Seeing Red

“How did the Italians eat spaghetti before the advent of the tomato? Was there such a thing as tomato-less Neapolitan pizza?” – Elizabeth David, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine

I have no idea.  But I do know is that today I was seeing red.  Tomato red that is.

As the end of August approaches, it brings with it many things.  It’s sort of like New Year’s Eve but for the summer.  It marks the start of school, the soon to arrive autumn, and for us of Italian background, it marks tomato sauce time – my dreaded time of year.

I hate “doing tomatoes,” as us Italians put it.  I hate it with such a passion.  In the past I used to do anything to get out of it – complain that I was feeling sick, made sure that I was scheduled to work on that day, and while I was married I even convinced my ex to go help my parents while I watched our daugther as she was too young to be around this sort of thing.

You see, making tomato sauce isn’t easy.  It’s a full days worth of work, at least about eight hours worth, depending how many jars your planning to make.  So last week when my Mom asked if I was around to help, I said yes even though my mind was saying “NO, NO, NO!!”

Today we filled about one hundred jars for two families, and we were about five adults working.  And it was a lot of work.  I received a comment stating “I hope you’re enjoying it because it’s about a dollar an hour for your time.”  Sure that may be the case, but you know what? I was in for a pleasant surprise.  It wasn’t anything like I remembered.  Mind you, it has been about seven or eight years since I’ve last helped, so I guess you can say that I’m seeing this differently now.  I enjoyed the work, the company, the experience and most of all seeing my daughter get into it.  What a day!  Knowing that we all worked together like a community to make something from scratch, something wholesome felt really good.  So it working out to be a dollar an hour for my time isn’t a correct estimation. This experience was priceless. There were three generations of people working together today towards the same goal.  It was awesome.

For me today, this is what “doing tomatoes” was all about:

My daughter learning the ropes from my aunt and Mom.  First, my aunt and my daughter washed the tomatoes in a bin together.

Then my Mom and daughter lined them up, to get them ready to be partially boiled.

The next step is to boil these little suckers until they almost split.  Once taken out of the pot, some do actually split.  The ones that don’t you stab them with a fork.  Kind of like what you do to a potato prior to putting it in the microwave.

At this point my daughter decides to take a break to tend to her garden.  Nothing like teaching her where the food comes from, what it takes to grow the food.  Not “it comes from the grocery store” like I’ve heard from other kids in the past.

Those of us not taking a break got to press the tomatoes.  You put the tomatoes into this little machine that separates the pulp from the skin.  This is the messy part of the job.  Check out the juice!!!

Next, you put the juice back into the pot and let it boil for about ten to fifteen minutes.  This thickens it up into a nicethick sauce.  That pot holds about twenty five liters of sauce! Try picking that baby up once it’s ready….which we had to do.

And while the first batch is cooking, we line up the empty jars and uncap them.  It’s all about efficiency you know.

Once it’s ready, those who were lining up the jars get to fill them.

And this is the final product.  Isn’t it beautiful?

Imagine having nice homemade tomato sauce with your pasta in the dead of winter. You can taste the freshness of the summer in your meal.  Of course, the memories of having a good time, being with family, bonding.  That’s what this is really all about.

It’s all in a day’s work.  And having a good time.

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Mmmm……

“It ain’t burnt, Rosemary, it’s blackened.”  ―    Bunny Mathews

I have been thinking about my relationship with food lately.  It’s a love/hate relationship.  I love to bake, I hate to cook, and I love to eat.  I have been told that I know how to cook, and I have also been told that I have no idea what I’m doing in the kitchen.  I’m often made fun of with my cooking.

I know that can bake.  I can make a serious Turtle pecan Cheesecake, and my other desserts can knock your socks off.  I can read a baking  recipe and tell you if it will turn out to be good or not, by looking at the ingredients and how it’s prepared.  And now I have a cute apron to wear when I bake!

Cooking is a different story.  Despite what some people say, I think I can cook – though some people may argue against my point. Looking back, I can see that when I first got married, I had a rocky road ahead of me.  Prior to being married, I didn’t cook a day in my life, and then I was expected to cook gourmet meals – every day.  And I was being constantly compared to my mother and mother-in-law.  Not fair.  Of course I would hate to cook.  Who wouldn’t? And recently I realized just how much I dislike it. And it’s a strong dislike. I think I may do just about anything possible to not cook. There have been times when I’ve jokingly asked my daughter if she would like to make dinner, and her response would be “Mommy, I’m too little to cook.” Of course, she’s right, and there was a bit of truth to the question, but one can hope, no?

If I could, I would live off of Nutella sandwiches all day long – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The fact that I have a dependant, and I care deeply for her nutritional needs prevents me from doing so.  So I have no choice but to suck it up and move on.

But like I said, recently it hit me in the face how much I don’t like it, and being spoiled and served this yummy food all the time while on vacation doesn’t help the matter.  I’d like to share some of the photos of the DELISH food I had recently:

I had never had French Onion Soup until my trip to Paris.  The day I arrived, I had this one, and all the ones I had afterwards (one each day) none could come close to being this yummy.  Restaurant La Ville De Abbesses is the place to go.

The same restaurant also served Creme Brule’ in the most interesting way, and this too was to die for.

One thing I found interesting in both Italy and France was the lack of veggies.  I love my veggies. Yes, I’m strange, but I can’t help it.  I found out later on that the veggies weren’t growing very well due to the very hot temperatures, but the fruit did well. Look at the gorgeous apricots!

Gelato. Creme glacee.  Need I say more?  Isn’t your mouth-watering yet?

I need a crepe pan. It’s not real cooking, more a dessert. I went to a crepe restaurant in Rennes – La Creperie Saint Georges.  All the menu items contained George.  I had the George Clooney, and he was delicious.  It was a Rapini crepe with goats cheese and tomato, and cucumber sorbet.  YUM!

Italy means pasta.  Nothing beats pasta baked in the oven.  My Mom’s cousin made this and it was lick your lips yummy.

In Rennes, the little Bed and Breakfast I stayed in was wonderful. Symphonie Des Sense was luxurious, and totally spoiled me. How could I possibly go back to making my own breakfast when I was brought this to my room at my arranged wake up time?

So back to making Nutella sandwiches I go.  At least when I’m home alone. If only I could bring this back with me.  Too bad there wasn’t enough room in my luggage.  It would have made my life so much easier.

Colours, Sour Faces and Force Ripe

“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” – Galileo Galilei

It’s been a few mornings now that I’ve been wanting to write about how colour affects me, or lack there of.  But every time I start to write about it, something else pops into my head.  This morning is no different.

I had most of my post already planned out in my head, and it was just a matter of transferring it over onto the screen.  As I was getting my breakfast ready, I was looking at the different colour of fruit – red plum, yellow-red peach, orange apricot, red raspberries, green kiwi, and how beautiful they looked cut up into a bowl and topped with sour cream.  The vibrant colours made me so happy, especially when my brain is trying to wake up.

And I absolutely love how the colours blend in my dark green coffee mug.  How the instant decaf melts into the clear water (I’m über sensitive to caffeine), and when I add a splash of milk, the brown liquid makes the most interesting designs.

But this morning I’m not going to write about colours (actually, I think I did a bit).  I’m going to tell you my take on unripe fruit.  While I was prepping my breakfast this morning, I couldn’t wait to dive into it.  Since posting about sugar content and it’s effect on the body, I’ve really been careful about what I eat.  So the mornings have switched from a Nutella sandwich to healthy fruit, followed by a slice of bread with almond butter.  I was a bit disappointed when the plum turned out to be a black plum instead of a red plum, which is my favorite, but I was still ok with it.  I had the peaches, apricot and raspberries to make up for it.

Then I sat myself down at the computer desk, and started eating.  I took a nice spoonful of this stuff into my mouth and nearly screamed and spit the stuff out to across the room.  A lot of the fruit wasn’t ripe, even though they appeared to be!  The peach and apricot were hard and sour, and the raspberries were bitter.  What a disappointment!

And of course, I wouldn’t be Smartie if I didn’t associate this experience to other things, and of course, I did.  I thought about the time when many, many years ago a good friend of mine would call me “Force Ripe” when I would try to force myself to do something which I couldn’t, and also when I clearly wasn’t ready to.  How many times do we do this? Especially to our kids?  On the outside, or maybe in our heads, we look like we’re ready, or we want to believe we are, but instead of the experience turning out sweet and enjoyable, it turns out to be a bitter and hard experience.  We don’t enjoy it.

For example, something as simple as taking a kid onto a roller coaster ride.  They look like they are old enough, intellectually they are, but emotionally – they just may not be there just yet.  The kid doesn’t know any different, but when we take them on, they cry the entire time.  When they get off that ride, they vow to never go on it again, or any other ride for that matter.

Another example is we try cram a bunch of tasks all into one day, knowing very well that it will be difficult, if not impossible. When things don’t go the way we planned, we get pissed.

So in the end, just like the fruit, we have a “Forced Ripe” situation with both the kid and the roller coaster.  Why not just let nature take its course and tell us when we are ripe enough to be sweet and juicy, instead of picking us early, way before we’re ready, and hoping that we aren’t bitter in the end? As we can see from Galileo quote, with just a bit of time, sweet things will come.