When I started dating my now-husband some 30+ years ago, one of the things I loved the most about his family was the centrality of food in their home: the making of it together, the eating of it as a family, and the sharing of it with friends far and wide. We both grew up in families where dinner at the table together was fundamental to nearly every evening’s routine. When we started a family of our own, we continued to work family dinners into the busyness of our life as we grew first from 2 to 3, to 4, and finally to 5. Our kids - now ages 21, 18, and 14 - have grown up in the kitchen and at the family table, and as they grow and leave the nest one by one, we can’t help but enjoy every opportunity we can grasp to keep this tradition alive.
Our family is getting progressively more spread out as kids inevitably get older, and it will also soon be growing by one son in law. Dinners at the table still happen, but often with fewer bodies. Our daughter is spending this holiday in Spain, where she is teaching English for a year, and her fiancé is another couple thousand miles away, stationed in Japan with the Navy. How to include them in our “chosen second family” holiday gathering this past weekend?! Hmmmm… perhaps with FOOD!
Ella, having been raised to enjoy just about any food placed before her, is really savoring the flavors of Spain. One recent “bite” she told us about is “pan con tomate” (bread with tomato). As simple as it is, it is such a satisfying, flavorful nibble to put out on the holiday table! The name of the dish pretty much sums it up, but I’ll share the details below in a recipe.
How about Trevor, her fiancé? We wanted him to be represented at the holiday table, too. So we just happened to have cucumbers in the refrigerator - and made Japanese-style refrigerator pickles! His mom, part of our “chosen second family” present at our gathering, seemed to enjoy the inclusion of both of our distant kids, making them seem just a little nearer.
We look forward to the next time these two travelers are physically present at our family table. For now, technology and food are the best we can do! These 2 recipes are simple ways to get more veggies in during a time when many of us over-indulge in less favorable selections, and they also help us enjoy some international munchies, traveling with our palates when we can’t travel in other ways.
Happiest of holidays to everyone and their families, whether near or far!
Recipe 1: Pan con Tomate
What You Need:
1-2 tomatoes (freshest are best, so summer really is the season - but we did the best we could)
Olive oil to taste (good quality, extra virgin is most authentic and tasty!)
Sea salt for sprinkling
Baguette, cut into thin slices and lightly toasted
What You Do:
For the “tomate:” You may process this one of two ways, though most Spaniards my daughter asked prefer the grated version:
Using a box grater, simply grate the tomato - with peel - into a bowl. It will turn to mush, and that is exactly what you want!
If you prefer to remove peel, blanch tomatoes in hot water for a couple (2-3) minutes. Then place immediately into a bowl of ice water. Peel off skins, then toss tomatoes into a blender or food processor.
2. Toast the baguette slices.
3. Make the toasts as you eat them (they will get soggy if made in advance):
Poke the toast a couple of times with a fork. This will help it soak up more oil!
Brush generous amounts of olive oil on the toast.
Spoon the tomato spread onto the toast - enough to cover it without falling off the toast.
Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt.
Recipe 2: Japanese-style Cucumber Pickles
Adapted from https://thelemonbowl.com/japanese-quick-pickled-cucumbers/
What You Need:
1 English (seedless) cucumber, sliced lengthwise then thinly sliced cross-wise
2 green onions, sliced
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil (I used dark)
½ tsp chili paste (*original recipe uses 1 tsp, but we had a guest who can not tolerate heat so went easy)
Sesame seeds for garnish, if desired
What You Do:
In a medium bowl, mix rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and chili paste.
Add vegetables and gently mix to cover in sauce. Cucumbers should sit for at least 15 minutes before serving, but may be refrigerated for up to several days as well.
If you’d like, you can sprinkle with black or white sesame seeds when serving.
Jennie Brooks is an adjunct faculty member in Adult Basic Education and English Language Acquisition at Skagit Valley College. Eric Brooks is the Director of Emergency Management for Island County, Washington.