Bouquets of Freshly Sharpened Pencils, and Tomatoes

10 Sep

Yes, it’s that time again.  New clothes, three-ring binders, pencils, red pens, and those annoying snap-in three-hole punches that leave perfectly little round paper confetti all over the industrial carpeted floor.  The kids are back tin school, and my feet hurt.

It has been three years since I’ve been in a self-contained classroom, and while having worked as a single-subject teacher, a specialist, and then an instructional coach have all been incredible, and memorable, learning experiences, I’m so glad to be back with the kids.  Each day is different, and frankly, kids are cuter than adults (usually).

But getting back on the horse of the day-to-day-is-completely-different expectation has limited me on some of the things I have loved doing.  Such as waking up at 7:30 and watching the Today Show.  Taking long walks, catching up on food blogs, and reading cooking magazines.  And more than anything, spending most of the day in my perfectly L-shaped kitchen, making tomato jam, blueberry sauce, and tomato sandwiches.

In the August edition of Bon Appetit magazine, Adam Rapoport did a little blurb on Hellman’s Mayonnaise – it’s tang, it’s smoothness, simply it’s perfection.  Especially paired with a still-warm-from-the-sun tomato.  Finally, to read from someone who agrees with me about eating that mayo from the jar (well, I guess I learned from the best: Mom and Uncle Tom).  That little written oration, almost so easy to miss through the early pages of the mag, speaks passion and more than anything, a real summer taste.  Tomatoes, mayo, period.

Until now.  I have been playing with tomatoes for weeks now, and refuse to let one succumb to the overripe gods of the compost pile.  During the bitter, rainy winter/spring months, there’s sans a tomato in sight in our kitchen, so now is the time for indulgence.  I’ve even brought them to school and eaten them like an apple, brushing off my colleagues’ I’m-trying-not-to-look-at-you-but-it-seems-a-little-weird stares.  But the sauce I made, not originally intended for tomatoes, has made the lycopene-laced fruit speak loudly and with force: Peach and Fig Butter.  It’s sweet, tangy, subtle, and giving tomatoes a run for their money.

A friend’s mom was visiting from NorCal (where almost every fruit, veg, and leafy green has the ability to flourish wildly), and brought some Adriatic Figs to share.  These figs were so ripe they were about to pop – their bright green skin thin and stretched, like a, well, tomato ready to pop.  Adriatic figs are milder and less holiday tasting than the common black Mission Fig, and pair well with many summer flavors.  Two of my favorites being tomatoes and peaches (which I mix often), I imagined the perfect combination of a thick, smooth fruit butter to spread on tomatoes speckled with a creamy Gorgonzola.  Paired with a crisp Oregon Pinot Gris, can’t you just taste it now?

It was fabulous.  I took a shortcut with the butter by immersion blending the fruit after it had been simmering for a bit (rather than starting with a puree), shortening the thickening process drastically.  Despite the name, fruit butters don’t actually contain butter, but get their name from the thick, smooth quality the long simmering process renders.  Thick this was, and tasty.  The figs cut the sweetness from the peaches, and the subtle “warming” spices rounded out the fullness of the flavors.  Slathered on a tomato, our taste buds sung.

I teach 6th graders this year.  They are a lot different from the 4th, or even 8th graders I’ve grown accustom to teaching.  They, unlike my 4th and 8th graders, don’t care so much about my cooking stories.  They think talking about Fig and Peach Butter on a tomato is weird.  Maybe it is.  Not much is cool, unless you have a knack for really dry, overly intended sarcasm, which I, unfortunately, remember exuding all too well.  Call it the hormones, or maybe just the “transition year,” but I’m hoping they will come around to understanding the idea of having a passion for something as much as they understand an author’s voice in writing, or variables in algebra.  Having a passion is cool.  It made Adam Rapoport write about mayo.  It made me pair unlikely ingredients.  Hopefully, they will realize the coolness, too.

Fig & Peach Butter (makes 1 pint)

  •  5 large Adriactic figs, very ripe, diced
  • 2 large yellow peaches, peeled and diced
  • ¼ + 1/8 c organic sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¾ c water

Heat all ingredients in a pot over med-high heat until bubbly and liquidy. Add the ¾ c water, and blend well using an immersion blender or spoon into a stand blender.  Cook over low heat until very thick (when running a spoon through the butter, it should leave a trail).  Note: the butter will sputter when cooking; use a deep pot unless you want your stovetop to get covered in random, sticky, Jackson Pollock looking splotches. 

Let cool (it will thicken even more), and slather over tomatoes, toast, dollop on oatmeal, or whatever your heart desires.  Enjoy! 

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