Tag Archives: tomatoes

tasting that which is*

tomato

the first tomato                                                                                     © erin dunigan 2013

When I pause to think about it, it was tomatoes that did it to me, really.

That first bite of a vine-ripened-fresh-from-the-plant-right-outside-the-front-door-onto-the-plate-tomato – it hooked me, caught me, captured me and coaxed me into becoming a gardener myself.

“You mean this is what a tomato really tastes like?!” I remember saying out loud, to no one in particular. “I never knew.”

The thing is, I had become acclimatized, slowly, over time, to that round red fruit that is sold in the grocery store under the label ‘tomato.’ The fact that this round red fruit did not always taste like much had somehow ceased to be of importance to me, so gradual was the fall from flavor.

Until I tasted the real thing – and that changed everything. I had to learn to grow such beauty myself.

Which, of course, is what spirituality is all about – tasting that which is, which is more, which is, we say, of God – and thereafter not being satisfied with anything else.

It is a conversion – but one that is coaxed from us, and then cultivated within us – and one whose whole reason for being is to bear much fruit.

Taste and see – for it is good. Very good.

 

*This piece was written originally for the September issue of  Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland, to address the question, “What are the spiritual benefits of growing your own fruit and veg?”

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trashcans, tomatoes and trees – in(ter)dependence

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Last Saturday something tragic occurred. Something that should not be, that should not have been.

My mind was in slow motion as I heard it unfold – first shouting, or was the shouting second? Almost at the same time, a loud bang, or more like a giant popping sound. I ran from the garden to see what happened to find this – my trash can, and, in the distance, to see the gas truck disappearing up the hill.

So I did what any sane person would do in such a situation – I ran after the truck.

Up the hill, panting despite my recent attempt to start running again, I finally caught up with the truck just as it had turned left down the road toward Viktorya’s house. As the truck came to a stop so did my Spanish, and what poured out of me was the worst load of Spanglish you’ve ever heard. “What are you thinking? You killed my trash can! What is happening here?!”

To which the young guy driving (the normal driver was in the passenger seat next to him) said “I didn’t see it.”

I didn’t see it. That was it. The extent of his explanation.

I realized, as I walked back down the hill that this wasn’t just any trash can – this trash can was a memory.  My dad, who died 9 years ago, had painted this trash can, carefully scripting the word ‘Dunigan’ along the side.

Sure it is old, sure it has seen better days, even before yesterday. But it was a reminder to me of him. A random one, of course, but for me it was a trash can, but it was also somehow more than a trash can – a visible sign, something tangible, of an invisible reality –  the religious word for that is a sacrament – something that we can see that mediates for us what we cannot see.

It was just a trash can, but it was also more than a trash can – now crushed, because the driver ‘couldn’t see.’

…..

It is interesting, in light of yesterday’s events, that today happens to be the day, in churches at least, for reading one of the best known stories from the Bible.

I don’t always talk about Jesus – this is not because I don’t think he is important or worth talking about – I just usually leave it to Ron.

But today I want to tell you a story told by Jesus. A story which, whether you have ever opened a Bible or not, just by living in our modern world you have come into contact with at some level.

It is a story about interdependence. It is a story about relationship. It is a story that shows us something, and invites a response from us.

The story of the Good Samaritan. 

Something has always bothered me about this story.

The man asks, who is my neighbor? As the story unfolds we realize that the answer given is not ‘who is my neighbor’ but  ‘who is a neighbor to the man lying in the ditch…’   Not who is my neighbor, but Who is a neighbor to me?

That is a different answer than the question asked.

I am no longer the one in charge here.  I am the man lying in the ditch.

It is a perspective shift. A different way of seeing the question.

…..

Last week I had just such a shift. Glenn was over, and, as it happened, we began to talk about the garden.

As we walked along the patio he happened to notice a cardboard box full of small pots. He asked me about the pots and I explained to him that I was trying to start new tomatoes from cuttings from my existing tomato plants – I had heard about it that week and wanted to see if it actually worked.

Glenn, in his gentle and kind way, proceeded to point out to me that what I had in fact done was to plant the leaves from the tomato plants. There was nothing wrong with this – except that they would never actually grow, never actually bear fruit.

So, though I had followed the steps carefully, I had thought, in preparing the soil in the pot, using a pencil to press a hole into it, and then putting the tomato shoot into the hole, pressing down the soil and then watering it I had made one slight error in the process – not using the right part of the plant.

So close, and yet so far.

Glenn, with his training and his background, could see this immediately. I, in my ignorance, could not. But once he pointed it out to me it became clear, my eyes were opened, and I was able to make the slight, but essential adjustment.

I was able to see.

…..

There is a well-known question of whether or not a tree falling in the woods makes any noise – but the reality is that whether or not it makes any noise that we might hear, trees ‘talk’ to each other.

Trees are actually much more connected than it might seem to us, looking upon them from the outside.

They have, beneath them, under the surface, something called fungal threads – these threads can stretch more than a kilometer. It is the job of these fungal threads to collect minerals and then bring them back to the tree itself. The fungal thread gives the tree minerals, and the tree gives the fungal thread starch in return.

But what has also been discovered about trees is that these fungal threads, and even the roots of trees themselves, allow the trees to communicate with one another.

Studies have been done on a grove of trees that show that when an insect blight is simulated on one side of the grove, trees on the opposite side begin to release a chemical to prepare themselves for the onslaught of this attack.

This is true amongst tress of the same type, but what was even more startling for those doing the study to discover was that the same phenomenon was true amongst trees of different varieties – through their roots, unseen, under the ground, they are actually able to communicate not just to other trees, but to different types of trees as well.

The world, it seems, is far more connected than we might assume upon casual observation. It is a small shift that has the potential to change everything, if our eyes are opened, if we begin to see.

…..

As we’ve talked about before, the origins of the meaning of the word religion is a bit unclear. But one of the early meanings is thought to be to ‘re-bind’ or to ‘re-connect’ – to take that which is separate, or which appears to be separate, and to connect it again. Or, in the case of trees, to take what we see and experience as separate and learn to see connection.

The word yoga has similar meanings at its root – to join, to unite, to attach.

…..

Which brings me back to yesterday – to trash cans and to Trayvon Martin.  (You didn’t think we could talk about all of this without talking about that, did you?)

As I began to reflect last night on the court’s decision I began to realize something.

Earlier that day I had been outraged – because of a trash can.

The injustice of the driver seeing me, not seeing my trash can, driving over it, knowing he did so, and then continuing on his way as though nothing had happened. It was not the running over the trash can that was the worst of it – it was the callous disregard for having done so. As though it didn’t matter. As though it weren’t his fault. As though he could just continue on as if nothing had happened.

“I didn’t see it.”

Like the two religious people in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan.

Granted, they weren’t the ones who inflicted the injuries upon the man in the ditch. But, in a sense, they might as well have. They saw the man lying there, and then they continued on their way, as though nothing had happened. As though it didn’t matter. As though they could just continue on as if nothing had happened. As though they didn’t actually see it at all.

But it did happen.

It does happen.

Trees can feel the pain of other trees, different trees,  on the opposite side of a forrest.  Can we?

Connection, it seems,  is the reality. Interdependence is the reality. It is separation that  is the illusion.

It is a shift that is needed in our world today. A shift not so much in our believing, but in our seeing.

The purpose of religion, of spirituality, of deepening in the spiritual life, is to help us to continue to wake up. To open our eyes. To see.

To encounter the sacramental in the everyday – that which though tangible, visible, points to that which is beyond, invisible. Trash cans as a reminder of a father’s love. Trees as a sign of our inter-relatedness – something that is, that points to something that is more. A portal, if you will, from the here and now to the here and now.

The ancient Celtic people used to refer to such encounters, such epiphanies, such moments of seeing, as ‘thin places’ – the places or times where that which was more, beyond, seemed to ‘break through the veil.’

It is what can happen in meditation.

It is what can happen over a delightful and delicious meal shared amongst friends.

It is what can happen when someone unexpected comes to our aid when we are in need.

It is what can happen when we take a long walk along the beach.

It is what can happen here, within us, amongst us.

It seems to me that our world is in need of a bit more of such seeing.

What does it mean to be a neighbor? To be one who sees. One who is awake. And one who acts. One who shows mercy.

I wonder what it might look like were we to go and do the same?

spaghetti with sun-dried & fresh tomatoes

tomatopastaSome of my favorite cookbooks are from the Moosewood Collective, in Ithica, NY.

Tonight I made a modified version of one of their recipes, from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers–Fresh Ideas for the Weeknight Table

Because I didn’t have any sun-dried tomatoes I oven roasted some fresh tomatoes from the garden. I also added some fresh basil from the garden as well. Yum.

spaghetti with sun-dried tomatoes & pine nuts

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (or 3-4 medium sized roasted tomatoes, quartered, drizzled with olive oil, balsamic and Kosher Sea Salt)
spaghetti
olive oil
garlic cloves, minced
toasted pine nuts (I didn’t have any)
salt and pepper to taste
grated Parmesan
fresh basil

Cook the pasta in salted water.

Heat the oil and garlic until golden.

Roast the tomatoes, quarter the fresh tomatoes. Cut/tear the basil.

When the pasta is done, drain, mix in a bowl with garlic and oil, roasted tomatoes, fresh tomatoes. Garnish with basil and parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

dirt under my nails

the first tomato of the season (2008)

the first tomato of the season (2008)

Two summers ago Tommy (then 7) and I began growing vegetables in his grandparents (Jack and Martha) large but rather barren back yard. Prior to this I had tested out the greenness of my thumb growing tomatoes at my parents’ house. Other than placing conical tomato cage upside down (apparently the wide end goes at the top, not the bottom–who knew?) I had fairly decent success simply following in the planting shadow of my then recently deceased father. I put the tomato plants where he had planted them the year before and hoped for the best.

The thing is, once you’ve had a tomato ripe from the vine, the reddish round things they call tomatoes at the grocery store are really never again satisfying. I’m willing to admit it–I’m a tomato snob. I’d rather go without, than suffer through the horrors of the grocery store tomato.

growing tomatoesSo, over the past few years, I’ve continued to cultivate both the garden, but also my enjoyment of it and appreciation of its fruits. Tommy and I have continued to garden. Part of the fun of that is watching his excitement as we watch as somehow, out of the ground, comes something (carrots, onions, tomatoes, corn) out of what started as almost nothing (a seed).

For me, in addition to the enjoyment of eating garden ripened freshly grown vegetables, there is also something so satisfying in being connected to the dirt in this way. So much of my ‘modern’ life is spent on the computer (such as writing this) or in more heady elements of discussion, study, reading or writing–all of which I love, don’t get me wrong. But to feel the dirt in my fingers, to get it under my nails, to cultivate beauty–these things, for me, are spiritual practices in which I am able to take a break from the world of the keyboard and simply be in the midst of creation.

For those who are interested, I’ve recently come upon a few great garden-enthusiast sites:

Denver Urban Gardens (dug!)

Kitchen Gardeners International

Local Harvest

100 Mile Diet

These websites came from an article in the May 19th issue of  The Christian Century Magazine, “Sunshine-powered” which is not yet available online. The article is a great piece on the larger issues surrounding our food economy.

Planting tomatoes

Have you ever planted tomatoes?
I am relatively new to the practice, this being my second full season. But I am an avid convert.
There is nothing like the taste of real, home grown, fresh, tomatoes right off the vine (and those overpriced “vine ripe tomatoes” at the grocery store don’t even come close). If you haven’t experienced them, you really must. Seriously.
The season for tomatoes, at least here in the northern hemisphere, is summer. This requires planting in early spring, about March. Depending on the type, March plants start bearing fruit in late June or early July and baring any pest related issues, bear fruit through the summer and into the fall.
For the past two years, as fall approached and the days shortened, I tried my hardest to salvage what I could of the remaining plants, not wanting to relinquish them to the coming ‘winter’ (a word that, when used in the context of Southern California, really has to be put in quotes). I figured that if the plants started to look a bit bleak it must be due to something I was doing or not doing.
Maybe I should have fertlized them.
Should I cut them back?
Are they getting enough water?
No matter what I did, nothing seemed to help. Both of the previous winters I finally gave up, realizing that the half-ripened vestiges of tomato were not exactly what I had in mind when my taste buds pictured ‘fresh from the vine.’
But then I had a life changing experience. Not long ago there was an article in the local paper about fall tomatoes. Was the author peering over the wall into my garden? Because he described my situation to a tomato…

Although the plant looks awful, we think to ourselves, “there’s still a chance it will recover.” A noble thought, but not likely. It’s a downward slide from this point on for a struggling tomato. March-planted tomatoes are only going to get worse, not better. Yes, there is a handful of small green fruit on the plant, so you say to yourself, “I’ll just wait until these turn red, then I’ll start a new plant.”
You know the scenario. A month later you pluck the three or four ripe tomatoes. But now you notice two more little green ones coming along, “Just a little longer, until these are ready?”
By now, it’s October or November and too late to have any success with a fall tomato crop. Sound familiar?

Fall tomatoes? The idea opened up a whole new world to me. Maybe there was hope after all.
But what about the three plants that were, in fact, still producing their noble efforts? One of them even had new flowers and a fresh, healthy looking gree shoot. I can’t uproot that new growth, can I? Maybe I should just leave it alone and see what happens. What if I pull out my existing plants and the new ones don’t take hold? Then I will have nothing. At least if I leave alone what I have I am guaranteed a meager result—meager is better than nothing, right?
But I knew that Ron Vanderhoff was right. I had experienced it myself twice already. Did I really want to persist and confirm my findings a third time? Or did I want to take the risk of trusting that what he said was valid—that the path toward tomatoes actually required that I first pull out the old to make room for the new?
Well, it is too late now. I have taken the plunge. I dug up the tomatoes this afternoon. I am not kidding when I say that it was a difficult endeavor. I knew the benefits. I have even seen them confirmed in my neighbors’ flourishing new fall tomato plants. Even still, it was hard to bring myself to dig up the old. I did take off all the green tomatoes—maybe I can look up a recipe for fried green tomatoes?
I haven’t resolved my questions. I still wonder if the new plants will actually take hold. I still doubt that this decision was a good one. I am still worried that it is too much of a risk. I am afraid that I have let go of the old without having any guarantee that the new will take hold. As a general rule, I don’t like taking risks. Sure, this one is not life or death. But still, my caprese salad is on the line here, and that’s serious business.
At the end of the day I realize that it is not entirely up to me. I mean, I can plant them, make sure the automatic watering system is working, and provide them support on which to grow as they mature. But whether or not they bear fruit? That is out of my control. That is where I have to trust that there is another Gardener who seems to be in the business of new life.
For now, it is time to plant.