Grandma Mary’s Tomato Herb Salad

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Do brides these days still buy china? I remember when I told my mother I didn’t want china as a wedding gift. She was really annoyed. I explained that I wouldn’t use it often and when I did, I would be so worried I’d break or chip it.

Instead without my knowledge my mother bought me a set of wine glasses, champagne glasses and serving plates, hand-painted in Italy with beautiful fish illustrations. Now that is totally me. And I’m happy she did it, because it is a special keepsake.

I inherited my grandmother’s china, years after my wedding. So, turns out I have it anyway.  Most of the dishware is still in a box in the basement but some is upstairs in my “china cabinet.” I forget it’s there and I’m not particularly keen on the pattern, but it’s my grandmothers so I love it and I will keep it forever. It’s more precious than anything I would have picked out new in Macy’s.

Last week I made a beautiful tomato herb salad and I wanted to instagram it but the red tomatoes didn’t look right plated on a red dish (all my dishware is red, matching my very red / black / white kitchen). Then I thought of using my grandmother’s china which is pure white with a delicate green floral pattern on the edge. It worked nicely and I was happy to use her special dishes.

It got me thinking … she must have been so excited to choose her pattern and own something expensive. I wonder what she was thinking regarding her upcoming wedding too. This happens to me alot – I  wish I could just pick up the phone and ask these questions to my family whom I miss, that have passed away.  At the same time, I’m grateful to have items like grandma’s china around my home as a reminder of them. It keeps their spirit alive.

Here’s the recipe for the deliciously fresh herb tomato salad I mention above. If you love parsley, you’ll enjoy this flavorful melody. I named the salad after my grandmother!

Grandma Mary’s Tomato Herb Salad

Ingredients:

2 handfuls roma tomatoes
About 1 tablespoon thinly shaved onions

All to taste:
Basil leaves chopped
Parsley chopped
pecorino romano
Fresh thyme
Freshly ground pepper
Salt
Olive Oil
Lemon

Directions: Half the roma tomatoes, chop the basil and parsley and add to a mixing bowl. Remove the fresh thyme with your hand from the spring, add to the bowl. Thinly shave the onions and add to the mixture. Add Salt and ground pepper and the cheese. Dress the salad with a little fresh lemon juice and olive oil (liberally). Mix and let it sit for at least a half hour before serving. Best served at room temperature. Plate on fine china.

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Why do we call  these dishes china? China is in fact a delicate porcelain ceramic. It slowly evolved in China (the country) over 2,000 to 1,200 years ago. There are three main categories based on materials and firing temperatures: hard-paste, soft-paste and bone china. Americans and the English began calling this delicate sought-after pottery  “china”, or “Fine china” as it was first seen in imports from the country. Why is fine china a traditional wedding present? I’ll leave that question for another column

tagged in grandma, recipes

Things Are Looking Up, But Let’s Not Forget

I saw Rockaway Rod walking his dog on the boardwalk. He waved and smiled at me. His hair was in full Rod Stewart form. That is a good sign!

Crocuses are the first sign of spring

Spring is here and the kids are in the skate park with the bluetooths blasting. Friends are on the beach with blankets and boards. The boardwalk was crowded over the weekend with people walking, biking and enjoying the warmer temperatures. I started cleaning up my front garden. My daylilies are breaking through the soil. The crocuses have sprung in the Beach 91st Street Community garden.

Better than spring arriving, the vaccine has arrived! I walked into CVS and right at the entryway there is a table set up for vaccine registration. It’s so easy. Pick up mascara, toilet paper and get the vax! I’m having vaccination FOMO. Many of my teacher friends and my friends in the restaurant service industry have gotten it. I’ll probably be the last eligible and I totally get that. But rumor has it, if you’re not eligible, hang around Duane Reade or CVS around 7:30pm. The vaccine is drawn up with several doses. If they have a cancellation or odd number of scheduled appointments there will be leftover and the healthcare workers will give it to you. We shouldn’t waste a drop! I was lurking around CVS the other night like a weirdo, spending way too much time in the makeup aisle. I finally went over to the vaccination center and asked if they had any extra “juice.” He said not tonight, but keep coming back!

Jettie builders!

Another uplifting sign … on my way to work I saw enormous machines on the Beach at 91st Street. They reminded me of AT-AT WALKERs but yellow. I had to get off my bike to take pictures because the contrast of the massive machinery against the ocean and soft sand was stunning. Finally, the jetties are happening and our precious coastline will grow. I actually became a little emotional. My house is about 200 yards from the water. I thought, maybe my home will be here in 100 years, for another community of family and friends to make memories in. I pictured these people sharing drinks and food on the porch, not a mask in sight.

I’ve noticed many restaurants on the peninsula are hiring. This means more jobs, more food, and more fun in the months to come. This summer will be different than last. The restrictions we’ve all endured the past year were necessary to save lives. It has been a terrible struggle for all of us in many ways but to me, it feels fundamentally wrong to complain about the economy, indoors dining restrictions or school classes on zoom while someone’s family member is on a ventilator fighting for their life, alone. 543,000 people in the U.S. have died from Covid-19 in one year. Heavy – I know – but as life normalizes, we can’t ignore the gravity of the pandemic. And we can’t forget the people we’ve lost or the heartache those families are dealing with.

This pandemic experience for me has been an important reminder of how delicate life is and how we need to embrace our loved ones and how necessary it is for us as a community to advocate for the most vulnerable in our society.

Keep wearing your mask and I’ll see you in the sunshine on the boardwalk.

For more on Rockaway,  Paula for the day-to-day on IG @theglorifiedtomato

tagged in community, rockaway

Groundcover or Grass?

I remember my father taking so much care to make his little patch of grass perfect. But there was always some kind of problem –  grubs one year, the neighbor’s cat the next year. And us kids that one time we destroyed the grass with Slip N’ Slide! I’ll never forget my father’s face after seeing the mud puddles everywhere, which looked more like a Florida marshland than a Long Island lawn … oops.

There’s so much maintenance to lawn care. “Don’t walk on the grass, I just put down fertilizer,” my father would say all the time. And he’d complain about the water bill too. The idea of the perfectly bright green lawn is in a sense the “american garden” standard. I find it a little comical though, you have this piece of property and yet you can’t really use it because the grass is so delicate and prized. And grass is not beneficial to animals or insects. So why are lawns popular? I suppose it’s a status symbol of the American dream, the white picket fence … that kind of thing.

This brings me to groundcover as a substitute for grass. I’m a huge fan of it for many reasons. Groundcover is versaille and there are many different varieties suited for different environments, moisture levels and soil types. Using groundcover within a garden adds dimension, color and texture. Unlike grass, a flower garden attracts bees and insects that are crucial to our ecosystem, especially in the city.

I have three groundcover recommendations that will work very well in Rockaway. Consider using them throughout your garden and instead of grass.

Purple Mazus

Purple Mazus: This is one of my favorites. The flowers are gorgeous. They’re mostly purple but if you look closely, you see a tiny bit of orange and white. Mazus blooms in early spring, bringing that first burst of color to your garden. The dark green leaves continue to spread throughout the season and help prevent unwanted weeds from sprouting. Mazus does best in full sun and well-drained soil but are tolerant to many conditions. Lisena Garden Center (12-5 Cross Bay Blvd, Queens, NY 11693 / 718.607.5413) will have creeping phloxs available in the next few weeks. Keep an eye out for this beautiful, versatile groundcover.

Sedum Pachyclados (red flower)

Sedums: There are so many! And they’re drought tolerant, and love sandy soil. These succulents like full sun but will do fine in part-sun. There’s so much variation in color and leaf appearance. The ones in my garden that thrive are: sedum reflexum (green/yellow in color) and sedum pachyclados (dark purple to bright maroon bloom). These can be clipped and put directly back into the soil as a propagating technique, it’s that easy. Sedums also spread on their own and require very little nutrition from the soil.

Alyssum, white, front row

Alyssum (white or purple): This puffy white plant found its way into my garden from my neighbors garden a few houses down. The plant is a bit higher than a traditional groundcover (8 inches tall) but it works the same way. Alyssum is an annual that reseeds itself and returns yearly like a perennial. It can almost be considered invasive due to how much it spreads but with some care this groundcover can add a sea of white “snow” to your landscape design. Sun to part-sun, drought tolerant and Alyssum does not require nutrient rich soil.

For more on gardening, follow Paula for the day-to-day  IG: @theglorifiedtomato

tagged in garden, gardening

Dedicated Gardeners Start Now

Transplanting daylilies 1

On warmer mornings, I walk around the garden with my coffee, assessing what needs to be done. My conclusion – a lot! Now is the time to get the real work done before the burst of blooms begin.

Earl spring tasks:

Clearing out organics from the year before
Removing weeds (yes they’re green and growing now), composting, mulching,
Pruning
Making moves – transplanting, separating bulbs, buying/planting new perennials
Start seedlings

I can write a column on each one of the above tasks but as an overview, I will touch on a few important points for now.

Weeding/soil prep: It’s important to remove weeds now making sure you get the roots. If you don’t, it’s all for naught. They will return and create a lot of work for you throughout the growing season.

Consider adding a top layer of compost as nutritional feed instead of other non-organic fertilizers. We have sandy soil here in Rockaway so I recommend a compost layer yearly.  After you weed and tend to the soil composition, mulch. Mulching works well to keep the weeds at bay and it looks nice. There are places you can get mulch and compost for free – Check NYC Parks and tree pruning companies before you get store-bought bags.

Pruning: What I’ve learned over the years is, don’t be afraid to aggressively prune shrubs and perennials. Pruning invigorates plants and helps them to grow in a fuller shape. Just take care to read up on the plant you’re pruning beforehand, especially if you’re new to gardening or have a first year plant.

Making moves: For a while now I’ve been thinking about replacing the beach grass in my garden to something different, that presents with color in late summer/fall. The past two years, I miss the seasonal window to do so. Now is the time to transplant and change out plants. Read the care instructions for your new plant before digging and don’t discard the old! Post the plant on Facebook and Instagram. I’m sure there is someone in the neighborhood that would love to adopt it.

walkers low

Walkers low spreads, don’t be afraid to aggressively break this up.

There are many bulbs and tubers that need to be separated after a few years. There are two benefits to this. First, the plant will grow stronger and produce bigger flowers. Second, you’re creating more plants to spread around the garden or to share with a friend. How do you know when to divide bulbs? The easiest way to determine this is when they look noticeably crowded.  Examples of bulbs that should be divided are: daffodils, daylilies, irises, crocuses, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, and gladiolus (there are many more).

Many gardening websites have instructions on dividing bulbs and tubers. Most suggest to do it in the fall or after the leaves die back. This may sound like garden sacrilege, but I divide my daylilies in the spring. This is the time where I can visualize the shape of the garden and I know which sections are over-crowded. This method works for me and as a rule of (green) thumb, do what works for you and your garden. Every garden is unique and an evolving work in progress. Don’t be afraid to break the rules.

Seeds: I wrote a helpful column last year on starting seeds indoors.You can find it here.

For more on gardening follow Paula on IG @theglorifiedtomato

Transplanting daylilies

Transplanted daylilies in the spring will still bloom the same year!

tagged in garden, gardening