Heirloom Tomatoes: Monstrous Beauty


This summer, I planted heirloom tomatoes in place of grape tomatoes, exchanging dainty clusters of flawless red for heavy, rebellious orbs that pull at the plant as if in protest of the support it provides. As they matured, they developed thick lacerations and unsightly gouges which would have made me think they were dying if it weren’t for the similarly gnarled tomatoes I purchased from the farmer’s market last year.

I expected ugly. Happily, my homegrown heirloom tomatoes are hideous and edible.  When sliced, they release a luscious perfume of bright sunshine and moist soil.


Make the following tomato salad with the freshest, ugliest tomatoes you can find.

Tomato Salad

4 large heirloom tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, diced
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoon white vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything into a large bowl and stir. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour and serve.



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Salted Chocolate Cherry Cookies


Cookie dough is truly a blank canvas.  I paired chocolate and cherries with crispy toasted coconut and made my very own masterpieces! (yep, I said that)

Salted Chocolate Cherry Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups toasted shredded coconut*
3/4 cup dried cherries, chopped roughly
1 cup chocolate chips
Kosher salt

Beat the butter and shortening with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add the sugars, beating well. Add eggs and extracts and beat well.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat well.

Stir in shredded coconut, cherries, and chocolate chips and mix. Cover and chill in the refrigerator (optional).

Drop heaping teaspoons of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle a few granules of Kosher salt on each bit of cookie dough (be light handed).

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 – 12 minutes until the cookies are golden. After removing the cookies from the oven, let them rest for 1 minute before transferring them to a cooling rack.

*Place sweetened shredded coconut on a rimmed metal baking pan and toast in the oven at 350 degrees. Be sure to mix the coconut every few minutes to prevent burning. Let cool before adding to cookie dough.

Makes about 4 dozen

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The Only Avocado Toast Recipe You Need


Everyday for the past three weeks or so I’ve been eating avocado toast for breakfast and sometimes for lunch too. Like listening to a favorite song repeatedly, my food cravings tend to stick with me. This one has already lasted longer than the Great Falafel Infatuation of ’91. I want you to love avocado toast as much as I do, so don’t substitute any ingredients until you try it first as described below. You’re welcome.

How to Make Avocado Toast

  1. Pick a ripe avocado: It should be ripe but firm.
  2. Toast one Thomas’ English Muffin.
  3. Peel the avocado and smash it with a fork until it’s chunky.
  4. Spread the avocado on each half of the muffin.
  5. Sprinkle with a generous amount of red pepper flakes.
  6. Add pieces of thinly sliced cucumber on top.
  7. Sprinkle with sea salt.
  8. Bask in the joy of something so delicious you’ll eat it everyday for a week.
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Polar Vortex Special: Lentil Soup with Artichoke Hearts

lentil soup

I hate being cold, so this season’s subzero temperatures changed the way I experience winter; I hate it even more. Life in the polar vortex looks like this: Layered clothing is my new go-to outfit; I occasionally think about what it would be like to freeze to death; I know where all the blankets are; I make soup.

Lentil Soup with Artichoke Heart is super easy and adaptable to whatever ingredients you happen to have available. This version was made with boxed chicken broth, mature carrots, limp celery and an unfortunate onion.  I’ll risk frostbite for milk, eggs, or cake (okay, only cake) but rarely for soup veggies. To me, the only must-have ingredient here is the marinated artichoke heart. It gives the soup a subtle lemony flavor that I can’t do without. However, if you must, a teaspoon of lemon juice can be substituted for the artichoke. No lemon? It’s cold out there. Make something else.

Lentil Soup with Artichoke Hearts

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 stalks of celery, sliced thin
3 carrots peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
6 cups of unsalted chicken stock (box or homemade)
1 14.5 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 cup of dry lentils
1/2 cup jarred marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Heat olive oil on medium heat. Add celery, carrots and onion and saute until onions are translucent (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and saute for another minute.

Add chicken stock, diced tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add lentils, artichokes hearts and bring to a second boil. Turn heat to low. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes or until lentils are tender. Add chopped parsley a few minutes before serving. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 6

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Where the Peanut Chews Live

Peanut Chews

My Peanut Chews addiction started when I was a kid in Philadelphia where every grocery store was my supplier. Confession: I can eat an entire package by myself in under two minutes. Okay, two packages.

The Midwest has been my home for eight years; there are no Peanut Chews here. Apparently, 60% of Peanut Chews sales come from Philadelphia and 30% from New York while the remainder comes from chains like Cracker Barrel and Rite Aid.

When our family is on a long car ride heading east, every time we pass a Cracker Barrel restaurant I think three things in this exact order: peanut chews, clean bathrooms, a nice lunch. Happily, Cracker Barrel carries a variety of hard-to-find candies especially for those of us who suffer from road trip induced nostalgia.

I’m not alone in my yearning for these rectangular confections. As of this writing, the Peanut Chews Facebook page has 4,743 likes and plenty of activity. Look at the page; most of the comments are like little love notes – love notes for candy. People are thrilled when they discover them.

It’s difficult to describe their taste because I’m certain that what I taste has nothing to do with the ingredients in the candy. Mostly, I taste childhood; the thrill of scoring several packs in my Halloween bag, a satisfying after-school snack with milk, a good reason to ride my bike to the store with friends.

Peanut Chews come with some history of their own.  In 1917, David Goldenberg, a Romanian immigrant, began selling walnut and molasses chews out of his candy store in Philadelphia. Later, in an effort to contain costs, peanuts were substituted for the walnuts. During World War I, Peanut Chews were given to U.S. military troops as ration bars. Peanut Chews remained a family owned business until 2003 when Goldenberg’s great grandson sold the company to the Just Born Candy Company. (They make chick-shaped marshmallow Peeps.)

So, how do they really taste? A delectable combination of roasted peanuts and molasses covered in chocolate, Peanut Chews aren’t overly sweet like other candy bars. The bar is optimistically divided into 8 bite-sized pieces which suggests that it should be shared. Who are they kidding? Buy them in bulk and find a good hiding spot.

Do you have a favorite childhood candy you can’t live without?

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A Trio of Onions

A trio of onions

baby leeks, Tropea red onions, spring onions

I picked these up at the Downtown Evanston Farmers’ Market in Illinois. They looked so gorgeous in the vendor’s stall that I couldn’t bear to leave them behind. There are three kinds of onions here: baby leek, Tropea and spring onion. Although all three varieties had a similar flavor, the Tropea onions were somewhat sweeter and milder than the others.

This was my first impulse purchase involving onions and I didn’t have a plan. After almost a week in the refrigerator, they started to look less photogenic and I was forced to improvise. Sauteing them in olive oil with garlic and sea salt until they just began to caramelize, I served the onion mixture on top of pan-fried tilapia.

Do you have any good onion recipes to share?

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Marinade from the Tiny Garden

Marinade with Thyme

There are four pots on the deck each  containing one plant: thyme, black cherry heirloom tomato, green pepper and sweet basil. Some years I dream big –  a vegetable garden  I can walk around in and delight neighbors with when I bring them an armful of zucchini for the second time in a week – a hero’s dream.  But, I always end up with four pots on the deck. It’s okay because, realistically, the tiny garden is all I can handle.  Occasionally, it’s plagued by voracious chipmunks, unexpected disease or benign neglect. No matter what happens, something survives and we eat it. This marinade uses the season’s  first harvest of thyme.

Marinade (for chicken or fish)

3/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 chopped shallots

3 sprigs of fresh thyme (leaves stripped, include stems)

1 teaspoon salt

pepper to taste

Combine everything in a deep bowl. Add chicken or fish and marinate for at least one hour or overnight.

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