Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I hold a mug of coffee to my chest, warming my hands and sternum, and try to ignore the ache that's sloshing around inside my torso. It's so quiet in my kitchen that I can hear my heart racing in my ears.  I start to talk to myself like a crazy person wondering what is wrong with me and why can't I ease through these parenting transitions without crying I mean come on Phyllis it's just kindergarten not the motherfucking army.

Late-summer dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes are deprived of water.

"Mamaaaaaaa. Oh mamaaaaaaaa. Ahhhhhh." I jump at the sound of my son's voice and run down the hall, splashing coffee the whole way, wondering what could possibly be worth wailing about with such intensity at seven in the morning. I find him in my bed, tears streaking down pink cheeks, body occupying the warm indented spot I left five minutes before. I lean in to massage his earlobes and kiss the salty water away. Kerpow!!!! He has me in a neck lock.

 They flail around, eventually sending their roots deep down in a desperate search for moisture. 

"Mama, all I want to do is stay in bed with you all day."

These thirsty runty hybrids are steeped in color, flavor, and magic.

That's what I want to do too. To stop time. To sink into the bed forever. But I must be a good mama and help him rally for his first full week of kindergarten.

Roll out your dough, press it into a tart pan.

"Dashi, we have to get up and do wild things. We need to make tarts. We need to make new friends. We need to learn how to read."

Whip the heck out of some labne kefir yoghurt cheese, an egg, some salt, maybe some lemon zest. Spread the creamy mixture over the bottom of the tart shell. 

He full-on leg locks me.

Remove the tomato stems and an inch of each core. Keep them whole. 

"Dash. We have to get out of bed and eat chocolate croissants!"

Press the tomatoes down into the bed of cheese.

Bingo. His whole body softens and I am free.

Hide an anchovy in each cavity.

My little torpedo is in the kitchen within three seconds, squeezing the warm chocolate out of the pastry, chugging milk, hitting his sister across the table with a cardboard sword.

Fill them to the rim with olive oil and gooey balsamic.

I text my husband and tell him to drive carefully. I make school lunches. I tie some new big-boy sneakers. And I admit to my daughter that no amount of caffeine will help me master the Celtic-pretzel hair knot and she's just going to have to settle for a side ponytail.

Bake until the tomatoes shrivel and deflate and the cheese is golden brown.

My lip-glossed and color-coordinated daughter looks me up and down and launches into her daily critique. "Mama, those are your cooking clogs. You're not wearing them out of the house, are you? And look. There's a spot on your pants. That's what you get for wearing the same pants two days in a row. And you really need to brush your hair."

Eat the tart while it's still warm. 

"Come on, Dash. Come on Bella. Let's go conquer the world!"

You might find that the cooked tomatoes taste like someone's Italian grandmother scooped out the innards, made a 24-hour sauce, and poured the reduction back into the neon skins.

My battle cry moves them out the front door. 

You might find that it's comforting to make and eat this tart. 

I grab their hands and march out to the car. And I don't cry until they're safely tucked into their classrooms. 
Anchovies are, of course, optional. But they really do disintegrate into the tomatoes so people will only notice a lovely saltiness. Don't replace labne kefir yoghurt cheese with regular yoghurt or Greek yoghurt (too moist). Goat cheese is a better substitution. You could use Roma tomatoes but they're not nearly as powerful in flavor. Or you could use cherry tomatoes and deconstruct the tart a bit by spreading the anchovies around on top. Don't use beefsteak or large juicy heirloom tomatoes because you will end up with a juicy mucky soggy tart.

1 recipe basic tart dough
3/4 cup labne kefir yoghurt cheese
1 egg
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half
pinch kosher salt
12 dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes
kosher salt/pepper
olive oil
12 anchovies (packed in oil)
balsamic vinegar (the thicker the better)
1/3 cup chopped parsley

Roll out tart dough and press into tart pan. Refrigerate until needed.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Beat the cheese, egg, lemon zest, heavy cream, and salt until smooth. Spread evenly over the bottom of the tart shell.

With a paring knife, remove stems and about an inch of the core from the tomatoes. You want to make room for an anchovy and some liquid. Press whole tomatoes into cheese mixture (hole up). Sprinkle salt and pepper into each tomato. Tuck an anchovy into each cavity. Fill remaining space with a splash of olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Bake until tomatoes have shriveled and the cheese mixture is nice and brown. About 45 minutes. Allow to cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Eat.


  1. Note to self: don't read this blog while you're on the mono-diet your GI doctor prescribed. Ouch.

  2. Damn dude. I'm not sure what's more delicious - that juicy tomato tart, or your fuckin' awesome writing.

  3. That's it. I'm never letting my kids get old enough to go to school.

  4. Yummy writing, delicious tart, good parenting. I'll call you for help with the tart and with the boy ... just learned to open the back door on his own ... wants to eat whole apples from the tree ... no slices

  5. I have a 22 yr old in Turkey for a year, a 21 yr old away at college and a 16 yr old who's never doesn't get any easier but I do think you get used to missing them :(

  6. oh the tart! and the letting go... my son started 7 th grade this summer. i cried because i was so worried and so scared whereas he was calm and collected ( still is) but the weeks have gone on and i have baked galettes and cinnamon rolls and fed him and listened to the new stories. and gradually i am okay- and he is, too. the transitions are the hardest part. it`s like cecil day lewis writes: "love proved in the letting go" best from berlin,anja

  7. oh i had a hard time letting go for kindergarten...drove those teachers crazy! my garden is popping...will give that tart a whirl!

  8. No FUCKIN' Way with that crazy ass hair knot! I think my eyes glassed over after the second loop. Sheesh!

  9. True & Pure Love is felt best when it comes in the form of leg-locks!

  10. Ditto, everyone else's comments. Let those tears come, these days go by so fast. My daughter's 2nd day of kindergarten she insisted on walking the 3 blocks by herself! Freaked me out. But she did it, and came home safe. Of course that was 40 years ago. My son wanted me to carry him into the school on his first day. Soon as he saw all those new friends, forget Mom!

  11. Frankie's first day of Kindergarten (which starts at a totally unreasonable time of year in SF, mid-august, WTF?) was a completely bittersweet morning resulting in many warm moments snuggled under his blankets with him, until we finally convinced ourselves to rise and eat and brush and question and question and question: the day, the ungodly early hour, the weather...And then we were on the school yard and he was walking away from me, with his backpack as big as his torso, and my heart stopped. And as i walked back to the car with Rob, my heart kicked back on full tilt and the words were pouring out of my mouth "we have to go back and get him. let's just go back and tell the teacher we will be back tomorrow. we have to go back and spend one more day in bed, under the blankets holdling on to each other...."
    and then i went to work. blech.
    and since that was only 4 weeks ago, i am still in tears.
    i was thiking that drinking chocolate would be a good remedy tonight, but maybe baked tomatoes would work too. Thanks Phyllis.

  12. Your blog inspired me to buy some tart pans a couple of months ago.
    I have made at least 4 a week since.
    I love your idea of grating zest and using juice instead of water (for fruit tarts).
    cool blog.

    1. so glad you were inspired. four tarts a week? that's amazing! i'm thinking parmesan would be good in the dough. and some pepper!

  13. I'm not even a parent yet, and you always make me cry! And then you make me drool. What a gorgeous tart, and what gorgeous writing.

  14. Lovely post. Looking forward to that tomato tart too.

  15. I love your blog, your writing, your food, your photos and your parenting. Wish we could sit down and share a glass of wine. My son just started Kindergarten too. It sucked, but its getting a little easier. Keep doing what you are doing, mama!

  16. It seems everywhere I turn I keep hearing about dry farmed early girls. Now if I could only find some in so. cal. I am dying to try them. I too love your writing and your food. all of it is Fucking YUM.

    1. i hope you found some! we still have them everywhere in berkeley. just amazing.

  17. You had me at "crazy person". I so want to stop time also. Just for a few...

  18. Okay - I made this. My first tart. I'm eating it as I type and it is so good.

    Couple of questions, though.

    1 - I had a lot of liquid on the top that I tried to mop up so that the cheese would brown a bit. I ended up taking it out at 1 hour since it wasn't getting brown, and putting it on broiler setting for a bit. Did you take out some of the seeds and liquid from the tomatoes? I just barely cut the tops, then squished the fishies in there, not really taking out the liquid.

    2 - I used my oversized quiche dish for this but I want to buy a tart pan now that I know that the dough is so darn easy. What size do you find using the most for your tart-making?

    1. jen,

      i cut down and scooped out about one inch of the seeds/flesh along with the core. not much.

      were they dry-farmed early girls? it's true that any other tomato (even regular early girls) would be too juicy. you can always scoop out some of the seeds and juice with other kinds of tomatoes. but i think a better choice would just be to use cherry tomatoes.

      and yes, with certain ovens it's a great idea to broil the tart a bit at the end. i'll add that to the recipe. i forgot! thank you.

      i use all different kinds/sizes of tart pans. 8 or 9 inch rounds. square. i often double the dough recipe and roll it out to a large sheet pan size. the dough is very forgiving.

      thanks so much for making the tart and asking questions. and congratulations on making your first tart. so awesome.


    2. Yes, they were dry farm early girls. I'm in the Bay Area also, so I got some at the "Bowl" I plan to try this again with more tomatoes I just got from a CSA. Thanks for your response and for your inspiring blog!

  19. Oh be still my heart...kefir, tomatoes and kindergarten. Our fall looked different but was very much the same. For me it was my oldest off to kindy...sigh.

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