Friday, August 28, 2009

The Beauty of My Tomatoes

Last year, my garden died. This sad demise came from a combination of sparse rainfall resulting in near drought conditions and a busy life that gave me no time for weeding or watering. I didn't get a single thing from my early spring planting, a situation I was determined not to repeat this year. My favorites plants to grow and the things I just can't live without are tomatoes and basil. Utilizing reason, I decided to hedge my bets and plant even more of these than I had last year—thinking this way I could manage to keep one or two alive.

We had a banner rain year.

We had uncommonly cool, often overcast conditions.

I'm sure all that organic compost also had an effect.

We grew a tomato hedge. It is 20 feet long, nearly five feet tall and practically throws tomatoes at you when you walk by. We have been eating buckets of tomatoes for six weeks, now, and there is no sign of slow-down in tomato growth on the vines. We’ve had fresh salsa, fresh pasta sauce, tomato and bean salad, we have roasted them, braised them and finally—when I realize we were never going to be able to eat them—I blanched and froze them. The lower foliage of this hedge is made up of my sixteen basil plants. Recently, I picked and processed an entire trash-bag full of basil! In addition to the many bags of frozen tomatoes that will lend themselves to sauces, soups, and pots of chili, we will be eating pesto all winter long!

I never expected such an explosion. It has occasionally been alarming to watch this hedge grow. But picking them and popping them into my mouth fresh off the vine is one of my favorite summer pleasures. In honor of my tomatoes, I wrote the following poem. I hope you enjoy this journey into my garden life and kitchen. I would love to hear about yours.

The Beauty of My Tomatoes

I wish I could describe the beauty
of my tomatoes
so you could see them

In the bamboo steaming basket
my black granite counter-top

Oblong and bright red or
pale orange with streaks of green or
yellow ones
perfectly round and tiny as a dime

Light from the window
falls over them
brushes their skins
with gold

Were I a photographer
I would not have to
to explain

That these are not my big tomatoes
those beef-steaks sit
in round legions
like bright buns rising
on a lime-green dish towel

These are my other tomatoes
my cherrys and romas
tumbled together
in the straw-colored basket

I pick one to eat
the still-life altered
by my desire
for sweetness and
the taste the summer on my tongue

They are humble in size
but not in brilliance
they sit boldly in the fading light
urging me to eat

I wish I could bring

Into this moment

Where a tomato bursts
ripe and fresh
between my teeth

So you could see
with your two eyes
and taste
with your own lips
the beauty of my tomatoes

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

HOT Virginia

Virginia in August is like stepping into a steam room. With 95% humidity or above being common and a blazing sun shining regularly, the water molecules themselves heat up. They cling, a slick coating over your skin. Sweat drips from your body if you spend even a few minutes out of doors—say—in walking to your car.

My way of surviving such heat is to minimize all time spent outside. Of necessity, I walk from my air-conditioned house to my air-conditioned car, then from my air-conditioned car to my air-conditioned office. This would be a perfect system if my office wouldn’t keep changing temperatures.

I work in a rambling building that had rooms added out of necessity as the family-owned company grew through generations. Thinking more of useable space, and less of aesthetics or climate control, additions were tacked-on as needed. The problem with tacking things on is you end up with some interesting heat/cooling situations. For instance, I share a thermostat with my boss’s office which is located directly over-head.

He and I both have rooms with a lovely window view overlooking the south side of the building. I look out over the trash cans, he looks out onto the roof of the Annex, but they do let in that well-loved natural light and, by consequence, the broiling summer heat.

It is a well-known scientific fact that heat accumulates in higher elevations. When my boss’s office gets unbearably hot, he comes downstairs to where the thermostat is located and adjusts the air. He doesn’t do this often, just when things get overly toasty in the rooms above. The problem is, in order for it to be bearable upstairs, it has to be near artic conditions down here, effectively freezing the basement dwellers. The only way to balance it out is to open the back door and let all that natural heat wash in.

All in all, this wouldn’t be a bad system except for two things. First, due to the private nature of what I do, I often have my office door shut. This keeps private conversations private, but also allows for window-heated air to accumulate in my room. To solve this problem, I occasionally open the door and skim some cool air from the hallway or the office next door. This leads to the second problem. If my office is hot from the south-heating sun, you can bet the upstairs office is hotter. By the time I open my door, the whole cycle has started and finished; the boss has become too hot, the thermostat has been lowered, my co-workers teeth have started chattering and they have thrown open the back door. When I finally get around to opening my door, hoping for relief from my baking office, the sweltering, clinging, moisture-thick outside heat comes pouring in!

It makes me wonder, why, exactly do I live in Virginia?