This is my last post until after Labor Day. Like many of my fellow compatriots, I am taking some time away from writing to relax, rejuvenate, and re-energize for the upcoming post-Labor Day season. The season that will begin the exhausting whirling dervish that’ll carry each of us to and through the winter holidays. Good Lord! Did I just mention the “holidays” already? Ugh!
In any event, this last post of the unofficial summer is a reprint of an op-ed article written by an author and radio personality that I’ve admired for many years — Garrison Keillor. (Thanks to Spencer Aste for posting an excerpt on Facebook.) Not a man to mince words, this is his rather blunt (yet poetic) take on the present political situation AND the importance of the tomato season. Yes, that’s right, tomato season.
Ask my friend Pete, and he’ll tell you I’m crazy for tomatoes and generally only enjoy them during this time of year when they are at their finest. During the rest of the year, you can hear me screech, “I only eat tomatoes for 6 weeks out of the year.” Not quite accurate since there are a plethora of gourmet shops that can provide good tomatoes in any season, but even those can’t compete with local heirlooms picked fresh from the garden or farm and sold at the local farmer’s market — Heaven.
As my summer’s end gift to you, I present Mr. Garrison Keillor.
We Will Survive This
(originally published on August 1, 2017, on the op-ed page of the Washington Post)
“So. We have a vulgar, unstable yo-yo with a toxic ego and an attention-deficit problem in the White House, and now we can see that government by Twitter is like trying to steer a ship by firing a pistol at the waves — not really useful — but what does it all add up to? Not that much, if you ask me, which you didn’t, but I’ll say it anyway.
We will survive this. He will do what damage he can, like a man burning books out of anger that he can’t read, but there will still be plenty of books left.
I went to my high school class reunion last week and the gentleman’s name never came up. He has been front-page news for months, every bleat, blurt, yelp, and belch. His every gaseous eruption is played over and over on cable news. But among my old classmates, not a word. They spoke with awe and reverence of their grandchildren (we’re the class of 1960), some about travel, plumbing projects, beloved old cars, stories of youth and indiscretion, nothing about death or President Trump. After five hours with them, I have no idea whether they lean left or right. Remarkable.
Marvin Buchholz and Wayne Swanson are still farming, though they, like the rest of us, are 75 or close to it. They both know what sweet corn is supposed to taste like. Dean Johnson is still tinkering with cars. Rich Peterson is in terrific shape, thanks to teaching physical education all these years. His parents ran Cully’s Cafe out back of the Herald office where I wrote sports when I was 16, and I’d come in to eat hot beef and gravy on white bread and potatoes while reading my own immortal words in black type. They loved that boy, and he turned out well.
Bob Bell and I discussed some classmates whom I considered lowlifes and hoods because they wore black shirts with white ties and drove old cars with flame decals and loud mufflers, but he saw a better side to them and stood up for them, and good for him. His dad was an attorney, so Bob grew up with the idea that everyone deserves a good defense.
Carol Hutchinson was a librarian, Vicky Rubis a schoolteacher, Mary Ellen Krause worked at the town bank, one of the spark plugs who kept our hometown’s enormous Halloween parade going all these years. Carl Youngquist and I remembered our basketball team of 1958, a good bet to win State, but we lost in the early prelims to a bunch of farm boys from St. Francis. St. Francis! It was like Rocky Marciano being KOed by Mister Peepers.
It’s a privilege to know people over the course of a lifetime and to reconnoiter and hear about the ordinary goodness of life. By 75, some of our class have gotten whacked hard. And the casualty rate does keep climbing. And yet life is good. These people are America as I know it. Family, work, a sense of humor, gratitude to God for our daily bread, and loyalty to the tribe.
If the gentleman stands in the bow and fires his peashooter at the storm, if he appoints a gorilla as head of communications, if he tweets that henceforth no transcendentalist shall be allowed in the armed forces, nonetheless life goes on. He fulfills an important role of celebs: giving millions of people the chance to feel superior to him. The gloomy face and the antique adolescent hair, the mannequin wife and the clueless children of privilege, the sheer pointlessness of flying around in a 747 to say inane things to crowds of people — it’s cheap entertainment for us, and in the end it simply doesn’t matter.
What matter are tomatoes. There is an excellent crop this year, like the tomatoes of our youth that we ate right off the vine, juice running down our chins. There is nothing like this. For years, I dashed into supermarkets and scooped up whatever was available, tomatoes bred for long shelf life that tasted like wet cardboard, and now I go to a farmers market and I’m astonished all over again. A spiritual experience. The spontaneity of the tomato compared to the manufactured sweetness of the glazed doughnut. An awakening takes place, light shines in your soul. Anyone who bites into a good tomato and thinks about Trump is seriously delusional.”
And with that, I’m off to the farmer’s market — heirlooms, here I come!
Have a safe and happy rest of summer, and I’ll “see” you on the other side.
Time to Dine: Cooking for Joan
But, of course, a post about summer tomatoes deserves a tomato recipe. This is a salad that my San Francisco roommate, Thierry, use to make when tomatoes were in season. (At the time, he was the head Sommelier at the famed Masa’s restaurant — wine cellar in our basement — nice!) The salad is so simple yet the complexity of flavors is astounding.
The sweet acidity of the tomatoes, the creaminess of the avocado, the bite of the red onion, the earthy flavor of the basil, all combined with the most simple dressing is, in a word, divine. I’ve made this a summer staple and I hope you do too (As a matter of fact, I’m making it for dinner tonight). Now, go to the store or Farmer’s Market before the season is over!
Heirloom Tomato, Avocado & Red Onion Salad
Prep Time: 15 minutes | Makes: Serves 6 to 8 | Difficulty: Easy
- 3-4 fresh heirloom tomatoes, chopped into large bite-size chunks (get a variety of colors)
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 avocados, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar (the best quality)
- 1 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil (the best quality)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl
Add the balsamic and then the oil and carefully toss (use as much or as little of these 2 ingredients — whatever your taste buds prefer)
Before serving add salt and pepper to taste — salt pulls moisture out of tomatoes quickly, so don’t salt too early.
Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
*Image Courtesy of LEW ROBERTSON/GETTY