Our vacation on the beach came to an end this Memorial Day weekend. Gentle waves, tepid azure seawater, an unfailingly cheery sun and balmy temperatures bestowed us with long, lovely days outdoors. Best of all, we all managed to escape being stung by the schools of stingrays that floated lazily up and down coastline letting the waves buffet them up and down the tips of their wings flashing like tiny shark fins. Brave and/or foolhardy souls actually stood in the surf while the mass gently undulated, kissing like butterfly wings as they meandered on their way. The tiny creatures that live in the shallow waves breaking onto sandy beaches belie the teeming mass of animals that make the seas their home. Whenever I am in the ocean I rarely raise my eyes from searching the depths of the water around me in hopes of glimpsing some errant sea creature come just a little too close to shore. The stingrays were not an unwelcome surprise. We also captured a sand crab holding him temporarily hostage to entertain the boys with his Houdini-like escape skills. And to top off our cavorting with nature’s creatures, we visited Winter who is the acclaimed dolphin with the prosthetic tail. Harry Connick Jr. & Morgan Freeman star in a movie about her life. Nature in all its glory (I mean Winter, not Harry).
I’ve been trying to germinate green peppers for two months now. Finally I stuck a few seeds in a tiny plastic pot and put it on my kitchen windowsill. The tiny sprouts were just struggling to push aside the soil and I couldn’t bear to leave it alone for a week while we were on vacation. So I took it on vacation with us. It resided very happily on the patio and I talked to it daily. I was rewarded with two sturdy, leafy sprouts. I brought it home and put it on the back porch to re-acquainted with the family and I went to check on it this morning I discovered two sad, spindly, leafless stalks. Some damn critter must have eaten the leaves. I hope it gets a bellyache. Fortunately, two more sprouts are emerging so I brought the pot back inside to the windowsill with another tiny pot where I’m trying to germinate oregano. Do you know if you very gently stroke seedling leaves the plants will grow stockier and sturdier? Give it a try – just do it when no one is watching.
Aside from a daily watering, my garden was left unattended for the seven days we were away. When I am home, I visit the backyard several times daily to see if anything exciting has happened in my absence. For that reason, the garden has seemed to grow at a snail’s pace. Imagine my excitement to come home to find the tomato plants doubled in size, one spectacular chartreuse cucumber, basil begging to be made into pesto with extra to freeze, newly opened periwinkle borage blossoms…these are the joys of gardening.
Alas, the powdery mildew has not disappeared completely from the zucchini and the tomatoes now host a family of newly hatched caterpillars. I really despise caterpillars. I gave them a good bath with bacillus thuringienesis. I hope they are drinking it up and it is corroding their little bellies into a fatal mass of rotten goo. How violent. Have you ever considered gardening as a violent activity? With all the talk about organics, companion planting, crop rotation, composting, treading lightly on our earth, etc. I still have my very own Quentin Tarentino bloodbath happening in my backyard. Barbara Kingsolver touched on this subject in her completely engrossing, enlightening, erudite book Animal Vegetable Miracle.
Even the most humane gardening practices will unavoidably cause harm to earth’s creatures. But just because we feel comfortable destroying living beings on a small-scale for our own improvement does not give us license to destroy on the factory farming scale. Now for a glimpse of my dark side: my conscience is completely comfortable with the wholesale massacre of innocent caterpillars. I may still have some bug guts under my nails from this morning’s raid.
Since this December 2010, I have eaten a mostly vegetarian diet. Well, while on vacation last week I slipped off the vegetarian wagon and boy am I suffering the effects. I ate lots of fish and seafood and I feel AWFUL! My stomach is all queasy, I feel lethargic, I haven’t slept well, let’s not mention my bathroom habits but suffice it to say the machinery is malfunctioning. And the cravings! Last night I CRAVED Chinese food – the bad stuff – breaded and fried animal. And I gorged on this stuff until I felt I could eat no more and then I ate some more. About 30 minutes after my gluttonous rampage I felt like I hit a brick wall. I could barely keep my eyes open and my body felt like it was trying to run a marathon while I was lying down. So I get the message. Too much animal protein stresses my body and I have enough external stress without bringing it inside. What is it about the crazy cravings unwholesome food brings on? I need to return to sanity. Bring on the fruits and veggies!!
So I made what I call Redemption Soup on Sunday. The recipe is adapted from The New Mediterranean Cookbook by Nancy Harmon Jenkins and she calls it by its traditional name, Gazpacho. Full of raw, nutrient packed veggies it is just what an overindulged tummy needs. The soup will be creamy, cold, tart, refreshing and your body will thank you with glowing skin, a clear, focused mind and the energy of a two-year old (I wish).
6 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes *easy peeling instructions below
1 cucumber peeled and chopped
1 green pepper chopped
1/2 red onion chopped and then soaked in cold water for 15 minutes (this step takes away some of the onion’s pungency)
1 thick slice day old French bread soaked in cold water and then squeezed dry (I didn’t have day old bread so I put the slice in the microwave and zapped it until dry – less than a minute)
1 tsp toasted and ground whole cumin **instructions below
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp sherry
1/2 cup very good quality extra virgin olive oil (yes, this is an extravagant amount, but trust me, its worth it)
salt & pepper to taste
1 chopped boiled egg
1 tbsp. capers
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
1 finely diced jalapeno (ribs and seeds removed)
Place the tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, and drained red onion in a blender and process until pureed. (I have a small blender so I whirled half the veggies, poured them in a bowl and then processed the remainder in a second batch) Tear the bread into pieces and add it to the vegetable puree in the blender. Add in the cumin, vinegar and sherry and process until everything is very smooth. With the motor running slowly pour in the oil and then add salt and pepper to taste. If you have split the vegetable puree in two batches, pour the seasoned half into the first batch and stir together to combine. In a separate bowl, stir together the capers, parsley and jalapeno.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with the chopped egg and caper mixture.
*Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Carefully drop in the whole tomatoes 2 or 3 at a time. Leave the tomatoes in for 2-3 minutes or until the skin starts to crack open. Immediately remove the tomatoes and drop them in a bowl of ice water until they are cold enough to handle. The peels will slide right off without taking a lot of the flesh with them.
** Heat the cumin seeds in a skillet on medium heat just until they become fragrant. Grind in a coffee grinder – if you don’t have a coffee grinder be creative and use something heavy (rolling pin, cast iron skillet, bricks, etc.) to crush them.
The sugars in the vegetables provide active energy, the protein in the egg helps ground the potent energy burst and the miraculous product of the jewel of the Mediterranean, olive oil, just keeps all systems running smoothly.
I would be remiss to neglect mentioning one of my favorite movies of all time Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown directed by Pedro Almodovar. Pepa, the heroine, in a fit of despair over her breakup with her lover, empties a bottle of sleeping pills in the blender with her gazpacho. Various supporting characters stop by her apartment and sip the gazpacho resulting in hilarious complications. Great movie! Great gazpacho! Give both of them a try – together would be ideal – minus the sleeping pills, of course.