You are standing in a room. Perhaps the guest room of an aging aunt and uncle, or the cabin your friend has offered you for the summer. An antique wallpaper covers all four walls. It's browning, but beautiful - it's fraying on the edges. You can't help it. You reach out, you grab a corner, and slowly, you pull.
Gently, the paper tears, leaving a broad strip of bare wood. You know you shouldn't have done it, but it felt good, didn't it? That feeling of satisfation, of relief - you felt it, didn't you?
You walk past a tall redwood tree. It's trunk is wide, the tree is centuries old. The bark is shaggy and rough. Again, you pull. How horrible! It's a beautiful tree being wounded by this unexplainable urge to peel, pick, and pull things! You throw the soft, hairy piece of bark to the ground and hurry away, hoping no one saw.
And then, it's time to peel the tomatoes. You moan to yourself: why did I choose to make this? Couldn't I have found something simpler? Why on earth did I think a vegetable side dish wouldn't be a big deal?
So you start: with a knife, you make an "x" in the bottom of each tomato. Into a pot of boiling water, you drop them. Ten seconds? you think to yourself, that won't do anything! You fish them out of the water, and then you see it: the peel has begun to pull back, crinkling along the edges of the scour mark. You hold your breath. You take a tomato in your hands, warm from the water, and gently you push with your thumb.
The thin skin braces itself, but only for a moment, and then slides off the inner meat, leaving the fleshy remains free and the shiny membrane in your hands. You can hardly believe it. Luckily, there are ten more tomatoes to peel. One by one, you push, you peel, you pick. You sigh as each skin loosens itself, and then again as you realize there is no need to hide the evidence: you are supposed to be peeling these red fruits.
When you are finished, there are the bell peppers. You've roasted them till the skins are black and bubbly. Again, the skins come off. This time it's a bit messier, and you end up with bits of bell pepper skin all up your arms, but it's okay. You have a bowlful of tomatoes, a bowlful of peppers, all beautifully peeled.
And then when you eat them, baked together with herbs and olives and capers, you remember how you were dreading cooking that day. As you soak up the copious juices with a crusty baguette, you think about how many people believe cooking to be a chore. How they don't like peeling things. How this leaves more for you, both to eat and to deface, how you see fit.
Roasted Peppers and Tomatoes baked with Herbs and Capers
adapted slightly from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors
4 big bell peppers, a combination of colors
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, a combination of colors
10 or so sprigs flat leaf parsley, leaves plucked, stems discarded
a large handful of basil leaves
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
12 niçoise olives, pitted
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1) Roast the peppers: put the peppers under a broiler. Turn frequently until charred on all sides. Put them in a bowl, cover loosely with a towel and set aside.
2) Make an "x" in the end of each tomato, drop into boiling water for ten seconds, then remove. Peel, then cut across the equator. Gently squeeze out the seeds (set aside for another use or discard). Cut the remaining flesh into wide pieces.
3) Finely chop herbs and garlic and toss with capers, olives, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
4) Peel the bell peppers, then core and remove all seeds. Cut the flesh into wide strips.
5) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatoes, peppers, and herb mixture together in a small gratin dish. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool before serving.