Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sleepless Nights Bring Daydreams of Tomatoes

I awoke at 3:13 this morning to the incessant doodle-dooing of our neighbour’s cockerel. Every morning between 3:10 and 3:23, that feathered fella begins to crow and carries on for hours.  Consistency; if he makes nothing more of himself than stuffing for a cheap pillow in his brief life, that dapper rooster will be remembered (by me anyway), for his daily crows.

Usually I hear him once then roll over, go back to sleep and dream of chicken and dumplings, but tonight (or this morning, rather) he woke me fully up and that is the state in which I remain now. It’s 5:47am and I have given up trying to get back to sleep.

Naturally, as I laid in the quiet of the wee morning hours, I began thinking about tinned tomatoes.

‘Tinned to-mah-toes’ here in the UK are better known as canned tomatoes (pronounced, ‘caaaaned tomay-toes’) in the States. And that is what has been dribbling through my mind for the past couple of hours (dribbling being the best my mind can excrete ideas at this hour).

We say to-may-to, they say to-mah-to.
I troll grocery store aisles like some women shop for shoes. I carefully contemplate shelves of benign canned goods as if they were stocked with Manolo Blahnik’s. I like the feel of the tin in my hand; cool and weighty, its smooth label shifts ever so slightly as I turn it to read.

I find it fascinating that, although we speak the same language, England and the U.S. name their tomato derivatives differently. Tomato ‘puree’ here in the UK, is what we would call ‘paste’ in the States. Stacked along the end caps and shelves of British super markets stand legions of tomato products, the same as in the States, but there are also some more unusually suspects: Passata (sieved, uncooked tomato pulp), sugocasa (similar to passat, just chunkier), creamed tomatoes (apparently the same thing as passata), polpa (seemingly similar, too?) and chair de tomate (tomatoes from Provence, France that have been finely chopped, fortified with tomato puree and thickened slightly with cornstarch).

It was this last one that caught my eye yesterday. ‘Chair de Tomate’—it sounded so exotic. It was cheap, too so I bought several small cans. I continued slowly meandering through the food aisles. It truly is like being in an amusement park for me to spend time, even in a convenience store. Walk me into a farmers’ market? Forget about it; I go into a trance-like state, hearing nothing, seeing no one, aware of only the food.

I walked past the olives and pickles aisle (attention: British people do not eat sour pickles, only sweet—barf). One could safely (but incorrectly) assume that I would veer off to the gourmet/deli olive section. In France, Italy or Spain, this would be true, but I can’t stand the fru-fru olives sold in bulk in the UK and the States—I think they are overpriced and undertasty. I discovered that my local Sainsbury’s carries my favourite jarred green olives made by Tabasco; spicy and salty they are a dangerous indulgence.

Grabbing the jar of Tabasco olives and placing it in the cart next to the chair de tomate, it was settled, I would make chicken empanadas tonight for dinner. 

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