roasted roma tomatoes

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i had friends over this past weekend for a quiet little cocktail party. some brought fresh mint to muddle into mojitos and whole peaches to slice and plunk into the blender, i made lots of little appetizers and miniature desserts, and it was a grand time. i don’t live in the best neighborhood – think bars on windows and sirens at night – but i tell you, twilight and christmas lights can make just about any venue charming.


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i brought out one of my favorite recipes to headline the menu: roasted roma tomatoes on toast. it is a recipe that i’ve got bookmarked in an old issue of sunset, glossy pages wrinkly from spills, i’m sure, and probably still wedged into the bookshelf at home between some jane austen books and even older issues of national geographic. but since i don’t live at home anymore, i did some figurative bookshelf browsing and found the recipe online. it is here.


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i first came across it during my balsamic vinegar kick. i used to go through these phases when i’d browse through recipes or restaurant menus with certain choice ingredients on my radar. i had a period when i loved roasted red bell peppers in just about everything, another when i had my eyes bright and open for anything with goat cheese, other times for caramelized onions, grilled sourdough bread, roasted garlic… come to think of it, all those things would make a really good panini right now.

anyway. roasted roma tomatoes.

in the recipe, the tomatoes get halved and roasted for a little over an hour in the oven, basted all the while in a sauce made of balsamic vinegar, finely chopped onion, brown sugar, and just a bit of olive oil.

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at the end, the tomatoes get kind of melty – soft and rich with the caramelized flavor. it’s the perfect topping to go with a smear of creamy goat cheese on some crispy toasted baguette.

we moved the party in by the end of the night, and as we were sitting in the living room, i heard a crunch and an “mmmm” behind me. one of my friends had gone into the kitchen for a second round, it turns out. that noise is just about the best sign of gastronomic approval, i think.


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Roasted Roma Tomatoes on Toast
Adapted from this recipe {Sunset, June 2003}
Makes 8 appetizer, 4 main-dish servings

8 Roma tomatoes (equal size, 1 ½ lb. total), rinsed and cored
½ onion (about 4 oz.), peeled and finely chopped
¾ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Goat cheese (about 5 oz.)
Baguette, sliced crosswise, brushed with olive oil, and toasted
Salt

1. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Lay halves cut side up in a single layer in an 8- by 12-inch oval or rectangular casserole (rim should be at least ½ in. higher than tomatoes).
2. In a 1 ½- to 2-quart pan, combine onion, vinegar, sugar, and
olive oil. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often. Pour over tomatoes.
3. Roast in a 400° oven (convection not recommended) until tomatoes are dark brown and sauce is browned and thickened (bubbles will be large and shiny), about 1 ¼ hours; baste tomatoes with sauce and onions about every 15 minutes at first, then more frequently as mixture begins to thicken, to avoid scorching. Use hot, warm, or at room temperature.
4. Spread goat cheese equally on oiled sides of the olive-oil toast slices. Spoon tomatoes and juices equally onto toast slices. Add salt to taste.

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(500) days of summer

i think i have a crush on this movie.

i saw it the weekend it came out, and i still catch myself thinking about it from time to time, and melting just a little bit.

and joseph gordon-levitt… my, did he grow up nice.

sweetness

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i think summer has come around to be my favorite season again.

i loved it as a kid, of course, because it meant three months of freedom and sunshine. some of my brightest moments from kidhood were summer afternoons with my best friend: we could fill an entire day with sewing clothes for our stuffed animals, scooping a ridiculous amount of ice cream into the blender to make milkshakes, inventing new hairstyles, watching horrible daytime tv, taking turns listening to simon and garfunkel on my walkman…

but some time in college, i came to dread summer. once late may rolled around, i had to confront the fact that i had lost touch with my old friends, and all my new ones would be at home for the break. instead of freedom, summer came to mean empty days in an un-air conditioned house, halfheartedly reading a book or watching reruns of trading spaces, if i was lucky. i recall one year i decided to strip all the wallpaper from my bedroom – using a spray bottle of vinegar and a scraper – and repaint the walls, just so i could have something to do. i learned a very handy home improvement technique, yes, and ended up with a very pretty blue bedroom, but i will also forever have mixed feelings towards the scent of hot vinegar.

these post-college years, i believe, have given summer back to me as my enchanted season. despite working at a school, i don’t have any extra time off, so it’s not about the leisure these days. it’s something else. there’s something to the sweetness of the air in the evening, and how the good weather changes everything. i can have the most trying, confusing day and still come home and sit outside in the light of dusk with a cold drink and my thoughts. that just couldn’t happen on a winter night. i suppose that’s what it is: summer offers some softness, some forgiveness at the end of every day. some space. and – whether i use that space to breathe and quietly try to regain my sanity, or to look up from a relaxed dinner with friends for a moment to notice the twinkly lights – it promises to be there.

strawberry lemonade

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maybe it’s bad form to spend my precious time here complaining about the weather… but it is HOT. i don’t know what the temperatures have been lately, but i would venture a guess that it’s around one hundred and shrivel degrees farenheit. i don’t even know if it’s a dry heat or a humid one; i just know every time i go outside in the afternoon i regret my decision.

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so i spent a little spot of last weekend mashing ripe strawberries and reaming juice out of lemons and limes (using a fork, ’cause it’s what i got) to make some strawberry lemonade, to see if it would help. i’ve been revisiting the pitcher of it in the fridge throughout the week: pouring a glassful over ice, or splashing in some fizzy soda, and even mixing it into a delicious and boozy drink (which i’ll be telling you about soon). i think it’s combating the heat quite nicely.

it’s a tasty way to cope.

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Strawberry Lemonade
makes 8 servings
adapted a whole bunch from this recipe {Martha Stewart Living, July 2009}

Strawberry Syrup:
2 cups water
ripe strawberries, sliced then mashed with a fork to make 1 cup
1 cup sugar

Lemonade:
1 ¼ cups fresh lemon and/or lime juice (I used the juice of 4 lemons and 4 limes)
1 cup sugar
5 cups water, or to taste

  1. Make strawberry syrup: bring water, mashed strawberries, and sugar to a boil in a large saucepan, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine sieve, pressing gently on berries to release juices; discard solids. Let syrup cool completely.
  2. Make lemonade: strain juice(s) through a fine sieve into a large pitcher. Add sugar, stirring until it dissolves. Stir in water.
  3. Add syrup to pitcher and stir to combine. Serve immediately with lots of ice; or dilute with more water to taste and chill for later.

almost there

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i had the sweetest little drive home today. it was dusk, when the streets are at their softest, and the perfect song came on. i drove along, catching glances of all the lights just starting to twinkle on, and i just felt lovely. sometimes a good song at the right time feels like providence, small token of it as it may be.

it’s very nearly time to crawl into bed as i write this. the night outside my window is as black as it’ll get when you’re in the city, but i have my thoughts thrown forward toward morning already. it has been a full week, busy in the best sort of way, where i happily bob about from task to task to to-do list… but that means i am relishing the idea of a nice, slow saturday morning. and i am so glad that is only a day away.


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one last thing to leave you with: i just found this song on a cd a friend left behind in my stereo, and i’m already hooked. i have a feeling it’ll be playing behind all things sunny and pleasant i do this weekend.


…may your weekend feel the way this song sounds.

summer sunday

yesterday i made this cinnamon-chocolate chip sour cream cake

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and had a slice of it this morning while i sipped some iced coffee, doctored a bit with a couple spoonfuls of condensed milk

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and nibbled a bit more at the book i am reading oh-so-slowly.

delicious.

thrifty ice cream

did you know that there is this fantastic thing going on at rite aid, where you can get a double scoop of thrifty ice cream for 99 cents? it is real. i went there yesterday evening after a hot, dizzying after-work drive around town to check out potential apartments, and it was just the thing.


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that’s a scoop of chocolate brownie (my first time trying it) plunked on top of a scoop of strawberry (…i’ve lost count by now).

thrifty ice cream has a very secure place in my southern california childhood. there was one summer i would go there nearly every week after my dad picked me up from my evening art class. by the time i climbed out of the car, the night sky would have turned dark and the air finally cool. i would follow my dad into the brightly lit drugstore, flip-flop sandals slapping the floor, and stand before the ice cream freezer to order – without fail – either a scoop of strawberry, mint n chip, or rainbow sherbet. and my dad – almost as predictably – would pull out his green plastic coin purse, those keychain ones you find at souvenir stores that split open like a baked potato when you pinch the ends, and he would pay entirely with change.

one night, when he was slowly counting out the coins and the cashier was standing patiently by and waiting, my embarrassment became palpable. my dad noticed and turned to me and said something like, ‘you know, one day, when you are older, you will remember how daddy used to always pay for your ice cream with pennies.’ i would laugh about it, he implied, instead of fidgeting and scowling. i would look back with fondness.

well, daddy was right. there are all sorts of ways i have grown up since that summer night, but one lick of strawberry, and i return to innocence (that’s a song, isn’t it) and to the tenderness of that moment. so hey, for 99 cents a pop this week, i’m going to revisit my childhood as many times as i can.

strawberry season

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the strawberries in this town are ridiculous. i don’t know if it’s just trader joe’s, or southern california, or maybe the entire state, but every box i’ve bought recently has been filled with berries that are ripe and sweet and flavorful. i was slated to bring dessert for a beach picnic yesterday, and had decided to bring some white chocolate-dipped strawberries. but as i was washing them into a colander in the sink, i popped a couple stray ones into my mouth, and they were so sweet and delicious straight out of the box, it was almost painful to dip them and disrupt the taste with a melted chocolate coating.

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but obviously i did anyway.

now i am inspired to make more of this strawberry season. i made a detour to the market earlier today to pick up more boxes of berries, and this evening i am making that strawberry pie that i posted about earlier. it piles a couple pounds of fresh fruit in a crumbly cookie crust, unadorned except for a saucy glaze made of more strawberries. the pie is for my dad, because today is his birthday.

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over the last couple months, i’ve found cooking is my ticket back home. i returned a while back and spent an afternoon in the kitchen with my mom, relearning how to make the fried rice and dumplings that had been so present in my childhood… and relearning how to talk to my mother. and now perhaps it’s my dad’s turn. i remember saying that this would be the year i’d remember to be a daughter, and for once i feel like i’m starting to do things right. strawberry season is magical in all sorts of ways, i suppose.