Tomato, To-mah-to


For Southerners, I don’t think there’s any food that says Summer more than a fresh garden tomato.

Forget sauces, stews or sun dried: think bright-red, juicy tomatoes straight from the vine, carved into thick slabs on the plate and spinkled with a little salt (if you’re old school), sugar (if you’re a transplant) or splashed with basil oil or balsamic reduction (if you’re a foodie).

A succulent, sun-ripened tomato elevates Wonder Bread and mayonnaise to manna-like stature.

I’ve seen people stuff them with tuna salad and salmon mousse, marry them with mozzarella and even eat them plucked from the plant, like apples or peaches, walking around with the juices running down their chin.

Heirloom Tomatoes

My favorite new way to present them: the Heirloom Tomato Bar.

We came up with this idea last year for a farm-to-table wedding menu, but haven’t had the opportunity to offer it again until this past weekend.

Chef Jason started with a gorgeous array of local heirloom tomatoes in reds, oranges, greens, yellows and purply-red-black hues, all sizes and shapes, sliced and whole.

To top each guest’s selection, their choice from a dazzling variety of toppings to dress, finesse or bless their pile o’ ‘maters:

Heirloom Tomato Bar

    • Gulf Crab and Shrimp Salad

    • Southern Style Dilled Potato Salad

    • Thinly Sliced Smoked Duck Breast

    • Fava Bean and Rosemary Salad

    • Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella

    • Pecorino Cheese

    • Aged Shaved Parmesan Cheese

    • Cabrales Bleu Cheese

    • Fresh Basil Leaves

    • Chopped Summer Herbs

    • Raw Sweet Vidalia Onions

    • Sliced Avocado

    • A Variety of Sea Salts: Black Lava, Himalayan Pink, Hibiscus, Sel Gris, Fleur de Sel

    • Flavored Vinegars: Raspberry, Balsamic, Walnut, Fig

    • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

It was such a show-stopping way to present local Georgia produce. I think all of the guests were truly blown away by the vibrant colors, textures and luscious tastes.

I’ve been pouring a ton of obsessive love (and plant food) into my two little tomato plants on the terrace, hoping to harvest a little home-grown heaven for myself sometime in the near future. Despite my reputation as the anti-gardener, they’ve been growing like gangbusters: I can’t believe it’s only been six-weeks since I got them!

And me? No need for fancy! I like my tomatoes best chilled and sliced, with a dash of salt and a sprinkle of pepper, served with sweet corn on the cob, dripping with butter; some crispy fried chicken and fluffy buttermilk biscuits.

::sigh::

Those are the memories of my childhood, of hot July nights and summer suppers with my grandparents. It may not be the healthiest way to eat tomatoes, it might not be the swankiest way to eat tomatoes; it just might not be your to-mah-to, but it’s my tomato, and I can’t imagine a better meal.

May 23, 2011 New Plants!

July 4, 2011 Triple the size!

Playing in the Dirt

Damn you, Home Depot Garden Center. Damn you.

Sunday afternoon, David and I went to the Home Depot Supercenter near his house. He needed to pick up a few plants to replace ones that didn’t make it through the winter, and I needed to buy a universal remote for my garage door. Really. Just a garage remote.

How does Home Depot do it? I don’t even really like plants, but walking into the garden center, surrounded by all the lush, tropical foliage, I morph into Mr. Green Jeans from Captain Kangaroo (obscure, self-dating reference to 1970s children’s TV show). I become overwhelmed with the desire for snapdragons and marigolds. It’s magpie syndrome full force, but instead of Shiny! Bright! Flashy! Must Have!, it’s Daisies! Marigolds! Orchids! COVET!

Walking down the aisles of plants and flowers, visions dance in my brain of plucking vine ripened tomatoes, sweet peppers and basil from the terrace. Images of summer sunsets frame themselves with flowering vines and hanging baskets rife with vivid blooms. Do they mist something besides water and pesticide into the air?

Let’s get real. I once killed an Air Fern. (I watered it.) What am I thinking?

New plants!

The hallucinogenic drugs do their trick: thirty minutes and $50 later, I’m leaving Home Depot – the Plant Devil – with a 30 lb bag of potting soil, 3 new pots, two heirloom tomato plants, marigolds (the ones with the little lion faces, my favorites!) and deep black purple petunias. Oh, yeah, and a garage remote.

Back at the condo, I dig out my grandmother’s sterling soup spoon (yeah, garden tools just don’t hold the same excitement) and get to work. Somehow or another, I end up with more dirt on me and the terrace, but they’re all planted. I even found an ancient box of Miracle Grow to dose their first drink.

Lion'golds, tomatoes and bears, oh my!

Looking around my freshly planted terrace, I feel both a smug sense of satisfaction and a deep fear that I’ll somehow let them down, forget to water them, somehow fail as a “plant momma.” Sad, really.

But as I walk in the house, I see that both my African Violet and my Christmas cactus, (both given up for dead, even though I had replanted them in larger pots several weeks ago and have actually remembered to water them since) have buds, flowers and new growth. Maybe I’m not a lost cause, after all.

the new "garden"

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll go back to Home Depot for that tomatillo plant. Then we could make salsa verde.

African Violet Resurrected!