My partner and I had planned a small trip for this week: we were going to head to Ontario’s “West Coast” as those who live along the shore of Lake Huron like to call their part of the province, first to Goderich to visit friends who retired there several years ago as well as my brother and his wife, who have just moved there, and then to Tobermory to do some exploring.
We were looking forward to the jaunt, to seeing people we don’t see enough of as well as a part of the province we don’t visit often. Care for our cat was arranged, meetings were cancelled, the bags were on the spare bed ready to be packed, and I was about to hit send on my auto-responder so I could take my first real break from work since the pandemic hit.
If I had a [shingle] hammer!
But, those well laid plans went out the window when I made a trip to the ER at Kingston General Hospital at 5 am a few days before we were due to depart. What I had thought was a cluster of spider bites on my torso were undeniably something else – and that something else turned out to be shingles.
Instead of walking on the beaches of Lake Huron, enjoying a newly-created cocktail with my brother and his wife and catching up on life with our friends, I have been taking anti-viral medication, hopping from one pain drug to another in an attempt to get comfortable and generally feeling sorry for myself.
No doubt, I should have paid attention to all the public health advertising telling us to get the shingles vaccine but, as though I were still a teenager, I tend to think I am invincible.
I have been fortunate to be spared more than the occasional need of Ontario’s excellent healthcare system. In terms of my health, I feel like the protagonist in Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel A City of Girls, who says of her life:
“I was a woman who had always lived in privilege and comfort, and thus I had always been fortunate enough to skate lightly over life.”
Like anyone suddenly confronted with a loss of privilege (albeit temporarily), I have not been my most charming over the past two weeks. Nerve pain is, well, painful. Really painful, as anyone who has had shingles is only too happy to tell me. The rash and blisters itch. Even when friends tell me about worse bouts than I have (imagine having shingles in your mouth and ear!), I don’t really care. I am tired all the time. I am sick of watching TV and reading. I am grouchy about our cancelled trip even though I know I would have been miserable if we had taken it.
Shingles or no, the garden is full of the most beautiful tomatoes my partner has ever grown. This week, I looked at a few recipes for tomato pie recipes and adapted them to make what will now be a regular late summer dish on our dinner table.
Most preparation can be done early in the day which, in the heat and humidity of the past couple of weeks, is an important consideration. This is also a great recipe because, as long as you include the basics of pastry, tomatoes, bacon, basil and cheese, you can really do whatever you want.
Have zucchini coming out of your ears? Slice some, saute and add. Don’t have olives? Skip them. Making the dish for a vegetarian crowd? Change out the bacon for chopped, sautéed mushrooms or eggplant.
Here’s what you need:
Pastry for a deep-dish pie plate (homemade or store bought)
6 – 8 tomatoes
8 – 10 rashers bacon
½ cup chopped red onion
¾ cup finely chopped basil
¾ cup sliced green or black olives or artichoke hearts
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ fresh jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
3 cups grated cheese: Cheddar, Swiss or mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Here’s what you need to do:
Roll pastry to fit pie plate, prick all over with a fork, then bake at 375 degrees for 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. (Partially baking the crust will keep it from getting soggy when you fill it with tomatoes.)
Slice tomatoes thickly, then drain on paper towel for at least two hours (I did this first thing in the morning and let them drain all day, turning them occasionally.)
Cook bacon until crispy, drain, then crumble.
About an hour before you want to eat, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle some of the grated cheese (not the Parmesan) on the pie crust. Alternate layers of tomatoes, bacon, onion and basil over the cheese, sprinkling in the chopped garlic, jalapeno pepper, olives and/or artichoke hearts.
Top with remaining grated cheese (not the Parmesan) and loosely cover the pie with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle Parmesan cheese on the top of the pie and bake for another 20 – 30 minutes. Let cool briefly before serving. (Leftovers for lunch the next day are good at room temperature.)
This pie, with a salad or corn on the cob, will serve 4 people. Accompany it with a chilled white or rose wine from one of Ontario’s many wineries, and savour the flavour of fresh Ontario tomatoes while you can. There really is nothing like it.
And, if you are 50 or over, get the shingles vaccine!