A Bountiful Harvest
After months of care and effort, the garden is finally giving up its bounty. Early on this year my six year old son picked a tomato plant that he declared – with much pride – to be his. Inevitably, in a show of the kind of life lesson a six year old is constantly having thrown his direction, his tomato plant has had less than a stellar yield. Now, as the October days start to grow cool and the nights even colder, I’ve taken to caring for this one under-developing plant like I was trying to prolong the life of a loved one. In an increasingly failing attempt to stave off soul-crushing disappointment I continue to tend to this lone surviving occupant of the tomato patch long after its brethren have given up fighting the good fight for the season. My goal is one, just ONE, tomato dammit – enough to satisfy a little boy’s hopes and expectations while giving the promise of a better crop next year.
Overall, I drastically scaled back on the garden this time. Two years ago, the pepper patch (all in containers due to limited space behind the townhouse) ended up completely out of control, eliciting strange looks from the neighbors as twenty varieties of chiles took over every available space in the yard, on the deck and along the front walk. Poblano’s, Cayenne’s, Jalapeno’s, Serrano’s, Habanero’s, Scotch Bonnet’s, Tabasco’s, Anaheim’s, Marconi’s, Lemon Peppers, Red Savina’s, Pasilla’s, Banana’s, Hungarian Hot Wax – the resulting crop was more than I could handle. Needless to say, in an attempt to ensure nothing went to waste, my office, friends and family were treated to weekly tastings of numerous salsas along with the occasional “experiment”. A few co-workers learned the hard way that the “orange” salsa (Habanero based of course) was to be treated with an appropriate degree of respect. The Mango salsa was a huge hit, and the Red Pepper Lemongrass Sambal was a surprise favorite. When the biggest salsa-heads at the office began showing up on Friday’s with their own bags of tortilla chips, I felt a certain amount of – justified I believe – pride. I enjoy cooking and preparing food for others, probably more than anything else I do. It’s a very powerful thing to do something that causes someone’s expression to change before your very eyes. From a incredulous sneer when you tell them what they are about to eat, to disbelief as you describe the ingredients and preparations, to surprise, shock and – finally – pure pleasure as they discover something they didn’t expect to enjoy. Chefs and cooks are teachers above everything else. Sometimes they simply re-teach the lessons one already knows, a kind of culinary refresher course to make sure we aren’t losing touch with what got us here in the first place. Other times, they are door-openers and eye-openers, challenging and sometimes even daring us to experience something new. The best cooks know which lesson to teach the class on any given day.
Anytime you enjoy a meal, you should always pay attention to why you enjoy it. There may be a quiz later.