When my mother-in-law emailed to say that she was coming to visit us for a week this August, I…rejoiced. Contrary to the negative connotation that the words “mother-in-law” usually elicit, I have the good fortune of being married to a man whose mother is simply, lovely. When she comes to town, we drink cabernet together, visit farmer’s markets together, cook together and in the evening, curl up on the couch and chat like girlfriends. So, when she gave us her dates, I rearranged the calendar so the days would be wide open for her visit. Then, she reminded me why she was, at this particular time, coming.
“And, on Tuesday, I’ll be picking up my new golden retriever puppy, Mollie.”
Let me explain, dear friend, why I received this information with a bit of trepidation. Not a day goes by that my children do not beg me for a puppy. Present me with spreadsheets and flowcharts regarding the cost outlay and delegation of responsibilities. Perform award-winning speeches in persuasive speaking. When my 10-year old was but a little guy, I used to say that once he was in kindergarten we could get a puppy. Then, along came the baby. To their cries I would reply, “The baby IS the puppy. You can take him for walks, give him treats, teach him tricks and even clean his poopy diapers.” Believe it or not, this worked…for a while.
The Saturday before the big “Puppy Pick-Up Day,” was “Go Visit Your New Puppy Day.” Wanting to be supportive and share in the excitement, the whole family joined my mother-in-law (aka Nanny) as we went to meet Mollie. We were ushered into the small greeting room where we met “couldn’t be cuter” Mollie. We held her. Snuggled her. Sniffed her puppy breath. And, then, as we were picking ourselves up to go it was mentioned, soft as a whisper, that “We still have a male puppy available, would you like to see him?” And, someone, said, “Yes.” And, voilà, there he is, dear friend, in the picture below. I’m holding him and yes, isn’t he adorable?
Driving home, we knew, the time had come. We were getting a puppy. We talked about where he would sleep. Where he would eat. What we would name him. We talked about walking him, training him and cleaning up after him. We went to bed elated. At 4:00 in the morning, I bolted up, swore like a sailor and said to myself, “Have you lost your mind?”
Over the course of the next few hours, while the rest of the house was still sleeping, I formulated the speech I would need to give the children once we were all awake. Let me further explain, dear friend, that it’s not as if we haven’t had a puppy before. We had a great, big, 80-lb golden retriever in our lives for 8 year before he died much too young from cancer. And, I love dogs. So, while my mind was racing to come up with the most truthful, honest reasoning I could give to my children, it dawned on me that all these years of “not another puppy,” I’d been blaming it on my sweetie – “You know that Daddy doesn’t want a dog. We can’t get a dog.” – when really the reason lied with me.
Mid-morning, I gathered the chickadees in the sanctuary of our bedroom, took a deep breath and said, straightaway, “We can’t get the puppy.” And, with a hand up to silence their crying out, I said, “And, here’s why.” Another deep breath. “When Daddy and I decided to have children, I wanted my full-time job to be at home with you, raising you, watching you grow into the amazing people you are. I didn’t have to do that. I wanted to and not a day goes by that I am not grateful for it…. however, for almost 13 years, Mommy’s been in the baby phase of parenting and I’m ready for the next phase. I can see it coming. It’s almost here and if we were to get a puppy, that would put Mommy back in the baby phase for another two years, at least, and I simply can’t do it.” “But we would help!!!!” “ I know that you say that you would help and I know that your words are genuine but the reality is that I would be responsible for the puppy and I can’t do it.” “Why?!!!”
A quick glance at my sweetie there, silently supporting me, I decided to switch to a metaphorical speech. “Imagine that you get to go to the most beautiful school on earth. Flowers everywhere. A little creek running along the backside. A gigantic playground with real swings. Computers at every desk. You can even play football at recess. And each day you come to school you get to study something you love…maybe for you, it’s fashion design, and for you, it’s the science of football and for me, child development. And you love everything you’re learning but….while you get a break to eat your meals, there isn’t any recess. And, there aren’t any weekends or holiday vacations. And after dinner, you have homework until bed. As the years go by you begin to look up from your studies long enough to notice that other people are outside playing from time to time. They’re down by the creek. Swinging on the swings. You realize…other people are actually playing. Other people have recess. And….Mommy wants recess.”
As I stepped down from the podium and the emotions from my fiery sermon began to ebb, I took stock of the children’s faces. The 10-year old was staring off into space, not making eye contact with anyone. The baby was bouncing all around our senior citizen feline, saying, “I just want a black kitty.” And, my daughter…the silent tears. I have no patience for the dramatic, full-blown crying fits…but the silent tears. Torture. Trying to swallow down the lump in my throat, I quietly said, “I’m so sorry. I wish I could give you this. I love dogs. But I can’t take care of one right now. I simply can’t be responsible for one more living being. I’m sorry.”
We somehow managed to get through the next few days. When Nanny brought Mollie home to our house, my daughter held her and cradled her. And, yes, she was sad but I believe there was a part of her, the part of her that knows she may be a mother one day too, that understood. Although, when asked by her friends why she didn’t get the puppy, I’m sure she responded with, “I don’t know. Something about my Mom wanting recess.”
Later in the week, Nanny sent us an email message to let us know that she and Mollie had made the cross-country flight home without a hitch. There was no need to worry. (I believe my frequent-flyer husband had been more anxious about his mother’s flight home with a puppy under “the seat in front of her,” than she had been.) Attached to the email were pictures of Mollie in her new home and a recipe for “Granny’s Tomato Tart.”
In honor of Mollie’s safe trip home and the knowledge that sometimes the hardest part of being a parent is saying, “no”…I made “Granny’s Tomato Tart” or I should say, my version of it, with the October tomatoes that just keep coming from the “little tomato plant that could.”
“End-of-the-Season” Tomato Tart
(A simplified version of Granny’s Tomato Tart, The New York Times, August 11, 2009)
1 ¼ c all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt (1/4 tsp salt if using salted butter)
8 tbls (1stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut in pieces (if salted butter is all you have in the house, use it and reduce salt above.)
1 tbls fresh thyme, minced or 1 tsp dried, optional
2 tbls minced shallot, optional
2-3 tbls ice water
1-2 tbls Dijon mustard
8 oz Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
10 ripe plum/roma tomatoes
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
Freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp salt, or to taste
Now, before you run away from me simply because I’m suggesting that you make your own tart crust, please hear me out. I do not consider myself much of a baker. I can bake and I do from time to time but it is not my forte; however, I can turn out a pretty tasty pie crust and I’ll tell you the secret…you gotta keep it cold. That’s it really…well, that and wipe from your mind the image of the “Cover Pie Crusts.” Those perfectly crimped beauties with the little cut-out leaves that grace the covers of magazines this time of year. Trying to make our food look like “cover food” is just as silly as us trying to make ourselves look like those air-brushed fashion beauties. And, now back to the recipe…
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and process for about 10 seconds or until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the thyme and shallot; process a few seconds more. (For those of you who prefer a more “purest” tart crust, simply eliminate the thyme and shallot.)
Then, with the machine running, add the water a little bit at a time, just until the dough begins to hold together. Turn it all out onto cutting board/pastry mat/hunk of marble and form it into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes. Or if you’re really pressed for time, as I usually am, go ahead and slap it in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Slice up your tomatoes. Grate your cheese. Have your mustard and spices ready.
At the appropriate time, pull your dough from the refrigerator. Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin. Roll out dough into one 10-inch disk 1/8-inch thick. Line your 10-inch tart pan with the dough and trim the extras.
Spread mustard lightly over the bottom of your tart shell. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese. Arrange the tomatoes, in even, slightly overlapping, circular rows. Sprinkle with the Herbes de Provence, the salt and pepper. Bake until tomatoes begin to shrivel and cheese is melted about 30 minutes. Serve warm.
Yield: About 6, good-sized, tart slices
My sweetie did observe that this tart tastes and smells an awful lot like a grilled tomato and cheese sandwich and while, I do agree, I had to remind him that it’s all about the presentation. So, feel free to serve your tart slices with similar accompaniments as a grilled tomato & cheese sandwich: a cup of soup, a green salad or like I did today for my children’s lunch, some apple slices. (A glass of red wine would go nicely as well.)
PS: For those of you having a hard time getting past the part where I turned down that cute little bundle of fur…I will let you know that the little buddy went to a great family and here he is at home on his boat.
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009