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Green Thumb Sunday: Victory Garden yellow

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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.

The tomato bed

Tomatoes in the Victory Garden

Tomatoes in the Victory Garden

Bed 10A. That’s the location, on the official Victory Garden Map, of the tomato plants. During my first morning as a volunteer, I kept wandering over there, checking out the tiny yellow blossoms, eyeing the green tomatoes weighing down the branches, and admiring the basil and Italian parsley companion-planted throughout the bed.

Then I noticed suckers growing from the stem junctures on some of the tomato plants, and reached down to pick one. Even in the chilly mist, there was no mistaking the smell that wafted up. That green, tomato-plant smell that I love so much? Turns out it’s just as good even when the garden isn’t really yours and you aren’t even going to get to eat any of the tomatoes.

I’m already looking forward to Saturday, when I might just stand by Bed 10A for as much of the day as the Garden Educator on duty will let me. I don’t think I’m quite ready to talk to the plants, but I’m definitely going to be looking for suckers to pluck.

Heck. If no one’s looking, I might just have to hug one of the plants. Trust me. In that neighborhood? That kind of behavior wouldn’t even come close to making me stand out in the crowd.

First day at the Victory Garden

I very nearly left the house without a jacket on Sunday morning.

Two hours into my first stint as a docent in the Victory Garden, I was simultaneously applauding my decision to actually grab my favorite grey hoodie and kicking myself for not grabbing my fleece jacket to go over it.

“I’m freezing,” I muttered to Lauren, who was volunteering with me that day. “I cannot believe I almost didn’t bring my hoodie.”

Lauren shook her head and zipped her fleece (while I stifled inadvertent envy) up a little further. We both eyed the cloud-thick sky. I wrinkled my nose at the mist. It felt like early spring in Iowa, not even close to what I consider summer.

Regardless of weather-related challenges (Note: bring many more layers this weekend…), this was a fairly low-key volunteer effort. I spent much of my time wandering around the garden taking pictures, and having conversations with the English-speaking visitors. As much as I like opera, I was of no help with the busload of Italian tourists who came through about 45 minutes into the morning, and even though I live in Oakland’s Chinatown, I wasn’t any help with the Chinese tourists, either.

At one point, the Garden Educator on site to keep us on task asked me to help her water some plants. I said I would, but then a woman walking by stopped at the fence around the garden to ask if there was a need for more volunteers, and so I wrote down the volunteer coordinator’s email address for her and talked to her for a few minutes about the garden, and by the time I turned back around, another volunteer had picked up the watering can and had taken over that job.

Dirty hands? Not really. But I can’t complain about spending a few hours wandering aimlessly through a pretty spectacular garden.

Notes from the UnConference

Although I promised not to report any further on BlogHer ’08, I do have one pressing obligation that I vowed to have off my plate before the end of the weekend: posting notes from the blog re-branding session that Diana of Of The Princess and The Pea and I hosted together on Sunday morning.

The attendees (and once again, I hope this is a complete list, but if it’s not, please yell via comments and I’ll add you…) included me and Diana, Kat of KungFoodie, Shuna of Eggbeater, Sarah of Findableblogs.com, Leah of Califmom, Claire of Cookthink, Susan of the Broad Humor Film Festival, Jeannette of Half of Me, Shannon of the Walden University Alumni Blog, Genie of In A Bottle, and Kristen of Lively Women. The notes are pretty conversational, though, so even if you weren’t part of the discussion, feel free to download a copy — you might find something of use, if you’re looking at making some sort of change in your blogging topic, focus or arena.

Farewell to Sher

I would really rather not be writing this post.

I would really rather not have eaten this particular meal at this particular time.

I would prefer to have stumbled across it, like so many other recipes posted by food bloggers I know and enjoy, and would prefer to have just made it whenever, unnoticed. I would prefer not to have been thinking about what I was going to way when I wrote it up.

Most of us in the food blogging community know this already: last Sunday morning, very suddenly, Sher of What Did You Eat? died of a heart attack.

Sher’s one of the bloggers I had not met. But I’d been reading her for awhile now, connected to her via Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging, and because I have a friend who lives in Davis, I always felt like I could visualize where she lived as I read about her life.

And now she’s gone, and that’s left me with a lot to think about. She’s the first blogger in my regular reading to fall away, not because she abandoned her blog, but because life abandoned her. It breaks my heart, and I find myself thinking about the other food bloggers I know, the other people in this community of technologically-minded women and men who enrich my life so very much, and how they are not just glimmers on the screen to me. They are my peers, my friends, my compatriots. Any one of them gone leaves a hole.

Sher's stuffed mushrooms

Sher's stuffed mushrooms

My mother called while I was cooking up Sher’s Poblano and Cheddar-Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms last night. As I talked, I dried the spinach, and my salad spinner is a noisy thing. “What are you doing?” she asked.

I explained. “She was only 60,” I said. “I’m not very joyful about preparing this meal.”

The event: Remember Sher through her recipes. Kalyn suspended Weekend Herb Blogging in Sher’s honor, and asked those of us who take part in an event to take part in this one, organized by Mary, the breadchick, instead.

I spent some time browsing Sher’s archives, looking for something that spoke to me. This recipe did, partially because I love stuffed mushrooms, partially because it featured cilantro, an herb that, I’ll admit, I tolerate, but that I know Kalyn loves. And Kalyn and Sher were such good friends that it seemed appropriate.

I can tell you this: the “green taste” that Sher describes? It really shines in this dish. There’s no other real way to write about it, so I’m going to leave it in Sher’s hands. And the recipe is amazing. I do wish I had made more of it. I will make it again, to be sure. I’ll even keep the cilantro in there—I really enjoyed the recipe as Sher posted it.

But I hope to never make it again with as heavy a heart. To Sher’s family, I wish you consolation in your grief. To Kalyn, I wish you consolation as well, but I thank you for organizing this.

And to Sher, thank you. Thank you for this recipe, thank you for the other recipes that folks will have chosen and prepared in your honor this weekend, and thank you for your joyful writing. Know that we miss you.

Mind over to-matter

Do not think for a second that I’m going to complain about the weather in California. I’m not. By any stretch of the imagination. No way, no day.

I love the weather in California. But I will say this: It doesn’t feel like tomato weather.

It’s chilly in the mornings here, and on the Fourth of July, I wore jeans and a sweater. “I’m used to sweating on the Fourth, not wearing a sweater,” I told a friend recently.

And so, as stories about tomatoes – gardeners who are tasting their first home-grown of the season, farmers’ market aficionados purchasing the perfect heirlooms, chefs adding them to their menus – proliferate around me, I find myself not having a craving for my absolute favorite vegetable-but-really-fruit.  It’s not that I don’t love them, it’s that the weather cues I’m getting aren’t leading me to BLTs and panzanella and gazpacho. In fact, a little over a week ago, I bought some tomatoes at a local farmers’ market myself, but a little voice kept saying to me, “It’s too cold. They MUST be out of a greenhouse.”

Maybe they were, but they were downright tasty, which is why I have to start thinking much differently before I blink and have to wait until 2009 for the good stuff. There’s slow-roasting to do, and sauce to make. Even if I’m living in California and not Iowa, I understand the truth of it: if I want to take fresh tomatoes and turn them into sauce for the colder months (OK, those months won’t be that much colder, but still…), I have to start soon, or I’m going to be relegated to the jarred stuff.

My body is not calibrated to the combination of the vegetables of the season and this weather. But it’s time for mind over matter. Or, should I say, mind over to-matter?


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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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