Tomato Sandwiches

The fall growing season is at it’s peak, and despite the near-freezing overnight temperatures my tomatoes are somehow still popping out juicy red orbs every other day. For my first real vegetable patch, I’d say I did pretty well.

Perhaps my favorite way to enjoy these succulent garden jewels was Mediterranean style: raw with little olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh lemon. The deep, tart flavor of the tomatoes intensified with the rich oil and the spicy pepper. It became a staple for my office lunch box. Every day for at least a week in September I would slather two slices of whole grain toast with goat cheese and top them with these marinated tomatoes. My tiny gray cubicle was momentarily transformed into a lush Tuscan garden and I couldn’t wait to go home and harvest for of my delicious Roma tomatoes!

As the season progressed and more ruby orbs ripened in the yard, my mother came to realize that one of her coworkers also grew a lot of tomatoes…only hers were bright yellow! And one more week later, my aunt handed us a bag of fresh green tomatoes from her garden too! Now this was just absurd. So deliciously absurd!

A fraction of the tomatoes, from the garden and gifts

A fraction of the tomatoes, from the garden and gifts

I began to dream up all sorts of ways to incorporate this colorful bounty into my sandwiches, appreciating the variety that arises from just one vegetable in one region of this vast world. But I wanted to make sure of two things: 1) I keep the tomatoes raw to appreciate their natural unadulterated flavor, and 2) I keep these sandwiches relatively healthy, and free of too much processed food (what’s the point of having fresh tomatoes if everything else was created in a lab?).

For best results I liked to marinate the tomatoes in whatever dressing I was using (balsamic vinegar, pesto, olive oil, etc). Put the tomatoes in a sandwich bag, and spread the cheese or hummus or mayo on the bread in advance. It makes for easy and quick assembly, leaving you more time to enjoy your lunch break!

Here are a just a few of the recipes I came up with.

1. Sunny Day: Cream cheese, yellow tomatoes, red onion, lemon juice

best enjoyed outside

best enjoyed outside

2. Caprese: Goat cheese, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, tomatoes, fresh basil
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3. Go Green: Pesto, light Swiss, yellow tomato (I would have added avocados, but they’re not in season!)
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4. Red Hot: Hummus, Roma tomatoes, olive oil, black pepper, crushed red pepper
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These are just a few of the infinite ways to enjoy fresh home-grown tomatoes. What’s your favorite way to eat yours?

A Evening at the Topsfield Fair!

Two weeks ago the girls and I piled into car after work and went to the Topsfield Fair, the oldest agricultural fair in the United States! This annual competition features the old-world charm of petting barns and animal exhibitions, but with the new and exciting addition of carnival rides, fried food trucks and mountains of homemade candy and fudge.

TopsfieldCarnival

I hadn’t been to this fair since I was a child, and so the experience was like new to my eyes. There were people of all ages and background (gangs of teenagers to young parents with their infants to old couples with walkers)…all enjoying the wonderful variety of the fall harvest, both traditional and millenial.

TopsfieldHoney

I was so excited to be so close to all the animals and see from close up how much personality and emotion they actually have (vegetarianism was completely reaffirmed). But more than anything else, I loved seeing the young children curiously peeking through the glass as a baby chick hatched or gazing in awe at the mountains of fresh apples available for purchase. It made me very hopeful that new generations of Americans may just decide to put down their video game controllers to enjoy fresh air and the beautiful bounty of nature.

But perhaps the most powerful of all things I saw was the calf and its mother. I had never before seen a cow’s milk actually being given, from the udder, to its calf. It’s incredible. All this milk and cheese and yogurt on the shelves…and never once I have I seen or herd of a cow’s milk being given to her own child. In all those documentaries about farm living and sustainable food, the baby cows have always been bottle-fed…when all along it’s mother’s milk (you know, that thing that every doctor in the world says is the perfect food for baby?!) is just a few steps away being harvested for humans.

CowTopsfield

It’s not like I’m about to go Vegan or anything…it’s just perspective. The farm is where life sustains likes sustains life. From the tiniest little egg to the most enormous and intimidating bull you’ve ever seen, all life supports each other. And despite the dirt and the smells, it’s beautiful!

TopsfieldEggs

And of course, giant pumpkins!

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These kings and queens of squash were awe-inspiring and made me reflect, however pathetically, on my own adventures with my first garden. I barely had enough patience (or skill) to grow some decent sized bell peppers and here these guys were growing behemoth pumpkins that dwarf the big burly men who made them. Frankenpumpkin!

But as we passed through the fruits and vegetable exhibition, where all the prize-winning produce (literally everything from baby jalapenos to multi-colored beets) I couldn’t help but smile at how laughable the idea of a “perfect garden” or a “perfect gardener” truly was. Nobody wakes up and says “Today I will plant the seed that yields one hundred yellow tomatoes.” It’s not up to us! Yes, we must water and weed and nourish our plants but how much control do we really have on how big or small our fruits become? That’s the real beauty of gardening and farming: we work with the earth and the elements to create something collectively. It doesn’t matter how unique or prize-winning our crop is. What matters is that we keep this relationship with nature alive…in any shape or color.

The Late Harvest

I haven’t blogged much about my garden lately. For my first time gardening, things have been going much better than anticipate: a very pleasant surprise! While I am not yielding enough to stop buying vegetables from the grocery store, it has exceeded many of my expectations. Last week I actually ran a tomato surplus and had to give away, literally, the fruits of my labor.

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For a while I actually contemplated how to handle the extra produce? Should I just eat them? Make some pasta sauce and then freeze them? I was hell-bent on ensuring the proper use of my perfectly scarlet tomatoes (honestly, redder than a crayon. Those orangey things at the supermarket are a different food altogether, if you ask me). I needed to make sure they were going to be used to their fullest potential. So I called up a dear friend of mine and offered to drop off the surplus tomatoes, as well as some fresh and wonderfully fragrant basil leaves.

I gently wrapped the day’s harvest in a brown paper bag, labeled it carefully so that my friend wouldn’t leave them in his car to rot by mistake. Even after I saw him place them carefully on his passenger seat and drive away I couldn’t help but worry that my bright red babies would be neglected and bruised or, worst yet, thrown away!

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This got me thinking…if I was worried about a few tiny tomatoes and a handful of basil leaves that I grew for fun getting wasted, how did real farmers feel about food waste in America? It’s quite horrible really…we are an increasingly overweight society that is throwing away food, while people all over the world (and in our own country, too) are starving. I did a little digging…and here is what I found.

40% of all food produced in the United States is wasted (end up in landfills)
80% of all water used in the United States is used to produce food
68% of pantries, 42% of soup kitchens, and 15% of emergency shelters rely solely on volunteers and have no paid staff
(statistics courtesy of http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-studies/hunger-study-2010/key-findings.aspx)

It’s appalling, disturbing, and tragic. I understand that a lot of people don’t believe in global warming and do not see the point in conversation. But this can only be because they view the environment as separate from them.

To truly follow the way of “The General Sweetness” as Thoreau intended, we cannot see ourselves as being so disconnected from our environment, both the natural and social one. This level of waste is certainly bad for the ecological world, but is it not perhaps worse that this level of waste is hurting people? Isn’t it worth it to “go green” and live a bit more conscientiously for the sake of our fellow humans, some of whom have less food on their table then we have in our garbage cans?

I was not intending on being such an advocate when I started gardening. I merely wanted to keep my family a bit healthier and more self-sufficient. But I am slowly seeing how these actions go beyond my own pantry. To grow your food, even a small part of it, is to learn compassion and actively prevent waste. It is to understand where our sustenance and nourishment comes from, and to consciously protect it and encourage others to do the same. And this doesn’t just apply to organic locally grown produce that so many environmentalist advocate for: No matter where the food comes from, or how unhealthy it is, it must not be wasted.

If you are interested in learning more about food waste, these two articles are a good place to start. Also the above link for Feeding America has a lot of information and resources that I found very moving and inspiring.

Washington Post:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/08/22/how-food-actually-gets-wasted-in-the-united-states/

NPR:
http://www.npr.org/2012/11/23/165774988/npr-the-ugly-truth-about-food-waste-in-america