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Mistress Ginger Monroe was a blond beauty with an hourglass figure. She stretched across her sofa with the languor of a cat. A woman in her mid-40’s, she has never doubted her own desirability and she has a job she loves. Men pay her $250.00 an hour to spank them, berate them, tie them up and scare them.  Mistress Ginger explained her profession,  “I’m like Mother Theresa with a fucking whip. This is therapy for the men.”

On her table sat a full bowl of ripe pomodoro roma tomatoes, almost like a prop.

The tomato is both simple and complex, innocent and seductive. It is part of the nightshade family and until the 1830’s, it was thought to be poisonous and grown only for ornamental purposes. Technically, it’s a fruit, but was categorized as a vegetable by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893 so that the import of it could be taxed. It was also believed to be an aphrodisiac, and shunned by the Victorian crowd for this reason. In the book, The Historical Tomato by Andrew Smith, he writes “It (the tomato) had been mentioned in the Bible. The Hebrew term for it was dudim, which translated into English “love apples” or “love plants.” The author then goes on to tell that it was painted by naturalist Konrad Gerner in 1553 and he labeled it with the Latin term “poma amoris” or love apple.

They are sitting on her table because she really doesn’t know what to do with them—she doesn’t even make coffee, let alone cook. But these pomodoro roma tomatoes grew profusely in the small patch of dirt that stretched the length of this corner house in Staten Island.

It was a sixplex, purchased by a Brooklyn artist, Susan, for no money down. Professional dominatrix rented three of the units.  They even set up a dungeon, complete with whips, chains and a medical station for a little mean-nurse play in the basement. In return for her understanding, the doms, particularly Mistress Ginger Monroe, made sure that nobody took advantage of Susan.

Susan collected rents throughout the month since, though dominatrix always paid on time, a few tenants—those struggling, or with young children or ill—paid rent in segments over the month. Susan understood—they were trying. But then the pipes burst, and the expense was something Susan hadn’t counted on and couldn’t afford. Her boyfriend couldn’t loan her the money as he had hit a hard time. She discussed the options with Mistress Ginger Monroe, who came up with a solution. One of her clients was a plumber. If the two of them, Mistress Ginger and Susan, spanked him in the bathroom, then perhaps he would fix the pipes as payment.

Susan had worked for one day as a dominatrix. She thought it would be easy money, but she found otherwise. “You had to learn how to tie a lot of knots,” She explained. “And there was a lot of play acting. You have to really understand what the client wants and needs psychologically. I’m just not an actor. It wasn’t right for me.”

She was fired after one day, as the Dungeon Mistress informed her, regrettably, she just wasn’t … well … dominant enough.

But under the guidance of Mistress Ginger Monroe, the fledgling landlord/failed dominatrix herded the plumber into the bathroom and spanked him hard. He loved it and not only fixed the pipes, but offered to come back and repair the boiler. Everyone was happy, except Susan’s boyfriend, despite the many times they explained to him that dominatrix don’t have sex with their clients, and while it might be sexual in nature, it’s absolutely not the act. This didn’t matter; his male pride was wounded and he never went back to Staten Island.

He had been the one who planted the tomatoes. Before the spanking, he had come by once a week to tend them. He pinched off the shoots that sprouted between the main stem and bigger leaves, so energy would go to the fruit. He added mixtures of compost and tucked a little mulch around the base of the plants. But since the plumber incident, the tomatoes were left alone on the vines. They grew heavy with fruit with no one to cut away the lower leaves, stake them up or make sure they got plenty of water in the hot months.

While the group met, divying up the ripening tomatoes and discussing what to do with the plants, and the harvest, the phone rang. Mistress Ginger answered. She had a side business, and she charged $3.00 a minute for mean, nasty talk.

“Get on your knees, you little bitch,” she started. “Have you been bad?”

While she collected for the role playing and spanking and whipping and naughty nurse games, she let some of the slaves come by and clean or do her shopping or make repairs on her car—and she didn’t usually charge them for this.

“Slaves clean our bathrooms, wash the dishes naked,” Mistress Monroe said. “When I’m hungry, I make them go get me food and deliver it.”

A little later, after the phone rang again, she commanded the next client to get on his knees, and it became clear who should tend the tomato plants. The ones who like to get on their knees would be natural gardeners.

“One of my slaves once made sauce out of the tomatoes,” Mistress Ginger said. “I could demand them to make fresh sauce all the time.”

The pomodoro tomatoes would not go to waste.

Mistress Ginger’s Tomato Gardening Instructions:

(Mistress Ginger is working on putting these instructions in her own voice. I haven’t gotten them back yet.)

  1. Get on your knees, Bitch!
  2. Add compost—cow shit—to soil.
  3. Buy Seedlings. Check the leaves to make sure there are no yellow spots or marks.
  4. Harden them– set them outside during the day so they get a little wind and sun, them bring them back inside at night.
  5. Wait until it’s warm and nighttime temperatures about 55-60 F and plant them in full sun. This means about 6 hours a day.
  6. Space your plants about 2 feet apart in rows when you plant them.
  7. Stake your plants. Using wooden stakes that are around 3 feet high and 2 inches thick, pound them into the ground about three inches from a plant on its north side so that the tiny plant will not be shaded.
  8. Tie the plants to the stake. Make it coarse and bulky so it won’t cut into the stems.  First tie a square knot around the stake tight enough to prevent downward slippage, then use the free ends twine to tie a square knot loosely around the tomato plant’s stem. As the plant grows, anchor the stem to the stake every foot.
  9. Water them evenly. This means the same amount on a consistent basis and water them deeply. So every other day in the summer give them a good soaking, but aim around the plant so the water goes to the root, not onto the leaves.
  10. Prune them so that there’s a single stem. But this means to cut the shoots that might become stems, but don’t cut the leaves. Use fingers and snap them off.
  11. Pinch when the plant reaches the top of its stake.  Pinch out the growing point of the shoot and continue to remove any new leaves or flowers that form. Pinching directs a plant’s energy into the fruits that have already set, hastening their ripening and increasing their size.

Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca

Makes 4 servings

Mistress Ginger would undoubtedly instruct the puttanesca sauce to be served with strozzapreti “priest strangler” pasta. Troffiette twists or rotini are good substitutes. The sauce is also delicious over grilled or broiled fish, chicken, or pan-seared shrimp.

Olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise and seeded, then finely chopped

2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup pitted whole dry-cured black olives (they are usually shriveled and packed with a little oil, not brine)

2 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound pasta

Good quality extra-virgin olive oil, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until soft and just starting to brown around the edges, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often. Mix in the tomatoes, reduce heat to medium, and cook until shapeless and they threaten to stick to the pan, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, push the tomatoes to the perimeter of the pan. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, the anchovies, garlic, oregano, and black pepper to the center of the pan and let it simmer until the garlic is fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes, then stir into the rest of the ingredients along with the black olives, capers, and 1 teaspoon salt. Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside.

Boil the pasta until al dente, drain, and place back in the pot. Toss with the puttanesca sauce and serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

Maria Finn is the author of Hold Me Tight and Tango Me Home (Algonquin, 2010) and  A Little Piece of Earth, How To Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces (Rizzoli, 2010). She is an expert on gardens. Nature and plant lovers will enjoy her blog and weekly newsletter, City Dirt: The Bay Area Weekly Garden Newsletter for Foodies, Foragers, Tree-Huggers and Beauty Lovers.