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A Bumper Tomato Crop — Not!

The lone tomato in the above photo constitutes our entire tomato crop this year.  Seriously.  How is this possible, you might ask.  I know it sounds inept, gardening-wise, but here’s what happened…

We’ve always enjoyed growing vegetables, even when we had only a small garden in Virginia Beach, so when we moved to the country a few years ago, we had visions of row after row of all our favorite produce, ripe for the picking. Boy, were we naive.

The first couple of years we managed to grow some decent tomatoes and green beans.  Our herbs were fantastic.  The lettuce, spinach, and other greens were amazing, too — what little we actually got to eat of it.  To the rabbits, deer, and other wildlife who share our property, our vegetable garden was their all-you-can-eat buffet.  The following year was much the same, as we tried to pick at least a small portion of the produce before everyone else got to it.  Then came a drought, and everything basically dried up — even our wonderful blackberries. It was discouraging. (At least I still had some blackberry coulis in the freezer from the previous year’s harvest.)

Long story short, this year we decided we’d had enough of gardening disappointment.  Aside from an herb garden, all we planted were a few tomato plants in pots on the deck.  We figured this was a safe bet since none of the animals really bothered our tomato plants anyway, and they’d be less likely to venture up onto the deck.

Over the last several weeks our tomato plants were doing well.  They greened, grew, and became heavy with tomatoes, a few were just starting to turn red.  Then one day last week I did a double-take.  ALL of the tomato leaves were GONE.  Bitten off, leaving just little stubs of stems.  Looking closer, I saw that some of the tomatoes were bitten into as well.  A bite here and a bite there — just enough to ruin all of them! It seemed like a practical joke. The bite marks didn’t look like they came from any animal I recognized.  Then I saw the culprit, clinging to what was left of one of the plants.  I was too flustered to get the camera and have since missed other opportunities to snap a photo, so I found this photo of the perpetrator online to show you:

A giant green caterpillar like this (only ours is even bigger, if you can believe it) has eaten into all of our tomatoes — all but one. A consolation: we think he is going to metamorphose into a Spicebush Swallowtail (pictured below). On the other hand, it appears that we will never metamorphose into gardeners.
EDIT:  I take back the assumption that it was going to be a Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.  Knowledgeable readers have informed me that it is probably a tomato hornworm.  Yikes! (although there was no horn on the one I saw).
We plan to feast on our lone tomato this evening.  At least we got one tomato out of our “bumper” crop!  Sometimes it’s those little victories…
UPDATE:  So we ate our lone tomato, and guess what?  It wasn’t even that good.  So go ahead and eat the tomatoes, you caterpillars!  I’ll get mine from the farmer’s market.

A Colorful Twist on Salade Nicoise

I think we’re finally nearing the end of our green bean and tomato harvest. Even after eating them frequently for weeks on end, I still haven’t tired of them. One of the reasons, I think, is the fantastic Nicoise-style salad that I make at least once a week. Sometimes I just combine all the ingredients in a salad bowl and toss, but most often, especially when that’s all I’m serving for dinner, I prefer to serve a “composed” salad, arranging the various ingredients aesthetically on dinner plates.

Just for fun, I changed things up a bit the other day. I came up with a colorful twist on the classic salad, using roasted sweet potatoes instead of steamed white potatoes, yellow tomatoes instead of red, and dark red kidney beans instead of my usual chickpeas (which I use instead of the traditional tuna.) For comparison to the colorful salad above, I’m also posting a photo of my regular Nicoise.

Here is the recipe so you can make it either way:

Nicoise-Style Salad
(This recipe is adapted from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook by Robin Robertson.) The colorful adaptation ingredients are in brackets.

1 1/2 pounds white potatoes [or sweet potatoes]
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces green beans
1 or 2 ripe red tomatoes, sliced [or yellow tomato]
2 tablespoons Niçoise or Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed [or dark red kidney beans]
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
Torn salad greens
Cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch dice and steam over boiling water until tender. Alternately, the potatoes can be tossed with olive oil and spread on a baking sheet and roasted in a 435 degree oven until tender. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.
Steam the green beans until tender. Run cold water over them to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
Place a layer of salad greens on dinner plates. Arrange a portion of the potatoes, green beans, tomato slices and chickpeas (or beans) decoratively on each plate. (Alternately you can cut the green beans and tomatoes and combine all the salad ingredients in a large salad bowl, including torn salad greens.)
In a small bowl, combine the oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, parsley, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until blended, then drizzle some of the dressing over each salad, or if making one large salad, drizzle on enough dressing to coat and toss gently.

Serves 4