Saturday, June 22, 2024
Food & DrinkJonathan Bardzik

Jonathan Bardzik: The good life

The first job I took after college was with Quansett Nurseries, selling plants to garden centers. Owner Fred Dabney’s property reaches right out to Buzzard’s Bay, a quiet stretch of salt water between Rhode Island and Cape Cod. Through the woods adjoining Fred’s property, is Sylvan Nurseries, owned at the time by his good friend and customer Neil Van Sloun.

A couple of times each spring, during our busy selling and shipping season between Memorial Day and Father’s Day, Fred would leave my fellow salesman Scott and me alone in the office to spend the day with Neil on his fishing boat. Sitting out on the water, Fred and Neil would pull up lobster traps, talk shop, and, I have to imagine, tip back a couple of cold beers.

While Scott and I wanted desperately to be annoyed by this, the two nurserymen did a lot of business out on that boat. While hauling traps they would monitor walkie-talkie chatter from back at their respective offices.

“I’ve got a customer looking for a hundred and fifty pots of creeping phlox,” a salesman at Sylvan might say.

Fred, listening in, would call back to the office, telling us to add those hundred and fifty phlox to a trailer. By the end of the day, the trailer would be completely filled with Sylvan’s orders, which we would drive through the woods and deliver.

After one particularly successful day of selling, Fred returned to the office shortly after closing time. There he found two rather irked salesmen ready to head home for the night. A broad grin broke across Fred’s face, from underneath his mustache. He raised up his hand holding a mesh bag filled with oysters that he and Neil had pulled up along with the lobster traps.

Scott immediately pulled a bottle of Jack Daniels from above one of the drip ceiling tiles (whose existence I was, until that moment, completely unaware of). Fred removed a bottle of hot sauce from the bottom drawer of his desk, and with his slightly rusty pocket knife – the kind every nurserywoman and man carries at all times – began shucking oysters. We sat there, afternoon sunshine streaming in the screen door of the dusty office, laughing easily, and slurping down one of the ocean’s great delicacies, wiping wet hands on our jeans.

These were my first oysters, and none that have followed, served on silver trays of ice with mignonette – a sauce I couldn’t even pronounce at the time – and horseradish, have tasted as salty and sweet.

That, for me, is the true joy of summer. Taking in the very best that life can offer – bold, bright produce, fresh from the farm and garden, served alongside rich meats and briny fish, slightly charred from the grill; enjoyed outside together with good friends and family, while your bare toes wiggle in the grass.

So, slip into your Sunday morning shorts and pull on your best T-shirt. Summer’s here and it’s time to live the good life. There’ll be plenty of time for hard work later.

Top Sirloin Cherry Tomato Harissa Kebabs

From Jonathan Bardzik’s Seasons to Taste

Serves 6

The smoky, spicy flavor of Harissa balances with brown sugar and earthy thyme to coat rich meat and the cherry tomatoes that deliver the perfect pop of acidity.


  • 6 tbs Harissa paste
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup Pomegranate or sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbs cinnamon
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tbs olive oil 1 quart cherry tomatoes
  • 2 large green peppers cut in 2” pieces
  • 1 1/2 pounds top sirloin steak cut in 2” cubes (about 2 steaks)


  • Make marinade: Whisk together Harissa, brown sugar, tomato paste, red wine, vinegar, cinnamon, thyme and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Mix together tomatoes, peppers and steak and toss to coat with marinade. Refrigerate from 8 hours to overnight.
  • Load skewers with beef, tomatoes, and peppers.
  • Prepare a hot grill and cook over direct heat for 2-3 minutes per side, about 8-10 minutes total for medium rare.
  • While grilling, place remaining marinade and any extra tomatoes in a small saucepan and simmer until thickened.
  • Brush cooked kebabs with sauce and serve.

Tip: To cube steak, cut with the grain of the meat into 2” wide strips. Then cut across the grain into 2” cubes. The grain refers to the lines of muscle you can see running through the sirloin.

Tip: Trouble finding the ingredients for this? Instead of pomegranate vinegar, use ¼ cup Sherry vinegar and ¼ cup pomegranate juice. Substitute 2 tbs chili powder, a pinch of cayenne and 2 tbs tomato paste for the Harissa.

Jonathan’s cookbooks offer simple recipes prepared with farm and garden-fresh ingredients to share with the people – friends, family and farmers – who make our lives matter. 

Bring one home today or share one with someone special, click here.

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Jonathan Bardzik

Jonathan Bardzik is a DC-based storyteller, cook, keynote speaker and author of three books inspired by the fresh, seasonal ingredients he finds in the garden and at farm markets. Self taught, Jonathan seeks to inspire home cooks with the belief that life can and should be lived well, something we can do everyday by preparing and sharing simple, delicious food with those we love. Find over 250 recipes and short stories, Jonathan’s schedule of live appearances and his books at

Jonathan Bardzik has 26 posts and counting. See all posts by Jonathan Bardzik

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