Pulling Up To the Table | Heirloom Tomato Salad with Blackberry Vinaigrette

West 7th Street, Columbia, Tennessee

Blessed be our ability to build community.unknown

Would you do it again was the question. Really it is miraculous that I agreed the first time. Cataloging the reasons not to volunteer any day on anything are endless. What if I don’t know enough?; what if I drop a ball?; what if Im criticized?; what if I don’t have enough time?; what if I’m too old?

But you do it, anyway. Because you are a volunteer from the volunteer state.

So I said yes to our Main Street Director Kristi Martin, as countless others did, when she asked me to serve as the “shopper” for the first ever, untested, unfounded new idea of a fundraiser.

The Good Earth Farm to Table Dinner was held on a beautiful late summer night on main street aka West 7th Street in Columbia, Tennessee. The idea was that everyone who annually paid to be a member and support the work of Main Street (https://www.facebook.com/Columbia-TN-Mainstreet-228289507323277/) could pay again for a dinner that would showcase ten downtown restaurants and thirteen local farmers.

I louvre to peruse the farmers market, but this task was more than buying some veggies and taking them home to stir up in my trusty iron skillet – for purchase, https://www.tedssportinggoods.com The business would involve bringing some heavenly downtown bodies together.

Main Street restaurants, of which we now have a plethora (yippee), were invited to make a dish for the fundraiser. The friendly restaurant reps of whom I already knew many (small town living perk) gave me their requests and then I bought the groceries. And check this: almost every single item was available across the Duck River Bridge over yonder at Columbia Fresh Farmers’ Market – https://www.facebook.com/Columbia-Farmers-Fresh-Market-230571346956292/.

Really, I do know a thing or two about small farmers within a 100 miles of our town. My preoccupation came indirectly from childhood experiences both nurturing and some which left me feeling out in the cold. I.E. – era convenience foods – “blah”; a mother who maintained order in the kitchen – “out”; and parents who oversaw small businesses – “tough one”.

The urge to provide my children a warm and active kitchen coupled with a craving for flavor brought me an inexhaustible love for the the small farmer/edible goody producer. Add a fresh food obsession to a deep devotion to the small business owner, particularly the restauranteur, and life becomes a local treasure hunt.

For myself, the day glows inside a chat with a farmer and/or shop keeper. I love to give them my money, ask them questions about their lives, ponder the weather. Suchness bumps up against the longing that I have for my grandparents’ lives on other small town main streets. I loved it there.

Never having an opportunity to serve the Main Street organization or much less understand the value that Main Streets have traditionally played in revitalizing economies across the country, I reexamined our village where the non-profit’s work is as americana as the Christmas Parade, beauteous street scapes and a farmers market.

For many years if you asked me where it hurt, I’d have to say that my little town felt endangered; a sustainable downtown community plowed under by big car mania and the glamour of a Cool Springs Mall. Often I felt like Jimmy Stewart desperately running down the median of downtown Bedford Falls ready to throw in the towel.

And all that time, Columbia Main Street was a place holder ready to lead the curious on a tour of what revitalization could mean, quick to connect dots and take care of what could be taken care of by one person working finite hours with an even narrower budget.

Then as if by magic, the calvary rode into town. And they had fanciful flags in their belts bearing ideas like a chat with your neighbor coffee shop, a vinyl record store spinning tunes, a building housing “art for everyone”, brilliantly colored gift shops, an art gallery that on occasion sells pizzas, a cool pub, restaurants that double as musical venues to feed and charm the diverse and a second to no small town Muletown Musicfest – http://muletownmusicfest.com .

My Jimmy Stewart is finally breathing a sigh of relief. He is whole heartedly plugging for all to succeed including support organizations like Columbia Main Street. That’s why I said yes to a small Main Street dinner designed for those folk who have written their membership checks year after year.

And when my job was done, I had a post-volunteer moment amidst old timers and new timers gathered there on the street and mothered by the generous Southern Tre Steakhouse – http://southerntresteakhouse.com. Discovery revealed that all my initial fears of volunteering were justified, but it mattered not.

Through the efforts of a new idea, Columbia Main Street will continue its mission of directing the Christmas Parade and the Columbia Fresh Farmers Market and will assist property owners in development of upper level businesses with an eye on the overall aesthetics of a walk around the square.

And wouldn’t you know in the process – hallelujah – it takes more than one non profit and a governmental body or two to figure out ways to bring attention and vitality to evolving downtown spaces.

My friend Edward Moore pointed the way when, in thanks, he quoted Chef John Besh – “Food is community, and community is strength”. And as Edward, the Father of Columbia’s Summer Songwriters Night – http://summersongwritersnight.com knows community doesn’t happen without volunteers.

So gather ye folk who want to come together in Small Town, USA, be it a barbecue, an ice cream social or a small downtown dinner and go do the voodoo that you do so well….. another downtown happening.

P.S.  Other remarkable servings were orchestrated by a downtown Columbia community of restaurants: Puckett’s Columbia – http://puckettsgro.com/columbia/ Asgard Craft Beer – http://asgardbrewery.com Square Market – http://squaremarketcafe.com , Cities Restaurant – https://www.facebook.com/citiescolumbia/ , Christy’s 6th Street Cafe – https://www.facebook.com/christyscafe/, Don Pepe’s Taco Shop – https://www.facebook.com/Don-Pepes-Mexican-Grill-197348430322805/ , Muletown Coffee – http://muletowncoffee.com, Hattie Jane’s Creamery – http://hattiejanescreamery.com

Late Summer Heirloom Salad with Blackberry Vinaigrette

Make no mistake, this salad is only for July and August when the heirloom tomatoes are available. The dish is not difficult to prepare: just slice and place the luscious ingredients on the platter. On the other hand, the dressing is a secret developed by Christy Castro of Christy’s 6th Street Restaurant & Cafe.
Here is my take on it:

Sliced heirloom variety tomatoes, all colors and sizes

Pieces of Cherve goat cheese

Slivered basil

Blackberry Vinaigrette
1/3 cup Sweetwater Jam’s Blackberry Wine Vinegar
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 chopped cup of garlic
1 teaspoon of dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey

Arrange on a platter and dress.


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