Archive for the 'Fruit' Category

Grape tomatoes redeem themselves

I just want to report, for the record, that I’m over the whole it’s-too-cold-to-eat-tomatoes thing. This week’s diet has included caprese salad (including for breakfast, and don’t you dare judge me, because you would have done it too if you’d thought of it first…), some amazing roasted gazpacho that I might have to write up at some point, my first BLTs of the season, and yellow Sungold and red grape tomatoes eaten like candy out of bowls on my kitchen counter.

Have I ever mentioned on this blog how much I hate grape tomatoes? I have, for years, hated them with a passion after eating, once too often, the Bad Grape Tomato. You know what I’m talking about: the one that looks OK as it’s going into your mouth, but that is rotten and bitter and grassy in a Very Bad Way? Yeah, so I started boycotting those at the store years ago.

And then I stumbled on them at the Civic Center Farmer’s Market on Sunday afternoon and bought some, purportedly to slow-roast them.

But instead, I can’t stop eating them. It turns out that even grape tomatoes, which I have long thought of as a grocery store-industrial standard to be avoided, are redeemed by eating them just after they’ve been picked.

You’d think I’d have all this figured out by now. Apparently not.

Debunking my personal plumeria myth

Years ago, I lived with a roommate who was addicted to Bath and Body Works shower gels and moisturizers. Her scent of choice? Plumeria, which I eschewed in favor of Sun-Ripened Raspberry or Warm Vanilla Sugar (so many mornings of seeing that B&BW label in the shower finally wore off on me). Even then, my priority was all things edible. Or, at least, edibly scented.

In the echo chamber of my head, I pronounced the name of the flower like a fast food place that specialized in stone fruit. Not a taqueria, but a PLUM-ehr-EE-ah. I persisted in this belief that the scent had something to do with plums, even though the flowers on the label gave no indication of that whatsoever.

Plumeria blossoms, Hanalei

Plumeria blossoms, Hanalei

Then, a few weeks ago, I ended up on vacation on Kaua’i with The Mint Killer and her family. On the way out of Lihue, The Mint Killer pointed at a line of trees with white blossoms and said, “Plum-AIR-ee-ah. That’s my favorite.”

It had been more than 10 years since I pondered the mysteries of my roommate’s fast food stone fruit body wash, but suddenly it was as if the clouds over Hanalei Bay had broken and a rainbow had appeared.

“OH!” I said. “Plum-AIR-ee-ah. I always thought Bath and Body Works made up that fragrance.”

The Mint Killer gave me the oddest of looks, the kind of look that says, up until now, you have demonstrated most of a grasp on smart, even when it comes to plants, but now I’m not so sure.

But I say this: if a stone fruit fast food place opens in your neighborhood, you will be the first to know how to pronounce its name. So there.

This summer, I will buy tomatoes

Tomatoes are OK with meAs one might expect by taking a look at this blog’s header graphic, I’ve been getting quite a bit of email about the tomato recall. I have been reading the stories, the analyses on various listserves and blogs, and the lists of precautionary measures.

I’m going to be honest with you. Banning spinach is one thing entirely. But tomatoes? Them’s fighting words.

The reality is this: the tomatoes that have been banned are the ones that, to be quite blunt about it, suck. Not that the ones on the “OK” list are all that great. I have bitten into more nasty-foul grape tomatoes from the grocery store than I care to count, and finally stopped buying them because I was so tired of the pop-bite-spit-into-trash-can routine I’d mastered in my office at lunchtime. There are amazing tomatoes and there are bad tomatoes, and life is too short for bad tomatoes.

But what I fear is the backlash against the good stuff. What’s going to happen this summer, when tomato season in the U.S. peaks, and people go to their local farmer’s markets and turn up their nose at the selection of Brandywines and Juliets? Because, to be honest, while I feel terrible for the 167 people (and probably more who have yet gone unrecognized) who have suffered from salmonella because they ate a bad tomato, I’d bet good money on the fact that they ate a bland, pale-red slice not worthy of the name TOMATO.

This is the worst unkindness of all, really. I’m a risky eater. I will eat street food in places that no one would recommend the eating of street food. I have most certainly eaten meat that was probably not in the pork-beef-chicken-lamb continuum, but it was highly spiced, so I couldn’t tell the difference anyway. I used to brush my teeth with the tap water in Nigeria (and yes, I realize I put myself at great health risk, but I was 11 and petulant and trust me, my father punished me well enough on the day he figured out I had been doing that, so there’s no need to yell at me now).

I have also suffered from food poisoning so bad I thought I would die. (It had nothing to do with Nigerian water. In fact, the only place I’ve gotten food poisoning? The U.S. of A.) Like I said before, I don’t wish that on anyone.

But it seems to me that by banning salsa at Baja Fresh, all anyone’s doing is raising the panic level. Instead, why don’t we take a look at the root causes of why salmonella, which used to be in the purview of chickens and eggs, has now crossed the road to crawl into the body of a tomato? Whether the problem is spinach, or tomatoes, or Jack in the Box burgers, maybe the problem here is not a particular ingredient or food item, but a sign of a larger, more fundamental weakness in our food system.

As for me, I’m going to continue eating tomatoes the way I have for at least the past few years: purchased from regional farmers (since I’m not currently harboring any plants of my own). Local, preferably heirloom, tomatoes. As far as I’m concerned, the pleasure of that first, ripe, summer tomato will far outweigh the miniscule risk that it might make me sick.

Green Thumb Sunday: Peaches, Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

Peaches, Old Oakland Farmer\'s Market

Gardeners, plant and nature lovers can join in Green Thumb Sunday every week. Visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Growing a Valentine strawberry

Valentine Grow Kit

Although Valentine’s Day has come and gone, it seems appropriate to tell you about a littleDirt disc indoor plant experiment I have going on right now. At Christmas, my former roommate Susan, who has managed to locate the world’s greatest gardening gifts ever since I started this blog, sent me a terrific gift that I will unveil to you patient blog readers when the season for actual gardening comes around.

But in the meantime, there was a smaller, more immediate part of the Christmas gift: A small “Valentine” kit, with a teeny-tiny pot, little strawberry seeds and the growing medium to plant them in.

I haven’t had much luck with strawberry The enlarged pelletplants outdoors, but thought it would be cool to try the kit indoors just to see what will happen. Susan and I coordinated by email: we would both plant our kits on January 21, mine here in Iowa on my chilly windowsill, and hers at her new house.

The growing medium arrives as a flat disc that requires a little water to expand out to a thick cylinder. It’s sort of like sea monkey dirt: you add water and the fun Valentine potbegins.

I planted the seeds and put my pot up on the kitchen sill, and but for a couple of days, have managed to remember to open the shade so the thing has some sunlight. It’s watery, often-snowy sunlight, but it still has to be healthier than the gloom in my kitchen without the shift in shades.

So far, nothing has broken the surface of the dirt, and I’m trying to take a lesson from the aloe and not water it every single day. We’ll see how it goes—even if I don’t end up with a ripe strawberry, it would be nice to see something green rise up from the dirt.


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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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