By Frugal Son:
In these times of economic uncertainty, I have noticed an increasing number of newspaper articles on the subject of simple pleasures. Usually, the articles profile a few of the formerly wealthy—almost invariably workers in finance or real estate—and the adjustments they’ve had to make since their jobs and savings collapsed along with the rest of the economy. It’s as though these articles are all cut from the same mold with only a few details changed; without fail, these fallen elite mention that the things that have truly brought them happiness were not expensive cars, luxurious boats, or opulent houses. Rather, the simple pleasures of life continue to steadily deliver even in the worst of financial scenarios. Things like taking a walk with your family, reading a book, or enjoying a piece of good Cabot cheddar are affordable even in the worst of times. And lest you think I’m preaching self-deprivation, there are frugal pleasures to be had even within expensive contexts. While a walk in the neighborhood is nice, a night stroll in a great city like Paris heightens an already enjoyable experience.
Believe it or not, this meandering post came to me as I thought about how much I enjoy eating sandwiches made with my father’s home-grown tomatoes on my father‘s (already blogged-about) bread. For the six weeks out of the year that our tomato plants produce--soil blight and the heat shorten our growing season--we have beautiful, fresh tomatoes every day. Rather than cook them and destroy the fresh flavor, our family’s preferred method of use is the simple tomato sandwich. According to my father, he developed our version of the tomato sandwich out of necessity as a way to use up the precious, but perishable, tomatoes. He credits the venerable BLT as the inspiration for his stripped down and tomato-centric sandwich. The sandwich is composed of just four ingredients: bread, mayonnaise, cheese, and tomatoes. After toasting the bread, I put a thin layer of mayonnaise on one slice of bread followed by a few thin slivers of Cabot cheddar. The raisons d’etre of the sandwich, of course, are the plump round slices of succulent tomato that I add last before closing the sandwich.
In years past, the family has embellished the sandwich with lettuce, adding a pleasant crunch, or a few leaves of fresh basil, for a burst of herby freshness, but we always end up going back to the original, simple sandwich. Something about a fresh tomato sandwich, the lingering warmth of the toasted bread meeting the cool tomato slices, is supremely refreshing on a hot summer’s day. The experience, for me, is almost Proustian and reminds me of summers long ago spent playing in the rows of tomato plants. Conversely, when I think of summer tomato sandwiches are one of the first things that come to my mind.
Though our tomato plants have a fleeting production cycle, they yield copious amounts of fruit for a few brief weeks, and, during the times of tomato plenty, each person in the household eats two sandwiches per day, if not more, lest the tomatoes start to go bad. The tomato glut has other strange effects on our eating habits; the six brief weeks of tomato sandwich season account for well over half of our yearly mayonnaise consumption. So, as the world faces its problems and I my own (a particularly unpleasant visa situation for my upcoming study abroad experience being my latest fiasco), I take great comfort in the fact that I can stop for a few minutes in the mid-afternoon to relax and remind myself of the simple pleasures and beauties of life in the austerity of a tomato sandwich.