Roll the calendar back 25 years. It was a cold, spring day, and my young family (kids 3, 4 and 6) had just bought a dream lot on a lake. We moved an older house onto the lot — the only way we could afford such a prize. The lot had never been touched. Our energy was fueled by youth and the naive view that if we just worked really hard, we could finish making an acre and a half beautiful in two years. As a side note, I sold that place 20 years after that day, and the yard was … well, nearly finished.
We were cold, tired, grumpy and starving. Because I had been fully focused on the brush work, grocery shopping was long overdue. There certainly was no money to be eating out, and we were too dirty to go to town anyway. So, I tallied up what ingredients I had, and ended up making such a hit that it is still a family favorite.
I put grated cheese, tomato, onion and garlic into a bowl and mixed it up (I had to stretch the cheese). Spread yogurt and salsa on pita bread, added the cheese mixture and broiled the pizza? sandwiches? tomato melts? We still don’t have an official name — we call this the tomato, onion, cheese thing on pita. (See the how-to here.)
Yes, it tasted better because we needed the meal badly. But there was also an air of a family tradition born. I can’t count how many times this family-specific meal saved our tails on busy days, but the meaning goes far beyond the sustenance the food provides. I can’t put cheese, tomato and onion into a bowl without remembering that day. (I often skip the garlic today, probably because I usually have better quality raw ingredients)
The kids are all grown now, scattered around the world, and one is even a mom. My marriage ended between then and now, but thinking of that day, I am filled with love for us as a unit, and each person individually. It evokes the excitement and victory of achieving a goal, the thrilling sense of the future, the overwhelming responsibility of what we had to do to make our decision work out. And no small extra, that I was capable at feeding my brood well, no matter what.
That one dish has brought a great deal of pleasure into my life, and even a sense of belonging to my kids. There are only five people on earth who know exactly what we mean by the tomato, onion, cheese thing on a pita.
Is it just me, or is it really a stretch to imagine the same effect if five Michelina’s frozen dinners had hit the table that afternoon?