Food for Thought
Cue the chorus, we’ve got a tomato
Kathy is singing at top volume.
Those of you who know my wife — an experienced stage performer/singer — realize how loud this is.
She is coming into the house, entering the living room from the deck.
She is singing the theme to ”Rocky.”
And, in a hand held high, triumphant, she carries … a small tomato.
A two-inch diameter, bright red fruit.
This is a big moment: one we have waited for since last spring.
It is the harvest.
Time to eat the world’s most expensive tomato.
I can’t shut Kathy up. She sings, top volume, all the way to the kitchen, bearing this tomato like a lady in waiting displaying the heir to the throne to the jubilant masses.
There was a time, long ago, in our hometown of Denver, that a ripe tomato — a large, ripe tomato — was nothing out of the ordinary. We had gardens then in which tomato plants in the plot would produce four or five large, perfectly ripe beauties per day, once the season reached its peak.
In fact, we had too many tomatoes and, lacking the pioneer energy required to can the fruits, we gave them away or, more often than not, at season’s end, left them to fall from the vine and rot.
Such was life in Tomato Paradise.
When we migrated to Pagosa Country more than two decades ago, we left Tomato Paradise behind.
Lacking a greenhouse, the four-to-five tomato day was a thing of the past. In fact, the four to five tomato season was the stuff of dreams.
Yet, bless her heart, Kathy has made numerous attempts to grow the fruit here in Siberia With a View. And each time a success occurs, there is a grossly exaggerated celebration
Such is the case today.
Witness the theme from “Rocky.”
Kathy is ecstatic. If she could gild this red sphere with gold leaf, she would do it.
I get her to damp down the music and I pry the tomato from her hand. She hovers as I wash the fruit, remove the stem, and core and cut the tomato in half.
It’s H-Hour: Kathy’s one tomato is about to meet the test, unadorned, unseasoned, naked in its tomatoness.
I plop my half tomato into my mouth (no need to be precious, there’s not enough for two bites).
I keep quiet, chew and allow Kathy to declare it, “The Best Tomato I’ve Tasted In A Year!!!!”
She has a point, albeit a loud one.
The darned thing, diminutive as it is, actually tastes like a tomato.
I know this, because I have a basis for comparison. Kathy and I were recently in Italy, where we were able to indulge to our hearts’ content. The Italians still produce and prize heirloom tomatoes, and demand the taste of the “real thing.” They have not yet succumbed to the agribusiness facsimile of the tomato — perfectly round, perfectly red, perfectly tasteless, perfectly awful.
Music and festival aside, this fruit does taste great. True, the skin is tough — a product of a harsh environment — but the flesh is … tomatoey.
Kathy launches a new assault on the senses, reprising the theme from “Rocky,” and I set to figuring how to capture that taste with a back-door approach. After all, life here in Siberia With a View will not bring many more of these luscious fruits to the door (though, later in the week, our generous neighbors give us several tomatoes they have grown in a garden at the front of their house).
Lacking the fresh, homegrown fruit, what’s the next best thing?
Canned tomatoes.
Forget the pathetic fresh crud that adorns the produce section shelves at the market, including those labeled “hothouse” in origin. No taste there, pardner.
Canned, it will be.
There is an advantage here, given that the canned goods are generally of high quality, the tomatoes processed at their peak. These are not the mutants designed to be turn red in contact with gases, without actually ripening, genetically engineered for endurance in the shipping process rather than for pleasure on the palate.
Nope, these canned babies tend to be close to the real deal. And there are some darned good ones on the shelves.
And, I might add, they are significantly cheaper than the fruit borne, with great fanfare, into our kitchen this day.
Kathy’s tomato cost, when one figures in special container, special soil, water charges and labor — approximately $600 per ounce.
A large can of decent tomatoes ... about two bucks.
There won’t be joyous, gaudy music when the can is opened, but the goods inside will do the trick in any number of applications.
My favorite domestic variety? Organic, fire-roasted, crushed.
Works in nearly every application — especially in sauces as a main ingredient, in sauces as an additive.
For a tomato sauce — utter simplicity: sliced garlic gently cooked in extra-virgin olive oil, perhaps a bit of finely minced onion as well. Heat goes up a bit, in goes a bit of dry red wine and the wine is cooked down to near nothing. The crushed tomato goes in next and is cooked until it starts to turn color toward the brown side of red and to sweeten, most of the moisture evaporating. A touch of chicken or beef broth, salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, basil. The top goes on the pan, the heat goes down a bit. When the sauce is cooked, the top can come off the pan to allow the sauce to reduce a bit more and the seasoning can be adjusted. Too tart for ya? Add a pinch of sugar, if you must.
Want a great little sauce for a chicken cutlet dredged in seasoned flour and sautéed?
Brown the chicken on both sides and remove to a heated plate (remember, these are cutlets—— approximately 1/4 inch thick — so, when browned, they are nearly cooked through). Add a bit of olive oil to the pan if there is not enough left after the chicken is browned off and toss in some finely minced white onion or shallot. Cook over medium-high heat until translucent. Add a quarter cup or so of a dry, white wine and reduce. Throw in a couple cloves of garlic, mushed and a couple tablespoons of the crushed tomato. Cook for a couple minutes then season with herbs de Provence and pepper (hold the salt to the end, since this baby is going to be severely reduced). Toss in some drained and rinsed capers, perhaps a few nicoise olives, pitted and cut in half, put the chicken back in the pan. Add some minced parsley and a tablespoon or so of heavy cream, a splash of fresh lemon juice and continue cooking until the liquid is thick. Reseason, add salt to taste and, turning off the heat, swirl in a tablespoon or so of butter.
And, as you eat, hum a few bars of the theme from “Rocky.” The tomato is triumphant.


Obituaries

Russell F. “Trey” Sanders, III

Russell F. “Trey” Sanders, III, 42, passed away Sept. 4, 2007, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Trey was born Aug. 23, 1965, in Rochester, N.Y., to Judith and Russell F. Sanders, Jr.

He graduated from Pagosa Springs High School and Colorado State University, where he achieved an engineering degree.

Trey is survived by his mother, Judy; brother, Steve (Megan) Sanders, of Boulder; sister, Stacy (Brent) Gendreau, of Glenwood Springs; niece, Taylor Sanders; and nephews, Alijah Smith and Spencer Gendreau.

His father, Russell Sanders, Jr., preceded him in death.

Family services will be planned at a later date in Colorado.

Trey’s family requests memorial contributions in his honor be made to AZ Cancer Center/UAF, Attn: Skin Cancer Institute, 1515 N. Campbell, Tucson, AZ 85724, and Hospice of the Valley, 1510 Flower St., Phoenix, AZ 85014.



Robert W. Drake

Robert W. (Bob) Drake, 85, of Pagosa Springs and Albuquerque, died Sunday, Sept. 30.

Glessie Drake, his wife of 44 years, survives him. At his request there was no funeral service or memorial. And, no words of sympathy are to be extended to his widow. Instead, when you see her “you are to share a favorite memory” of Bob, “or lift a glass to happy marriages and long lives.”

Drake was the son of Vernon and Florence Drake. He was born in Camillus, New York, and finished high school in Syracuse. He attended Brown University as one of the four scholars nationwide to receive a John Hay Scholarship that year and graduated in 1942. He spent his entire career in the nuclear weapons program, first in Washington, D.C., and then at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Francis A. (Frank) Donlon

Francis A. Donlon, 77, of Temecula, Calif., and formerly of Cohoes, N.Y., died Saturday, Sept. 15, 2007, at Albany NY Medical Center Hospital, embraced by his loving family.

Born in Cohoes, N.Y., he was the son of the late William B. and Helen Morrison Donlon and husband of the late Marie Forget Donlon.

Frank lived in Cohoes until 1961 when he relocated to Fontana, Calif.

He graduated from La Salle Institute in Troy, N.Y., and received his degree in criminal justice from Chaffey College in California.

He was a former police officer with the Cohoes Police Department and retired homicide detective in Fontana, Calif. He was a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

He is survived by his devoted sons, Andy (Susan) Donlon, of Pagosa Springs, Colo., Michael (Julie) Donlon, of Fallbrook, Calif., and Patrick (Kelly) Donlon, of Highland Ranch, Colo.; 10 grandchildren; a great-grandson; four younger sisters, three brothers and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.


Elaine Hyde of Pagosa Springs is celebrating her 80th birthday Oct. 21. Family and friends are invited to participate in the celebration, by sending her a special birthday wish. Please send cards wishing her well and sharing special thoughts.
Please mail your cards to Elaine Hyde, P.O. Box 805, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147.

WEDDINGS

Ivy Isberg and Jonathan King

Ivy Isberg and Jonathan King were wed July 28 in a ceremony atop Reservoir Hill.
Ivy is the daughter of Karl and Kathleen Isberg, of Pagosa Springs. Jonathan is the son of Jack and Patsy King, of Pipersville, Pa.
The couple will reside in Pagosa Springs.

BIRTHS

Kaeden Rhys

With God’s blessing, proud parents Angela and Devon Schrader, of Fort Bragg, Calif., welcomed their “miracle” baby son, Kaeden Rhys, on Aug. 28, 2007. He weighed in at 5 pounds, 7 ounces, and he was 18 inches long. Maternal grandparents are Baltazar and Maria Gallegos of Pagosa Springs. Paternal grandparents are Alan and Iris Schrader of Crescent City, Calif. Great-grandparents are Mr. and Mrs. Fred Martinez of Pagosa Springs; Jane Martinez-Gallegos of Pagosa Springs; and Joe B. Gallegos of Arboles.