Friday, July 23, 2010

Tomato-Eating and Sunday Dinner Talk

My friend Lisa came to visit the other day and reminded me that I've really slacked off on the Sunday Dinner Project.  In my defense, my parents were visiting for a few weeks and we had the best kind of Sunday dinners... the kind that happen organically and don't seem like a big deal.  But since my parents have gone home, I haven't made the effort to set time aside on Sundays for my family to enjoy hanging out together  and eating a leisurely meal.

Lisa and I talked about how hard it is to host a weekly Sunday dinner, which is something she and her husband tried to do last year, but eventually had to give up.  We also talked about how strange it is that it takes us both the better part of a day to prepare Sunday dinner, even though we both regularly make home-cooked dinners for our families in less than an hour during the work week.   I've been thinking about this conversation a lot for the past couple of days and I've decided that my problem is that I try to do too much for Sunday dinner.  I need to do more "slacking off" in the cooking department and take more time to enjoy the day.  In my opinion, Sunday dinner should be about food and family, not about cooking elaborate meals.  So I'm taking my own advice about "The New Sunday Dinner" and trying to do less and enjoy more.

Our visit with Lisa was a good example of how to entertain a visitor without going crazy.  Violet and I made brownies, which is something we do frequently, and we can do it pretty effortlessly these days.   Lisa brought delicious chocolate chip cookies, so we had a lovely "coffee klatch" with very little effort.  After our snack, we took Lisa outside to check out our garden and she took some great photos of the girls with our tomato crop.  I love these photographs because they're a good reminder of our visit with Lisa, as well as a nice record of my youngest daughter's first real experience with home-grown tomatoes.

Annabel chows down on the first tomato of the season.
Annabel is the greatest produce-eater I've ever met.  She'll eat anything off a tree, bush, or plant, and she doesn't care what it is.  If she can pick it, she'll eat it.  Usually making loud guttural "HMMMM!!!" noises as she eats. The only problem with this is that she doesn't think about whether the thing she wants to eat is just the right size to choke on.

I was completely freaked out watching Annabel picking handfuls of cherry tomatoes and shoving them into her mouth, so I jokingly handed her a full-sized tomato and said, "Here, Annabel.  Try this instead!", while gently removing cherry tomatoes from her clenched fists.

I know how much Annabel loves fresh produce so I don't know why her obsession with cherry tomatoes surprised me.  I'd watched her eat her way through broccoli season, orange season, loquat season, and green bean season, but I was impressed by how fast a girl with only six teeth could make headway into a Champion tomato.  She didn't stop chewing until she reached the hard stem and even then I had to take it away from her.


Violet shows off her "pretend bite".
Violet is a different story.  She's a very picky eater and wouldn't go near the tomato I offered her until she realized how much attention Annabel was getting for her tomato-eating.  Then Violet insisted that she wanted a tomato too.  And she pretended to eat it so Lisa would take her picture.  This is funny to me on several levels.  First, Violet hates having me take her picture these days, so it was hilarious to watch her mug for Lisa's camera.  Second, the idea that Violet would even pretend to eat a "gross" tomato cracked me up.  But what do I care if she was only pretending?  Pretend eating is one step closer to actual eating.

To her credit, Violet has started eating some new foods recently, including cantaloupe, spinach lasagna, green beans, and watermelon.  She loved watermelon when she was a baby and it broke my heart to hear her say that watermelon was "not for her" for the past two summers.  But her love of watermelon is back!  And I'm thrilled.  Maybe the love of tomatoes will come some day too.

I'd be very excited if both of my girls turned into tomato connoisseurs.  Right now we're growing Sweet 100's, Champions, Celebrity Bush, San Marzanos, and my personal favorite, Mortgage Lifters.  I grow Sweet 100's (or Sweet 1,000's) every year because cherry tomatoes are easy to grow, and one plant will produce lots of tiny tomatoes which are fun for little girls to pick.  Champions and Celebrity Bush are hearty plants and the tomatoes are delicious on BLT's.

My new experiment of the season is the San Marzano and I have to admit that it isn't doing all that well.  Or maybe it's doing fine, but you can't make much sauce from the fruit of one slightly neglected tomato plant.  (I try to water frequently, but it's been incredibly hot here lately!)  Next year, I think I'll try growing a row of them.

My all-time favorite tomato is the Mortgage Lifter.  I don't know if this is because it's a tomato that my Granddaddy Phillips always grew or if the tomato is really that good.  Either way, the most exciting part of tomato season is when I harvest the first Mortgage Lifter.  That hasn't happened yet this year, but you can be sure I'll file a report when it does.