Normally this time of year, almost every square inch of the kitchen counter at my parents’ house is covered with garden-fresh tomatoes. They’re edible jewels, tempting us every time we walk by. Eventually someone will pick some basil from the herb garden, a ball of mozzarella will find its way out of the cheese drawer in the fridge, and lunch will be minutes away.
Normally this time of year, I’m there to take full advantage of the colorful summer bounty. If you know me at all, you know I consider tomato season a very real time frame of its own.
But some years, like this year, life creeps in front of me and I’ve found myself out of arm’s reach from the bountiful garden (or, a wee bit farther). The strife of living gardenless during tomato season pulls strings of my heart that I’d rather not be pulled. Some days I scour New York City in hopes of finding a product that will even vaguely resemble a garden-fresh tomato. Those days I usually end up throwing my empty hands in the air and exhaling slightly louder than appropriate in such a crowded city. “At least it’s almost pumpkin season,” I think.
But you know what–and yes, I am about to give advice to myself–life rarely goes exactly the way we want it to. Setting unrealistic expectations (i.e. always being as close to a tomato crop as possible) is dangerous. It’s the moments we dare to step out of our molds and accept life’s curveballs that we really feel alive.
My quest to build the best caprese sandwich with the resources my neighborhood in New York had to offer led to a small Italian grocery where the fresh mozzarella is pulled daily. My grocery store’s lack of fresh basil led me to a recipe that combines equal parts spicy mustard, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and pesto as an alternate dressing to a caprese sandwich. It led me down aisles of the store I didn’t know existed in search of a top-notch roll and an a perfectly fragrant tomato. Add a little salt and pepper, and it led me to sandwich that, though not garden fresh, was the (second) best caprese sandwich ever. The quest opened my mind and deepened my understanding of this city in which I live just a little bit more. Sometimes, you learn a lot by settling for second best.
But boy, what I wouldn’t give for a garden fresh tomato….