Clementine Bakery's Banana Cake

Mark Bittman's Tomato Jam


You know what's funny? It just occurred to me that in a little less than 24 hours, I'm going to be on my honeymoon in Greece. What's not so funny is that that sounds terrifying. Because in the meantime, sometime in the course of this day, I have to attach the manuscript of my book (at last count clocking in at just under 100,00 words) to an email and send it to my editor. And then I have to get up from my desk, turn off the computer and go away for two whole weeks.

Sometime soon, when I have a little more time, I'd love to tell you more about what a psychological trip this whole writing-a-book experience has been. There have been so many moments of absolutely hideous self-doubt, treacherous late-night thoughts about failure and a lot of real frustration, anger and sadness. But there have also been these strangely exhilarating moments, too, like the other night when I was really killing a chapter and I suddenly felt so seized with energy and power and happiness, yes, that my hands started to tremble as I typed.

That feeling, in that moment, was worth all of the other ugly stuff that came before. And right now, now that I'm scared stiff once again and am stuck trying to scrounge up a few more final words from my tired old brain and it's like squeezing water from a stone and I'm once again convinced that I am a hack and a fraud and should just go ahead and change my name to spare myself the humiliation of publication, I am trying to remember how glorious the other night felt.

Because that night I thought,

This feels so good that I never want to stop writing.

You guys, that was in the top five best feelings of my life, I'm sure of it. Right up there in the Number 2 spot.


I'm nowhere near done; my manuscript still needs a lot of work. There will be edits, rewrites, more edits, tears, self-doubt, misery and hopefully, along the way, a few more moments of that exhilarating happiness that crop up when you least expect them. But I did it. I got the first draft done, bird by bird, drip by drip.

I did it.

I did it.


Now because, as I mentioned, my brain right now is like a dry old stone, like a pumice stone that's been abandoned by the side of your bathtub for about three years and is practically cracking in half it's so dry, I'm going to keep the rest of this brief. (You have been so patient and so kind while I've been so quiet here lately that I feel awful leaving for two more weeks, but you understand, right? You know? That this isn't just a honeymoon for me and Max, but also the world's best-timed and most-needed vacation? That directly after pressing "send" on the most terrifying email of my life, I luckily have no choice but to go away and not turn on a computer for 13 whole blessed days?)

We are flying to Greece tomorrow to spend a week at a cousin's house on an island in the Cyclades and then, because we are honeymooners, we're going to spend an entire second week on the islands, too. Two entire weeks of vacation. I don't think I'll quite realize what kind of a luxury that is until we're there. We did not, when we booked the trip long before my appendicitis struck, have any idea that I would be writing up until the day before we left. I've never gone away on a vacation so unprepared. All I know is at what time the ferry to the island leaves Athens. I guess we'll figure out the rest when we get there.

A few weeks ago, back before I dove under entirely, I made a batch of this tomato jam. I'd come into some plum tomatoes for cheap and they were really good ones, thin-skinned and deep red and flavorful. I made the jam, barely paying attention, as with most things lately, other than writing. I filled two small jars with it and had just enough left to tide me over through lunch.


Tomato jam is a funny thing; sweet when you're expecting salty, savory when you're expecting sweet. I spread it on a piece of crusty bread and topped it with a fried egg, the gooey yolk sort of swimming into the hot, sweet jam. It made for a very tasty lunch-for-one-standing-up-at-the-counter and would have been an even better breakfast, especially if I had taken the time to sit down and eat like a civilized person. And perhaps added a few strips of bacon to the plate.

The original recipe says you have to consume the batch within a week or so, but I canned it with no ill effects by simply filling the very hot jam into sterilized jars, screwing the lids on tight and turning the jars upside-down until fully cooled.

I'm doing my best to hoard one jar for the depths of winter when we have no sun and no tomatoes and the pink sunsets that still steal across the sky these days are long gone. But I don't really get to complain yet. After all, I've got two weeks of sunshine awaiting me. Two weeks of beaches and books and walks and balanced meals and more tomatoes than I will probably know what to do with. Two weeks to spend time with Max and sleep in and go swimming and let the knot in my back unwind at last. Two weeks to remind myself every day that I did it, I did, and that that is the whole thing, the work, the accomplishment, the thing I set out to do. Two weeks to be grateful and happy for the chance.

And with that, I should go. I have to gather myself, have to let go, have to tell myself it's okay, have to tell myself to be proud, have to press send, have to howl with glee and terror, have to cry, just a little, have to pack, have to go.

I'll see you soon.

Mark Bittman's Tomato Jam

Makes 2 small jars with a little left over
Click here for the original recipe

1.5 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh grated or minced ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or cayenne 

1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan, Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.

2. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then pour into hot, sterilized jam jars, screw the lids on and turn the jars upside down to cool completely.