Monday, August 2, 2010

172 Good Things about Unemployment

172. You eat homegrown tomatoes, reflect and genuflect. Here is a story I posted today on Open Salon at as part of a call for light tomato recipes.

My tomato ate the Principal: A sad story of taste and Sacrifice

I have a terrible memory. It is the reason I didn't reach beyond a BA in English. I never remember the particulars of a book. In fact, most of the time, I don't remember that I've even read the book or watched the movie. I can view a work of art 27 times before it seems redundant. And if I’ve got a free pass to a museum, I can see the same exhibit over and over again without complaint.

My memory functions fine, unfortunately, surrounding traumatic events. And I remember vividly my tragic grade school encounter with a sliced tomato.

I attended a cruel Catholic school with a policy that students eat everything on their lunch plates. This, of course, was because there were starving children who would be grateful for canned white grapefruit and canned spinach—regulars that made me gag. This was also true of the raw tomato.

Students could not engage in conversation while eating lunch. If you were caught talking, you ate your lunch against the wall for a week or more. This gag order (no pun intended) limited our ability to trade food we did not like. No one would take canned spinach off your tray, but the fate of a sliced tomato wasn’t that limited. Until the day I still have trouble talking about.

No one would take my tomato. I was a cute girl, even a teacher’s pet in first grade, with bangs my mother must have cut with a knife. And I sat through my lunch period not lifting a bite of that tomato to my mouth. All of my classmates were dismissed from the table. School Principal Sister Mary Sacrifice would not let me leave until I ate my tomato. So I sat and stared at the thing.

The tomato began to grow. Soon, it had not only taken over the table, it was nearly as big as the cafeteria, which was the size of a basketball gymnasium. In fact, it was our gym. I began to cry knowing my colleagues were outside enjoying their long 30-minute recess. I cried. And I cried.

As the older kids began to stream in for their lunch period, I sat alone in the cafeteria except for my tomato, which slowly consumed Sister Mary Sacrifice. This was my first experience with Transcendental Meditation.

Then, a miracle happened. Carla Rodriguez, a 6th grader, appeared from nowhere and took the tomato off my plate. For the last 48 years, I have nominated her for canonization due to her heroic virtue.

It took almost that long before I would eat a raw tomato. I could stomach spaghetti and pizza sauce, but no fresh tomato was ever contemplated. And if I accidently got a piece of tomato from a salad in my mouth, I casually spit it out without any concern for good manners.

So my path toward tomato reverence was long and not particularly graceful. Now, however, I grow tomatoes in my garden and eat them from the vine. I’m not sure when the transition took place, but it is over. After planting eight tomato plants in May, I anxiously waited until last week when I ceremoniously plucked the first ripe tomato from a vine. Then, I marched into the kitchen to continue the ritual of slicing, salting and stuffing it in my mouth. After all, there is nothing better than a homegrown tomato.

Here is my favorite way of eating a raw tomato. I do so each summer, sometimes twice a day, in honor of Saint Carla Rodriguez.

Tragic Tomato No More: A summer recipe & ritual

Cut a homegrown tomato into big chunks and put it in a salad bowl. Add sliced homegrown basil. Use a fork to scrape out some Chevre from the container. (I buy Chevre--soft cheese made from goat milk, enzymes and salt--from our Farmers Market. Mine comes from the Polymeadows Farm in Shaftsbury, VT, and I adore it.) Add some sliced raw almonds, which I roast lightly in a skillet and store in the refrigerator. Sometimes I add fresh corn off the cob or wild blueberries from our yard, but these are extra and not necessary. Put a smidgen of olive oil on top, salt and pepper. Chew. Savor. Genuflect.

171. You understand the worth of old customs, such as hanging clothes outside to dry. We installed this clothesline last weekend. Essentially, it is a 100-foot rope, with a few feet cut off, hooked from the house to the barn. In between the hooks, there is a piece of waste wood that my partner kept because he knew sometime in his lifetime he would use it. Our yard is littered with similar valuable items including this broken upside-down toilet now joined by Oxeye Daisies and other discarded goods, and a cast iron bathtub that isn’t going anywhere unless hernia surgery is already scheduled. The clothesline cost $4, which was returned by not using the dryer the first time I washed towels. And when I’m bored, I watch the wash flap in the breeze. Cheap entertainment for the rural unemployed: me.

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