Tomato Tomato

Tomato tomato – when I type it you can’t hear tomato tomahto. Same with aunt aunt or either either or neither neither. And when I use jk or ftw in a text, it can be easily misconstrued. (As can that b I end up typing instead of a period at the end of LOTS of texts without realizing it before I hit send. No, I didn’t call you a b! I swear, I didn’t – even though you have it in writing.) Communication these days may be faster, but it’s not necessarily more clear.

The truth is, I can often understand the raise of a two-year-old’s eyebrow above a mask more clearly than I can comprehend the intent of a tweet or the meaning of some texts. Sometimes even essays and news stories leave me wondering.

Context helps. If I know the sender, my initial response will be tempered by our previous interactions. Length helps. The more full the exposition, the greater the chance I’ll grasp an idea in its entirety. Precise word selection helps. But tomato or tomahto, I’m going to rely on my experience to interpret what you attempt to communicate.

As a listener, I can try to gain a greater understanding by putting myself in your shoes. But there’s a limit in that my experience and yours may be similar, but they will never be the same. If I overstep and insert too much of myself, I may miss your point entirely.

So, there will be misunderstandings. So what?

It’s true. There will always be misinterpretation, miscommunication, and misunderstanding. We can’t eliminate them entirely. But an attempt to grasp as much of another’s experience as possible accomplishes many positive things that contribute to thriving.

As we become better listeners, we find more common ground. I don’t think there’s any question we need to rediscover our common ground these days.

Feeling heard and accepted is easier when we share common ground. And those feelings make me more likely to hear and cooperate with you.

Experiencing your acceptance of me makes me more likely to accept and empathize with you.

We continue to live through a pandemic that’s pulling us further and further into opposing camps. It’s also highlighting systemic problems that need to be fixed.

Every day, we face choices that can have the effect of improving the future or tearing it down. What we do matters. It has an effect. We may not feel we can change the world, but we can certainly change someone’s day. And each person we touch will affect many others.

Sometimes, we may feel we must fight to defend our position. Fighting can contribute to the improvement of society. But we must be clear on our values, see our flaws realistically, and be able to envision the long-term effect of the battle we’re fighting. Knowing which battles to choose and how to wage them requires opening our minds and our hearts, listening carefully, gaining insight, and exercising courage.

Condemning, othering, labeling, dismissing, and jumping to conclusions based on today’s hurried, abbreviated communication is dangerous territory. Appallingly, I see some form of those every day.

As a culture, we’re precariously balanced. A fight over the pronunciation of tomato will not move us forward.

Putting in the effort to communicate well and consciously consider the effect of our words can help us thrive.

The Frost is on the Pumpkin

The frost is on the pumpkin and tomatoes are off the vine. Tonight we’re expected to have the first real freeze of the year. My cherry tomato vines have been by far the most prolific producers in the garden, but I grew them from seed and they got a late start.

That means the harvest began late. In August it started to pick up steam. Even today, you can see tiny yellow blooms mixed with a host of tomatoes. In anticipation of the freeze, I pulled most of the green tomatoes off the vines – 185 of them to be exact. Now the question is…

What can I do with green tomatoes?

While I didn’t want to leave them outside to freeze, I will preserve some in my freezer. If they were full size, I would wash them, remove the stem, and slice them before placing the slices in layers separated by wax paper or plastic freezer wrap. I can follow the same process for the smaller cherry size or I can quarter them.

Once they’ve been frozen, the tomatoes will be mushy and/or slimy. They won’t be suitable for a salad but they’ll be great for other things. If I want some for frying into a bite-size appetizer, it will be best to slice them. If I’m going to use them in salsa or pesto, quartering will work fine.

But before I begin the process of preserving, there’s no reason not to enjoy a few right away. Using a cup of quartered green tomatoes, a firmly packed cup of fresh arugula, a half cup of walnuts, a fourth cup of olive oil, a clove of garlic, and a fourth teaspoon of salt, I can create a scrumptious pesto. The lemony notes of the green tomatoes balance the peppery bitterness of the arugula. There’s no need to add cheese so this is a great lower fat, dairy-free pesto option.

Although salsa verde calls for tomatillos, it can be made with green tomatoes. They’ll need to be roasted, preferably charred slightly, and the rest of the ingredients remain the same – onion, cilantro, lime, salt plus some kind of pepper like jalapeño or serrano. My neighbor is willing to share the overabundance of serrano peppers she grew, so that will be my choice.

If the freezer is full, you may want to give some away. Pesto or salsa in a jar makes a great holiday gift. I like to include a card or label listing all the ingredients so it’s easy for anyone with a food sensitivity or allergy to identity a potential problem before they consume the gift.

For those with very sensitive tummies, green tomatoes may not sit right when eaten raw. They contain the toxic alkaloid tomatine. While you’d have to eat pounds and pounds of raw green tomatoes for the toxin to harm you, it could cause tummy upset and/or a headache for some.

Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family. Nightshades like tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant can contribute to inflammation and make some people with autoimmune disease suffer with related aches and pain. If you can’t tolerate potatoes, you may also want to avoid tomatoes whether green or ripe.

On the flip side, if you can tolerate them well, green tomatoes are a great source of antioxidants and at least one study has shown they inhibit human cancer cell lines of the stomach, colon, liver, and breast. They also contain vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, and minerals along with fiber.

While I’ve been talking about unripe tomatoes, there are some varieties that are green when ripe. These are not common in the stores or gardens I frequent but don’t be surprised if you run across one somewhere.

I feel fortunate to have so many healthy, tasty tomatoes at my disposal. I just learned that some of my crop will be used in pozole next door tonight. And I now have serrano peppers awaiting me on my porch. It seems like its time to retrieve them and get back in the kitchen so I can finish some salsa before there’s frost on the pumpkin tonight.

I’m Craving Chili

The weather is turning cool and I’m craving chili and pasta with red sauce. In fact, if any food includes tomato sauce, I can’t get enough of it right now.

Most of us experience cravings at some time or other. Sometimes they come in the mild form of a food preference like me wanting chili for dinner. At other times, they feel like a compulsion to eat a particular thing.

How cravings affect us may be related to their origin. Cravings are influenced by the parts of the brain that process memory, pleasure, and reward. They can result from a hormone or nutritional imbalance as well as dehydration. A physiological connection may mean a stronger compulsion.

Beyond craving, some people will develop an eating disorder known as Pica. Unlike a general craving for food that some experts believe lasts from 3-5 minutes on average, patients with Pica have a persistent compulsion to eat substances like dirt or paint with no nutritional value.

Ingesting nonfood substances can lead to heavy metal poisoning, parasitic or bacterial infections, and intestinal blockages. If you should experience the symptoms of Pica, it is important to seek medical care.

Regular cravings are not dangerous but can make it difficult to achieve or maintain ideal weight. Many diet programs address this by substituting salty, crunchy items like popcorn for potato chips or adding portions of crunchy vegetables like celery and carrots. Sweet cravings may be dissuaded by eating fruit especially dried fruit like dates, raisins, or mango (no sugar added).

Sometimes you may just want to chew something. According to one study, chewing gum suppressed hunger, appetite and cravings.

If you feel like cravings are throwing you off track, it can be helpful to drink plenty of water and make sure you’re eating a balanced diet. Beyond that, reducing stress and increasing physical activity can help.

On the other hand, a bowl of chili may be all you need!