Friday 15 May 2015

Taking chances: Amanda's Ciao Bella Tomato Salad

My Mam has always said that I've always been a mermaid. Give me any body of water and you'll have a difficult time coaxing me out of it. In my teens, we moved to an inland town, almost the most central town in Ireland, and yet my fascination with waves and tides never changed. There is a lake nearby my parents' house and throughout my teens, we spent every single summer down there. There were times when I didn't even want to get out of the water to get a snack so I would swim over to the water's edge and she'd pass me a muffin or some fruit and eat I'd eat, half in and half out of the water. "It's like feeding seals", she said.

One time, a few years ago, in the depths of the deepest blues, I was lamenting my eagerness to fall in love in so quickly, to act with such abandonment and move a relationship so fast that it had made me dizzier than I ever could have imagined. "You've always been like a mermaid", she said, "but sometimes you dive headfirst off the rocks into new territory before looking to see that it's too shallow". My Mam is never one to interfere. Don't get me wrong, she has her opinions but before that comment, she had never said anything that made me think that a habitual reaction of mine was harmful to me, that something I naturally did was damaging and should be changed. She never said, "stop taking risks" or "cop on" but I knew what she was saying; be careful.

For a good while afterwards, I stopped taking any risks, turning my habits on their head. It's taken me a few years to learn that everything is about balance and denying my carefree, trusting instincts in favor of distrusting caution was no way to live a life either. I still love the whimsical notion of deciding to just take off, go on a road trip, be spontaneous, throw away the plans, take a leap of faith. Though I'm still a bit rusty, when my heart tells me to dive and explore a new experience, my question no longer comes from a negative, distrusting space. The only question I aim to ask myself is, "does this serve my values?". Sometimes I still get confused. The polar loves of a place to call home and a backpack shift, collide and rumble. On holidays the last two weeks, all I could think of was packing up my whole house, subletting and heading off on a two year road trip, moving from one farm to another, cooking for surf hostels, sailing boats instead of taking planes, feeling the sunshine on my shoulders, photographing along the way. Then I came home and melted into my bed, delighted in the progress my veggie seedlings had made and smiled my way through work, so content to see my beautiful friends again. The duality can be exhausting and I have to remind myself to go with the flow and that if I really wanted to change and go, I was free to do just that. It's then that I realize I'm happy where I am for now. Travel has happened before and will happen again, no doubt sooner than I know. I'm planning to be surprised.

My beautiful, thoughtful, bubbly, wild and kind friend Amanda had her own dilemma only a few months ago. We would go to the swimming pool on our mornings off and chat about life and boys. We'd walk home after work in the summer months and chat some more. I could tell that she loved her housemates and working at the school but even though she was never short of an amusing weekend story, something was missing for her. I wasn't surprised then, when she told me that she felt like she was ready to move and she was going to take a leap of faith, pack up and move to Italy to try and live in a new country and see how her new relationship would go. She made the decision for herself and it took her months to commit to the notion that she was going to uproot whole areas of her life for a chance at something different.

She left in January. Two weeks ago, I got to see her at another beautiful friend's wedding in Berlin and meet her awesome man. On front of my eyes was a strong, talented, self assured, stunning woman. She was stylish, confident and yet completely Amanda like and I was never so proud of her. In only four months, the chance she had taken had paid off and she was renewed. She doesn't know it but during the Christmas party before she left, she told me to keep going with my blog and I think of the sincerity in her voice that night each and every time I doubt this blog and my work and my worth as a food writer and a person who bares her soul online. I promised her I'd write her a recipe and since then, all I could think about was something that she'd love and would be simple and tasty that she could make proudly to show to her Italian man.

I love when she speaks Italian, especially when she says "Ciao Bella" so this Tomato Salad is for her. It's fun, colorful, bold and zingy, just like she is.

Amanda's Ciao Bella Tomato Salad
Serves 2 for lunch


2 yellow vine tomatoes
2 red vine tomatoes
1 beef tomato
if you like, you can buy 15/20 cherry tomatoes in a mix of colors instead-this salad is all about variety of color)

3 tablespoons good quality olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar)
1 tablespoon dark honey/maple syrup

1 large bunch fresh basil
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes


Wash the tomatoes. Slice in quarters and slice out the white core. Chop the tomatoes into bite size pieces. I roughly chopped the beef tomato and sliced the vine tomatoes into thinner slices. If using the baby tomatoes, simply half length ways. Add the tomatoes to a bowl and seasonal liberally with salt (sea salt is best) and pepper and the chili flakes. In a cup, mix the oil, vinegar and maple syrup together to form the dressing. Pour almost all of it over the tomatoes and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to mix through.

After 10 mins, roughly shred the basil (don't slice, just rip the leaves apart) and add to the tomatoes. Quickly stir through. Serve on a plate, drizzled with some more of the dressing if you like, with some good quality country bread.

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