Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I hold a mug of coffee to my chest, warming my hands and sternum, and try to ignore the ache that's sloshing around inside my torso. It's so quiet in my kitchen that I can hear my heart racing in my ears.  I start to talk to myself like a crazy person wondering what is wrong with me and why can't I ease through these parenting transitions without crying I mean come on Phyllis it's just kindergarten not the motherfucking army.

Late-summer dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes are deprived of water.

"Mamaaaaaaa. Oh mamaaaaaaaa. Ahhhhhh." I jump at the sound of my son's voice and run down the hall, splashing coffee the whole way, wondering what could possibly be worth wailing about with such intensity at seven in the morning. I find him in my bed, tears streaking down pink cheeks, body occupying the warm indented spot I left five minutes before. I lean in to massage his earlobes and kiss the salty water away. Kerpow!!!! He has me in a neck lock.

 They flail around, eventually sending their roots deep down in a desperate search for moisture. 

"Mama, all I want to do is stay in bed with you all day."

These thirsty runty hybrids are steeped in color, flavor, and magic.

That's what I want to do too. To stop time. To sink into the bed forever. But I must be a good mama and help him rally for his first full week of kindergarten.

Roll out your dough, press it into a tart pan.

"Dashi, we have to get up and do wild things. We need to make tarts. We need to make new friends. We need to learn how to read."

Whip the heck out of some labne kefir yoghurt cheese, an egg, some salt, maybe some lemon zest. Spread the creamy mixture over the bottom of the tart shell. 

He full-on leg locks me.

Remove the tomato stems and an inch of each core. Keep them whole. 

"Dash. We have to get out of bed and eat chocolate croissants!"

Press the tomatoes down into the bed of cheese.

Bingo. His whole body softens and I am free.

Hide an anchovy in each cavity.

My little torpedo is in the kitchen within three seconds, squeezing the warm chocolate out of the pastry, chugging milk, hitting his sister across the table with a cardboard sword.

Fill them to the rim with olive oil and gooey balsamic.

I text my husband and tell him to drive carefully. I make school lunches. I tie some new big-boy sneakers. And I admit to my daughter that no amount of caffeine will help me master the Celtic-pretzel hair knot and she's just going to have to settle for a side ponytail.

Bake until the tomatoes shrivel and deflate and the cheese is golden brown.

My lip-glossed and color-coordinated daughter looks me up and down and launches into her daily critique. "Mama, those are your cooking clogs. You're not wearing them out of the house, are you? And look. There's a spot on your pants. That's what you get for wearing the same pants two days in a row. And you really need to brush your hair."

Eat the tart while it's still warm. 

"Come on, Dash. Come on Bella. Let's go conquer the world!"

You might find that the cooked tomatoes taste like someone's Italian grandmother scooped out the innards, made a 24-hour sauce, and poured the reduction back into the neon skins.

My battle cry moves them out the front door. 

You might find that it's comforting to make and eat this tart. 

I grab their hands and march out to the car. And I don't cry until they're safely tucked into their classrooms. 
Anchovies are, of course, optional. But they really do disintegrate into the tomatoes so people will only notice a lovely saltiness. Don't replace labne kefir yoghurt cheese with regular yoghurt or Greek yoghurt (too moist). Goat cheese is a better substitution. You could use Roma tomatoes but they're not nearly as powerful in flavor. Or you could use cherry tomatoes and deconstruct the tart a bit by spreading the anchovies around on top. Don't use beefsteak or large juicy heirloom tomatoes because you will end up with a juicy mucky soggy tart.

1 recipe basic tart dough
3/4 cup labne kefir yoghurt cheese
1 egg
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half
pinch kosher salt
12 dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes
kosher salt/pepper
olive oil
12 anchovies (packed in oil)
balsamic vinegar (the thicker the better)
1/3 cup chopped parsley

Roll out tart dough and press into tart pan. Refrigerate until needed.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Beat the cheese, egg, lemon zest, heavy cream, and salt until smooth. Spread evenly over the bottom of the tart shell.

With a paring knife, remove stems and about an inch of the core from the tomatoes. You want to make room for an anchovy and some liquid. Press whole tomatoes into cheese mixture (hole up). Sprinkle salt and pepper into each tomato. Tuck an anchovy into each cavity. Fill remaining space with a splash of olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Bake until tomatoes have shriveled and the cheese mixture is nice and brown. About 45 minutes. Allow to cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Eat.