Our first apartment in San Francisco was the size of the living room we had on the East Coast, in the so-new-it-smelled-and-sparkled apartment weʼd left behind.
“Good riddance,” I thought, as I hand washed dishes, then our socks and underwear, in the sink in the living room. The heater bucked and sputtered; my boyfriend hovered beside it with a lighter, wincing. We slept on a fold out couch, and the spare sweaters and books we hadnʼt sold lived in boxes by our feet. The apartment was crowded and freezing, mothball scented and mostly broken. It was heaven.
I missed people, but rarely missed things—not the too-much-furniture that always made me vaguely claustrophobic and never really felt like mine no matter how long I lived beside it, slept on its surfaces and cooked nears its tabletops. The process of parting with my stuff to move across the country was invigorating. Be gone, outgrown college sweaters, kitchenware, and paperbacks!
But in our little room on top of a hill, there was one thing I missed, three times a day: a kitchen.
We had one couch, two amorous spiders (original tenants who refused to move, setting up shop by the heater near the couch to better access our sleeping flesh), and a bathroom with privacy-obliterating rodeo doors. We had a refrigerator better suited for a college dorm, two burners, and a jumbo jar of Nutella that I ate with our one spoon. I was working from home, and trekking downhill for every coffee or lunch left me lithe and sleepy. I lived on Nutella, cold cereal, and afternoon coffees that I purchased on my long walks to early dinners.
How do I tell to you the truth? How do I make sure it’s not too romantic, selling all my things and sauntering around with a coffee in hand?
Would it help to know that the Mission was so far away because I was constantly lost? And I was glad to have our little apartment, but when I was alone I sometimes felt like a little kid, not a woman on the cusp of her 24th birthday. I cried a little and napped a lot. I lived off of whatever sugar I could get my hands on.
It was romantic, being young and far away with a fresh new life. But real romance is edged with a kind of terror, at least for me, with my spoon in the Nutella jar, wishing I could plant my feet on the ground and cook a mess of spaghetti, or bake a pan of brownies. I don’t know why I didn’t think to just buy pots and pans while we lived there. I think all the boxes already felt like too much. So I ate my little bowl of cold cereal, put on my coat, and prepared to get lost on my way to dinner, again.
One day we couldn’t brave the hill again, so we bought a bag of cherry tomatoes. They were plump and multicolored, with different shapes: fat round purple tomatoes and little yellow gourd shaped tomatoes and tiny sweet orange ones that popped in our mouths. We bought balls of fresh mozzarella in their own juice and purple basil and dried rosemary. We bought a dark little bottle of olive oil and a lemon and a crusty loaf of bread.
I threw everything in a bowl except the bread. I tore the mozzarella and basil with my fingers. I sliced the lemon in half and squeezed its juice on top, then stirred it all with our one fork. We sat at the table and showered the tomatoes in rosemary and lemon juice, we drizzled them with olive oil. On ripped slabs of bread, we heaped the glimmering tumble of tomatoes and basil and mozzarella.
With no thought or intention, only the seductive summer tomatoes at the grocery store and the vague hunger brewing in our stomachs, we’d created our first real meal in our new home.
Now when we have the good fortune of being in possession of too many cherry tomatoes, I make this salad. It’s simple and dense and tastes like summer.
Zest a whole lemon, then juice it. Add olive oil until the zest-flecked juice tastes like more than lemons. Wash two cups of cherry tomatoes. Get the little bright ones. Cut them in half so they can lap up the dressing. Rip mozzarella into soft hunks, as many as you want. Wash two handfuls of basil and rip up the leaves. Stir it into the tomatoes and cheese. Add a little more salt and pepper than you feel comfortable adding, or add a drizzle of white wine vinegar.
Or forget half of these rules, or all of them. Or eat the tomatoes whole, from the bag.
No matter what happens to you today, crusty bread is a good idea.
Splendid Grub is an exploration of the surreal beauty locked in mundane moments with food. Find mortality in the cereal aisle, fresh raspberries on the side of the highway, ghosts floating on the surface of midnight coffee. Lets chew on the funny little pockets of nourishment that rarely get photographed or adored.