Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tomatoes, Unfulfilled Promises and Gazpacho!

Yesterday Rick e-mailed me saying that a friend gave him some sweet corn, so we decided to do a garden dinner.

I had – sitting in a pretty compote I bought for fifty cents at a sale this summer – quite a few ripe tomatoes from my front-yard “farm” and it seemed a good day to make gazpacho (below).
Seeing the tomatoes reminded me of the first full summer in my house. I planted some flowers, herbs and two tomato plants in the heavy clay soil, and tended them carefully.
One day I saw some wee white flowers; then a small, hard green orb, about the size of a marble. My tomato was growing!
From marble to ping pong ball, then to softball size, the green tomato grew. The color changed, too – green to brown, brown to brilliant crimson.
One day when at the plant, I held the tomato in my hand. It detached almost on its own, and I knew it was time for me to bring the fruit inside.
It was clearly the most beautiful tomato ever grown. Worthy of a full page spread in the finest cooking magazine! I was quite certain it would make the most delicious BLT I’d ever known. Or perhaps, I would enjoy it with some fresh mozzarella. Oh, the anticipation!

I placed it carefully on the window sill, and every day would pick it up, carefully turn it over in my hand, as I observed every millimeter of its crimson skin. Then I would place it back on the sunny ledge, where I could gaze at it as I puttered at the sink.

One day when I picked up the tomato, I discovered my hand was damp. No, wet. My beloved tomato, whose skin had begun to pucker a bit, was turning to liquid.

Regretfully, and unceremoniously (unless you count the parade of fruit flies that seemed to have appeared), I slipped it into the disposal and ground it up.
I’ve thought of that moment often in the years that have followed. I still grow the tomatoes – and even more things (in pots, not that awful clay!). But now I eat the fruit from my garden (though I do keep it on the shelf a bit longer than I probably should, as I still love to look at it!). And I love it!
I realized that my first tomato really wasn’t allowed to live up to its promise – the promise that it was not only lovely, but delicious. The promise of it becoming part of a lunch or dinner that would celebrated harvest, life and doing things for oneself.

What is perfect, admired, coveted can still pass before the promised is reached.

So, I made my gazpacho with my own tomatoes and hot peppers.

The yellow peppers aren’t quite ready to harvest yet, but aren’t they pretty? And it was delicious!
Later that evening, I returned to the book I’m reading – Tina Brown’s “Diana Chronicles.”

It is surprisingly good. I truly thought that all books on this topic had been written and rewritten and there was little to add. But Brown is a solid and thoughtful writer and the book is well written and researched. She adds a historical and psychological dimension that looks deeper into all the players and their families than anything I’ve seen before.

For whatever reason, I thought of Diana as that first tomato of mine. Something plain, drab, simple and very small evolved into something bright, colorful and beautiful. Something admired. There were those who wanted to put her on a shelf, bring her out for special things. Using the food metaphor, she was expected to compliment the main dish, not be the main dish.
And, before her full promise could be reached, she was gone. As unceremoniously and violently crushed as my tomato, surrounded by a paparazzi of fruit flies.

In her case – and that of the woebegone but lovely tomato, it was less about living up to the promise than surviving the roadblocks that contribute to it.
The question: Are we living up to our promise? Do we even know what it is? That’s one I need to think about.

Meanwhile, here’s my gazpacho recipe. Like many of my recipes, the quantities are based on what you have!
“Promising” Gazpacho

In a food processor (or blender; you may need to do batches) pulse:
½ green pepper
½ yellow pepper
½ red pepper (or any combination of the above)
1 English cucumber (or regular cuke with seeds removed)

Put in a bowl, holding out about a handful of the fairly finely-chopped veggies. You’ll add these back later for texture.

1 medium onion
2-4 cloves of garlic
1-2 hot peppers (red banana, jalapeno, your other favorites)
4-6 tomatoes (depending on size and size of your processor. I used about 6 softball-sized.)
Cut them in half and squeeze juice and seeds into processor, then fruit.
1 bunch cilantro (optional)

Puree, adding back in the largest portion of veggies (Still keep out that handful). Add sea salt, pepper, about 1 T. cumin (I like a lot.) If you don’t have hot peppers above, add some hot sauce or cayenne.

Pour mixture into large bowl and add up to 2 c. of tomato juice, depending on how thin you like it. Add back in the chopped veggies. Also add juice of one lime or some red wine vinegar. Sample and adjust seasonings to match your taste.

Serve with croutons.


Unknown said...

Oh my, what a wonderful piece about your tomato. Tomatoes are my fave food China won't eat them as I ate so many when i was pregnant. I love nothing more than a good old tomato sandwich with a sprinkling of salt...
and the piece about Diana, so true. I was privileged to meet her, shake her hand and just be awestruck by her beauty so Thank you for your lovely writing for her xxxx miss you, will call when I am back in England x

Eve said...

What a beautiful post from start to finish. I love the tomato photos.

Joanne Huffman said...

Loved the interweaving of the photos and the tomato story and the
Diana analogy.


Unknown said...

Great post and great photos!

Beth said...

Your tomatoes look great! I love your story about your first one and I still remember watching Diana's wedding and thinking it would be something that I would always remember and I have.
Have a fun week-end!

jet1960 said...

Enjoyed your post today. I've pondered those same thoughts about myself and about things that I have. I buy stuff to use in art, but then hesitate to actually use it. But if I never do, it should never have been bought in the first place. It loses the true value it has because it is not used. Personally, some of my problem is the old fear of failure and some is just wasting too much time and procrastination in general. Thanks for sharing those thoughts and the photos.

Sugar Bear said...

I haven't heard of this book and I'm a big Diana fan - will have to check it out. That little compote is so sweet! I love tomatoes! The funny thing is that tomato sauce, one of my very favorite foods, is not one of my favs so far during this pregnancy. Luckily the fresh tomatoes are still appealing!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you. Diana was just a plain Jane, pretty, but plain until she got thrown into the spotlight. Yes, she left us way too early. Your tomatoes are delightful. We grew some for mom this year and hers are ripening as we speak. I don't like tomatoes, raw, but I like just about any other way! Isn't that odd? Must be a texture thing! xo (Rosa)--blooger won't let me sign in!!!

anno said...

What a lovely post... makes me wish our tomatos were healthier this year. And now, I'm inspired: I might have to break down and buy a few just to make some gazpacho!

Becca said...

I love gazpacho, but no one else in my family will eat it.

This was a poetic post about the lovely to-mah-to :)

Tina Leavy said...

the tomatoes all look lovely..and I enjoyed this post..the analogy...all of it. very nicely written.

Karen Owen said...

The remnants of tropical storm Fay are dumping rain on us today, so it seems like a good time to catch up on blogs, and you have 5 posts I haven't seen! Those tomatoes in that beautiful bowl look scrumptious! I can just taste that gazpacho. I laughed when I read how you kept the veggies out to look at them because I remember when I used to do some home canning, I'd leave the jars out for days so I could admire them.

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