Thursday, September 10, 2020

September's Favorite Sandwich


At the beginning of August, I am dying for some garden tomatoes. They seem to come in at a snail's pace, one maybe two, here and there. Slowly ripening, so slow. As the first fruits ripen in Val's garden, I covet them. Then when she begins to give me a few at a time, I hoard them and hide them from the rest of my family. Eating them when no one else is home to ask me what I am having for lunch.

September sneaks up on us just before Labor Day and tomatoes are everywhere. Val drops them off at my house bags at a time, when I am not home. So, I can't object by protesting that I already have way too many to eat.They soften so fast in the big bowl on my kitchen table. Displayed as the centerpiece instead of a vase full of flowers. 

Getting creative is the only way to trudge through the abundance of tomato season. I roast them with olive oil, a pinch each of salt and sugar, maybe some balsamic vinegar, rosemary or thyme. There is always the easy side dish, Caprese Salad: slices of tomatoes and mozzarella with basil leaves layered in between. But neither of these options make up a rounded out meal requiring extra thought in these last lazy days of summer leading into the school year. 

If September was a sandwich, it would most definitely be a B.L.T. Piled ridiculously high with sliced red, ripe Beefsteak tomatoes rendering it nearly impossible to eat and making the tomato it's star. It should be called, T.B.L. (Tomato, bacon and lettuce sandwich). Sturdy white bread is a must. I prefer thinly sliced sourdough or pain de mie from the local French bakery. A smear of Hellman's mayonnaise is a lovely addition in most cases and necessary as this sandwich needs something to bring the crunchy green lettuce and salty bacon together with the show stopping acidity of the tomatoes. But I prefer  a sandwich spread with a little more personality. It's actually Hellman's, lemon juice and another summer favorite: basil. So simple, it can be thrown together in a flash in a food processor. Make a larger batch than what you need and you can use it for a vegetable dip or put it on any sandwich to add character and zip.

If you aren't totally sick of tomatoes by the end of September, then you haven't had your fill. I suggest you take a trip to your local farm stand or farmers' market, STAT. Fill a bag with all the colors of the heirlooms: yellow, orange, red and pink. Pick up a loaf of freshly baked bread. Eat this for B.L.D. (breakfast, lunch and dinner) for the rest of the week. Only then will you be ready for fall to arrive and finally become tired of tomato season.

B.L.T. (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich)

(Serves about 4)

1-2 large Beefsteak or or other locally grown tomatoes, sliced

6 leaves of Green Leaf or other locally grown lettuce

sliced sourdough or other favorite white sandwich style bread

cooked bacon slices 

Lemon Basil Mayonnaise (see recipe)



Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tinfoil, long enough to reach over each edge. Spread out bacon in an even layer over the tinfoil. Place bacon in oven.

While the bacon is cooking, slice the tomatoes. Wash and thoroughly dry the lettuce. Place bread slices in a dish (up to eight for four sandwiches). Make the Lemon Basil Mayonnaise. 

Frequently check the bacon. After about 10 minutes, move bacon around sheet with tongs if some pieces are baking faster than others. Flip slices if undersides need browning. The bacon should only take about 15 minutes to cook and can go from slightly browned to burned in a matter of minutes. Once desired browning is achieved, gently remove from oven as not to splatter bacon grease. Remove each bacon slice to a plate lined with paper towel to absorb excess grease.

Once the bacon has cooled to room temperature, place slices on a clean plate. Serve all components of sandwich: tomatoes, lettuce, bread, bacon, Lemon Basil Mayonnaise, salt and pepper so that everyone can make their own.

Lemon Basil Mayonnaise

(makes about 1 cup)

3/4 cup Hellman's Mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

juice from 1/2 lemon

1 handful of fresh basil leaves

2 shakes hot sauce (I use Tabasco)



Place mayonnaise, sour cream and lemon juice in a food processor. Roughly chop the basil leaves and add to mayonnaise, etc. Add the Tabasco and blend until the basil turns into tiny specks. Taste and add salt and pepper. Blend again. Refrigerate Lemon Basil Mayonnaise until ready to use and up to one week.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Falmouth Road Race 2020

black t-shirt, racing number


This August, instead of moving cones, directing runners, folding t-shirts, greeting VIP’s and generally running around putting out fires, I will be a participant in the Falmouth Road Race. This is not at all what I expected the end of the summer 2020 to look like for me. I am sure that most people are saying the same thing, our lives having been upended by COVID-19 and all the changes that we have been forced to make. In fact, back in February, I was asked before being offered my new job if I ran the Falmouth Road Race? To which I replied, “I have but I am never running that race again!” I immediately regretted blurting out my true feelings until I was told that my answer was pretty much what they were looking for as race organizers have no time to even think about participating in the Falmouth Road Race during the madness of race weekend.

I pride myself in handling crazy, busy situations from working in retail during the height of Christmas season and at a more recent job, corralling customers at the Street Fair held on Main Street in July so, I was actually looking forward to an insane week of working the Expo, the race and the aftermath and of course, lots of t-shirt folding. When Falmouth Road Race made the decision to move to a virtual event that would invite runners to participate “At-Home” instead of organizing the logistics of getting 12,800 runners to the starting line in Woods Hole on the second Sunday in August, everyone on the team decided that we could "run" this year and wouldn’t it be fun to actually be a part of it? Yes, that idea was “fun” in April. Training or should I say, dragging my body through barely four miles, hoping I will eventually be able to do the required seven in the August heat is a special type of torture. Now, I remember why I said to my future boss, “I am never running that race, again!” I should have known those words would come back to haunt me.

 The first time I ran, I truly did not know much about the race other than the crowds clogging the streets along the shore and having to leave for work earlier than any other summer morning to ensure that I would arrive in time for my shift at a busy restaurant in Woods Hole located right on the starting line. I am sure my friends and I all thought it would be a great idea to run the Falmouth Road Race when we mailed our applications in February of 1986. It is likely that we planned to run it together not thinking about how we would coordinate our hectic summer work schedules and convince our bosses to give us that Sunday morning off during one of the most insane weekends of the season. The restaurants and resorts needed all hands on deck to accommodate the crowds that invaded the town for race weekend. I was still unsure if I was actually going to run the race at all coming into the month of August. I worked a lot of hours as part of the kitchen staff and I was often so tired when I wasn’t at work on my feet all day that I didn’t run at all that summer. Not that I especially liked to run, anyway.

When one of the cooks who worked with me started spouting off about running the race, I casually mentioned that I had a number and was thinking about doing it, as well. He was so glib and cocky that I ended up being swept up into the kitchen banter that night and somehow agreed to a bet to see who would run the race faster. What was I thinking? Since I had never run the route before or even ran seven miles together at one time, I really don’t know what possessed me to say anything about it.

My boss pulled me aside between orders and yelled into my ear to be heard over the hood fan sucking all the smoke and hot air out of the kitchen.

“You better kick his ass” she hissed in my ear. "And you have to wear one of our t-shirts."

There would be no backing out now.

I was nervous that morning, afraid I wouldn’t make it to the finish line, forget beating that arrogant cook in the race. But I had a few aces in my pocket: I was only seventeen, just home from a week of field hockey camp where we sprinted and ran miles every day, all day from 8:00 am-8:00 pm and I didn’t drink lots of beer after working a fifteen hour shift like the older, college age cooks in the kitchen.

We ran slowly at the start, jockeying between bodies trying to find some space to open up a longer stride. Then, once we neared the lighthouse, he turned to me and said, “Don’t try and keep up with me!” and sprinted ahead into the crowd of runners. I was stunned. I guess I thought he would run with me for a while, the bet only a joke, a way to pass the time at work.

So, I ran and took in the scenery, trying to figure out how far and long I had to go. I was a little scared but comforted myself with the idea that there were so many people running and cheering on the sidelines that it would all work out. Then, into about the second mile, I saw him up ahead. I began to feel good, even strong. I knew in that moment I could take him and beat him to the finish line. Especially since he chose to wear work boots to run seven miles. As I came up behind him, I yelled, “Don’t try to keep up with ME!” and sprinted ahead so that I was no longer near him.

The story of my first race ends with a crazy busy summer night in the kitchen back at work that evening. (No, we could not get the entire day off.) And me collecting on the bet I didn’t think I could possibly win.  For my prize, he bought me a handle of vodka and the biggest bottle of Peach Schnapps they had on the shelves at the Woods Hole Liquor store. Fuzzy Navels and Sex on the Beach drinks were all the rage but I had never had one back then. Just as well, my best friend’s older sister and her friends commandeered the booze for an after work party before I was forced to figure out what to do with it.

The weather was typical for a Sunday in mid-August that year: hot, humid and sunny. But on occasion there have been some tough conditions. Fortunately, I didn't personally have to deal with them. My friends and I became huge fans of the party scene on Road Race Sunday and it certainly helped that one of my closest pals lived just behind the ball field at the finish line. That was my experience of Road Race until the year that I agreed to run with my then fiancĂ© and soon to be husband. In 1999 it rained like crazy on Saturday night into Sunday morning. But the race was still on in spite of the deluge. My father’s truck tires splashed water over the windshield from the enormous puddles that had formed all night as he drove us to our impending doom at the crack of dawn on race day. When we arrived at the starting line and we hopped out of the truck to join the thousands of already drenched runners, I stupidly declined the black trash bag he offered to keep me dry.

Of course I did it, I’m not one to give up but I really didn’t want to run. I knew within minutes waiting in the coral at the start that I would soon be soaking wet and miserable. I don’t even like to run through a hose held from a ladder, showering runners as they go by on the sunniest and hottest race day. About 3.5 miles in, half the race through, along Surf Drive Beach, I just wanted to stop. The water had flooded this stretch of road so it felt like trudging through knee deep water in the ocean located just feet away. But if you’ve ever run Falmouth before, you know if you made it that far, you might as well keep going. There was no sense in throwing it away at that point regardless of the horrible circumstances.

The rest of the 7 miles was as cold and miserable as anyone can imagine. Rivers of water pooled in the streets. Soaking wet spectators cheered us on as it continued to rain throughout the morning. When I heard my father in his orange rain gear and my mother under her yellow striped umbrella yelling our names as we rounded the bend at Scranton Ave. and Robbins Rd. (behind the 7-11), I knew I didn’t have far to go and all I could think about was a hot shower and dry clothes. Finally we climbed the last hill and crossed the finish line. I don’t even think we tried to wait under the tent on the ball field to grab a hot dog before we made a beeline for our car parked conveniently at our faithful friend’s house on North Grand Ave. where the party had already begun before the starting gun went off in Woods Hole.

I got my shower and warm clothes then cruised on back to the party which I should have left early but I know I didn’t. (I always took the following Monday off from work ;)) But I vowed, and I have kept it until this year, to never ever run that race again!

racing bibs

When DeKuyper Peach Schnapps became all the rage in the 1980's, Fuzzy Navel, Sex on the Beach and the Woo-Woo were popular drinks served at the huge post race parties held at the Wharf overlooking the Heights beach at the Falmouth Road Race finish line. These cocktails are various combinations of vodka, peach schnapps and fruit juice (orange or cranberry) and way too sweet for me. They will also give you a killer hangover! Here is an updated version of the Woo-Woo which was served as a shot. The addition of lime juice makes it less sweet and creates the perfect post race celebration cocktail! 

woo-woo martini in a short cocktail glass


Woo-Woo Martini

(Makes one)


2 oz. vodka

½ oz. peach schnapps

2 oz. cranberry juice

¼ oz. lime juice

lime wedge (for garnish)


Fill a shaker with ice. Add vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice and lime juice. Shake well, until chilled. Pour into chilled martini glass and garnish with lime. Sip and enjoy!


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Where's the Zucchini?

green zucchini held in front of garden patch

A contest is held every year at the Barnstable County Fair to see who can grow the largest zucchini. A first prize ribbon is bestowed upon the grandest of the green fruit. There are no other awards, no second place. You are either the biggest and the best or you are out of luck.

There are a lot of people on facebook showing off their zucchini harvest. The squash piled high, photographed on a kitchen counter, bad lighting and poor composition. The text imploring fb friends to send along their favorite recipes. I have a few recipes. But I don't have any zucchini.

I planted seeds early, in April. They did well in their flats and I transferred them to my small garden plot on the back side of my house where the sun shines all day. The plants seem to be thriving, covered in bright orange blossoms sheltered by massive green, fan shaped leaves. Where is the zucchini? I have yet to reap the benefits of babying these plants. Maybe not babying them, but watering them and shooing the dog away. That and keeping a vigilant eye for any pests who may invade. I once had a battle with a zucchini worm. I don't like to talk about it. Not only was it devastating but it was so gross, it makes me want to gag just thinking about it. So, I look under those big leaves everyday, searching for signs of hope but I haven't seen anything promising, yet.

Val has a good crop of zucchini this year but it's not yielding an overabundance. She gave me a pretty big zucchini which I promptly used in one of my favorite summertime recipes: Chocolate Zucchini Cake. Served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream or cut into small squares for my beach cooler, it really is one of the best chocolate cakes, ever. And it's one way to get my fourteen year old carnivore to eat some vegetables.

A tart made with a crisp biscuit dough filled with ricotta and Parmesan cheeses and topped with a layer or zucchini and/or yellow summer squash seems to please everyone and looks pretty impressive, especially if you are bringing it to a party. I've made other versions of this zucchini tart idea based on a classic one from Ina Garten. Crust, cheese and just a little vegetable, how can you go wrong?

Of course, there are methods of cooking zucchini that can go terribly wrong, in my opinion. Zucchini was a tough sell back in the 1980's when every restaurant on the Cape offered it as the classic summer vegetable side to accompany dinnertime entrees. Cooked ahead of time in large hotel pans, steamed with summer squash, carrots and sliced onions. "Summer Vegetable Medley" was scooped and served in white monkey dishes alongside expensive grilled swordfish steaks and filet mignon. Soggy and lackluster, I'll pass, thanks.

But by far the best recipe and one that is not often considered because of the work involved is Zucchini Relish. The recipe comes to us by way of Norma, my grandfather's second wife and her cousin Elmira from Lubec, ME. These women knew how to put up vegetables and in spite of the heat from the canning pot and the amount of chopping and salting, they managed to preserve just about anything that came out of a summer garden. I must admit that I didn't really like this relish until recent years. I was not a fan of the sweeter pickled taste. Maybe it's the bright yellow/green color or the appreciation of the effort, there is truly nothing better than smothering a grilled hot dog with this magical concoction of zucchini and spices.

I'm impatiently waiting and inspecting every morning with my coffee in hand. Hoping for enough zucchini for a batch of Zucchini Relish. There are a lot of buds that have yet to open hiding under those big leaves. Who knows, maybe I'll get enough from my harvest, when it finally comes, for two batches of relish this year.


jars of zucchini relish and cucumber pickles

Zucchini Relish

(makes about eight 8 oz. jars)


10 cups cubed zucchini (smaller than 1/8" cubes)*

4 cups finely chopped onion

5 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons celery seed

1 red pepper, diced (smaller than 1/8" cubes)

1 green pepper, diced (smaller than 1/8" cubes)

5 cups sugar

1 teaspoon black pepper**

1 tablespoon turmeric

2 1/4 cups vinegar


Combine zucchini, onion and salt in a large bowl. Set aside for 3 hours. 

Drain thoroughly in a strainer by pushing water out with hands. Combine drained zucchini and onions with all other ingredients: cornstarch-vinegar in a large stockpot. Bring mixture to a boil then turn down heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Ladle zucchini mixture into prepared sterilized jars. Wipe rims and threads with a clean, damp towel. Place sterilized lids and rings on jars. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove processed relish jars to rest on clean towels on counter top overnight. The next day, test seals. If seals are tight, store in a cool dry place for up to one year.


*The original recipe notes suggest a choice of cubed or shredded zucchini

**1 teaspoon black pepper "2 if you like!" noted on original recipe card


Val usually doubles this recipe as it is a lot of work and everyone likes to receive a jar for Christmas!


Canning Basics:

-Use new canning jars and lids. Re-using rings is fine.

-Sterilize all by running through a dishwasher cycle or placing washed jars, lids and rings in boiling water for 10 minutes. 

-After placing filled jars in canning pot, bring water to a full boil, then time for 10 minutes. Be sure the water covers all jars with at least 1 inch of water during the process. 

-Gently remove processed jars after water has stopped boiling (wait 5 minutes) then place on clean, dry towels on counter top. 

-Do not disturb jars for at least 8 hours.

-To check seals, remove ring, lift up gently on edges of lid. If lid stays secure, it is sealed properly and can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to one year. If lid pops off, refrigerate jar and use within one week.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Frozen Treats and Sweet Friendship

chocolate and vanilla ice cream sandwiches on a white plate

"The most underrated ice cream treat is the ice cream sandwich. They are soooo good!" -Ava Norris

 I agree. I love a soft chocolate wafer cookie with creamy, melty ice cream. I love that as I smoosh the two cookie layers together, the ice cream, if melted to the right consistency,  pushes itself out along the edges so that I can lick it off until finally, there is no ice cream left between the two cookies. At that point, the cookie layers have become soft, they are thin enough to be pliable and as they are sticking to my fingers, I try to slowly savor the chocolaty goodness before the cookies completely disintegrate in my hands.

It just so happens Food and Wine magazine this month has a feature recipe recreating this favorite frozen treat. This version includes the recipe for a cookie that is both crisp enough and has the ability to become perfectly softened as the ice cream melts between the layers. And to top it off, it does not require that I churn my own gourmet ice cream. In fact, the ice cream component listed in the ingredients is none other than one of my absolute favorites, Cherry Garcia.

Way back during my first two years in the early fall weeks at the University of New Hampshire, my friend Holly and I would abandon the institutional food at the dining hall for two heaping scoops of Ben & Jerry's ice cream doled out from a single freezer case by some upper class man who knew Holly's older sister. Perhaps he had a crush on Holly or was trying to impress her sister, those small plastic cups could barely hold the portions he jammed into them. This ice cream paradise was a hidden gem, located in a small convenience store on the outskirts of campus. But Holly could always find the ice cream as if she had an internal GPS tracking for the icy sweet goodness.

My choice of Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Holly's: Cherry Garcia and Peanut Butter Cup was a splurge for us. We had to scrounge loose dollar bills and change. I think the portions cost $4.00 each which back then equaled four loads of laundry, running at four quarters a load. Wearing old t-shirts and not wearing socks for a week was a small price to pay. I loved escaping the structure of classes, studying and schedules for a few hours of freedom. Our friendship growing through our appreciation of really good ice cream.

We pulled our ratty sweatshirt sleeves over our hands to protect our fingers that were becoming red with cold and walked faster as we gossiped and ate, making a big loop around campus taking us past Frat Row, up by the clock tower of Thompson Hall, the dorms farthest out, (I don't recall the names) and finally back to our rooms at Hitchcock Hall. Our hall mates asking why we missed dinner and where we had been until it became a normal occurrence for me and Holly to disappear for a couple of hours every week. Ice cream hasn't tasted so rebellious, secret and special for a long, long time.

My new partner in crime is nearing the age I was during those clandestine ice cream adventures. Ava knows really good ice cream, small batch, made in gourmet shops and scooped to order. But she won't turn up her nose at a treat from the ice cream man. Even if it is artificially died cream substitute wrapped in paper and served on a stick. Nothing goes better with salt, sand and sea with the sun beating down, melting it all over your hands and arms. In the summertime, Ava scoops ice cream in a small shop down the street. At the end of her shift, she gets to choose some for herself. I admire her flavor experiments: Red Razz Truffle and Cookie Dough, Chocolate Peanut Butter and Black Raspberry. Fruity and creamy with candy and crunch. I couldn't have chosen better myself.

Ice Cream Sandwiches
(Adapted only slightly from "Black Cherry-Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches"-Food & Wine Magazine, June 2020)

1 1/4 cups flour, plus more for rolling
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 quart of your favorite ice cream

Stir together flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl; set aside. Beat butter, sugar, instant coffee in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. With mixer running, add egg, beating until well combined, about 30 seconds. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough out sandwiched between two large pieces of parchment paper. Use a small amount of flour, if needed to prevent sticking. Trim to a 13"x 10" rectangle (bake scraps on another cookie sheet and devour later). Slide trimmed rectangle with parchment underneath onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Remove dough rectangle from refrigerator. Using the blunt end of a wooden skewer, prick holes all over dough about 1/4 inch apart. Bake in preheated oven until set but still soft, about 9-11 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let cookie cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Cut cookie crosswise into 2 rectangles. Invert one cookie half onto a large sheet of tinfoil. Top with ice cream, spreading evenly to edges. Place remaining cookie half (do not invert) on top of ice cream. Wrap the whole thing in foil and freeze for 8 hours.

Remove frozen sandwich from foil. Cut into 12 bars. Serve immediately or wrap individual bars in wax paper and store in freezer for as long as you can keep them a secret or up to one month.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Salad Days

garden salad in a while bowl on a brown table

It was my first job. I was 15 years old. My boss yelled at me everyday. She yelled at everyone. All Day Long. The restaurant was insanely busy in the summertime with tourists trying to make the ferry over to Martha's Vineyard and loud with the excitement and stressed out energy of families on vacation. I barely had time to use the bathroom during a 12 hour long shift. I drank Diet Coke and ate oyster crackers that I kept in my apron pocket to keep my stomach from growling. There were no breaks. Ever. Until you punched out. I went back day after day because my parents would have killed me if I didn't. Plus, my mother drove me to work.

When I was finally told that my shift was over and I could leave, I ran out the door, down the street to the payphone on the corner to call my mother to pick me up. I was so glad to be out of that building, away from the yelling, the noise, the smell of french fries, coffee and bleach. It took at least 30 minutes after I called for her to arrive in Woods Hole, driving down the hill and turning the corner in front of the drug store. I sat on the big rock next to the phone booth, watching, waiting for the yellow station wagon with the faux wood paneling and the ceiling my mother fixed herself by stapling it back into place. Each silver staple perfectly spaced so that it looked intentional, like it was part of the original design. 

I worked really hard at that job. Bussing tables as fast as I possibly could. Clearing the sticky dishes covered in maple syrup, refilling the sugar packets, making another pot of coffee, wiping down the glass tops, pushing in the chairs. Competing with myself, getting faster and faster, more efficient: anticipating, checking the bathrooms before being reminded, trying to think of everything so I wouldn't get screamed at. Somehow, I began to like the sense of accomplishment. But the intensity of the day always came out in a flood of tears as soon as I climbed into the car and closed the door.

The cooks started calling me, "Speed Queen", then, "Speedo" and sometimes just shortened the nick-name to, "Speed" because I did my job so fast powered by adrenaline from fear and teenage energy.  I didn't react to anything they said, just brought them Cokes with lemon and pint glasses of ice water when they asked. I was a little scared of them, too. They were older than me, in college. 

One Friday afternoon in the middle of the summer, my boss' husband, quiet but still imposing, told me to come into the kitchen. We were winding down in the dining room, cleaning and setting up before the dinner rush. I was sure he was going to tell me that I was doing something wrong, maybe fire me. When his wife was really, really angry, she stopped screaming and yelling and sent him to convey her angry message. Not only was I about to be humiliated, my mother would definitely kill me when she picked me up, having to drive all the way to Woods Hole to get her daughter who got canned for doing a terrible job.

I made my way through the swinging doors and into the lion's den. The kitchen was small, bright, bustling with energy that urged, "Get the prep done now or we are screwed!" He told me I was going to make the garden salads. You know the ones that come in a bamboo bowl: iceberg, shredded purple cabbage, 2 cherry tomatoes, 2 slices cucumber, a ring of red onion, a ring of green pepper and maybe a canned black olive, if you are lucky? That was it. He needed my help. 
He calmly showed me how he wanted the salads to look and asked me to make 60 of them: 5 sheet pans of 12 salads, each. Then, bring each one through the swinging doors, up the stairs, down the hallway and store it in the walk-in. Make them look good. Dinner starts in an hour.

I was terrified that I would mess it all up. 

I worked the salad and dessert station on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights for the rest of the summer. Bussing tables during breakfast and lunch wearing a blue apron in the front of house, then changing into a red apron to work in the kitchen through the evening service. Baptized by fire on a hot summer day, pulled onto the "Red Team" out of necessity, allowed to stay because I kept my mouth shut and my hands moving. I worked in that restaurant for seven summers, through high school and part of college. I got tougher and grew a thick skin, no longer crying everyday on the ride home from work. My boss stopped yelling and screaming at me.  I must have passed her test. She moved on to new members of the dining room staff, who often quit because they didn't have parents who told them, "This is how it is in a restaurant. It's stressful, people yell. Let it roll off your back." This may seem like harsh parenting. But through the years, my first "professional" kitchen experience has made me realize that ranting bosses are usually their own worst enemies and being able to focus on crafting something as simple as a garden salad in the middle of the frenzy on an insanely busy Saturday in July are lessons that I have been using all my adult life.

Simple Garden Salad
(makes one)

1 1/2 cups chopped iceberg lettuce
1/4  cup shredded red cabbage
4 cherry tomatoes or 2 wedges from a medium sized tomato
4 slices cucumber 
1 ring cut from the center of a whole green or red pepper
1-2 rings sliced red onion
4 black olives
1 pepperoncini

salad dressing of choice: Italian, Ranch, Peppercorn Parmesan, Balsamic Vinaigrette, Blue Cheese*

Place lettuce and red cabbage in a small bowl. Toss gently. Strategically place tomato around edges of lettuce mixture. Place cucumbers in the same manner. Place pepper and onion rings on the center of the lettuce mixture. Place black olives in between tomatoes and cucumbers. Place pepperoncini in the center of the red onion rings, as the crowning center of the salad. Enjoy with dressing.

*May cost extra


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Rainy Day Beef Stew

  While digging around in my blog vault, I came across this unpublished post. Although it's from seven years ago (February 2013), and I now have an exciting and fulfilling job, during these uncertain days, it's a reminder that things can always get better and comfort food always helps.

beef stew in a white bowl with a slice of bread and butter

  I've been having a pity party lately. Actually, it's been going on for about 3 months now. I spend my days wracking my brain, trying to find a job that suits me, my schedule (kids), that is fun and brings in a decent amount of money for my time. Working on my resume, psyching myself up, trolling the internet, reconnecting with former's an exhausting roller coaster ride of emotion. Then it's time to cook dinner.
  Although there are times when I don't feel like coming up with something to make, once I get myself into the kitchen and begin working, I suddenly feel that I have regained some sense of control over my life again. Even when I feel like there is no hope of finding a job, of making things work, at least I have the confidence that I can produce a good meal, that is enjoyable not only to me but to the people I'm cooking it for as well.
  That's exactly how I felt last Friday after a long week of trying to figure out my life. The kids were home on school vacation so between refereeing their fights and getting them out the door to the library, public skating, to a friend's house to play, and finishing Ava's science project, it wasn't really an ideal time to come up with a new fabulous career idea. I was frustrated with myself and at the end of my rope with the kids. I took a break and watched some mindless t.v. before getting out of my pajamas and getting on the with day.
  "Slow Cooker" week on Rachael Ray....whoo-hoo! as I lay on my bed, half looking out the window at the dreary weather, half watching the show, the creative wheels in my head began to creak into motion. I came up with the brilliant idea to use the Crock-Pot to make a hearty stew. At least this was a mission I could motivate myself to get behind. Some good basic ingredients plus heat almost always yield the results I want, something delicious to eat and share with others.
  It's funny I never realized that the kitchen has been my place of comfort for so many years. In college, after my dearest friend died, I cooked chili and bread from scratch every week and ate all of the meals that I prepared for myself at the tiny kitchen table by the window in our basement apartment that I shared with two other girls. Later, while living in Boston on a (frayed) shoe string budget, most nights I made it home from working in the mall after 8:00pm but I always managed to whip up some eggs with salsa and cheddar cheese, my own version of comfort food in a neat little omelet. Now especially when I feel I have no control over what life has to offer, I turn to the stove. Baking chocolate chip cookies, kneading bread, chopping vegetables, these are things that restore my sense of stability and help me to relax. When nothing appears to be going my way, at least the oven still works, the sugar tastes sweet and a hot meal reminds me that tomorrow is another day.

kitchen window covered in snow

Rainy Day Beef Stew
(Serves 6)

2 lbs. stew beef, cut into 1 inch pieces
salt and pepper
3-4 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons flour
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
2 medium stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 medium onions, diced
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 cup beef stock
1 cup red wine
3 oz. tomato paste (1/2 of a small can)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

  Dry meat with paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Divide meat into 3 batches. Toss one batch of meat into skillet and sear on all sides. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of flour. Pour beef and juices into Crock-Pot. Repeat with remaining two batches.  Add 1 teaspoon oil  to the skillet and cook carrots  for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Place carrots in Crock-Pot. Cook  celery and onions until softened, season with salt and pepper and add to Crock-Pot. Add 1-2 teaspoons oil to skillet and cook mushrooms for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Place mushrooms in Crock-Pot.  Place pan back on heat and add beef broth and wine, stirring and scraping the pan to loosen any cooked bits from the bottom. Clean pan with this process and pour entire contents into Crock-Pot. Add tomato paste, thyme and mustard and stir entire contest of Crock-Pot to distribute ingredients.    Cook stew on high for 3 hours, then on low for one hour until meat is tender. Alternately, cook stew on low for 8 hours. Once cooking is complete, to thicken juices, mix one tablespoon cornstarch with one tablespoon cool water and add to stew. Stir to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Add vinegar, stir and cook for 5 more minutes before serving over mashed potatoes or with a slice of bread.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Never Too Old For Cupcakes

a plate of chocolate cupcakes with white frosting and orange sprinkles

  How old is too old to have a birthday party? Is it want your mom to make cupcakes and to have your friends over for a bowling party when you are a 14 year old boy? Personally, I don't think anyone should ever grow out of the Birthday Party phase. Not ever. I hope my kids never do.
  Declan and I have a ritual. If we are both home in the evening, meaning if he doesn't have  basketball practice, a baseball game or some other activity after dinner, we watch a show on t.v. together. But not just any random show that may be broadcast that given night or something that is popular to binge watch on Prime or Netflix. Our show is carefully selected and must adhere to a strict criteria.  It must be light yet sprinkled with dramatic moments. It must have run for at least three seasons to be worth our time investment and capture our attention. It must have a serial element to it so that a cliff hanger is presented at the end of each episode compelling us to watch a second one in the same sitting.  And it must star a recognizable but not super famous female lead. 
  This is our not so secret shared guilty pleasure. And Declan isn't shy about it. He has actually had discussions with his friends about his healthy addiction to "Heart of Dixie" and "Gilmore Girls". Maybe it's cool to be into these dramedies set in small towns inhabited by quirky characters with their themes of relationships and farce. But I don't think so. Perhaps it's just ironically funny to him. But I know the real secret, the one he doesn't say out loud in public and it's my favorite part of our t.v. watching time together. While I am sitting on the couch, glass of wine in hand, ready for some small town drama; he is not too old to lean against me for the entire 40 minutes, or so, at least at this moment in time. It's not a full on snuggle like a little boy might want from his mom, it's the early teenage version. We are on the cusp of him growing up and leaving his childhood behind. While I will never be ready for this to finally happen, he will be someday, likely sooner than later.
  Most of the time, our relationship takes the shape of a typical mother-son dynamic. I am aware that I shouldn't go in for a hug in public. When I am driving him and a friend home from school, he talks with a sarcastic edge: just cool and distant enough to show the outside world that he is tough and grown-up. But when he puts on those fleece pj bottoms with the Celtics logos printed all over the fabric, the ones that have suddenly become three inches too short, along with his fuzzy socks and says in his recently deepened voice, "Mom, Gilmore Girls?", I know he is still my little boy.
  Even though next year he may say he doesn't want me to make cupcakes, I am still going to bake them and frost them and decorate them with orange sprinkles (his favorite color). I will not stop baking cupcakes on his birthday and I hope he never wants to stop watching bad t.v. in his pajamas on the couch with me.

  This chocolate cake and frosting recipe is a combination of a few found on the internet and the cake on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa can. It makes one large cake or 24 cupcakes. (Fill lined cups 2/3 full with batter.)

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
(makes one 8 inch layer cake)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder such as Hershey's Cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon instant coffee
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup oil (canola, etc.)
3/4 cup boiling water

  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line the bottoms of two 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper (cut to fit). 
  In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, baking soda and instant coffee. In a smaller bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Gently stir in the boiling water. Pour batter into cake pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Begin checking cake at 28-30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans onto wire rack and allow to cool completely before frosting and decorating.

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (softened)
1/2 cup Crisco
3 cups powdered sugar 
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tsp vanilla
1-3 tablespoons milk

Place butter and Crisco in the bowl of a stand mixer. Combine. Add sugar in three parts, combining between each addition. Add salt and vanilla. Combine. Slowly add milk by the tablespoon and combine well until a spreadable consistency is achieved.

To frost and decorate:
Sprinkles, sugar decorations, candy

  Level each cake with a knife. (Save scraps for snacking!) Spread frosting on top of one layer, place the second on top. Top cake with a large amount of frosting. Smooth it over the top and down the sides. Add sprinkles and other decorations before frosting dries.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Oh Glittery, Felt Christmas Tree!

 When I was in the first grade, I made the best Christmas gift of all time.  At least, I thought so.  I was so proud of it for many years until it slowly became a bit of nostalgia, as I grew up.  
  We cut the palm sized green felt trees out with dull safety scissors.  The metal kind that dug into soft, fleshy child hands.  I followed the black marker outline as closely as humanly possible with those dull scissors, concentrating and trying my best to get into the corners so the tree would have triangular edges instead of resembling an oddly shaped oval.  I am sure the cutting out process took an entire afternoon as my fellow classmates likely did not have the privilege of practicing at home with their mothers' very sharp sewing scissors and odd scraps of fabric.  Whereas I spent long hours after school making doll clothes and outfits for the cat using Val's special scissors.
  After what seemed like days later, the cutting out finally completed, we were instructed to place a tiny dot of Elmer's Glue on the back of the tree.  Once this glue drop was placed in the correct location, our teacher stopped at each of our desks, to place a small safety pin horizontally over the glue.  We were told not to touch the trees again until tomorrow and to take care when putting up our chairs as the final bell rang.  "The glue will dry overnight, " she said.  I knew this to be true having used loads of Elmer's on the fore mentioned doll and cat clothes.  However, some of my lesser experienced classmates where skeptical.
  The next morning, the best day of the project arrived, when I could unleash all of my creativity.  As our teacher walked slowly around the classroom placing bottles of glue and containers of multi colored glitter to be shared in groups, I couldn't wait to get my hands on them before they might be squandered by less restrained students.  I was ready to show the world my design style that would mirror the artistry of our teacher's demo glittery felt tree.  Hers was decorated with  perfect swags of glitter with a dot at the top signalling a star.  It was expertly crafted, but I was confident that I could copy it.  
  I squeezed the glue bottle upside down, in both my hands, willing the wet goo into the exact places to emphasize the look of garland.  I almost had to wait too long for the glitter to be finally passed to me, fearing the glue would dry too quickly and the right amount of glitter would not adhere.    I was nervous, this was a masterpiece to be presented to my mother.  I wanted it to be the best gift under the tree.  As our teacher raised her cheery voice and said, "Not to worry about too much glue, it will dry clear!" for those who got a little messy, I felt elated as I looked down on my creation, in my mind having made a beautiful gem that my mother would be sure to praise and cherish as she opened it up on Christmas morning along with all of the other less significant gifts.
  It seemed like forever to wait for a day or so for the glue and glitter to be ready to be packaged up and carefully sent home on the last day of school before the holiday break.  I am not sure if I had help boxing and wrapping my tiny treasure, perhaps my older sister had a hand in that.  But looking at the felt tree pin, so many, many years later, the glitter having worn off, the felt softened with wear, I am still reminded of the excitement of giving this handmade gift to my mother and the pride and happiness every time she took the pin out of the safe keeping of her jewelry box to wear it again, year after year on Christmas day.

  These cookies are an homage to the glittery, felt tree pin.  I used a classic recipe that Val has been making for years.

Cut Out Sugar Cookies with Frosting
(makes about 3 dozen according to the size of the cookie cutter)

For the cookies:
3/4 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 cups flour (plus extra for rolling out)

  In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add the eggs and vanilla.  Add baking powder and salt, mix to combine.  Slowly add the flour until well incorporated.  Separate dough into two pieces, flatten into discs, wrap in plastic and place in refrigerator for at least an hour.
  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  On a lightly floured board, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out small pieces of chilled dough and cut out using floured cookie cutters.  Place on lined cookie sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes until cookies look dry and  edges just begin to turn golden.  Remove cookies to cooling racks and allow to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:
1/4 cup softened butter
3 cups powdered sugar
4-6 tablespoons milk (plus a little more to make this version a bit runny)
1 teaspoon vanilla
green food coloring
edible glitter

  In a mixing bowl, cream butter until smooth.  Add sugar and milk alternately until desired creaminess is reached. Add vanilla and mix well. (This frosting should be a little runny to make the soft edges of the tree and allow enough time to adhere glitter decoration.)  Add green food coloring a few drops at a time until desired color is established.  Spread frosting on cookie and immediately sprinkle with edible glitter.  (I use a brush to scoop up the glitter, then tap it gently onto the frosting.)  Repeat frosting and adding glitter to cookies, one at a time.  Allow cookies to dry uncovered, overnight until frosting hardens.  Store in an airtight container up to one week.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Over the River and Along the Winding Coast of Maine


 It takes just about five hours to get to Camden, ME from here and another four hours to get to our final destination in Lubec, ME, but it always seemed so much longer a trip than that.  In fact, I always thought it was a twelve hour drive, and it could have been with all of the stops that we made and possibly a few wrong turns due to some navigation arguments.  We made the trip from Cape Cod to northern Maine to the eastern most town in the U.S. from pre-dawn to dusk on the day before Thanksgiving to visit my grandfather.
  I'm sure the goal was to leave by 4:30am, to get most of the driving done during the short amount of daylight in late November.  My father was always the one behind this grand idea.  But by the time everyone got settled into the car with our heavy winter coats locked in the trunk to make more room in the backseat for all three of us kids, it was probably closer to 5:30am.  As we made our way north, through the still sleeping city of Boston, I imagined what life was like in those tall buildings lit up like Christmas trees, and tried to read all of the billboards as we sped through the city.  Not long later, as the glamorous city life faded out of site, we eventually made our way to the big rest stop at the New Hampshire/Maine border and knew that we still had many miles and hours to go. 
  Camden was our lunch destination.  A tiny town on the coast with it's quaint harbor and main street of local shops.  It was at the harbor where my father parked the car and my mother took the red and white Playmate cooler out of the trunk so we could enjoy our homemade sandwiches as early as 10:30am, before any restaurant would possibly be ready to serve lunch.  We unwrapped chicken salad sandwiches on homemade white bread and got to drink a can of Coke or Ginger ale.  Wise Potato Chips were an extra treat, something we did not have regularly at home.  This was a special, once a year trip, after all.  To finish it all up, Val's chocolate chip cookies or brownies studded with semi sweet morsels, but these were an everyday affair as Val always made sure there were sweets in the house for us to snack on.  We probably walked around the harbor, checking out the fishing boats that were still in the water, ready to go out and get their catch.  It always seemed chilly after sitting in the hot car for so long, fighting for space with my brother and sister, trying to read a book to get through the long ride.  I'm sure my father could have stayed for hours, inspecting the skiffs, talking to fisherman, looking at ropes and nets and who knows what else, but my mother was eager to see her father whom she only got to visit maybe twice a year.
  Finally arriving in Lubec, after what seemed like many, many hours later, at the home my grandfather made with his wife, Norma was an event in itself.  The weather brisk, the sun beginning to set and Norma was hard at work putting the finishing touches on her ladies' hair in the shop that my grandfather built for her attached to their home where you could enter through a door in the living room.  We kids had to go in and meet the customers sitting in the chairs, vinyl black capes draped over them, hair in curlers.  They all seemed to know our names and ages and so much about us even though we had never met.  They said things like, "This must be Karyn!" when talking to my sister and asked me about second grade and my Brownie troop. It was a small town hair salon, where everyone shared everyone else's business, good, bad, happy and sad. 
  Hungry from our trip and itching to stretch our legs, we helped to bring the bags from the car to the upstairs bedrooms with the dark paneling where we would sleep under the eaves.  Then, we got to check out the drawer of sweets and homemade bread filled with Great Grammie's recipe for Date Filled Cookies, brownies, pumpkin bread and so many treats made by Elmira, Norma's cousin and other ladies from church groups and town clubs. There were not too many people who came from as far away as Massachusetts to visit Lubec very often and my grandfather made sure that pretty much everyone in town knew when we would be arriving. 
  The next day, on Thanksgiving, there was turkey and pies and all of the things that make the holiday special. On Saturday night, we had hot dogs and beans because that's what Grampie and Norma ate every Saturday night.  And early Sunday morning, we got ready to head back to Cape Cod.  Except for the long trip in the car, the arrival and the departure, the fine details of those Thanksgiving weekends are little fuzzy. I mostly remember the taste of chicken salad on my favorite bread of all time, the salty crunch of the potato chips at our  picnic on the harbor, the sweet softness of the date filling in the cookies, my grandfather's silliness, the fun and laughter from one of his endless pranks and Norma saying, "Oh Donald!" in exasperation.   Now, the farthest I travel with my own children to celebrate Thanksgiving is four miles down the road to Val's house.  There is so much in our culture about travelling on Thanksgiving: "over the river and through the woods" and as much as those trips to Maine are a special part of my childhood memories, I am so very glad that I don't have to go far to celebrate with family and friends.  I will just have to make my own picnic lunch on Wednesday, the day before, at Falmouth Harbor, instead.

Chicken Salad
(Makes enough for 4 sandwiches)

2 ribs celery
black pepper
2 split chicken breasts (bone in, skin on)
celery salt
Hellman's mayonnaise (about 1/3 cup)

  Heat one inch water in a large sauce pan with a tight fitting lid.  Add 1 rib celery, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper to the water.  Once the water boils, reduce to a simmer and add chicken breasts.  Cover tightly and cook for 10-15 minutes until meat is cooked through.  Remove from heat and keep chicken in pan with lid on for 5-10 minutes. 
  While chicken is resting, finely dice remaining rib of celery.  Add to a mixing bowl with 1 teaspoon celery salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.  Remover meat from chicken bones, discard skin.  Finely chop chicken meat and add to the bowl.  Mix in just enough mayonnaise to hold chicken salad together.  Taste and adjust seasonings by adding more celery salt and/or black pepper.
  To make sandwiches, spread 1/4 chicken salad on one slice of bread and top with a second slice.  Cut in half and wrap in wax paper.  

Friday, November 1, 2019

Scalloping Season


 It's this time of year, usually while I am driving and I can allow my thoughts to drift for a moment.  I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of cranberries in a flooded bog, ready to be harvested and the electric yellow, orange and red of the surrounding trees against a crystal clear blue sky and I recall late fall days at school, going to football games with friends and eating scallops, lots of scallops for dinner on what seemed like every night for weeks on end.
  Back in the late 1980's when I was still in high school, I remember my mother wearing my father's old jacket from his skating rink days, only taking it off to drive us to practice, pick us up from school or make dinner.  During these weeks of October, her days were spent opening scallops and the jacket kept her warm and protected from the gooey, snot like scallop guts that ended up in the trash bucket along with the shells.  Her task was to finish opening bushels and bushels of scallops, as many as a commercial license was allowed to procure before my father arrived home with more. This was a time when bay scallops were ridiculously plentiful and my father called it "a bonanza".  Each day, he left before dawn, in the crisp early fall air, took off in his boat, then returned in the late afternoon.  He unloaded his catch, the scallops heaped high in their baskets, shells clapping open and shut, making clicking noises and forcing the scallops on the top of the piles to tumble onto the concrete floor and continue there, clapping, slowly: open, shut, open, shut.

  My field hockey teammates and I were working on costume ideas for the upcoming Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Each high school class and fall sport made a float in the back of a pickup truck or on an old trailer used for hauling leaves and branches.  We decorated these vehicles with our school colors: maroon and white using crepe paper streamers, and poster boards designed with magic marker slogans meant to inspire our football team, the Falmouth Clippers to glory on Thanksgiving Day.   "Go Clippers!" "Beat Barnstable!" was about as creative as we got and we tired easily of the task, turning instead to a silly game of make shift field hockey in my dirt driveway, devouring the rest of Val's homemade chocolate chip cookie and goofing around.
  I'm still not sure if she was glad to take a break from all that scallop opening, her hands chapped and raw, tiny cuts along her fingers from the sharp shells and shucking knife, to help us make costumes for the float that year.  Her talent, along with cooking and gardening, has always involved the sewing machine for which I have many fantastic Halloween costumes and my sister has her wedding dress to show for it. We had hatched an idea to make angel and devil costumes featuring angels with maroon "F"'s on their costumes for Falmouth and red devils to represent our evil rival, Barnstable. Val mustered up what little patience she had left from her long day and helped us produce brilliant costumes amidst our teenage giggling and foolishness. I'm sure there are photographs somewhere documenting her hard work and all the fun we had as dressed as devils, we pretended to drag the float carrying the Falmouth Angels along main street the day before Thanksgiving to the pep rally at Fuller Field.
  Sadly, there is no longer a pre-Thanksgiving Day parade made up of Falmouth High School students, no longer a pep rally on that Wednesday.  The kids all have the day off from school and lots of families use the time to travel out of town.  There are not as many scallops in the bays, either.  Those "bonanza" days have passed, as the cycles of nature determine. But every October 1st, without fail, my father still gears up his boat and launches it in the early pre-dawn morning hoping for a mess of scallops to bring home for dinner.  I get excited when I see the local fish market marquee lit up with the words, "Bay Scallops".  It proves there still are some out there, hiding in the muck and sea grass they call home.  It's as if all is right in the world for a moment: the cranberries, the football games and the friendships just like they always were.

  If you can find them or you know a shell fisherman willing to give up some of their catch, this is the easiest and just about the most perfect way to prepare bay scallops.

      Broiled Scallops

shucked scallops, about 1/2 cup per person

  Preheat broiler.  Lay the scallops in one even layer in a square, metal 8"x 8" pan.  Dot scallops with small pats of butter.  Sprinkle with paprika, salt and pepper.  Place under broiler for 3-5 minutes until scallops just begin to turn white and some of them begin to split on the edges.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Easiest Way to Grow Tomatoes

Red and yellow tomatoes on a flowered tray.
Perfectly ripe tomatoes.

  My garden, if you want to call it that, is overridden with weeds and flowers. Tall green leafy things suddenly sprout over night.  The Black eyed Susans which actually grow as if they are weeds, take over everything else that I attempt to deliberately grow in that small patch along the side of my house.  I like the flowers since it looks somewhat intentional.  So, I let them do what they want along with the nasturtium and zinnia.  The flowers seem to be the most successful of my plantings.  The kale is growing pretty well, too.  But these are plants that don't need any special care aside from watering when they are seedlings, so I can't really take much credit there.
  Tomatoes are another story.  I do not grow these from seed.  I take care to tie them up when the plants get tall enough.  I watch them closely.  But somehow, they just don't ever yield that much for me.  This year, I thought it would be different.  I purchased a few plants from Tina, a woman who sells starter plants at the Falmouth Farmers' Market every spring.  I figured I couldn't go wrong.  It all began so well, the plants were hardy.  They grew tall.  I tied them up.  They flowered and then the tiny green fruit came.  The fruit grew.  I checked every morning in anticipation.  Then one day, I found that something had eaten half of one of the tomatoes.  GRRRR.  Definitely not a rabbit, it was too high up.  Val suggested a raccoon.  No, my set up is so flimsy that a fat thief like that would likely pull it all down with its weight.  I tied tin pie plates and pinwheels to the stakes, hoping to deter squirrels.  But whatever that tomato eating varmint was, it was brave and wily enough to eat around my attempts to thwart it.
  Never mind.  I can and do always go to Val's for the best tomatoes, anyway.  Her rows of plants are neatly tied to strong metal netting and stakes.  Not a weed in sight along the well mulched paths between plants.  No, instead she has bright yellow, red and multi-colored Dahlias marking the rows of tomato plants.  It's ridiculously gorgeous and instagram worthy.  Maybe this is why I gave up the annoying task of weeding sometime back in July.  Because I know just down the street there is a garden paradise that I can access whenever I want?  The place where I pick juicy, red, ripe tomatoes that are not half eaten by raccoons or squirrels or whatever.  And if I don't have any time to pick them myself?  Well, somehow a small pile of them may magically appear on my kitchen counter while I am at work accompanied by a clipping from the local paper that she thought may interest me and my empty container that held the cookies I made for her last week.  That is definitely the easiest way that I know to grow tomatoes.

Sunlight on garden rows in late September
The heavens shining light on perfect rows of tomato plants

Flowers and plants growing in a country garden on Cape Cod
Strong metal stakes and wire netting keeping everything in check.

Garden Fresh Salsa
(makes a small bowl)

3 medium size ripe tomatoes
1 small jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed
1 small handful fresh cilantro or parsley leaves chopped to make about 1/4 cup
3 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
tortilla chips 

  Cut the tomatoes in quarters and gently squeeze out any excess juice and seeds.  Chop the seeded tomatoes into tiny pieces.  Finely chop the jalapeno, leaving out the membrane and seeds, unless you like a lot of heat.  Add the chopped cilantro or parsley.  Mix in the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar and salt.  Allow flavors to meld for about 20 minutes.  Serve with tortilla chips and margaritas.