Taking Good Care

heirloom tomatoes
I’ve been thinking about nourishment lately. And satisfaction. See, I just finished Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter (finally) and in it she talks about the experience of opening her thriving restaurant Prune, being wooed by a man that makes her homemade ravioli, her travels to Italy each summer to be with his family, having children, and her immense love for really good food. But it’s also about the facade of all of those things — about the deep loneliness she constantly faces. Feeling unhappy in her marriage, running ragged working around the clock at the restaurant, forgetting to eat or putting together odd, haphazard meals at odd, haphazard times of the day. Feeling dissatisfied. Feeling undernourished.

I have two friends who opened a restaurant here in Oakland and we chat sometimes about their dinners at the restaurant or whether or not they cook at home anymore. The answer is always the same: they no longer have time to cook at home, they’re sick of the food at the restaurant, and they’ve started to eat fast food in ways they would never have anticipated. And these are not fast-food women. But late at night when you’re feeling worn out after greeting hundreds of diners and hustling out plates of food while keeping your staff in check — there’s something about the perfect combination of salt and fat (along with speed and minimal effort) that just does the trick. It’s not food you ever imagined yourself enjoying, it’s not food you’d want to be seen eating, but it’s food all the same. Satisfying. For just a moment.

heirloom tomaotes
At the bakery, I experience something very similar. I never remember to bring a lunch and would never  let myself take the time to sit down and enjoy it anyway. It’s always a lot of hustle and the more breaks I take, the longer it is until I finally get to head home. So I snack on roasted hazelnuts or spoonfuls of peanut butter. Or lemon curd on top of broken toast points that the catering company that cooks beside me has left behind. Satisfying. For just a moment. Why is it that we are all preparing food that we feel good about and spending time sourcing the best ingredients when we’re in the back of the kitchen inhaling chocolate chips just to keep our energy level up and racing home to drive-through french fries or ice cream for dinner? We’re not taking the same care of ourselves that we take preparing and serving food for our customers.

I had dinner with a lovely, jam-making friend last week. She’s younger than I am by a few years and smart as a whip. We sat talking about wholesale accounts, the food business in general, and our wacky schedules. She mentioned that she’s putting in 14-hour days from here on out until December 23rd. No days off. She just can’t: she has to produce all the jam for the year while the fruit is in season (and that, my friends, is right now). So she mentioned her staff and how the one thing that she does do to make it more manageable throughout the shift is to prepare a staff meal each day for them. Sometimes she does it, sometimes her boyfriend comes in to do it, but they always sit down and eat a meal together.

I got home and thought about our conversation. First, perspective: when I’m feeling run-down and a little sorry for myself about long hours and schlepping pies to the farmers market, I think about Dafna and her constant 14-hour days. Then I thought about how important it is that, while still working longer-than-long days, she’s making strides to take good care of herself and her staff in little ways. I know this seems small and I realize lots of restaurants have family meals together, but in the type of shared commercial kitchen environment that we both work in, this seems huge. When you pay by the hour and hustle to get out of the kitchen before another company comes in and spreads out their equipment, their vats of flour, their corn syrup across your station– that’s making a pretty big commitment to yourself and your staff. And it’s not so much about just the need to eat and feel momentarily satisfied. I think it’s really about nurturing: it’s the right thing to do, it feels good, it feels important, it’s at the root of what we all really believe in.

roasted tomatoes
So there are little ways to hold onto satisfaction that last more than ten minutes. To strive towards feeling truly nurtured.  I’m getting glimpses of this. Towards the beginning of Hamilton’s work, she talks about an outdoor party her parents threw: “Slowly the meadow filled with people and fireflies and laughter — just as my father had imagined–and the lambs on their spits were hoisted off the pit onto the shoulders of men, like in a funeral procession, and set down on the makeshift plywood-on-sawhorse tables to be carved. Then the sun started to set and we lit the paper bag luminaria, which burned soft glowing amber, punctuating the meadow and the night, and the lamb was crisp-skinned and sticky from slow roasting, and the root beer was frigid and it caught, like an emotion, in the back of my throat.” The perfect evening light, a crackling fire, people you love, food that makes you happy. That’s nourishment.

And so is deciding to commit Sundays as an actual day off for writing, seeing friends, sitting by the lake and reading, roasting tomatoes, maybe even cooking a real meal. Things that make me feel nurtured. I struggled with actually not doing any real work this past Sunday and forcing myself to take a full day to myself.  We’ll see how long it lasts — but for now, I’m trying it out. It feels good. It feels important.

When you need to take a deep breath and a step back, these tomatoes are the place to turn. They take three to four hours in the oven so you literally can’t rush. They’ll make your kitchen smell like the height of summer and you’ll have trouble practicing moderation when they come out of the oven warm and dripping with good olive oil and softened sprigs of rosemary. Add them to pasta salads, omelets, frittatas or bowls of marinated farmers market vegetables. Or poach an egg at 10:37 on a Sunday morning with the paper on the kitchen table and your third cup of coffee. Lay the poached egg over the top of the roasted tomatoes, tear off a hunk of bread from the night before and sit on down for breakfast. Sit on down.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

  • Yield: About a half pint
  • Cook time: 3 hrs

You can roast as many tomatoes as you like; this is just a guide for proportions of olive oil, garlic and rosemary to tomatoes. Plum tomatoes are fantastic roasted as are smaller cherry or grape tomatoes. Don’t cut your tomato slices too thin or they’ll cook too quickly and aren’t likely to hold their juice while roasting. I do a generous 1/2-inch slices.

Ingredients

5-6 heirloom tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
3 garlic cloves
6 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 200 F and lay the tomatoes out on 2 baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and garlic and rosemary. Drizzle with olive oil so each tomato has a thin layer.

Bake for 3-4 hours (depending on the size of your tomatoes — for very large heirloom slices, it’ll take longer). The tomatoes should look a little shriveled, even browned on the edges, but should still retain a little of their juiciness.

Comments

  1. Danielle

    Yay you finished the book!! We need to discuss it over our next round of drinks, isn't she such a compelling story-teller? Well, her story is pretty compelling on its own too. It's funny because the book had the same effect on me - thinking about the place and meaning that food has in my life and the relationships around it. Powerful stuff eh?

    Love roasted tomatoes and...nice rosemary you got there ;)

  2. Amy P

    I too have been struggling to embrace downtime, but I took two hours on Sunday morning to process (clean, blanch, dry, freeze) a half of a crate of beet greens that my husband had brought home from the farmers market after volunteering (he canned the beets today). I didn't do anything other than focus on those greens and while I often had the urge to rush, I kept telling myself to focus and enjoy because the slower moments are hard to come by when we really need them. I look forward to making these tomatoes—enjoy your Sundays!

  3. Jen

    What a lovely post! I work a busy job in a non-food industry but there are no "lunch breaks" built into my schedule, and it's something I have to force myself to do. It's so easy to grab whatever, but lately I've really been thinking about finding a place to actually sit--in a booth or at a table--instead of behind the wheel of my car. I think the act of slowing down will help me think about what I'm eating, too.

  4. Anna

    Megan - Thanks for this great post. It definitely resonates with me. I've worked in restaurants that allow no time for keeping myself fed and energized. I am not self employed, but on top of my jobs I have a lot of projects that I work on and it is really hard for me to take a day off and to find a balance between doing what I enjoy and what I need to do. I hope you enjoy your sundays, it is all too easy to feel guilty about a day off when there is so much to do, but I will remember the importance of taking care of myself.

  5. Stephen

    Remarkable writing and sentiments. You're terrific.

  6. Tracy

    Just downloaded the book! You pushed me over the edge....and that egg? You are a true friend.

  7. Deb

    Your post is spot on. It's only now that I am not working full time that I have started to enjoy cooking again. And enjoy everyday, all the little moments that get lost in our daily frenzy. " Be here now" is my daily mantra.

  8. Maddie

    A lot of us spend so much time taking wonderful care of other people that we leave no time for ourselves—myself included. Thanks for calling us out on that! I hope you keep every last, delicious minute of Sunday all to yourself for a very long time to come.

  9. Ashley

    I remember those long kitchen days and at the end of the rush, of feeding other people, I would ravenously stuff myself with whatever stray cookies or bits of meat, from the savory side, I could find. And, now that I think about it caring for children is sort of the same. The entire day is one thing after the next, we're surviving through the chaos. But recently I discovered that I need at LEAST one day a week just devoted to cooking. Really cooking. Not just throwing meals together at 5 to be eaten by 5:30. A day in which I slowly dance around the kitchen, trying new things, new flavors, new techniques. It sustains me, grounds me, and just as you say, nourishes me.
    Great post. :)

  10. marla

    Love that oozy egg on the top. Such a nice, rustic meal.

  11. Mary

    Gorgeous photos + post. i just took an amazing jam class from your friend. Learned so much from Dafna. Hope you both get some down time.

  12. Dana

    As always with your posts, I loved this. I, like you, do so much cooking/baking and feel like the person who gets the short end of the eating stick is me. My breakfasts and lunches are shameful - things I wouldn't admit to eating. Just too hungry and too much effort to take out yet another pan or shop for yet more ingredients. This is such a good reminder that if we are not nourishing ourselves (or our loved ones), then why do we bother? Hope you are hanging in there. Miss you.

  13. Evi

    You should also roast some carrots and onions with the tomatoes and then make roasted veggie soup- so delicious. Savory flavors!

    1. megang

      Evi: Great Idea. Thanks!

      Dana: I hear you about casual/lame lunches...you also have the kids, so I'd say you're excused from making great meals all of the time. Absolutely. Miss you, too!

      Ashley: You're excused, too! Full-time mom + amazing writer/photographer = excused. (Love the image of slow dancing throughout the kitchen).

      Hi Mom; Hi Dad!

      Thanks for your sweet comments, Mary, Marla, Deb, Jacqui and Maddie.

      Anna and Jen: Thank you so much for sharing. I know it's certainly not particular to just cooking/baking, is it? That balance is really tough for so many of us...

      Amy: Good for you! Yes, there's always the tendency to multi-task, too (for me, anyway): I can respond to emails while ___ is baking or catch up on the phone with my sisters. But there's something to be said, as you mentioned, for just focusing and enjoying. Cheers to that.

      Danielle: Kick-ass rosemary. Thank you.

      Anne: Yes, let's chat about that book. And Tracy: when you finish, love to hear your thoughts!

  14. momgordon

    From across the miles with one wee bar of internet on the porch- this is just a lovely post! Do take those Sundays, because it's important- and so are you! Miss you!

  15. The Dinner Belle for KimberlyBelle.com

    I really enjoyed Blood, Bones and Butter too! I also reviewed it on my site if you want to check it out sometime ;)
    I think it's a great idea to give yourself 'me time' on Sundays; doing things that you enjoy is always a great way to make yourself feel good. Enjoy the changes!

  16. jill@sweetlifegarden

    Thank you, what a pleasure to read, you said alot in such a lovely way! I'm adding you to my blogs favorite list. xo j

  17. tea_austen

    Love, love, and very glad to hear it. Such a hard thing to do sometimes, but then why did we start out on these paths in the first place? The pleasure of the food, the nourishment and care, cannot just be to give to others. It must also be for ourselves. xox

  18. Danae

    This was so good, thanks for posting this.

  19. robin

    This sounds wonderful, cant wait to go to my farmers market Saturday to stock up on tomatoes.

  20. El

    You definitely put perspective on what's often perceived as the "glamorous" side of opening a small food business. Enjoy your Sundays. You deserve them.

  21. Denise | Chez Danisse

    Great post. Inspiring. You quoted my favorite part of the book. I love slow roasting tomatoes. They were so good with halved Peach Boy dry farmed tomatoes (Happy Boy Farms) last year. I hope they have those Peach Boys when I get home. Take care, Denise

  22. Kathryn @ Dramatic Pancake

    Megan, what a great post. I think this is something so many people, including myself, can relate to. I definitely feel pressure to keep going all the time, but it really is so important to set aside time for yourself to recharge -- physically and emotionally. I love these tomatoes because they look delicious, easy AND good for you!

  23. Mel

    Hello, thank you for sharing such a thoughtfully written post... you have made me think this morning about a few things in my own life that need to be put right too!

    I hope you eat fabulously well this week. :)

  24. Lemon

    Very inspiring post!
    And I also love the recipe you share, seems like the perfect summer taste! I feel like I can "see" the taste when looking at your photos, they are just great!

  25. London Cleaning

    Very nice post! I felt really inspired of it!
    And you should note that the good idea is a good one and yours is a blast!

  26. Sarah

    Lovely post. I just finished Gabrielle Hamilton's book as well and was also struck by a lot of the sadness and loneliness she felt. As a private chef I relate to how draining it can be to nourish other people than come home too tired to chop even one vegetable for yourself. It's a struggle, but sounds like you're making a start! I've been focusing on exercise and getting up early enough for a cup of chai in my backyard before I'm on the road and off to the markets for my clients.

    1. megang

      Hi Sarah. Thanks for the comment. You're so right that it's often the little things (quick cup of chai in the mornings) that can make a bit of a difference. I'm finding that exercise helps a lot lately, too. A quick spin around the lake and my head is usually clear and ready for the next thing on the list. Happy Monday!

  27. kickpleat

    I have that book on hold at the library and can't wait. As for perspective, it's a good thing to think and figure things out and actually setting aside a day to have fun/catch up/breathe is so so important.

  28. Kasey

    While my perspective is different (I work in the startup world, not the food world) I often think about the fact that sometimes it's just EASIER to eat because of necessity and not pleasure. But, even after a long day of work, a long commute, and chores around the house (not to mention blogging!) it feels so nice to just sit and tell yourself, "this is necessary. This is nourishing for the soul." xoxo

  29. Notes from Holly St.

    I'm sure I've said this before but your writing is absolutely beautiful. This post was perfection and reading it felt like nourishment for the soul. Since having a baby six months ago I haven't had time to cook a real meal and enjoy it like I use to. The entire preparation process use to be therapeutic for me after a long day and I crave being in the kitchen again. I am inspired to get back in there, no matter how late my baby goes to sleep or how tired I am. Thank you for this post.

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