The Versatile Chive Plant

chives 3

I’ve been spending some time this week in the Beach 91st Street Community Garden. I only planted my vegetables two weeks ago because it’s been unseasonably cold. Despite the late start, things are looking good.

This year, I have two cherry and two beefsteak tomato plants. The cherry tomatoes do very well in the garden for some reason. I have two cubanelle pepper plants, squash, kale, cilantro, sage, basil, and chives. I think I over-planted my plot. I couldn’t help myself!

chives 4
Flowers and the scapes of this easy-to-grown herb are edible. Divide the plants every three to four years in the spring for optimal productivity. It’s drought tolerant and thrives in full sun.

Last year I bought the chive plant because it was in full bloom and looked beautiful. Its flowers are round, puffy and purple. I learned only this week from a friend in the community garden that the flowers are edible!

Chives are perennials, relatives to onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, and scallions. The scapes are delicious in salads; to season meat or fish; in an omelet; on homemade french fries, you name it. The flavor is onion-like but less intense.

Another advantage gardeners appreciate when planting chives is its insect repellent quality.  It will deter garden pests from eating your vegetables.

Bees also benefit from this herb. Chives are a great pollinator and if you have a plant in your garden, you’ll see bees dancing around it.

chives 1
Add some “wow factor” into your meal by using the flowers of the chive plant in a salad

Between its beauty, its culinary properties, its benefits to bees, and the environment, chives are a win-win for your garden.

chives 3

cat chive
Bring some extra chives in from the garden for their ornamental appeal. Also, your cat may enjoy investigating their pungent aroma.

For more on gardening in Rockaway, follow me on IG: @theglorifiedtomato

Previously  published in

tagged in gardening, herbs

You need a thrill, a fill, and a spill

I have a vague memory of watching the Oprah Winfrey show when I was a kid. The episode was about beautiful wrap-around porches in the south. Since then, I’ve been obsessed with porches and porch style.  When it comes to Rockaway porch style, Aunt Brenda is the master. Before I lived in Rockaway, I’d come down to the beach to see Matt. We’d pass Aunt B’s on the way to the water and I’d always admire her house. Brenda’s porch then and now is worthy of a spread in Better Homes and Gardens. She has outdoor wicker furniture, comfortable, colorful cushions, and a swing! The essentials are intermixed with large potted planters and beachy decor. The focal point of it all, are her cascading, lush, hanging baskets.

When we were looking for a house 6 years ago and saw a shabby old Rockaway home right by the beach with a big old porch, I was sold.. despite the shabby and old. I’ve accumulated a nice set of wicker furniture and I have an outdoor rug.  My mother-in-law handmade us lovely seat cushions. My potted plants are set around the porch to bring the garden in.

And of course, I have hanging baskets, beautiful ones Aunt Brenda gave me actually.  I haven’t mastered the talent of basket planting though.  Every year, I’ve had trouble. Whether it be salt-tolerant issues, choosing the wrong plants or forgetting to water them. This year, I’m determined to have full, flowery baskets.  I enlisted the help from master basket-planter, Aunt Brenda.

“You need a thrill, a fill, and a spill. That’s the trick to the design of the basket.” Brenda tells me. She explains the “thrill” is a taller plant placed in the center, –  the focal point. She suggests a spiky palm or salvia. The fill is a transitional plant with a shorter height. Something like a marigold or a vinca. The “spill”  is what cascades. Aunt B said she’s had success with wave petunias, silver helichrysum petiolare, asparagus fern, and sweet potato vine, which come in purple or bright green.

Once you have the correct plants selected, you use a coco mate liner to hide the plastic container. This also helps retain water. And Brenda stressed, “You must water your baskets everyday.” I think this is where I’ve fallen short in past years. Baskets try out quickly from the sun and interestingly, I learned from our conversation, the wind too.

Petunias flower often and have aome tolerance to salt
Petunias have some tolerance to salt

I’ve been watching this new reality show on Netflix, The Big Flower Fight. It’s a little cheesy but I’ve been inspired by it. Most of the episodes involve the teams creating live flower sculptures from metal and chicken wire. Think Edward Scissorhands meets Martha Stewart.

With Aunt B’s guidance and my new inspiration, I started designing my basket. I had already bought big petunias before consulting Aunt Brenda. Those will form the basis of my baskets, accented by mosses and succulents. Those bring a warm element to the design and I’m hoping it will bring more layers of cascade.

Here I'm using a skewer to push through sedum and cocoa mat
Here I’m using a skewer to push through sedum and cocoa mat

Follow me on Instagram @theglorifiedtomato, to see how my hanging baskets fair over the summer. I’ll document the progress, for better or for worse!


tagged in gardening

St. Francis Of Assisi And The Bird bath

Every Italian family I know has at least one statue in their garden. We have our reasons. We need to have the blessings of the saints around our home. This is a connection we’ve retained from our pagan past. Statues remind us of the homeland. Rome is beautifully littered with ancient sculptures, grottos and water features, so it’s part of our design DNA. And we have an ostentatious flair – big, bold, loud and shiny. I mean, who doesn’t love how stone looks when it’s sprayed with a garden hose …

I’ve had the Blessed Mother watching over my front garden since we moved to Rockaway. Mary centered prominently on the southeast side of my garden. Russian sage surrounds her.

1. Unlike most Blessed Mothers, Mary is not in a grotto dome_ she stands tall and free within the garden. For some reason, grasshoppers like to sit on her in the hot summer months
Unlike most Blessed Mothers, Mary is not in a grotto dome, she stands tall and free within the garden. For some reason, grasshoppers like to sit on her in the hot summer months

The sculpture has an old-world feel. She’s about 4 feet tall and made of concrete which has weathered, exposing the aggregate pebbles. She is a sight to behold and many neighbors have complimented her uniqueness.

The next logical statue after the Blessed Mother for the garden is Saint Francis of Assisi. He’s the patron saint of animals and the environment. We pray he keeps the squirrels and raccoons away from our tomato plants. He’s very popular among Italians.

2. Saint Francis safely secured on the handtruck (1)

A few weeks ago we started looking for a St. Francis and a bird bath on craigslist and we found both in the same location in Pennsylvania. Bucks County seems to be a “Statue Town USA”. Driving through we say many auction houses, quarries and thrift shops selling lawn sculptures, it was overwhelming, I wanted it all!

The bird bath was from one of these auction houses. It wasn’t cheap but worth it. It’s tall, and the basin is unusually large – 32 inches wide.  It has copper colored concrete with gray which makes it look like marble. The ancient Italian DNA is activated by marble.

3 Fill er' up! (1)
Fill er’ up!

Our next stop was to pick up St Francis. He was a steal, only $100. We met some young kid in the parking lot of Walmart for the transaction. This statue is the strangest depiction I’ve seen of St. Francis and that’s why I was attracted to it. His head is oddly sized. His expression is a bit eerie but also humble. There are several birds he’s interacting with.

With both sculptures in the car we headed back to New York. Matt and our friend Rob patiently adjusted the positioning of both until I was happy with their locations. St. Francis, I thought, needed to be displayed in the front garden for all to see. He is on the opposite side of the Blessed Mother, nestled between the oak hydrangeas. The bird bath we put in a shady part of the backyard, where we can quietly view the birds that visit.

Oh, Those Nooks And Crannies…

I made English Muffin pizzas the other day and they were so so good. I remember as a kid making them with my sisters on our small kitchen table at home. We’d each have 4 or 5 of our very own to “work on”, with whatever toppings my mother had on hand. We’d pile on so much cheese, pepperoni and black olives (my fav), that when the muffins came out of the oven, the cheese was sizzling over on the hot pan. It was so much fun for us. Do kids still do this?

english muffin pizzas

I think some of you know, Thomas’ English Muffins originated in America, not England. Samuel Bath Thomas, a British expat, emigrated to New York in 1874 and had a bakery in Chelsea. His “toaster crumpet” was popular in the hotel and restaurant scene. The term English Muffin was coined in 1894.

It’s said by the New York Times that only 7 people know the recipe for the famed English Muffin. Many professionals in the baking industry tried to crack the cranny code but all have failed. So, don’t try to find it online or experiment in the hopes of posting your homemade quarantine English Muffins on Instagram. It’s not happening.

My friend who I mentioned a few weeks back, Mr. Ed, put out another remote learning video for his students. This series is about popular jingles and what makes them so catchy. He asked his friends, students, and co-workers to submit entries. The one that resonated with me most, was the jingle my friend Katie Honan sang – the Bagel Bites jingle, from the wildly popular commercial from 1996.

Pizza in the morning,
Pizza in the evening,
Pizza at suppertime!
When pizza’s on a bagel,
You can eat pizza anytime!

Katie explained the deeper meaning of this jingle in her cameo, “It advertised an item from Ore-Ida that you might see in your freezer aisle. This item combines two very popular foods: a popular lunch and dinner food, pizza, with a very popular breakfast food, a bagel. And the idea behind this ad and jingle was that when you combine these two, you can eat them anytime you want. Now, I believe you can eat pizza and a bagel whenever you want, but this was the world we lived in, in the ’90s. I’ve always really liked the jingle, it was crazy and phonetic but I wanted to strip it down to get the core message of this liberating food.”

Katie’s rendition is great, check it out on Ed’s Youtube channel page here.

Interestingly, the jingle lyrics were altered from The McGuire Sisters’ 1957 single Sugartime, written by Charlie “Sugartime” Phillips. The original song is pretty sweet, listen here.

All this has me thinking … did inventors Stanley Garkzynski and Bob Mosher of Bagel Bites get the clever idea for their product from English Muffin pizzas? What came first? Bagel Bites came to market in 1991. That means I would’ve been 10 years old. I feel there’s a good chance we made English Muffin Pizzas before then. I’ll have to do more research on this.

Do others contemplate the origins of frozen snacks randomly or is it just me with a lot of time on my hands in quarantine?

Follow me for the day-to-day on Instagram, @theglorifiedtomato.

tagged in pizza