green beans and potatoes


1 white onion, diced or pureed

1 lb. fresh green beans

1 ½ tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 lb. white or red potatoes, peeled and halved

1 large vine ripened tomato, core removed (or 1 can diced tomatoes, drained)

3 cups water

Salt & Pepper to taste

Put olive oil in pan, add onion. Sweat the onion in the olive oil over medium heat.

Add rinsed, raw green beans, incorporate into the onion and olive oil.

Add three cups water.

Add peeled potatoes and tomato, salt and pepper.

Simmer for half hour.
Recipe Courtesy of Harriet Gianulis

My first attempts at gardening were windowsill herbs in our first apartment. They attracted annoying little bugs, a bad smell, and rotted pretty quickly. My second attempt at gardening was to plant snapdragons in the front porch planter of our first home, and herbs in the backyard. Well, my dogs did a great job smashing the seedlings and the snapdragons died because I simply did not know how to take care of them. It seemed to me that a hobby like gardening was relaxing only to the people who liked to work, perspire, and get dirty all at the same time. I gave up. When I wanted fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables, I went to the farmers market.

In the spring of 2001, we bought our second home. An adorable home, with a monochromatic landscape in the front and backyards – Cypress trees and green bushes everywhere, not a hint of color except the temperamental camellia bushes that lined the walkway with ornamental white rocks at the base. Armed with some equity money from our old house, I hired a gardener remove the cypress bushes. Pete and I went to our favorite nursery, Summers Past Farms, and bought English lavender, French lavender, cornflower, blue salvia, and several herbs. Among the herbs we planted were sweet basil, which thrived in the heat, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, and curled parsley. Among the herbs that died were the thyme and parsley. The sweet basil withered away in the fall, but voluntarily grew back the following summer, until the gardener cut it, as he thought it was a weed. Poor little resilient basil.

The next Mother’s Day I asked my husband, not much of a gardener either (although he will tell you otherwise) to get rid of the rocks, rototill the soil, and plant me another herb garden and some hydrangeas. He obliged, and I now have three hydrangeas, foxglove, gerbera daisy, and jasmine. But my herbs bring me the most enjoyment,garlic chives, two sweet basil, Thai basil, Greek oregano, orange mint, lemon mint, pineapple mint, chocolate mint, lemon thyme and even kale. To ward off evil, I planted sage between the two front bedrooms, which belong to our children.

My husband and I figured out after five years that mulch is a good thing; they sell it for a reason. It doesn’t hurt, either, that we planted drought resistant, durable plants. Some days, watering the plants is simply just another thing to do, another daunting task on the honeydo list. Better to stick with low maintenance varieties.

When I say my herbs bring me the most enjoyment, it is because every night, I use herbs from my garden in my cooking. There is nothing like it. Bright flavor, stand up color, the scent and taste of fresh adorning my culinary creations. I can’t imagine what it will be like to one day even grow and enjoy vegetables or fruit from my own garden. I’ll have to learn to enjoy perspiring.

For now, I pillage the gardens of my in-laws. They own a house with a large canyon that opens onto a main street in the neighborhood. Driving on that street, you will see a fence that extends to encompass every square inch of land that they own. On that land, they have planted fruit trees, herbs, and vegetables, as their parents did in the villages in Greece. It’s an ancient practice, growing your own food so you never go hungry, and maintaining the land for future generations. Pa O’Hara himself said, “Nothing matters but the land”. I’ll tell you what that means to me,the most important thing you can do for your family is ensure their survival. The antebellum south is hardly ancient, but we have inherited our way of living from our ancestors – every one of us. Hunt, gather, breed, nurture. The Native Americans, Iipay, as they called themselves in our corner of the world, did that very thing on the land we dwell on now. And did you know many tribes were matriarchal? That’s right.

I have watched my mother-in-law for more than fifteen years now, planting seeds, tending gardens, first feeding her children fresh vegetables and fruits from her garden, now chasing our kids around her house with persimmons or tomatoes so they get their five-a-day. This organic thing, by the way, is not so new. Think about it. There were no grocery stores or pesticides five thousands years ago. There were gardens, farms and fields, and common people working them.

I was never as smart or as humble as when I decided to cultivate my own land with an open mind, and lots of anti-perspirant. It has brought me surprise, disenchantment, aromatics and delayed gratification.

To cultivate your land, you must become knowledgeable of your environment. The best way to do this is by examining your surroundings, and listening to your elders. Your grandfather, your mother, great-uncle, whoever is willing to teach and has the experience that will enrich your knowledge base. Keep your eyes open, your ears tuned in, and your mouth shut. You may learn something in spite of your new world values.

Get a head start. It is wise to awaken early and get to work. If you do this you will almost always be ahead. This leaves you time to contemplate your next move, or decide how to spend your free time. After you’ve completed your tasks and it’s well before twilight, you can find a shady tree, peel a juicy tangerine, and enjoy doing nothing. I say again, doing nothing. You can actually enjoy complacency after you have worked the day away with noble intentions.

Be prepared for the unexpected. Droughts happen, history teaches us that floods and hurricanes will hit – and sometimes our worst fears will come true. Insure what you have, and embrace every moment of good fortune and harmony. Should disaster strike, these memories will get you through, and give you something to work towards.

Don’t get overzealous; you must be thoughtful and patient with your soil if it is to give you sustenance. Do not plant more than you can take care of. Also, it is tempting to work more than necessary, so as to benefit from having a surplus. But if you are lucky, you understand the concept of having enough. Call it a day; spend your evenings with your loved ones. Otherwise, you could be left alone with a bunch of rotting fruit.

Nothing gives my in-laws more joy than when they have the opportunity to share the food they grew, usually sautéed in olive oil and lemon. For the food that they do not grow on their own, they frequent the farmers markets in our city. In my opinion, the markets remind them of a simpler way of life, a metaphor of the way life should be, as it was when they were children in the villages of Greece. They buy produce directly from the people who grow it. An even, fair trade without the gloss of a corporate chain and devoid of the bottom-line gimmicks. My father-in-law is well versed in quarterly earnings and market share, however, which is why he buys from the little guys. I have listened to more discussions in a fast-paced diction of Greek and English about which stocks to buy and sell than I can recall (I’d so much rather chat about the drinking habits of Dionysus). But here is how I tolerate the dinner table NYSE rants; enjoying a meal with homegrown food while talking about the market is simultaneously acknowledging the world we live in, while encouraging traditional and meaningful values. Corporate America isn’t changing anytime soon, but you can save a simpler way of life, one farm at a time. At least that is what I think they said, and certainly what I believe.

In the canyon and gardens of my beloved Greeks, you will find butternut squash, zucchini squash, sunflowers, corn, amarinth, figs, tangerines, avocados, persimmons, oranges, lemons, tomatoes, red potatoes, grapes, pistachio trees, greens, basil, apple trees, and so much more, if you pay attention. Fresh, untainted, plentiful and homegrown. Cultivated just enough to carry on.

Smantha Gianulis

Samantha recently released my her family food memoir, Little Grapes on the Vine…Mommy's Musings on Food & Family .

Samantha is a self-taught chef. She worked in the Catering and Special Events industry for seven years before becoming a stay at home, now a work at home, Mom.
She appeared on NBC's ivillage Live.

Smantha Gianulis

Latest posts by Smantha Gianulis (see all) GianulisApron Strings Cooking ColumnHome CookingCooking and RecipesGREEN BEANS AND POTATOES1 white onion, diced or pureed1 lb. fresh green beans1 ½ tbsp. extra virgin olive oil1 lb. white or red potatoes, peeled and halved1 large vine ripened tomato, core removed (or 1 can diced tomatoes, drained)3 cups waterSalt & Pepper to tastePut olive oil in pan,...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids