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Rec RoomHearty recommendations from The Takeout staff.  

Like many young girls who dreamed of growing up to be a writer, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet The Spy was my favorite book as a kid. Honestly, some days I still pinch myself that this is what I get to do for a living, after all this time; it’s all I ever I wanted to do. And, fortunately or not, I have few professional skills that are unrelated to editorial work. So, here I sit, so many years later, still happily tapping away. Have I thanked you for reading recently? Thanks for reading.

I was a pretty susceptible kid, so naturally, I started carrying around my own notebook, just like Harriet. And that made my friends mad, just like in the book. I no longer sketch out random thoughts in a notebook (today, that’s called “Twitter”), but there’s one element of Harriet The Spy I still utilize once a week or so.

My beloved childhood book and current sandwich
Photo: Gwen Ihnat

I’m not as devoted to the tomato sandwich as Harriet was: She had it every day for years on end. At one point, her mother tries to get her to have something else for lunch:

Mrs. Welsch asked, “Wouldn’t you like to try a ham sandwich, or egg salad, or peanut butter?” Her mother looked quizzically at Harriet while the cook stood next to the table looking enraged.

“Tomato,” said Harriet, not even bothering to look up from the book she was reading.

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After Harriet falls out with her classmates, it is the theft of her tomato sandwich (“Someone had taken her tomato sandwich.”) that is the final straw, and she walks right out of school.

So I started eating tomato sandwiches as a kid, inspired by Harriet (and my love of tomatoes). We never had white bread in the house, so I used wheat, but was always sure to add lots of mayo. As Harriet describes it in the book, “It was the best taste in the world. Her mouth watered at the memory of the mayonnaise.” That line sold me, although truth be told, I probably preferred tuna salad ay the time. But there are some days, as long as I have a tomato in the house, that I have a beloved lunch almost instantly available, once the bread is toasted and the mayo is spread.

My husband couldn’t believe it the first time he saw me make one. “Just tomato?” he queried. “You want some turkey, or bacon, or anything?” But it’s the simplicity of the sandwich that makes it such a winner. After all, a tomato can be quite a thing to behold, all by itself. The crunchy bread and tantalizing mayo only serve to perfectly augment the complexity of the tomato texture. In summertime, with a fresh-picked tomato, this combo is heavenly (I would even be willing to branch out to french bread here), but even a winter tomato does well with this combo. I just had one for my work-at-home lunch. Again.

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Even before I got married, I saved a bunch of books from my childhood, in the hopes of passing them along to my own kids someday. Nothing in this world makes me happier than to see my now-Harriet-aged daughter reading my old copy of Harriet The Spy. I have tried to pull her over to the love of the tomato sandwich as well, but, picky eater that she is, she says she doesn’t like tomatoes. (Yes, we are actually related.) No matter. More importantly, she also has about four or five notebooks at the ready at any one time.