At ground level

A column about LIFE

Tomatoes from my safe haven

I love sitting in my patio and watching my garden grow. These days it is the tomatoes that are thriving. Every day I get to pick some tomatoes and look forward to making them part of our meal.

I read somewhere that the tomato continues to have an identity crisis. Is it a fruit or a vegetable? According to the Oxford Dictionaries, “… Scientifically speaking, a tomato is definitely a fruit. True fruits are developed from the ovary in the base of the flower, and contain the seeds of the plant (though cultivated forms may be seedless)…

“As far as cooking is concerned, some things which are strictly fruits, such as tomatoes or bean pods, may be called ‘vegetables’ because they are used in savoury rather than sweet cooking. The term ‘vegetable’ is more generally used of other edible parts of plants, such as cabbage leaves, celery stalks, and potato tubers, which are not strictly the fruit of the plant from which they come. …”

I never used to like tomatoes. I think my dislike for them stems back to the day of my first hangover when I was a teen-ager. Two mischievous friends stopped by the house to check up on me and handed me a Bloody Mary. They suggested I drink it because it would make me feel better. I never got over the joke, nor the taste of that tomato juice mixture. To this day, I dislike Bloody Marys.

I learned to like tomatoes in the farm. My father-in-law loved his sliced tomatoes on toast. Sometimes, he would slice them and sprinkle sugar on top. I, myself, prefer having them on salad. I also love cooking with tomatoes. So far, I’ve used my tomatoes in chicken fritada, spaghetti, salsa and goulash. Next time I plan to use them in a new adobo recipe, sans the soy sauce. It is supposed to taste delicious, I’m told.

Someone reading this blog will quickly realize I am enjoying my garden immensely. I’ve wondered why myself. Perhaps it’s because in my garden I can actually see the fruits of my labor, almost immediately. The garden is also something I can manage with relative success, within the small confines of my yard, unlike all the problems of life that I have to face.

These days I feel like I’ve been experiencing a meltdown, and the only thing that seems to console me and shelter me from the chaos of life is my garden. It’s become a safe haven. Watering my plants and picking the tomatoes, green peppers and zucchini (the beans and cucumbers were a disaster) seem to calm me – up until the time that darn blue bird dives down on my tomatoes and bites into one of them!

Tomatoes and green peppers freshly picked from my garden.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | Life | , | Leave a comment

First crop

My first crop from my garden.

I was so excited yesterday. In between my busy schedule I harvested the first crop from my raised garden. I decided to snip my lettuce right away before the bugs and squirrels sensed there was something edible there to eat. Then, after washing it well, I made my favorite – wilted lettuce salad.

There is a story behind my wilted lettuce salad. The first time I tasted this particular kind of salad was at the home of my in-laws the first year I was married. It was my then husband’s favorite, so like a good wife, I attempted to make it when we harvested our crop from our own garden.

Since I was only familiar with iceberg lettuce salad and bottled dressing, I wasn’t real sure how to make this wilted lettuce salad dressing. There was no Internet then, and my mother-in-law didn’t really have a recipe that I could follow to the letter. I was just supposed to eyeball it, she said. The proportion of bacon and the blend of oil, vinegar, water and sugar depended on the amount of lettuce we wanted to have for our meal. That amount would vary from one huge 32-cup Tupperware bowlful of lettuce to a couple of pints more or less.

I tried multiple times to get the mixture right, but would always fail. Each time I failed, the other half would chastise me. Finally, at the dinner table one summer day, hot, tired, angry, exasperated and feeling like my efforts were never appreciated, I pushed the gallon bowl filled with soggy lettuce swimming in oil toward him and sternly said, “Eat it!” He knew I meant business. He didn’t say a word and dutifully ate every bit of it.

Eventually, I was able to perfect the dressing, with the combination of oil, vinegar, water and sugar proportionate to the amount of lettuce I served. Years later, we would recall that time and chuckle. It was one of the times I appreciated his obliging me and eating that awful concoction I had made. Now that I know better, I wouldn’t wish that moment on anyone!

Last night, my warm mixture of oil, vinegar, water and sugar was perfect the first time around. Topped with bacon bits, the salad was delicious. Even my sister, who is visiting from the Philippines, was impressed. We had enough for a couple of generous servings – just right to start off a good meal.

After yesterday’s rain, I see that my lettuce has sprouted up once more. We may be able to have more salad in a few days!

Wilted lettuce salad, topped with bacon bits and perfect the first time around!

June 5, 2011 Posted by | Life | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tending my garden one day at a time

Tomato plants on the left, then my now sickly looking pepper plants, and then lettuce in the middle. To the right front are beans and then another cucumber plant.

It’s not even June yet and it’s already a busy time for me. More visits from friends and family, weekend outings and long trips are in store for us this summer. I’ve been tending my garden though, despite my busy schedule. Here are pictures of my vegetable plants at five weeks. I’m especially excited that my lettuce is up. I’ve been hungry for wilted lettuce salad!

I’m worried about my pepper plants, though. They were the most hearty plants in the beginning, but now their leaves have holes, and whatever is attacking them has stunted their growth. I’ve checked the plants, but can’t seem to find the culprit. I may have to plant new ones if I can find the time.

Then there appears to be a problem with my tomato plants. The tips of the leaves are turning black. So far, I haven’t stumbled on a definite answer or solution to the problem. Some sites I’ve googled say it could be a fungus, while other sites say it could be from too much watering. I sure hope it’s the latter, because I’m not in the mood to race to the store and meander through the aisles in search of the best fungus killing spray.

Despite having had a garden decades ago, I still consider myself a novice. I wish I had paid more attention back then. Clearly, I am not sure I know what I’m doing with these plants! In any case, I think I may have to thin them out. I also think it’s time I staked the tomatoes and the beans!

We threw a few bean seeds on the ground of my now defunct flowerbed and they were growing quite well until the rabbits ate them. Aside from moles, gophers and voles, we now have a family of rabbits that like to squeeze in between the fence slats and hop along my yard. They appear to be having a heyday at my expense!

I’ve come to the conclusion that planting a raised garden was, indeed, the best option for me. I’m told, though, that even a raised garden on legs is not full proof protection for my plants; that soon, I will have to contend with the birds and perhaps, the squirrels, that right now appear content to run along the top of my fence, the old telephone lines and the neighbors’ trees.

I guess I’m just going to have to take this gardening business one day at a time and see how this story ends.

The zucchini plants (back) are thriving the most. Right front is another cucumber plant. In the middle are beans.

May 30, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment