Us, Only More Real

I’ve been worried about abundance lately. Who can say that, really? I’m worried about abundance. What a curious life! Here’s the situation: I have three tomato plants with dozens of tomatoes ripening at the same rate. Soon, I’ll be up to my nose in tomatoes.

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What do you do with so many? My neighbor pops in and helps. She’s carrying a peach cobbler she made from her peach tree which means I’ll listen to absolutely anything she has to say. I brew coffee as she teaches me all about making sun-dried tomatoes in the oven. Basically, 200 degrees, slice tomatoes, salt, pepper, garlic. Hours later, and you have your dried tomatoes.

As we drink a quick cup of coffee and discuss our transition to the fall semester–the whole time lamenting hard things and what a long summer it’s been–my dear neighbor tells me how she dried out the tomatoes and then froze them in little baggies.

“What did you use them for?” I ask, not being able to remember one single recipe that required dried tomatoes. Why is it that we possess in abundance what we feel we can’t use? We waste so much.

“Pizza! Pasta! Salads!” she says, describing the pop of flavor and how delicious those tomatoes were all year long. I learn I can also make chicken with a sun-dried tomato cream sauce, a baked tomato penne, tomato soup, tomato risotto, and a goat cheese and tomato spread—all with dried tomatoes!

A whole new autumn and winter take form, and in this scene, I’m stirring piping hot tomato soup to my family in my cozy home. Everything feels right again. We’re stocked with dried tomatoes. What more do we need here?

I consider how intensely tangy my tomatoes will become as I dry them out. I think about how the flavor emerges in concentrated form. It’s wonderful, like an amplified tomato, a version of itself that was always in there but drowning in excess.

I think about this long drying and dehydrating process that produces this particular flair. For so many of my friends, this whole summer was a long drying out. For some of us, this was a soul-dehydrating summer. We feel stripped down, emptied of our juices, and all leathery inside and out.

Consider the sun-dried tomato! What attempted to dry us out only intensified our flavor. We’re us, only more real. A tomato amplified. 

I like to think about struggle and disappointment as a way of creating the real me, the one with all the tangy zeal. It’s painful when all the comfortable, juicy things in life leave us. But then, what’s left is real and true. The Italian Mamas know this. This beautiful intensity!

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