Kindness Costs Nothing, but Tomatoes are a King’s Ransom

I am a procrastinator.

Although my explanations for delaying any decision or activity are crammed with reasonable details, I am also fraught with unreasonable guilt for the pile up of decisions left unmade and activities left undone.

One day I’ll get to that bucket list which is now a barrel list.

One day I’ll see to that niggling pain I’m hoping will disappear (obviously, it’ll definitely disappear by the time of my funeral, so I’m kinda covered on this one).

One day I will discover how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

For the last couple of years, on my one hour and fifteen-minute route into work, winding through farm fields, cow pastures, and five-house towns, I have passed a little wooden shack—a farm stand selling vegetables. I remember thinking, One day. One day I’ll stop and check it out.

Finally, the excuses of I need to get home, or I need to get to work were put aside because one of those John Deere combines that claimed 620 horsepower but only 6 mph speed stopped traffic on my tight and twisty farm road. Coincidentally, in front of that farm stand. I now had absolutely no excuse not to investigate that which has been a colorful blur out my window. Countless bountiful months—those spring through fall harvest seasons—simply whizzed by for years where my only excuse was “not enough time.”

Farmers have a way of putting the advice of “stop and smell the roses” (or the newly mown hay, or the freshly dropped cowpie patties) into crisp and unignorable perspective. It is not so much advice as it is a forced bit of guidance.

I pulled off onto the semi-circular dirt road that advertised the large hut with a few wooden shelves full of tomatoes, green beans, shallots, and corn, okra and peppers, potatoes, and beets. Each bin held a price, and I stared dumbly at them for a full two minutes. I glanced up to see a dry erase whiteboard with an entire menu and coordinating costs that matched the bins’ prices.

Ten cents for any tomato larger than your fist. Five cents if it’s one you can shove wholly in your gob.

No way, I thought. That’s got to be wrong. Or maybe they all tasted like they should sell at a K-Mart Blue Light Special event.

I found a five-center to test, overestimated the size of my mouth as I crammed it in, and then experienced the delayed response of one who realizes just how determined tomato innards are to gush past the house of their skin and any other boundary one feebly tries to embrace them within. Juice, seeds, and an exclamation of surprise came flying out my mouth.

But this is a farm stand in the middle of nowhere. Who’s watching, right? Who saw me splatter the wall and the front of my shirt, and the whole whiteboard menu?

Umm … maybe the fifteen cars idling on the road waiting for the great green beast to give them passage around him. Apparently, my faux pas was entertaining enough to produce a couple of honks and one “Nice work!” from the audience.

I trudged back to my car and found an oil rag, hoping I could erase some of the whiteboard’s woes I’d crafted. Word by word, and price by price, I replaced the tomato splattered menu with fresh listings, thanks to the dry erase marker on a ledge beneath it. I was mid-way through my work when I stopped to marvel at the taste of something so magnificent and a price so unmatched. I can’t believe I’d been missing out for years on this vegetal treasure chest.

Returning to my work, I’d turned to hear the squeaky hinges on a truck door slam. An elderly man in grass-stained overalls tottered toward me on legs so bowed they looked like parentheses rather than appendages.

“You changing the prices, young lady?”

“No, sir,” I answered as he stared at the marker and rag in my had.

He snorted and pointed to the vegetables, “You city folk come by here lookin’ for a bargain and still aren’t happy with what you find. I’ve told Beatrice that her prices are too low anyway, but she’s just a good-hearted woman easily taken advantage of.”

“I’m not city folk, and I promise I’m not changing the prices. I’m just redoing the whiteboard because I accidentally splattered tomato all over it. I was trying to do the right thing.”

He pointed toward the empty see-thru plastic bin with the sign above it displaying the words Money Box – Honor System. “The right thing round here is to pay before you consume, and most people—city or farm folks would know that.”

I felt like I was back in school, chastised by the principal for some second-grade misdeed. And I also felt a little bit miffed that I’d been unfairly accused of said misdeed, but I knew what it must look like to this guy, so I unzipped my purse and searched for my nickel.

Of course, I had no change. Of course, I had no dollar bills—no fives or tens.

I pulled out a twenty. “Do you by chance have change?”

The farmer slapped a hand to his thigh and cackled. “Do I look like an ATM machine to you?” He shook his head and moved back toward his truck, mumbling, “You city folk.”

Except I wasn’t whatever negative version of city folk he had in mind. And I was about to shout that out when I saw the old guy returning. He held up a silver coin, dropped it into the plastic box, and then said, “This one’s on me.”

I nodded with my humble thanks. “Please tell Beatrice her tomatoes are amazing.”

He shrugged and snorted. “I have no idea whose farm stand this is actually. I was a couple cars behind you in the line and was getting grouchy with the wait. I saw what happened and just had some fun while stretchin’ my legs. You drive safe now.” He got in his truck and pulled back onto the road, the traffic now cleared.

With a face likely as red as the tomato I’d mostly eaten, I finished off repairing “Beatrice’s” whiteboard.

When I was done, I pulled out my $20 bill and dropped it into the “Honor Box.” The way I looked at it, I was half paying a fine for all the wasted time of never stopping by and purchasing the best tomatoes ever, and I was half paying for that exceptional fruit.

Some life lessons are a little pricier than others, and somehow, I felt like it made sense to purchase a twenty dollar five-cent tomato.

Next time I’d bring a pocketful of change.

And a change of clothes.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Life’s Luck: From Lemons to Sour Grapes, Mine is Weirdly, all Fruit Related.

Last month sucked. I mean really, really came out looking like an ugly puckery lemon.

I smashed a finger in between two 75lb boulders (yeah, while trying to do that rock wall myself—from last month’s blog).

I got a wicked thrashing from a wrathful, hell-bent-on-sparing-no-one poison ivy plant.

I got diagnosed with a second basal carcinoma (treatable skin cancer that plagues many pasty white Midwesterners who are unfamiliar with this thing local people call summer).

I broke my lawnmower.

I was stung by a wasp whose last dying wish was to leave a flesh wound and memorial to himself the size of an award-winning walnut.

And I got a UTI.

Okay, none of this stuff actually happened last month. That was a lie.

It happened this month.

Month and candor aside, the reality of so many calamities all at once did not bode well under the “Thank God, I got my Covid vaccine—it’ll sure be great to get back to normal” mindset I was cultivating.

Those thoughts ultimately tanked, and in their place crawled splints, bandages, skin grafts, physicians, lab techs, prescriptions, pills, ointments, potions, and spark plugs.

It was often hard to keep track of what went where, and on one miserable afternoon I found myself visiting the library to pick up a book I was hoping would take my mind off my miseries.

I was in line, waiting in the lobby for my turn to come in and approach the desk, when I heard someone triple tsk from behind me. I turned to see a woman as wrinkled as an old crabapple, her white hair braided and wrapped into a bun, held together with what looked to me like a couple of birch twigs and a meat thermometer.

I smiled, nodded politely, and turned to face forward again, only to hear her sigh and utter, “Dear me,” under her breath. She tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned, pointed to one of the many bandages wrapped around my arms and said, “You really should let that breathe.”

“Let what breath?” I asked.

“Your poison ivy.”

I looked down at the book she was holding in her arm. Kitchen Witchery: Spells, recipes, and rituals for something something magical something enchanted something something. I narrowed my eyes at her and tried to ascertain how this witch had discovered one of my ailments. “How do you—”

“You haven’t quite covered all your blisters,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, I really got walloped this time.”

She shook her head. “What did you do, roll in it like a dog in a cowpie patty?”

“No, I was weeding, but I bet my dog had a hand in spreading it.”

“Do you hug your dog?” she asked, pointing for me to move forward in line.

“All the time. He’s the best dog I’ve ever—”

“Stop doing that.”

“Exactly. I know. The oils on his fur transfers to my skin …”

“Not where I’m going. Stop doing it because dogs hate to be hugged. It makes them feel like they’re being devoured, and they’re helpless in that arm lock of stupid humans.”

“Oh.” I stared at the floor for a second before catching sight of her book again. “Well, I’d have to say that I truly feel like I’ve been cursed with something these last few weeks. Just one thing after another.” I looked up at her with a crooked smile. “Any hex breaking spells in that library book of yours?”

“You’re hoping some magic wand will wave away your poison ivy?”

I shrugged. “And my rock-smashed finger, wasp sting, skin cancer—anything that can alleviate those scourges?” I pointed out the ailments around my person.

The old woman studied me for a second or two, opened her book, thumbed through a few pages, and then slammed it shut with a crisp snap. “The book suggests not so much any incantation or elixir, but it is very precise on one specific action.”

“Oh?” I felt my eyebrows raise with hope.

She rolled her eyes. “Stay inside.”

I felt like an idiot.

She looked at me like I was an idiot, so I suppose my feelings were justified. “Ah, well. I suppose most of those wonky spells are simply drivel and gibberish. Are you just reading the book for fun?”

She glanced down at the book again and then spread it wide open to a page with a black iron caldron holding a bounty of vegetables from the garden it sat within. “Nope. I wrote this little beauty—there’s only one copy, and I convinced the librarian to put it here on the shelves. The problem is, I lost the original recipe for my mother’s tomato soup, and every time I want to make it, I have to come back and check out the book. Now that,” she pointed at the page, “is a cure-all for just about everything.”

I gave her a wary look. “How about a urinary tract infection?”

She cracked a smile and spat out, “Ha! That, my friend, is just a curse on all womankind. And no amount of kitchen witchery can make much of a dent in its presence.”

I shrugged. “I guess sometimes we’re just unlucky.”

“As I see it, your dog is going to get a bit luckier with no more hugs. Although sadly for you, I’d say it’ll be some time before anyone is going to want to wrap their arms around your bandaged body.” She searched the ceiling and then said, “Maybe try a bottle of wine.”

“Hug a bottle of wine?”

“No. Drink it. It won’t cure anything, but it’ll sure keep you from being cranky while Mother Nature deals with all your ailments.”

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Why We Need to Acquire a Taste for Flavor

As a writer, there is nothing I love more than putting on my Alice in Wonderland frock and purposefully tumbling down the rabbit hole of research.

With the exception of getting published, of course.

And seeing my hound gaze sincerely into my eyes over breakfast to convey that I’ve never looked more well-rested and attractive, and would I mind passing him three strips of bacon?

But the research part of necessary investigative sleuth work is wholly engrossing and powerfully magnetic.

It also turns me into an insufferable enthusiast—a gasbag of chatter with the sole purpose of spreading knowledge that may be of no interest to any other human.

I tend to forget this bit in between my research projects where I launch headlong into overzealous lectures about poisonous plants that can make you puke, or the new studies supporting the worthiness of fecal transplants to support flailing microbiomes, or the debate as to whether cereal is actually soup.

Currently, I am reviewing countless books, scientific journals, and ongoing analysis all relating to the topic of flavor. And thus far, I have been tentatively directing all conversations I have with breathing humans toward this subject.

Good morning, this is Betty from Allstate insurance. How may I direct your call?

“Hiya, Betty! I’ve got a quick question about my homeowner’s policy, but first, can I ask you how it is that you’d define the vague and rudimentary term we call ‘flavor?’”

Or …

Ma’am? This fish in your grocery cart might not be as fresh as we’d want to sell you. How about I get a stock boy to switch it out for you?

“You betcha. And it appears your orthonasal olfaction skills are exceptional, whereas I probably wouldn’t have caught anything off until I was neck deep in the whole retronasal olfaction process—one occurring during sniffing and the other only when eating and drinking.”

Or …

“Hello, Chloe, this is your mom calling. I know you’re busy, but I was just wondering if you happen to know how many different odor compounds there are in the world?”

I don’t care.

Clearly, I could use an audience who chooses to be there with me, or maybe just a therapist who listens because I pay him.

Either way, it is impossible to simply let such riveting information go unshared. Who wouldn’t want to know that circumstances affect our flavor perceptions—such as the discovery that fans attending hockey games and involved in a study, determined that ice cream tasted sweeter after their team won and more sour after they lost?

Or why hold back that researchers are collecting impressive data that shows babies have an affinity for foods if their mothers eat it while they are pregnant with said baby. Hoping your tiny tyke will be asking for seconds on that bowlful of mustard greens? Start gestationally shoveling it in, Popeye.

And by no means could I refuse to relay the critical science utilized by the food and healthcare industries where phantom aromas are helping to control high blood pressure. Has your doctor diagnosed you with hypertension and mandated you to a low sodium diet? Food industry scientists are your new superheroes, having discovered that by adding phantom aromas of ham into certain foods, your brain will believe it’s still indulging in that five-pound salt lick your tongue so badly craves.

Super interesting info, right?

You’re welcome.

One of the reasons I’m so engaged in this particular research currently is that we, as human beings, have a frustratingly underdeveloped ability to articulate concepts related to flavor. As flavor is an umbrella term that houses both taste and aroma—taste having far more descriptive language than smell—it repeatedly highlights how we struggle with a narrative for our experiences.

How do you profile the unique difference between cheddar cheese and aged Gouda? One’s cheesier than the other? What words describe these cheeses?

What is the flavor of red snapper? It’s not fishy. And stating it is of firm texture does not illustrate flavor.

Flavor is more than a sensory experience as well, as it turns on the light in our brain’s limbic system and rummages around to immediately connect that taste and smell to an emotion and memory.

Why is that when a plate of beautifully sautéed halibut is placed beneath your nose, you’re immediately flooded with the desperate optimism of a marriage proposal?

I’ll tell you why. Because you, like me, used to come home after school and whip up a batch of Gorton’s Fish Sticks and watch an episode of Gilligan’s Island where your only wish was for the professor to finally ask Mary Ann to marry him so they could make perky, adorable, and intelligent babies to populate the island they’d be stuck on forever.

No? Was it just me? Well, still it proves my point. And as an aside, I learned more about GDP, the spectrum of human usefulness, and estate planning from this sitcom than I did from Econ 101.

The scents and tastes we experience are intricately interconnected to a vast array of our bodies’ systems, and we’re too intelligent a species to answer the question – how does it taste? – with an answer like: pretty good or it doesn’t suck.

So come on, people, let’s ban together and lend a helping hand to further science. Take a swig of some Drink Me potion and start fishing around for some helpful language.

Articulation is key.

I’ve told my dog that a thousand times and refuse to pass the bacon until he can “use his words.”

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.