Melon Baller

I thought I was getting away with an easy job for my friends’ double birthday party.  After all, one of the other requests was to fashion an edible shrimp necklace. All I had to do was make a melon ball salad. I had an ice cream scooper and another round tool, surely one of those would work. Nope.

Pro tip: if you’re tasked with making melon ball salad for a birthday party, get a melon baller and watch a Youtube video before the day of the event.


Failed attempt at melon balls

In a bit of a frenzy, only hours before the party, I googled, “how to make melon balls.” After watching this really annoying, flawless woman on Youtube demonstrate the process to make the perfect melon ball, I knew I was in trouble. I learned, the key to the perfect melon ball is pressing down firmly on the outer rim of the halved melon. Then scoop with the turn of your wrist. Next, you cut an inch layer down, for another clean flat surface, for the next round. There is a lot of waste in between layers. The “June Cleaver” lady on Youtube made sure to tell her viewers to save those and eat it yourself, but it’s worthy of presentation.

I had to think quickly and jazz up this regular fruit salad for the birthday “wow factor”  in the hopes my friend would not be disappointed that the fruit was in fact square, not round. I have a beautiful glass fish dish and since the party was on the beach, I thought this would be perfect to use for the imperfect melon salad. I recall seeing mint growing in the garden already, so I  hopped out the door and grabbed some. Mint is a lovely touch to fruit salad.

I’m thinking throughout all this … what’s the history of melon ball salad?  It feels very middle-America, red and white table cloth vibe.

The only historical reference I found was of a Lady Augustina of Dungbeetle who invented the melon baller in 1846 (England). She believed “… ideally all fruits should be in the shape of a spheroid to coincide with the perfection of the cosmos.”

There is another, more eloquent name for the melon baller – a Parisienne scoop. The French have a way of making everything sound better. The purpose of a Parisienne scoop … to achieve a fancy “cut.”

Everyone wanted to try on the shrimp necklace made by Matt J

I do know fruit is a symbol of abundance and is associated with goddesses of fertility and harvest. In myths from around the world, it is also symbolic of overindulgence, pleasure, and temptations. Overindulging is definitely key to a successful birthday party. And in the end, my friend loved the fruit salad, so all went well!


Follow meon Instagram for the day-to-day @theglorifiedtomato

tagged in food, melon, shrimp

Clafoutis à la Matt Johnson


My friend Matt Johnson stopped by to borrow a blow dryer to fix a window screen. (Yes, it’s actually a thing). As a thank you, Matt brought over homemade clafoutis. What is clafoutis? I didn’t know either until I took a bite of this decadent French pastry. The dessert is traditionally made with black cherries and placed in a shallow, buttered baking dish. It is then covered with a thick flan-like batter and topped with powdered sugar and butter. It’s served lukewarm and sometimes with cream.

Matt’s been baking all winter in part due to Covid “free time” and I’ve been sampling his delicious and ambitious creations each Sunday at our winter swim meet-up organized by @seachanges.* From korvapuusti to pavlova to decorated lobster cookies, Matt’s desserts have no boundaries.

I’m intrigued (and slightly jealous) by his baking skills because I’m not good at baking. I try here and there but I find it a bit stressful and a little annoying to worry about following the directions exactly. Why should I force myself if it’s not enjoyable to me? And I have Matt’s homemade treats to eat, so why bother…


Clafoutis à la  Matt Johnson

2 tablespoons butter
½ – 1 pound blueberries (about one layer in baking dish)
2 oz slivered almonds
⅔ cup sugar
3 eggs
½ flour
1 ¼ cup milk
Pinch of salt

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter shallow baking dish. Arrange berries. Cut the surface down to a single layer. Add almonds. Whisk together ½ cup sugar, salt, eggs. Whisk in flour, add milk. Pour mixture over the berries. Sprinkle ¼ cup sugar over the surface. Dot with butter. Bake for 40 minutes until golden.

Recipe adapted from A Provincial Table By Richard Olney

Matt’s version was rich and sweet with a bitter berry overtone. The battered crust had a lovely texture which is a nice contrast to the filling. The taste of egg and butter makes a perfect sweet and savory breakfast. You can experiment with different types of berries and stone fruits. Matt tells me this is an easy baking recipe and so, I think I’ll have to give baking another go because I want more clafoutis!

Additionally being a French dessert, this automatically feels fancy and impressive. Clafoutis is a  “wow-factor” pastry to serve at a gathering or to drop off to a neighbor.

Follow me in the kitchen on IG @theglorifiedtomato

*Artist Riitta Ikonen is the organizer of Sea Changes, the Rockaway winter swim initiative I participated in. Sea Changes is part of a global program curated by FLOCK to connect friends, family, community and strangers during Covid times. For more info click here.

tagged in fish, recipes, rockaway

Grandma Mary’s Tomato Herb Salad


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


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
Olive Oil

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.


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