Reality Check
Here, There and Back Again

Toast and a Summer Break


It's finally cooled off in Berlin, which means that we can sleep under thin coverlets at night again, that big puffy clouds float past my little office under the eaves at a rather brisk clip, that I can enjoy hot tea in the mornings once more, and that I don't have to drink an icy glass of milk for dinner but can actually cook a pot of spaghetti, with sauce. Two burners, going at once! That's rather nice. Our tomato plants on the balcony are finally bursting with little red fruits. At first I could just pluck one or two off and rub them against my pant leg before popping them in my mouth, but now there are handfuls going in salad bowls. It's intoxicating - though I swear I'll never live in a house, I often find myself dreaming of vegetable gardens these days.

Another thing I'm obsessed with lately is the "Cooking From Every Angle" column on Food52. It is crammed with interesting little snippets and delicious ideas. I daresay it's my favorite thing about that site - every time I scroll through the column, I can hear my stomach growl. It makes me want to buy spices at a furious clip, replenish my cluttered utensil drawer with clever tools, stew fish in tomato sauce for a spaghetti dinner and freeze tiny berries in lemon-flavored ice cubes. But the thing it makes me want to do most is eat toast.


Not just any toast, mind you. But toast spread with mustard mayonnaise and topped with mashed avocado. It is my new lunch. It is what I think about when I go grocery shopping for boring things like plain yogurt and face cream. It is what I crave when I open the refrigerator door. It is all I'd like to eat right now.

There's barely a recipe. You mix together equal parts smooth Dijon mustard and mayonnaise and spread this on a piece of hot toast. (I like to toast toast until it's quite well-done and crunchy. What's the point of flabby toast?) Then you take half an avocado, scoop it into a bowl, sprinkle it with Maldon salt and a few drops of lemon juice and mash it with a fork until it's tamed but not entirely creamy. I rather like those bite-sized pieces of avocado to remind you of what you're actually eating.

This gorgeous green-yellow mash then is gently spread to the edges of your mustard-mayo spread toast. You can plop this on a plate and sit down at your table to eat it, or you can lean yourself against the kitchen counter with a hand cupped under the toast to catch crumbs as you eat. Whatever you do, don't plan on sharing the other half of the avocado with anyone. Halfway through one toast, you'll already be on to toasting the second piece. Then the avocado will be gone and you'll be licking savory mayonnaise off the corners of your lips and plotting just how many avocados you can eat in one week. As it turns out, quite a few.


If you tire of this delicious meal, though I don't see how you could, or if you're allergic to avocados or just rather interested in eating something slightly different every once in a while, this is another open-faced sandwich lunch I've taken to like a house on fire lately: spicy salmon mash on toast. Is that what I'm calling it? I guess it is. There: Spicy Salmon Mash on Toast. You take a can of wild salmon - preferably printed with some kind of logo attesting to its sustainability or inclusion in the Marine Stewardship program - and drain it, then flake the fish into a small bowl. Into this small bowl go equal amounts of mayonnaise and Sriracha sauce - I use somewhere between half a teaspoon and a teaspoon of each. Mash everything gently together with a fork, taking care not to entirely liquefy the salmon; you want some integrity left in each bite. Then, once again on very crispy toast, you pile the pink flakes as high as you'd like to go.

Important here is something cooling to offset the spicy salmon - I find three very thin cucumber slices to do just the trick. They are like mini air-conditioners for your palate and crunch ever so agreeably along with the rather velvety fish. Then there's the rough rasp of the toast and you've got a symphony of textures enlivening what you thought was going to be a delicate, little luncheon-for-one.


I thought this was strictly girl food, to be honest, only something to be eaten at home during the day on a break from work. But then I made it for lunch the other weekend, when there was nothing else in the house and it was too hot to think straight, and it turns out that men like this, too.

I got greedy at the market this week and even though we're leaving for Italy tomorrow, I came home loaded down with bags of local zucchini and sour cherries, mini-Roma tomatoes, sweet and juicy, and soft-skinned local apricots. And, most precious, four ears of sweet corn, an unusual sight in Berlin. Alright, unheard-of, really. I boiled two ears for lunch and ate the first one sprinkled with lemon juice and cayenne pepper, like an Indian friend of my father's once taught me how to do. The other I ate more prosaically with sweet butter and great flakes of salt.


It made me miss the Union Square farmer's market and those shimmering hot New York afternoons. Florid Manhattan sunsets and my friends. My Berlin corn was less plump and juicy than my beloved New Jersey corn. Faintly bitter and a little bit tough. Sort of like Berlin itself, I guess.

Then I stewed a pot of apricots, inspired by Rachel, and it made me think of my aunt's apricot tree in Italy and how much I can't wait to be there, which is good because it is high time, I think, high time that I take a break and unwind. I've had a few too many nervous nights lately, a little too much fear and loathing surrounding the writing of this book of mine.


So, to that end, friends, I'm going to be taking a little break from here. I hope you don't mind, but I need to unplug, as overused as that term may be, and get out of my head for a little bit. Focus on the beach and weeding rapacious baby acacia seedlings out of my mother's property, pray to the mighty fig tree that its fruit might ripen a month early, drink a bitter Italian cocktail at sunset in town while munching on a salty piece of rosemary pizza, and take walks before dinner with friends, my feet crunching over dry soil and wild mint.

I'll be back soon: if I'm brave, in September, and if I cave, before then. Either way, I'll return with delicious things to share. Until then, have yourselves a bunch of wonderful Augusts. Hold on to these days. Soak them up. Eat as much corn as you can, and fresh berries, and great big slices of watermelon. Go to the beach and stay too long. Take walks in flip flops at dusk. Photograph the way summer light falls on your living room wall. And remember what Longfellow once wrote: 

Then followed that beautiful season,
Called by the pious Acadian peasants the Summer of All-Saints!
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new-created in all the freshness of childhood.
Peace seemed to reign upon earth, and the restless heart of the ocean
Was for a moment consoled.  All sounds were in harmony blended.
Voices of children at play, the crowing of cocks in the farm-yards,
Whir of wings in the drowsy air, and the cooing of pigeons,
All were subdued and low as the murmurs of love, and the great sun
Looked with the eye of love through the golden vapors around him;
While arrayed in its robes of russet and scarlet and yellow,

Bright with the sheen of the dew, each glittering tree of the forest

Flashed like the plane-tree the Persian adorned with mantles and jewels.

See you soon, folks.