FALL 2011. HEIRLOOM TOMATOES. 09.23.11
One early summer weekend, I strolled the streets of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Everywhere I turned, there were small children – in strollers, wound tightly in organic cotton baby-carrying devices and holding their parents hands while twirling or taunting an accompanying dog. Though I had spent years living at various addresses in this very neighborhood, I had never once noticed the presence of children. Where did all these little ones come from, I wondered? A decade prior, these streets were filled with sassy young urban folk like myself. Eager to find their way, hoping to establish a comfortable life and perhaps feeling lucky to live in such a vibrant city of opportunity. There were dogs and bikes and even a skateboard or two. But no babies. Or were there?
It’s funny how you begin to notice things around you only when they become relevant to your own life. On that particular weekend, my own children were not with me. Their absence was amplified by watching all these families out and about on a beautiful day. So maybe there were always babies in Lincoln Park. In fact, I’m quite sure there were. After all, I ran through the zoo a zillion times and I don’t remember it being empty. But I wasn’t paying attention because in those days, babies were the farthest thing from my mind. It’s sort of like how when your eyes are opened to something or someone new, you suddenly see it or them everywhere.
This summer, I grew a few tomatoes for the very first time. Having managed a robust herb garden in seasons past, I was ready to grow something more substantial. Last fall, I launched this little site with a week of tomatoes. But now that I am growing my own tomatoes, modest as my potted plants may be, my eyes are open to a new world. I grew just two varieties. There are many more to explore. A short while ago, I posted a week of grape tomatoes after my own little plant went wild. And here I’ve dedicated yet another week to tomatoes of the heirloom varieties. I didn’t grow any of these myself, but I’m already thinking about what I’ll plant next summer.
If you are looking for inspiration in the garden or the kitchen, check out the latest installment of The Guest Kitchen with Dan Morrison, a high school friend with whom I recently reconnected. Five years ago, a trip to India changed his life. He started a venture philanthropy non-profit, Citizen Effect, to bring sustainable practices and clean water to those in need. Living on primarily packaged foods, he also changed the personal habits he knew to be harmful to his body and the planet. This year, Dan and his wife started a garden that has been so prolific they’re supplying a local restaurant with produce from their plot. In addition, he’s learning how to cook with fresh foods thanks to the “MacGyver of cooking,” his talented mother-in-law Rebecca Adamson (who contributed the terrific gazpacho recipe you must try!). Pretty neat stuff.
So there you have it. Once your eyes are opened to the world around you, it’s amazing what can happen. And yes, there have always been children in Lincoln Park, just as there have always been hundreds of varieties of tomatoes. All right under my nose. With the mid-20s angst-filled fog lifted, I can happily appreciate them both.