All Things in Moderations - Even Moderation

A Necessary Friend

by Kate Tvelia Athearn

A Necessary Friend

Fae Kontje-Gibbs

Roaming through the garden in high summer, you and I take different paths. I focus on the weeds poking up in the lettuce bed. The misshapen green beans, warped from uneven watering. You marvel at the bounty, the plants’ will to survive, admiring the flowers that grow from bolted herbs, taking pictures of us, leering lasciviously at overgrown zucchini.

Every farmer needs a non-farming friend like you. A taste-testing foodie who adores fresh produce, but doesn’t have the open space to grow her own. Your lack of agricultural experience gives you a fresh perspective. So often something—an escaped sheep, potato bugs, a hurricane—robs me of the final product. It’s hard to keep a positive outlook. But you are not jaded by the disappointment inherent in growing food. Instead, you notice everything we do have, the abundance I take for granted.

On this particular night, the abundance you notice is rows and rows of green tomatoes. I see them all for what they will become: red, ripe, juicy vessels for basil and fresh mozzarella, but you see them calling out to be breaded and fried—now. I don’t want to jeopardize any of that future enjoyment, but standing next to you in the meticulously manicured rows, I can see that there are so many of them. Sure, for every green tomato we fry today, there will be one less red one demanding it be picked and prepared or preserved before it passes its prime, but that might not be a bad thing.

In the end, it is not the fact that we have more than enough that wins me over. Or even the memory of last year’s blight: watching helplessly as every tomato turned to mush on the vine, ripping out all those plants to contain the spread of the disease, and burning them, funeral pyre style, without making even one jar of sauce. Okay, maybe it is partly those things, but it is also you. Or rather, us. We have known each other forever, since our hair was big, our jeans pegged and waists tiny. As middle age approaches, with its mammograms and retirement plan- ning, mortality seems to lurk around every corner. As young and healthy as we still are, as many bike rides and road trips as we still have ahead, we know the importance of stopping to eat the green tomatoes.

And so we choose a few perfectly smooth and firm specimens and take them with us to the kitchen. You use my serrated bread knife to slice them—thick enough to hold up under the breading and frying. Your eyes dart around in an exaggerated furtive gesture before revealing the secret ingredient in your carbohydrate-laden breading is actually just cornmeal. I find the heavy skillet and put my whisking skills to work while you season and dredge and assemble. We sip our basil mojitos and allow the tomatoes to wallow in butter and olive oil. We leave them alone long enough to give the coating a perfectly greasy crispiness, while the meat of the tomato itself melts in near liquid decadence.

When they’re ready, we don’t even make it to the table, making room for our plates at the cluttered counter. We burn our mouths on too-hot deliciousness, unable to contain our desire to consume this perfection.

We laugh at our own lack of self-control. You snort. I have to cross my legs and concentrate really hard to avoid peeing. My kids laugh along, not getting the joke, but picking up the giddiness we give off. My husband just rolls his eyes, but smiles and gives us each a kiss on the cheek. We compose ourselves and utter a simultaneous sigh, starting the whole thing over again.

When we have eaten our fill, we flee the sweaty kitchen for the pool. We may have eaten and drunk a bit too much, but we will never regret evenings like this—night swimming with the lightning bugs, our hamstrings sore from squatting in the garden, bellies full of unripe tomatoes and our hearts light.

As much as sustaining ourselves is about moderation and preparation, looking down the road, and readying ourselves for what-ifs, it is also about seeing the perfection in what is right in front of you, right now, and gobbling it up.