The other morning, there was a distinct hint of fall in the air. No really! We have been having sunshiney days in the 90s, yes I know – but the other morning. It was overcast and I was making oatmeal and the windows were open to let in some cool before the heat of the day, and there it was. Just the barest glimmer, enough to make me turn toward the windows and sniff the air and think, soon. Soon. But not now. Now daylight still stretches past the boys’ bedtime. We are overwhelmed by squash, blasé about berries and fresh pesto and sweet corn, convinced we will be eating sand-flecked slices of juicy tomatoes, at the beach, forever.
The beach today was especially fun because we had cousins along to play with. There was a serious hunt for sea turtles that might be hiding in the sand dunes, there was an enormous pit to be dug with no purpose other than sitting in it, and then like hermit crabs scavenging a bigger shell our little ones scuttled down the beach and took over an epic sand castle (moats! tunnels! bridges!) that had been built by some big kids and then abandoned.
At lunch, we sat on our big striped blanket and watched as what we were sure were dolphins frolicked in the waves, coming ever closer to the shore, until fins were flashing right along the break. Jacob and Sonia marveled at them, exclaiming “dolphins!” repeatedly, their voices low with awe, their eyes locked on the dark flashing bodies as they ate their sandwiches.
Kate and I did a lot of “dolphins!”-ing, too, thrilled for our kids and trying to get the babies to look, look, because “dolphins!” And then we heard a confident six-ish year old calling to her mother, “Look mom! Pilot whales!” We glanced at each other. Whales? In the break? Was that girl nuts? “I’m pretty sure those are dolphins, not whales” we whispered to each other, but the girl’s absolute confidence had us wondering. I pulled out my phone.
Pilot whales they were. Or, if you prefer, “[among] the largest of the oceanic dolphins.” Ah. Of course. Score one for the six year old.
My kids come home from the beach and eat huge dinners. They sleep soundly and well after long days filled with sun and salt water and high adventure. There are no distractions at the beach, for them or for me – just playing and laughing and eating food that tastes better outdoors, as food does. I think maybe, partly, it is because we are so present there together that they remember it so fondly.
We have been lucky this summer to make it out to the beach so much; we live just a handful of miles from some wonderful sandy shores. Lucas has, within his one-year-old’s vocabulary, clear words for ocean, sand, beach, shovel. And though he has no word to express it, he absolutely radiates delight at stomping his feet in the water, holding my hand and being almost knocked down by the wavelets that come up to his knees. Jacob, meanwhile, hurries to the barest foamy edge of the water to fill his buckets, one eye always nervously on the surf. He races back to his excavation projects, crouching down low in the sand, frowning and hollering “Be safe!” when Lucas gets too gleefully drenched.
I try to take pictures, to write down snippets here and there. But really, the memories I’m worried about aren’t my own. For Jacob and Lucas, I hope that these long days in the sand and waves are laying a foundation. l want this to be the bedrock of what summer means to them; being outside, with family and friends, taking all the time in the world to explore what matters most to them. To dig for it, to jump for it, to breathe it in. To run screaming and splashing, into and away from it all at once.
I hope for them that as the hints of fall eventually become stronger, as our beaches grow colder and our days shorter, their memories of summer will intensify. The colors of the water will become brighter, the sand castles will grow bigger, the sandwiches will be more delicious and the dolphins will … be pilot whales. Or whatever.
Summer, intensified and concentrated, held onto for those days ahead, when it will be just a memory, yes. A good memory. And also a promise of more to come.
Roasted Tomato Sauce
This recipe is just slightly adapted from the fun and inspiring locavore blog Year of Healthier Living. Roasting tomatoes, as we know, concentrates them. It brings out their sweetness, their tartness, their very tomato-ness. We like to make something we call “Toma-isins” by roasting our cherry tomatoes on very very low heat, for a long time, until they dry out like raisins (sun golds are especially good here). This though is something different – this is a roasted tomato turned into a rich and almost scandalously tomato-fied sauce. It is meant to be frozen, and doled out through the winter, when the wonderfully dense tomato flavor will match perfectly with the overblown memories you have of those precious summer heirlooms. But I roast two pans at a time – one for me, one for the freezer.
This sauce couldn’t be easier – and your house will smell like yum as it cooks. One thing though: the first time I made this, I overdid the garlic. If you live at our house, you think that roasted garlic is delicious, so the sauce was actually still quite good. But the next time I made it, I cut the garlic down to just one measly clove, because that was all I had – and wow. The tomatoes, when they’re not playing second fiddle to the garlic, are amazing. So even if you see that it calls for roasting garlic cloves and think, ooooh, yum, I love roasted garlic! – even if you think that, give the recipe a chance as it is written. At least once. You’ll be amazed at how much nuance a long hot run in the oven coaxes out of your most flavorful summer tomatoes. Yes, I’ll say it – it tastes like your very best memory of what a tomato can be.
12 heirloom tomatoes (or enough to fill two baking sheets when sliced)
2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment or foil. Wash and dry tomatoes, then slice into quarters or chunks. They are getting pureed at the end so looks don’t matter – the more pieces you have the more charred edges you will get, so you can decide if you want lots of smoky bits or just a few. Gently toss the tomato pieces and garlic with olive oil and spread evenly over baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt. Roast for about two hours, checking and stirring half way through (see first ‘roasted’ photo above). once the tomatoes are roasted, with charred edges and most of the juice dried out, remove from oven. Put it all into a large bowl, and puree the tomatoes and garlic pieces with a stick blender until it is the consistency you want (I have made both chunkier and smoother varieties, and both are terrific).
Serve immediately over pasta or (perhaps its highest calling) grilled eggplant slices. Or it will keep in a freezer safe container for 6 months in a standard freezer … long enough to get you through winter with plenty of tomato goodness to light those shorter, darker days.