Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Salsa Season.

Summer is here, and our garden is producing so many tomatoes and cucumbers that I find myself Googling new recipes on a daily basis.  This week, as the tomatoes piled up in the basket on the kitchen counter, homemade salsa was on my mind.  And as that salsa evolved from daydream to reality, it took me on a surprising journey down memory lane.

The recipe I typically use for salsa came from an old friend that I worked with at my first "real" job after college.  Kenee was my boss at UC Santa Cruz, and quickly became my mentor in many aspects of life.  She turned 30 while we worked together, which seemed horribly old to me at the time, but she took on that milestone birthday without batting an eye.  While I was hitting the burrito shack for dinner 2-3 times each week, she showed me how to plan a week's worth of meals and buy food at the....get this....grocery store.  Kenee was also a gardener, and made some pretty awesome salsa from the bounty in her backyard.  Her green thumb and ability to create edible, homemade creations seemed miraculous to me in my toaster strudel/burrito shack stage of life. 

When Kenee shared this salsa recipe with me, I had high (but unrealistic) hopes of making my own fresh salsa.  I had no garden to produce good tomatoes.  At age 25, I had no motivation to actually make something that could easily be purchased in a jar at the grocery store.  Nonetheless, I took the recipe thinking that maybe someday, when I grew up, I could be crafty in the kitchen and create this delicious salsa myself. 

Fast forward five years, and I was living in northern California in a home that I actually owned, that happened to have raised bed garden boxes. I planted a few tomatoes, and the time came to dust off that salsa recipe and give it a try.  My boyfriend (now husband) and I spent lazy evenings at home picking a ridiculous number of tomatoes out of my small garden.  In those days, before marriage and kids, we had oodles of time to slice and dice tomatoes, listen to jazz, drink wine, and sit on the patio eating chips and salsa until our bellies finally groaned in protest.  I thought back to those days in my early 20's when I couldn't imagine taking the time to make anything homemade, much less from tomatoes I had grown myself.  The feeling was something like adulthood. 

Fast forward another five years and I was in the thick of parenting young children.  I was married, living in a bigger house, and again in a stage of life where gardening seemed like a ridiculous impossibility. Too busy.  Too tired.  Too focused on keeping little people alive to bother with tending to plants in the backyard. Every summer I would consider a garden, and quickly give up on the idea somewhere between changing a diaper, running a load of laundry, and scraping dried jelly off the floor. Gardening was an unaffordable luxury of time in this busy season of life.

And now, I have arrived in a new season of life, where my 6-year old son has convinced me to put in a garden that he will "help" tend.  Needless to say, after years of neglect, our garden was a mess.  The weeds had developed into a thick, tangled mess.  But we tried it anyway.  My son and I spent spring afternoons turning over the dirt, pulling weeds, and mixing compost into the garden.  Finally, as the days grew warmer, we ventured to the nursery to pick out seeds that would be carefully sown (on a wing and a prayer) in our little garden.

My pint-sized gardener and the fruit of his labor.
Surprisingly, our garden experiment has been a fantastic success.  After years of rest, the soil was apparently ready to host a garden!  In spite of my serious doubts, my son's dedication to gardening has not waned and he continues to water and tend to the harvest each day.  His pure joy and pride are priceless as he picks yet another cucumber or anxiously watches the cantaloupe for signs of ripening.

And now, the return of the salsa. 

Again, I find myself with an abundance of tomatoes.  This season of bounty snuck up on me, and as I diced tomatoes and onions to create our first homemade salsa of the season, it bought back a flood of memories.  I thought about Kenee who had first given me the recipe and planted the seed of inspiration (that would take years to bear fruit).  I thought about the relaxing evenings years ago when I had made batch after batch of this salsa, working with an abundance of tomatoes and time.  And then I thought of that busy, exhausting time of life when the garden lay dormant and I was convinced I would never again sleep through the night or have time to make anything homemade.

Finally, I breathed into the current season of life. I wondered how my son came to be so eager to plant a garden while his older sister took no interest.  I appreciated the window of time to chop, dice and mix to bring this old recipe back to life again.  Mostly I just felt gratitude for the seasons of life that come and go, and sometimes come again.  Clearly, dicing tomatoes with a 6-year old in the kitchen created a different mood (and bigger mess) than when I did it in my late 20's while sipping wine with my husband.  But each moment was equally sweet.  Each season holds bounty, if we only take time to appreciate the harvest.

Super Salsa Fresca
3-4 Cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 Lg. Onion, finely chopped
2-4 jalapenos stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/3 C. finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 pounds tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 T. Vegetable oil
Juice of 1 lime
Directions: Combine, cover, chill.  Enjoy!