Bowls of ripe San Marzano tomatoes flashed red alert on my back porch table. I tried to ignore them. I wanted to do other things: write a blog about something important, attend a dream group, and plan a hospice bereavement workshop.
The tomatoes screamed for my attention. Now or we’re going to rot.
In late May, I planted eight tomato plants including three San Marzanos in my rich organic soil. San Marzanos have the best flavor of any Italian plum tomato according to experts and me. In June and July, I pruned and tied the vines to upright stakes. They grew tall and turned dark green before producing delicate yellow flowers and marble-sized green balls. The babies thrived like healthy children. An early blush of yellow slowly turned to intense tomato red.
In 1996, my husband Vic and I ate at an Italian restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica. The tomato sauce was unique. Divine. I asked for the recipe, but the restaurant owner whose white chef’s apron covered a chic European dress shook her head no. Absolutely not.
On our third visit in three days for our third bowl of pasta and tomato sauce, I begged. What was the magic ingredient that made it so spectacular? She relented and gave me a vague recipe.
“Just a splash of olive oil to keep the sauce light. Sauté lots of fresh garlic in the oil and add drained tomatoes, salt, pepper, a touch of cayenne if you like it. Bring to a simmer and add handfuls of chopped fresh basil. Don’t cook more. It’s ready.”
The magic ingredient? Draining before cooking so the tomatoes don’t have the life cooked out of them.
This summer, I froze tomatoes and made tomato soups, but I haven’t made one batch of my favorite sauce. Not one. I think I’m too busy being a writer. Besides that, I grow the tomatoes. Do I have to cook, too?
But don’t I have better things to do with my time? What about that important life-changing blog?
My conflict brought up another memory. In 1981, Vic and I were on a train with philosopher, writer of innumerable books, and sage Paul Brunton. I wrote about PB, as we called him, in a post called Gardening is a Spiritual Practice. During the hour-long trip from Lausanne, Switzerland to Montreux, we discussed weighty issues of philosophy and science. As we neared the Montreux station, PB turned inward in a silent reverie.
In a few minutes, he opened his eyes and looked up at us. “Let’s talk about something that really matters,” he said with a big smile. “What will we have for dinner?”
I laughed. We all laughed, but PB was serious. He enjoyed the vegan meals I prepared each day during our six week stay in Montreax. In The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Volume 4), he wrote about the importance of caring for the body and nurturing ourselves with good food. To PB, care of the body was right up there with writing, meditation, studying philosophy, and living an ethical life.
The tomatoes won. Now you know why.
How do you feel about cooking? Do you resist preparing meals for yourself (and others) or do you cook as an offering of love? For an article about the origin of my favorite marinara sauce, my husband’s love of Italian food, and a more formal recipe with measurements, see Better than Your Grandma’s Marinara. For articles about making vegetarian entrées, burgers, soups, salads, and other delights, see the recipe section of my website.