Monday, July 13, 2009

Slice of Heaven

When we were visiting Ohio recently, we had the good fortune of meeting my brother's neighbor, Mary. After spying a verdant garden at the end of his driveway, I asked my brother about it. In lieu of an answer and in usual form, he walked straight to her kitchen window and bellowed for her. She was washing dishes and couldn't hear him, but eventually he got her attention and we were introduced to a tiny woman in her seventies. Even before she knew that I was her favorite neighbor's sister, she took my arm just because I was there with him. As soon as she knew I was family, I was in like Flynn. Or Fiori.

Mary's garden was a bit behind ours being in different gardening zone and all, but she still had plenty going on. The first thing she pointed out were the currants. She makes pie out of them. They were the prettiest shade of red-orange pink and tart-sweet. Next to them were the blackberry and raspberry bushes and the grapevines. Mary told us that she was hovering over them with a hatchet one day when her daughter showed up to halt their destruction. Mary didn't make wine, so she said she had no use for them. Her daughter, or daughters, now make jellies and jams. In between these were a few peach trees with peaches the size of apricots. Mary said she doesn't do anything to them, that maybe they would be better if she did. I don't know about that. I had no idea you could grow peaches in northeast Ohio. How did the trees survive the winter?

Behind the vines were the fenced-off vegetables. Gnome was especially jealous of her peas. Ours don't last long in the heat. She also had zucchini, basil, tomatoes, parsley, corn, peppers, dill, and cucumbers. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, and I neglected to take a photo. That's too bad, because Mary told us that it was her little Slice of Heaven. A white chair leaned up against the fence under a cherry tree. Or was it a plum? She said that she just sits in that chair and looks out at her garden and that's what she thinks. That it's her little slice of heaven. She said, "Sit in the chair," which of course we did. We could see her point.

Behind her garage was her forno, or bread making oven. My Italian relatives in Little Italy didn't have these. And the walnut tree behind it had several nets to keep the abundant fruit from the ground. She uses the walnuts in her breads. Next to that were more peach trees and a fig tree or two. All this on a small suburban lot, maybe forty feet by eighty feet, including the house. Oh, Mary, how we wished you were our neighbor. Paying homage, I decided to share the tomatoes, oversized zucchini and a pitiful cucumber that I'd grabbed from our latest harvest before leaving South Carolina. Mary studied our Japanese Blacks and said, "Oh, yours are different than ours," but she graciously took them. She dug her fingernail into the zucchini before handing it back. I pulled the shriveled, pickle-sized cucumber from the bag and apologetically offered that up as well. She took it, then, after I'd put the disgracefully overgrown zucchini back into the bag she said, "And if no one wants that..." and ended up with that as well. She promised my brother that she'd share whatever she made with them with him. He doesn't even eat tomatoes.

Tonight we made an adaptation of Pineapple Mahi Mahi from the recipe on the Publix bag that the fish came in. It wasn't really all that great, so I won't share the recipe here, but this is what it looked like:

The next time we have a fresh pineapple on hand, or even canned, I'll grill it to go with the fish and marinate the fish in green Tabasco, which is quite yummy. I overcooked the fish slightly since we've been undercooking things a bit lately, so I added a skinny pat of butter to each fillet after I took it off the grill to add both flavor and moisture.

This Italian pinot grigio was a little too dry to go well with the dish, but it's what we had chilled. I don't really know how to pair wines with food very well, but I know when they aren't a good fit. I would have rather had a nice Orvieto Classico, which is fruitier, to go with the sweetness of the pineapple salsa.

Again, I didn't let a little thing like missing ingredients stop me from making these as easy substitutes were available. No lemon pepper for the fish? How about freshly ground black pepper and lemon zest? No store-bought salsa and honey mustard? How about tomatoes, onions, lemon juice, honey and dijon? Tonight wasn't a huge hit, but it was still freshly made with love.


  1. I could actually see Mary's little slice of heaven in my minds eye. Thank you for such an obvious talent for writing. I am enjoying your blog daily.

  2. Thank you, David! I appreciate the encouragement. Your salsa looked delicious. Did you take a photo of the tortilla soup?

  3. Mary's garden sounds fantastic. Like David, I am enjoying your blog each day.

    We did not take a photo of the tortilla soup, but the recipe turned out much better than I was expecting. It was so different from the recipe that I normally use.

    I'm not sure that salsa you're referring to; if Dave has been making salsa and not sharing with me, he's in big trouble.

  4. Aubrey: Oops! I meant guacamole. And thank you.

  5. Ooh, that does sound like absolute heaven, and one that I really hope to have for myself one day.

    One of the reasons I love Julia Child's shows is that she tells the appropriate wine pairing for all of the meals she makes.

  6. Lydia: I'm looking forward to seeing that Julia/Julie movie. I've never watched any of Julia Child's shows. Do you have them on DVD? Thanks for reading.