small toaster oven, with affectionate support from fans like Mr. Ming's mother. We drew crowds from far and wide. When our small toaster over betrayed us by belching just a bit of smoke we even drew unwelcome crowds from the management offices, but we didn't like them much, anyway so that was all right.

It was this easy and it still is today, as long as you have those all-important fresh garden tomatoes. Toast two slices of interesting bread. This may be sourdough or sunflower or Kalamata olive bread, but whatever your poison you must toast it lightly on both sides. Lightly spread one side of each slice with a good quality mayonnaise. (You can skip this step if you must.) Cover each slice of bread with slices of fresh tomato. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper (and if you've a bit of fresh basil you have only slightly stolen from a neighboring garden, now's the time). Top each slice of bread with a solid slice (or a good amount of grated) Cheese. You. Love. This can be a stout Vermont white cheddar or grated Emmenthaler or - really - any cheese you like. Put both slices under a hot broiler and remove when the cheese has melted or browned or bubbled or looks just the way you like it.
If you have fresh figs, put them on the plate or follow an alternate plan and add whatever lovely fruit you can. Add a glass of pinot grigio or cold fresh water and you've captured summer's flavors in your own kitchen and your own house and maybe even in your own garden. Just like that.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Belated birthday blessings

My, oh MY, how the days do whirl past my head like fireflies on a summer night. Days and days have whizzed by without me finding time to write here. And so it comes to pass that I am finally writing a post I meant to write a month ago...ah, as Ms. Moon would say, la. Here are the Easter lilies, blooming well past their expected date, but perfuming the garden, nonetheless. Like them, I thank you for not giving up on me.

Several remarkable women in my circle celebrate birthdays in April, and in their honor I want to remember two other very special women who lived in St. Augustine when I was too young, perhaps, to fully appreciate them. Both of them were known to me by the now almost-extinct prefix of Mrs. They were Mrs. Weiderman and Mrs. Allemano, and though as different as chalk and cheese, they also shared a grace in aging.

Mrs. Weiderman was a frequent visitor at the Booksmith, the marvelous independent bookstore of revered memory where I worked. She was a tall woman, somewhat spare of build, somewhat reserved in manner. By the time I knew her, she must have been in her 60s, but it was hard to tell, really. She was active and self-reliant and might have been a decade younger or older. She had discerning taste and was always reading something interesting. And she lived on St. Andrews Court, a tiny street in downtown St. Augustine that has always welcomed the artistic and eclectic. This was about as much as I knew about her. But I wasn't her only connection to our very young household: she was also a customer at the mechanical shop where my dear old person worked in those years, long time past, my dears. By pure happenstance he mentioned her to me one day. She was an especially kind customer, he said. She'd made him a gift of a calendar from the 1940s that he treasured. I was surprised to hear him refer to her as "June", quite casually. I'm not sure I'd even known her first name. It was typical of him to develop a rapport with customers, because he was both generous with knowledge and unfailingly honest. Over the years he amassed an impressive following and I used to tease him about the mourning period that followed his move to a corporate environment. Even so, I was nearly astonished, and a bit awed, to hear him call this refined lady "June". For me, she was a respected customer. But she was also capable of establishing unlikely friendships, a gift not given to everyone. This wild iris or lily or whatever it is, blooms in a boggy spot under our oak canopy, and has always reminded me of women like Mrs. Weiderman. It is hardy and determined. It's also inherently - and unselfconsciously - beautiful.

Mrs. Allemano was similar to Mrs. Weiderman in height and build, in her love of books and scholarship and her capacity for embracing the unexpected. Mrs. Allemano, however, had an air about her that was at once commanding of respect, and generous and calming. She was quite tall, with a crown of silvered hair, and I never saw her dressed with anything less than the most exacting care and the most perfectly chosen accessories. She had a timeless quality seated in her very spirit which was most easily visible in her sense of style. If her person had been made invisible so that only her dress and accessories were considered, it would have been impossible to guess at the age of their owner. This timelessness was a function of her formidable intellect, as well, but it would be years before I realized that she was honored in many circles for her erudition and spiritual wisdom, but this is a story for another night, my loves. Perhaps it is enough to say that she was imperious and regal, but probably didn't realize think of herself in those terms at all. She raised children who made their homes arond the world, in London and Paris and various points on the African continent. She was an insatiable reader, erudite and relentless in the pursuit of learning. On one memorable MadriGalz occasion when she had gathered her family from the corners of the earth, they came to the Cafe Alcazar for a holiday luncheon. Surrounded by her grown children and Mrs. Allemano, who was was "Irene" to many members of the circle to which I would one day belong, was another breathtakingly beautiful woman for whom age was an enrichment, and nothing less.

For those of you whose birthdays I missed in a blue and beautiful April, I wish you this great blessing. For Tracy and Jackie, for Rima, for Issis and Nirvana and especially for beloved Lizzie, may the blessing of years sit as lightly and gracefully with you as it did with these two unique, lovely women. May a new year enrich and deepen the beauty of each of you. Love to each of you from our house under the oak trees, the Spanish moss and the benediction of the golden hour.
I'm sorry it's so late, but happy, happy birthday to each of you.