I never profess to be a very good gardener, though I try. When we bought this house, we did so because of the land. It was on half an acre in a quiet suburb just outside the city, and though the house was old and a little quirky, the kitchen was small and the floors were in desperate need of refinishing, the yard was perfect for our greyhounds and the gardens had beautiful potential. I could see springs filled with fresh flowers and herbs and tender baby lettuce; summers overflowing with tomatoes, zucchini, cabbages and leeks; falls teaming with acorn squash, pumpkins and corn. There was a lilac hedge along the western edge of the property – so old-fashioned! A wild climbing rose traced thorny tendrils up the wall next to the kitchen window – so enchanting!
I imagined filling every room in the house with vases of cascading flowers. There would be candle-lit summer dinners under the towering elms. I had a vision of a Japanese-style garden in one corner. Maybe I’d put in a koi pond. But the light is what really sold me! So much brilliant sunlight!
Each year I promise myself that I’ll find my green thumb, and while we’ve had seasons of pumpkins and summers of basil, and the lilacs are now as tall as the second story windows, and the rose has scaled the wall and is stretching out across the roof, the vegetable garden is where I struggle. The French have a saying, Qui plante son jardin plante son bonheur. And it’s true, planting the garden makes me very happy. The warm sun and the smell of the earth waking in the spring after sleeping soundly under Winter’s blanket of snow. It’s the tending part that I’m not very fond of. The weeds that return just hours after I’ve pulled them. And then the fierce midsummer storms that roll in, bringing hail that tears the plants apart. The elms drop their branches on the roof, and I want to throw in my gardening gloves and yell, “Why do I even try?!” Then rush off to the farmers’ market to buy my summer staples from the professionals.
But then I happen to walk by the garden fence, eyes averted to avoid feeling guilty for the jungle of weeds which, at this point, has swallowed the garden alive, and happen to catch a flash of red or a hint of yellow. I peer closer, open the gate, pull a few of the weeds that have grown waist-high to get a better look, and realize it’s not all a loss. The tomatoes are hail-scarred but still here. The zucchini are alive, and flowering even! And the parsley is sending up fresh new shoots. They’re trying as hard as I am! As I gather a few green beans, a handful of cherry tomatoes and one perfectly ripe beefsteak tomato within the folds of my apron, I think to myself, “I don’t deserve this.” Then I promise, again, that next year I’ll do better. Next year I’ll pull out my green thumb to plant and tend the garden I envision every March. I uproot a few more weeds, but soon get distracted by the thought of the tomato salad I’m going to make for lunch. It’s a variation of my favorite, with capers and herbs and perlini mozzarella and spicy raw garlic, drizzled with a sweet balsamic vinaigrette. Today I’ll serve it on thick slices of grilled bread… I grab a handful of parsley as I head back toward the kitchen. And just like that the weeds are forgotten.
Heirloom Tomato Tartines
At first it seems like there’s not enough dressing, but the tomatoes will release their juice as they marinate in the fridge and there will be plenty by the time you serve it.
12 oz (340 g) heirloom cherry tomatoes
8 oz (225 g) perlini mozzarella balls
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil (plus a little more for the bread)
1 TBSP capers, drained
a handful of parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
baguette or artisan bread
Mix together the vinegar and olive oil. Add the garlic and set aside. Halve the tomatoes and add to the vinegar. Drain the mozzarella, rinse under cold water and add to the tomatoes. Add the capers, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Toss together and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to a day.
When ready to serve, slice the bread and brush with olive oil. Grill or toast until crisp. Top each slice of bread with the salad along with its juices and serve.