At what point in a relationship is it normal to stop looking for red flags? I’m talking about those quirky comments and subtle gestures; hints of a personality-thread, that when pulled, unleash a major flaw? The ticks we proactively seek out as we search for the perfect mate. Don’t get me wrong, none of us have a squeaky clean record, but hopefully ours, and those of our significant others, aren’t bad enough to eventually lead to teary-eyed sleepless nights and an addiction to wine from a box. Because the sooner we spot these “red flags,” the faster we can cut our losses and circumvent heartbreak.
These “tokens” are essentially non-negotiables. Symbols of a reprehensible political viewpoint, a golden shower fetish (I’m not judging, but it’s just not for me), or a life-threatening criminal past. Okay, fine, maybe I’m being a little melodramatic, but I’ve seen plenty of cues on first dates that might as well have been Vegas-style billboards that read “RUN FOR THE HILLS”
Like this one guy admitting to having no relationship with his parents, for no reason at all, other than “just not liking them very much.” Fine fine fine, a lot of people have strained relationships with their families, and I can’t expect everyone to be forthcoming with all the details of their family history on a first date. Though I certainly would. And if I’m being honest, his insistence on blasting Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope (the entire album) while we hooked up is what really freaked me out. And the next thing I knew he was asking if I liked hot wax on my privates and being tied to the bed.
“MAYDAY MAYDAY ABORT MISSION!”
Or like when I met this guy in Los Angeles who seemed to have his life together. I was a senior in college and he seemed so mature in his late 20s. He was a successful writer in Hollywood, he owned his own home, we had similar interests, he was witty, hilarious, chivalrous and handsome too. And when he picked me up for our first date, I noticed the stuffed Nintendo dolls decorating the dashboard and center console of his BMW. The red flag was the Dr. Mario plushy and the problem was his Peter Pan complex—an inability to grow up. Which was magnified by his “mama’s boy” mystique, personified by poor home décor. Who else, but his mother, could possess him to decorate his West Hollywood home with knit doilies and Hummel figurines?
“DANGER WILL ROBINSON!”
But when do we stop looking for these signs? When is it okay to say, “there’s no more skeletons in this guy’s closet that I need to be worried about,” and we can let our guard down and focus on laughing at all the harmless trivial stuff that end up being cute and woven into our wedding vows one day? Those of us who are young, naïve and trusting—or old and extremely desperate—might let our guard down after just a few dates in hopes of making it from the “we’re dating” stage to the “we’re seeing each other” stage. But some would say that’s lowering the bar. And then there those of us who have a more-developed dating muscle. One that’s been exercised for years on fledgling relationships with wack-a-doodles and full-grown man-boys (those are medical terms BTW) so we know how to spot a non-negotiable before anyone get’s too involved.
But even with all the experience of a slutty grandmother doped up on sugar free RedBulls—me in my 20’s—when Jonathan told me on our third date that he “doesn’t like American tomatoes” I drew a blank. On the surface it sounded harmless, though full of hypocrisy once I learned he liked tomatoes on pizza, in sauces, ketchup, etc. But then my mind went to a more serious place. I wondered if this was just the tip of the iceberg lettuce? Does this really mean he’s not willing to give things a second shot? Did he have tomatoes once and think I don’t like this and has now sworn off tomatoes for the rest of his life? Who makes that kind of commitment? Who draws that hard of a line and chooses tomatoes as the sworn enemy? And why only American tomatoes? Was he racist? He said he liked the tomatoes in Caprese salads when he was in Italy, but “domestic tomatoes just aren’t as good.”
Considering I write a food and travel blog, being a picky eater is sort of a deal-breaker for me. Not because I like everything—I certainly don’t—but because it seems to lack adventure and a sense of curiosity. It’s sort of the depressing half glass empty outlook that I find is rosier in reverse.
Fortunately, I didn’t let that tomato-red flag prevent me from getting to know Jonathan better, and since that tomato-hating revelation, he’s come to see that some tomatoes are better than others. He seems to like heirlooms the most. And when you put them together with delicious ingredients, like fresh figs, sweet corn, mint, basil, and balsamic vinegar; even the homegrown American varietals can be as delicious as the ones he had years ago in Tuscany.
Since then, I’ve realized my neurotic obsessing over character traits, as insignificant and out of context as it is sometimes—is a red flag in itself. One I’ve learned to disguise so well it hasn’t sent Jonathan running for the hills….yet!
Feta Tomato Salad with fresh Figs, Mint and Basil
For the salad:
- 12 oz (2 cups) ripe cherry tomatoes
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ cup fresh mint (or spearment) roughly chopped or chiffonaded
- ¼ cup fresh sweet Italian basil (not Thai or purple basil)
- 4-5 oz fresh goat’s milk feta (or ricotta salata)
- 1 tblsp good quality aged balsamic vinegar (the thick sweet stuff)
- 4 large fresh figs (any kind of fig will do) cut in half or quarters
- 1 shallot thinly sliced from pole to pole (IE: root to tip)
- 1 cup fresh white corn kernels
- dash of cayenne pepper
For the dressing:
- ½ tsp of granulated sugar
- ¼ cup good olive oil
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- juice of ½ a lime
- juice of ½ of a lemon
Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and if there are a few larger tomatoes you can cut them into quarters.
Toss the tomatoes with ½ tsp of kosher salt and place in a colander or fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl to catch the tomato juices that come out. Let them drain for 20-30 mins, tossing them a few times around half way through.
While the tomatoes drain you want to cook the corn. For ease, I like to use a mandolin with the blade on the thickest setting. In just a few strokes, the kernels are cut clean from the cob. Or you can use a knife. Whatever works for you. [f you don’t have fresh corn, you can always use frozen corn, just make sure it’s defrosted before the next step.]
Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once good and hot, add the white corn kernels and season with salt, pepper and the dash of cayenne pepper for a little kick of spice. Cook for 6-8 minutes until softened and the corn is starting to take on color and then remove the corn from the heat and set aside to cool.
Add the ingredients for the dressing and the reserved tomato juice to a small jar with a top. Shake it all together until combined, thickened, and emulsified and then pour it over the tomatoes, shallots, corn, chopped mint and basil in a medium size mixing bowl and gently toss until coated. [if you don’t have a jar you can just whisk the tomato juice and dressing ingredients in a bowl.]
When ready to serve, place the dressed herbs and tomatoes in the middle of a platter and arrange the cut figs around the edges. You can sprinkle irregular large chunks of feta over the top, or lay slices in the middle.
Lightly drizzle some more olive oil and the aged balsamic vinegar on top to garnish and serve.
Make this heirloom tomato salad when figs are in season and let us know how it turned out by leaving a comment below.