The only mess allowed in an Italian home…

Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, birthdays, and Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ house – the nuts and fanuk (fennel) were put on the table after supper. This was a “break” period from eating, before the dessert came out (even though you were still eating). It gave the women time to clean up in the kitchen and get the nice dishes out for the finale.

When I say nuts, I mean shelled walnuts, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts. At this time, 35 years ago, I don’t think supermarkets even sold de-shelled nuts, and if they did, they were too expensive for my family to buy.

shelled nuts
The nuts and fennel come out at the same time, before dessert and when the gambling begins.


The “break” also signaled when it was time for cards. The familia game was first, where the kids were allowed to play Thirty-one. How else would we master the art of gambling if they didn’t give us a seat at the table? These days hold a special place in my heart – the laughs, the steady stares, a cousin jumping up triumphantly, yelling Skat!! Or the last standoff, with just two hungry kids left –  nutshells all over the table. Who would win the pot this time?!

Ah, the adults were dishing out life lessons too. An important one I carry with me is, “The older you get, the higher the stakes become.”  When we were around 7-10, it was $3 each. Teenage years it became – $5, $10, and $20’s. My grandparents would bankroll us if anyone was short. It was their old-fashioned way of teaching us kids that family supports each other, no matter what. Family love is unbreakable, unlike the shells on the table.

grandmas house
My grandparents, Raphael and Mary’s dining room table surrounded by family.

tagged in family, memories

Butter Village

The inception of this project was formed a year ago during the Thanksgiving season. It wasn’t a single, pivotal moment that gave rise to the vision of Butter Village. Instead, what remains vivid in my memory is a collection of moments and experiences that played a role in molding the concept of the Christmas village:

I saw a carved, butter turkey in Stop & Shop. I remember picking it up and looking at it for several minutes. It resonated with me. At this time I was working on an intense 2 1/2 month freelance gig with my dear friend Jacquie. I was at her house, opened her freezer, and saw little figurines of all types nestled between her frozen soups. I thought this was just brilliant! And with Christmas around the corner, the memory of my childhood Christmas tree came to mind. Under it, my father would display his Lionel trains. The set was gifted to him as a little boy by his father and mother in 1950. As a kid, I would spend hours lying on my stomach playing with the figures in the little, magical Christmas village. I gave all the characters a story. I remember the ice skaters were in love.

butter village
Friends were inspired to contribute. Thank you Ryan Thomas, Magera Holton, Jacquie Walther, Jamie Shultz and Tyler Wright for brainstorming the concept with me.

And so, Butter Village was born.

The hallmark feature of this project is the interactivity and the element of surprise for the viewer. Butter Village lives in my freezer.

butter village sculpture

This past summer, friends hanging on the porch would ask for a cold drink. I’d send them inside alone, knowing they’d go in the freezer for ice. They’d come back with a warm drink but their minds were blown! I host Easter every year and when my family discovered what was going on inside the fridge, they started taking family portraits beside the village. My adorable nieces and nephews looked very confused and amazed. Only my Mother seemed alarmed by my project (and I get that). At the B91 Community Garden Pie Party fundraiser, my neighbors also discovered butter village. There was a crown around the refrigerator trying to get a peek.

Experiencing the surprise in my family, friends, and neighbors’ expressions and hearing the sound of their laughter reinforces the value of the sacrifices I’ve made—forgoing frozen sauce, my cherished Ellio’s pizza, and ice in the summer are all sacrifices well justified.

butter village sculpture2

I’m overwhelmed by the words of encouragement from the fans of Butter Village. Your support kept me focused and inspired me to go above and beyond my expectations for the sculpture. I’m so grateful for your support.

Butter Village brings joy.

I unveiled Butter Village on Instagram Christmas morning. Please take a look – @theglorifiedtomato. Click on my profile to view the highlights.  There you’ll see the year-long progression of the art project.

tagged in art, butter

Wrap Your Holiday Gifts In The Wave (After You Read It)

This year I wrapped all of my Christmas gifts in newspaper and paper from an old caroling book. Why? Because it’s cheaper than buying five rolls of wrapping paper for $7.99 each. It’s fun, creative, and most importantly… it reduces waste.

diy wrapping paper
Pages from an old book work nicely as wrapping paper for a holiday or birthday present. Here, I used a song sheet from an old Christmas caroling book.

I swear I thought of this brilliant, eco-conscious holiday hack before I saw the Sanitation Foundation’s IG post (@sanitationfoundation). It alerts us to the increased tonnage of waste during the holidays. They suggested wrapping presents in recycled material too! The statistics…geez. The post reads:

“Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, waste increases by 25%. That’s about 1 million extra tons sent to landfills across the country each year.  It’s about progress, not perfection! With gift-giving holidays around the corner, let’s use this time to rethink some of our usual holiday habits.  

Here’s a tip: Get creative with recyclable gift wrap, like newspaper, old maps, brown bags or posters. Even brown paper bags can be festive if decorated with stamps, drawings or colorful ribbons. 

If every family in the U.S. wrapped just three presents with reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. 

The Sanitation Foundation is the official non-profit partner of the DSNY. Their mission is to support the work of DSNY to help clean up the city and reduce waste by engaging communities, schools, elected officials, and corporations to participate in reducing the waste in NYC.”

I know many of you still have a pile of unwrapped presents hidden somewhere in your home. Here are a few tips of my own, for using newspapers as wrapping paper.

diy wrapping paper2
If every family in the US wrapped just three presents with reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

Choose colorful pages. Ads work great because they’re seasonally appropriate and you’re promoting local business at the same time. The classified section is a nice uniform look that works well too. Use my column page to explain to your new girlfriend why her gold bracelet is wrapped in newspaper. Adorn with ribbon, twigs from your yard or pinecones. Glue on shapes cut from old book pages. Decorate and personalize with markers.

Be mindful of what pages you choose. Avoid the cover page. Steer clear of the letters to the editor, the obituaries, CB14 recaps, and definitely pass on any articles related to politics. This content will be triggering for some family members and the last thing you want is to unintentionally strike up a politically charged debate over a plate of antipasto.

Wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday filled with lots of food, smiles, and charming recycled wrapping paper!

tagged in christmas, diy, holiday

A Place Like Know Others

The off-season cafe, Others, located at the Beach 97th Street concession wrapped up last weekend until next year. Others brought us the combined culinary talents of Washed Up Beach Cafe ( and Brothers (@brothersrockaway) eatery. We were fed otherworldly offerings, the strongest steaming hot coffees, breakfast burritos infused with tater tots, creamy ricotta toast delicately topped with sweet carrots, warm pesto eggs sandwiches, so many sweet treats, Zak Daddy smash burgers, and pop-up specials featuring mouthwater foods from guest chefs.

Others, Washed Up, Brothers, Rockaway Beach NY

A beautiful, etched glass memento of the LOG was gifted to Others. Customer Bobby Cannavale came up with the idea to commemorate the beloved driftwood in front of the cafe which now stands as an emblematic reminder of the Rockaway community. Long live LOG!

But that’s half of it. The essence of this communal space revolved around a shared love for food and with that, fostered a remarkable sense of community. It was a place to churn out work on your laptop; a place to catch up with friends over coffee or to ask them important advice; a place to take a random date so you didn’t have to go off the peninsula. Others hosted special evening events – DJs, karaoke night, an art show, a fundraiser, live bands, a photo booth, a holiday party and there were always lots of cute dogs. In this magical beachside cafe, neighbors of all types converged, forming connections beyond breakfast.

Others, Washed Up, Brothers, Rockaway Beach 1

Artist Carolin Wood initiated a cool collaging meet-up Saturdays at Others. The design of the thank you card drew inspiration from the artistry from those workshops.

Thank you to the owners and crew: Zak Krieger, Sarah Peltier, Matt Webster, Phil Rodriguez, and Erika Barret for weaving the colorful social tapestry of Others, carrying us through the first leg of Rockaway’s off-season. The Glorified Tomato’s motto is, “More Than Just food.” Others is this idea – community forged through shared meals and shared moments.

The regulars at Others made a card and wrote their words of  appreciation. I’d like to share some of those notes with you:

“Thank you for creating a space for our bodies and soles and for our community. Never leave us. In LOG we trust.” – Lauren C

“Others, Brothers, Love, Home – thanks for always being down to house our crazy minds and nourish our bodies.”  Love Micca

“Best rec center ever! Thank you for being there for everyone, summer and winter!” – Matt & Emily

“Thank you for providing a safe, loving school cafeteria for Rockaway. I really can’t imagine this place w/ out you! Thanks for letting me play music! Ya’ll the best.” – Tini & Pepita

“I can’t fathom how I will get up in the morning or feed myself without you guys. Looking forward to spending the winter in bed and starving.  P.S. You have created something magical, thank you.” –  XOXO Nicole

“Hot or not, you are a beacon of light for this community. I will follow you all to the end. Food is the way to our hearts.” – Oliver

Follow me around town on Instagram when winter gets weird – @theglorifiedtomato.

rob bryn bobby rockaway beach rockaway beach off-season rockaway beach off-season 1 rockaway beach off-season 3 rockaway beach off-season 4

tagged in community, food, rockaway