Spring crops are in! Fresh Batavia lettuce rosettes at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. Last Saturday I stood in line for a three-pack of strawberries and a couple of large artichokes, food that hardly needs preparing: I sliced the strawberries over homemade waffles made with spelt flour and sour half and half and steamed the artichokes to eat with lemon butter. This easy cooking joins the long-cooked stews on the cooler days and keeps me from heating up the kitchen on the warmer days. We have had some of each in March, eighty-degree afternoons, fifty-one degree sunrises. Sheeting rain yesterday morning kept me from singing at the Berkeley market but allowed me to walk through the Bay Fair market with Johnny instead. I bought more artichokes, some sugar snap peas, cilantro, new potatoes. Johnny bought onions, scallions, red peppers (where did they come from?). The other day a man walked down our street with strawberries from Salinas and I bought half a flat for two dollars a basket. Johnny says they aren’t as good as the farmers’ market strawberries, but it was an impulsive buy to cheer up my sweetie who has been working hard on his first album.

I have been working hard, too. I played a private St. Patrick’s Day party on Saturday March 15, in addition to my usual busking. For that I had to practice up several Turlough O’Carolan tunes on the Celtic harp and refresh my memory of some “Irish” standards of the type that one only sings on St. Patrick’s Day (I was heard to grumble through the house, “I never will play ‘The Wild Rover’ no more”).

Photo of seed packets

Heirloom seed packets.

The day after the gig I whisked myself off to Santa Rosa to visit my friends Suzanne and Scott. Suzanne and I had a date with the Seed Bank in Petaluma, a haven for heirloom seeds. Suzanne staked me to a portion of them as a late birthday present and I quickly doubled the stake to get an English trowel and more seeds. It’s hard to describe the bounty of seed packets at the Seed Bank, over 1200 possibilities. I carefully chose varieties of basil and tarragon, snapped up some black garbanzo beans from Afghanistan, bought Blue Lake green bean seeds and Scarlet Runner beans. I deliberated over kinds of sunflowers and bought a blue and white sweet pea mix. I chose a French variety of lettuce and an Amish paste tomato. I could not get sugar snap peas or Genovese basil — apparently everyone in Northern California is planting those at the moment. But the peppers were nearly my undoing: an entire rack of peppers stood before me and I wanted them all, habaneros and jalapenos, cherry peppers, Thai peppers. I limited myself to poblano seeds and a packet with a beautiful illustration of a red bell pepper.

Much of this bounty is still sitting in packets in the breakfast nook because every time I have had time to plant things outdoors I have needed stakes or there has been rain. I lie awake nights thinking where to put things. I did manage to plant a couple of half rows of black-eyed peas and pinto beans and put together a small A-frame of scavenged pine boughs and bamboo for the scarlet runner beans. I planted some runner beans today, plus Blue Lake green beans, butternut squash and two varieties of basil (Thai and Ararat).

Tomato and tarragon seedlings

First seedlings

Last week I started seeds of two kinds of tomatoes and Russian tarragon in cardboard egg cartons. I started a second set when anything failed to germinate after six days and was jubilant an hour later when the sun came out and the first green bits poked up out my potting soil in tray number one. I have never started seeds indoors before and this small victory feels like magic. This morning I squeezed three new egg cups into my tray, each containing a poblano pepper seed.

The in-ground crops look good. We cut a few leaves of chard one night to go with a dinner of sweet potatoes and sour milk cornbread. The kale and two of the red cabbages are growing large. The Sun Gold tomato is a leggy green monster now with four sets of yellow blossoms already — perhaps we will have home-grown tomatoes by May. I am anxious to have tomatoes, tarragon and pepper plants to add to the garden, to plant lettuce and herbs and flowers, but I have to wait for drier weather. Not that we don’t need the rain in California. We do.  I wait impatiently for the intersection of a free day and a dry day and I hack a three-foot high sheaf of flowering weeds out of the side yard so that they do not invade my vegetable patch.

It excites me to grow some of our food. I prepared the ground of my mind for this by subscribing to a farm box and converting myself to seasonal eating several years ago. Then I managed a small organic garden in an after school recreation program where we successfully grew beans, peas and tomatoes. We planted cleome and borage and lemon verbena, a true geranium, pumpkins: I watched a visiting child snap the one small pumpkin off its vine during a Hallowe’en party and I was let go before everything bloomed.

Hills and trees from Bay Fair platform.

Bay Fair Landscape #1. 5″ x 7″ ink and watercolor. Sharyn Dimmick.

I started some garden sketches for this post but the rain has interrupted my garden sketching as well. Instead I sketch strangers on BART trains and the view of hills and trees from the bench on the platform. The sketching exercises come from the new edition of Natalie Goldberg’s Living Color, a beautiful book with a gallery of paintings as well as lots of fun things to do. I feel happy with my life when the days contain music and sketching and cooking and gardening and writing. Sketching calms me and engages me, a meditation of the moving hand and eye, tethering my restless mind to the paper and the scene in front of me, just as busking tethers my mind to chords and lyrics, my hands to the fingerboard, my feet to the floor, while my voice rides the breath. In kitchen work, the anchor is my chopping knife, my whisk, the spoon in my hand, in gardening it is the trowel or fingers twisting weed stems as I thank them for breaking up the soil.

Birthday greeting

Birthday card.

My fifty-sixth birthday finds me at home, taking a rare day off the day job (busking in the Berkeley BART station and the Berkeley Farmers’ Market), spreading sheets of newspaper around parts of the backyard, weighting it down with rocks and bricks and whatever I can find. My friend Celi at thekitchensgarden recommended this method of composting after we determined that I could neither keep chickens nor build and turn a compost bin. Underneath the newspaper are used coffee filters and eggshells. The other vegetable and fruit scraps get buried in big pits. My birthday present requests have included bales of straw, seeds, plants and child-sized garden tools — I garden on my knees or sitting on the ground: I am slightly obsessed with the garden and the possibility of growing some of our own food.

I ate oatmeal for breakfast, graced with dried cherries and maple syrup: our kind friend Mary Katherine treated us with a gift certificate to Trader Joe’s as a housewarming present and we bought ourselves a hoard of delicious cheeses, salmon steaks, grass-fed beef steaks and lamb tips as well as the breakfast goods. We are not eating our meat and fish bounty yet because I am still on a soup or stew kick: this week we ate curried yellow split pea soup with spiced yogurt, taken from the Green’s cookbook, along with loaves of Mark Miller’s Cumin Orange Bread and some Asian cucumber salad provided by my friend Elaine. We also went out to Angeline’s in Berkeley for Johnny’s birthday, where we ate voodoo shrimp (me), crawfish etouffee (him) and banana bread pudding with caramel sauce and whipped cream (we split it). Also, on Valentine’s Day we ate a very spiffy dinner at Zatar, featuring lamb and crab salad and a fish tagine, cardamom ice cream and red wine-poached pears. I know, I know: we are a celebrating couple of people in February — it’s a good month to be us. But when I am not dining finely, out or at home, I am grubbing in the dirt,  or putting containers out in the yard to catch water. I have planted my first Sun Gold tomato plant, plus three red cabbages, three chard plants, one kale and one parsley. The parsley did not survive, soaked by the copious rain of the last few days, but the other things are doing fine: my mint plant is glorious and green, thanks to the local abundance of sun, followed by the welcome rain in my drought-stricken state. It was supposed to pour all day, they said. We did have showers in the morning, but I haven’t seen any real rain today yet.

detail from watercolor garden painting.

Detail from “Garden 101″ painting.

My covetousness knows no bounds: I want to put in a Meyer lemon tree and a Bearss lime, a Gravenstein apple, maybe a green fig and a persimmon. Apricots and walnuts are supposed to grow well here, too: the neighbor’s have an old walnut — maybe one will grow itself! Fortunately, my thrift is intact: I cart home bags of leaves from parking lots and gutters to enrich our soil and I bought a mixed bean soup mix to plant in the backyard: legumes are good for the soil, breaking up hard dirt with their roots and fixing nitrogen to nuture future plants. If we get some shelling beans, so much the better. I plan to broadcast black-eyed peas as well, which are delicious fresh from the pod, particularly when prepared an Indian way.

It’s getting onto lunch time: I will probably have some more homemade bread and some cheese, a pear and a pot of tea. Johnny is taking me out for dinner, to Ajanta, my favorite Indian spot, where we will taste the new tasting menu. A garden, a blog, a painting, a nice meal with my true love. What else could I want? (Don’t get me started…)

painting depicts backyard garden.

Garden 101. Sharyn Dimmick 12″ x 12″ Gouache and watercolor pencil

Dear Readers,

The cozy bedroom.

The cozy bedroom.

I did it! On January 5th I moved from my mother’s house in Kensington, California to Johnny’s rental house in San Leandro. I have been here the better part of a month. I have moved the bedroom furniture about fourteen times (hope I’m done now), mostly seeking places for shoes and a filing cabinet. My stereo isn’t hooked up yet (Johnny’s is) and my backup hard drive has gone missing. Fiona the cat has run away and returned twice: now I only let her out in the afternoon before she has been fed.

After three and a half weeks, the bedroom is close to organized. The kitchen and breakfast nook are further behind and there are still things in boxes and plenty of things in the garage and garden shed. The hold-up in the kitchen is storage space: I need a tall shallow shelf for my spices and I need a china cabinet or hutch of some sort: some of my china is sitting on a former bookshelf and another bookshelf has been pressed into service for cookbooks and dry goods, but my best china remains in boxes in Kensington along with a mixer, a blender and other things I have not been able to incorporate into my new kitchen.

Cookbooks, etc.

Cookbooks, etc.

Nevertheless I hit the ground cooking. I think the first meal I cooked for us here was a dish of broccoli-feta pasta. We have also had Thai green curry, chicken sausages and baked potatoes, plus Johnny’s special scrambled eggs with vegetables, which he once delivered to me in bed! At the end of the first week I made Johnny his favorite red beans and rice from his friend Mike Goodwin’s cookbook, Totally Hot. And so began a tradition of making a legume-based soup or stew every week: we can eat it for a few days and I can freeze any that we don’t eat. I also make other soups, including the butternut squash version of this soup.

Susan of Susan Eats London kindly sent me a box of ingredients, featuring lentils de Puy, the small green organically grown French lentils. First I tried them mixed with red lentils in a Green’s recipe for a curried soup which calls for yellow split peas — I had had this soup twice at a Chanukah party: it was memorable and I had been meaning to make it. The verdict: it was better made with yellow split peas and I need to replenish some of my Indian spices, including cardamom.

Then I solicited recipes on Facebook, confessing that, to me, lentils taste like dirt. I received a lot of the usual suggestions: cook them with potatoes, carrots and celery, etc. Some people mentioned lemon. Then I went to Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs, and found a lentil and sausage and chard combination. Hmm.

I followed the recipe loosely, using two cups of lentils instead of one and incorporating a quart jar of stewed Sun Gold tomatoes from my  Berkeley Farmers’ Market pal, Tom Gattonelli. I used some Aidell’s sun-dried tomato chicken sausages and ladled each serving over leaves of wild arugula. I did enjoy the soup: the special ingredients ameliorated the dirt flavor and the soup got better and better as it sat. I did not, however, make Deb’s garlic oil garnish.

Baking supplies.

Baking supplies.

The star of the kitchen is a butcher block cart: I traded yet another bookcase to my friend Elaine for it and I use it everyday. Johnny likes to sit at it and eat, but I like to use it to chop and mince and slice. I have made two shelves below the cutting board into a baking pantry, containing my rolled oats, unbleached flour, cornmeal, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, nuts, rice, chocolate and dried fruit. The rolling pin and measuring spoons hang on small hooks and the biscuit cutters, pastry cutter and dry measuring cups fill the small drawer.

Earlier this week I visited Thrift Town, a short walk from the house and scored copper-plated storage canisters and a glass casserole dish without a lid. By fitting a pie plate over the top I had what I needed to cook baked beans, the legume recipe of the week, pinto beans layered with chopped onions and minced bacon, mustard sauce and molasses. Johnny loved them and I said, “They are really simple. Even Johnny could make them.” I told him he had done the hard work of chopping the onions and preparing the bacon, that the oven did most of the rest. Just like a New England housewife of old I used the slow oven to make an accompanying Indian pudding.

Cozy breakfast nook with canisters.

Cozy breakfast nook with canisters.

Next up? I have potato water sitting in the fridge crying for me to make a loaf of bread — did you know that the cooking water from potatoes is a terrific bread ingredient? –  and I have ripe Meyer lemons asking to be turned into a lemon sponge pie. Plus, the sour half and half has accumulated again. From this we make waffles, biscuits, cornbread and muffins: because I got a box of organic pumpkin puree from Grocery Outlet this week we’ll probably have pumpkin-walnut bread or muffins.

Meanwhile, I commute to Berkeley up to six days a week to sing at the BART stations and farmers’ market, do odd jobs for my friend Elaine, try to keep the cat happy and settle into my new cozy life with Johnny (which includes band rehearsals on weekends). San Leandro is sunnier than my Kensington yards so once I have pickaxed the hard pan in the backyard I will get some vegetables going — legumes, of course, so that their roots break up the clumped soil: I’m hoping for sugar snap peas and bush beans, perhaps red or white clover for the bees, too. And Elaine, who giveth all good things, has provided some iris and muscari bulbs so I’ll have to see if I can get them in the ground somewhere before I write the next post.

One of my favorite soups is a roasted duck noodle soup from Thai Lucky House in Berkeley: order it and you get a big bowl of clear broth with rice noodles, baby bok choy, fresh herbs and slices of roasted duck. Lucky House has a caddy of chilies — dried, fresh, pickled, in sauce — that you can add to your bowl at will: it makes a warming winter meal and is great to chase cold and flu bugs away.

This year we cooked a duck for Christmas dinner in addition to our free-range turkey. A few days ago, I cut the remaining breast meat from the carcass in strips and put the rest in a pot of cold water with lots of star anise. I brought the pot to a simmer, turned it off, and brought it to a simmer again several times over the next three hours, yielding a rich, clear, reduced broth, which I skimmed for fat.

I then brought the broth to a rolling boil and tossed in some rice noodles and chopped broccolini (or gai lan). I seasoned with tamari, chili paste, fresh lime juice and hoisin sauce. I turned the broth off again and covered the pot for the rice noodles to soften. When they seemed done, I reheated the soup one last time and tossed in the slices of reserved duck breast, a few leaves of basil and some cilantro sprigs.

This yielded a delicious soup on the first day, but the rice noodles continued to soften as the leftover soup sat, teaching me a lesson: next time I will prepare the seasoned duck broth, but I will put some in a smaller pot and only cook the noodles and vegetables that I plan to eat that day. When I want more soup I will cook more noodles and vegetables in another bowl of broth, eliminating mushiness.

Since my traditional December cookie spree, including pfefferneusse and cocoa shortbread, I have cooked very little because I am spending everyday packing. The movers arrive Sunday morning January 5th to take my way too many things to Johnny’s house: after eighteen years in my mother’s house I am moving to share Johnny’s home in San Leandro. Stay tuned for continuing adventures as I set up in a new kitchen and breakfast nook and start a garden in the sunny backyard. I promise to take some photos once I get settled and, after that, I may even get back to painting. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading The Kale Chronicles. Wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year with some transformations of your own.

Painting shows ingredients for turkey-apple stew, plus a border collie.

Turkey-Apple Stew. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Thanksgiving Day found me with my family in the house where I grew up, preparing traditional Thanksgiving dishes with my mother. At eighty-three Mom still does the heavy lifting, so to speak: she makes the dressing, stuffs it into the turkey. She makes her never-fail pie crust, which we fill with pumpkin, eggs, evaporated milk, brown and white sugars and spices and with sliced Pippin apples (The Gravensteins are long gone by Thanksgiving Day). I make rolls from my Grandmother’s recipe, only pausing to sneak a half cup of healthy whole wheat flour into the dough. Wednesday afternoon we peel potatoes and snap the ends off fresh green beans from the Bay Fair Farmers’ Market and boil and peel chestnuts for the dressing, cook whole cranberries with a little sugar and water. Thursday afternoon I make salad dressing and whip cream while Mom prepares a simple brown gravy from pan drippings, flour and water. We roast yams in the oven after the pies come out, cook the green beans in the microwave and the potatoes on the stove. I scoop the dressing from the bird. Bryan carves the turkey and lays slices on a platter.

Original watercolor painting shows ingredients for apple pie

Gravenstein Apple Pie. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

At two o’clock we sit down to a bountiful table, the three remaining Dimmicks and our guests Johnny Harper and Art Peterson, who will play music in the living room after they have eaten their fill. This year I am struck by how long this has been our family tradition, how many years Mom and I have made this meal together, dividing our tasks and cooperating to get the food on the table in a timely fashion. We do have skirmishes: I am a careful baker, sifting the flour into a cup on a flat surface, heaping it high and leveling it off with my hand, but I find that I cannot sift easily with my recovering wrist. When I ask Mom to sift, she holds the cup in the air, occasionally shaking it to settle the contents, and hands me cups that I don’t think are full enough to level. We laugh about this later, after I have told her how much I like making this meal with her every year. We are the last two generations of our family and we do not know how much longer we will get to do this together. I enjoy the simplicity of a day spent preparing a feast and the routines we have developed.

The day after the holiday finds me with many fall tasks undone, due to a thirteen-week hiatus with a compromised right hand. My winter sweaters need hand-washing. It is time to start making cookies for Christmas and for an early Chanukah party. Add to my schedule three hours of hand and wrist exercises per day and I wonder, like many of you, how I will ever get everything done. The only answers I can come up with are to keep it simple and to just do the next task, to jettison things that seem too much for this year, as I work to transform my injured hand and wrist to new strength and health.

At the same time as I celebrate old family traditions, a new opportunity has arrived: my friends Maia Duerr of Liberated Life Project and Lauren Ayer of Quilts of Change have put together a Virtual Holiday Faire for 2013, where you can purchase my Paris CD and two original watercolor paintings, plus notecards, quilted bags, coaching services and other offerings. Please visit the Faire to have a look for yourself. Your purchase will help support independent artists and consultants.

Last, but not least, Susan of Susan Eats London, kindly sent me a care package to raise my spirits: she went to her favorite bulk bins and picked out aleppo pepper, dukkah, farro, Puy lentils and Nigella seeds, none of which I have ever used, plus blue cornmeal, fresh fig jam and three kinds of chocolate! I shall be having some cooking adventures in the future. If any of you want to provide suggestions or links for using these ingredients, the Comments field is open. I am thankful for all who enjoy reading The Kale Chronicles and grateful that my hand will allow me to type a blog post for you.

Dear Semi-Abandoned Readers,

On August 28, 2013 I fell while taking out the compost, injuring my right wrist. It has taken me seven weeks to get a proper diagnosis and a cast: two hairline fractures, a sprain (stretched ligaments) and tendinitis. I can only type with my left hand, which needs to perform all other hand functions (dressing, bathing, eating, holding the phone, etc.). This is why you have not heard from me lately.

My “cooking” consists of pouring bowls of cold cereal and milk and spreading peanut butter on toast. I mooch cooked food off friends who cook, eat whatever my mother prepares for the family dinner, microwave attractive leftovers and carry on as best I can.

The blog will return when I have recovered full use of my dominant hand. Meanwhile, there is plenty to read in the blogosphere, judging from my inbox.

Be well.

Sharyn

This month my friend Bob Chrisman died, suddenly and unexpectedly. He was a writer and zen student that I met many years ago in Taos, New Mexico. After awhile he stopped coming to Taos but we corresponded and talked on the phone and saw each other during his occasional visits to California. I always assumed I’d visit his house in Kansas City someday to see its multicolored rooms, but low funds kept me home in the Bay Area. During our last conversation Bob told me he was thinking of going to a retreat in France in 2014. Bob had always told me if I became homeless I could come live with him in KC.

Beyond that, my beloved is troubled, struggling with demons for his very life and happiness, unable or unwilling to communicate with me for much of June and July. I sort through a basket of grief, pain, anger, despair, loneliness — it is like one of those cooking shows where they give you a basket with tuna, rutabagas, cinnamon and bananas and tell you to make a main dish in thirty minutes. Where do you start?

You start where you are. You taste your ingredients and smell them, look at the texture. Are the bananas green or ripe? Is the rutabaga woody or tender and sweet. Bob’s death sent me to my meditation cushion each morning at 5:30 to recite the Heart Sutra. It is an unexpected gift from Bob: I sit and I cry, but as the days go by I am calmer and quieter in my crying. I find myself voicing a wish that my heart fill with love. I also find myself angry and reactive, hurting, but in those moments I turn to the page to write or tell my friends how I am feeling. Telling the feelings airs them out somehow and I see that I do not want to act out of anger if I can avoid it. The quiet space each morning helps me go on, as does the support and fellowship of like-minded people.

It is traditional to say the Heart Sutra for forty-nine days after someone’s death, so I will be at this for awhile, gathering strength and peace from the cushion. In the meantime, I continue my life, which feels too spacious today. My life is never the frantic scramble of many American lives since I left the regular workforce against my will a few years back. In fact, I work six days a week, usually, but my work consists of one or two shifts of singing in public for tips. When I am not working or traveling to work I have lots of time, time to sit and write and read. If Johnny calls, I have plenty of time to talk with him, time to listen.

I have Sundays off, unless there is a singing gathering. Today I didn’t even get dressed: it is a typical Bay Area summer day, shrouded in fog, the trees dripping this morning. By afternoon it has only lightened a little. The summer markets are full of their glory. Last week I bought green beans and basil, corn on the cob, ollalieberries (a form of blackberry), peaches and ten pounds of Gravenstein apples. This week I spent all of the money I earned at the market on a pizza of the first red and yellow bell peppers and green onions. I ate it for lunch and dinner yesterday and for lunch again today. It was delicious, even if I had to forgo peaches and beans to get it. I bought it on impulse, wanting to treat myself — it’s not often that I permit myself a sixteen-dollar splurge these days. It didn’t hurt that the vendor plucked a big roasted tomato and put it in my hand and then showed me every pizza he had for sale so that I could choose one. I’m not sorry I splurged — I thoroughly enjoyed it. If I were rich, I might eat this pizza every week, or get back to making them: Sunday is the only day I can make pizza now, the day when I have enough hours to wait for the sourdough crust to proof. As it is, I’m grateful to have had the treat.

Last Sunday I had a different treat: I heard about a documentary movie about back-up singers. I checked the show times and headed out the door to the theater. taking a ten-dollar bill. I bought a ticket and walked down the street to get a dollar coffee toffee ice cream on a sugar cone. Let me say that these treats are rare: the last movie I saw was in May when Johnny and I saw “On the Road.”

Of course, I’ve just been to France. I could not have gone there without scholarship money and a work scholarship. I saved the air fare out of my monthly earnings which range from $300 to $500 a month, depending on how the busking trade is going and how many CDs I sell. Every month I work first to pay my phone and internet bill, then to get a monthly bus pass, then to afford a pair of twenty-dollar shoes (I wear out a pair of shoes each month due to my odd gait from cerebral palsy). Strings, food and treats come next, and money for savings to afford the next airline ticket. I borrow books from the library and listen to the radio or play CDs I’ve loaded into iTunes. I sing with friends. I talk on the phone. I pick up the windfall apples from our neighbor’s tree and will dry them in my dehydrator. Meditation is free, only taking time and effort.

I continue with things that take time and effort. I make the effort to open my heart, to tolerate my anxiety and grief. I take plenty of time to rest, although I look hollow-eyed with dark shadows. I know that everything changes, quickly or slowly, that one season follows another, that apples and pears are early this year in California. I am grateful to be alive and grateful that my suffering is not greater, grateful for moments of respite and hope, of companionship, grateful for the comfort of books and music and occasional delicious food. I hope July finds you well and, if not, that comfort is available to you.

Villefavard Roses, 5"x7" watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Villefavard Roses, 5″x7″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

If I do not know it from my zen and Vipassana meditation, I should know it from my habit of seasonal eating: things change all the time and not always in ways that we expect — too much rain or sun disrupts crop production, or bees mysteriously die off and the crops are lightly pollinated. I had hoped to announce a big change today, one that would affect my life every single day, but the timetable for that has been changed. I am not trying to be mysterious or withholding, promising to tell you something and then not telling you, but since the planned change involved other people I am not at liberty to speak about what was going to happen, but has not. Plans are not going according to schedule and the schedule is not going according to plan.

Yesterday I sang at the Farmers’ Market in Berkeley. It was a bright, hot day and some new crops were in. I saw fresh apples! Pink Ladies and Pink Pearls. Blueberries and blackberries and strawberries are still abundant. Suncrest peaches and apricots and now Santa Rosa plums fill the bins at Frog Hollow Farm’s stand. I drank tomato juice and two bottles of water as I stood and sang. When I was done I ate a cup of caramel ice cream,  and a raw Thai salad cone from the vegan stand. I wanted to buy peaches or maybe blackberries, but I needed to hurry to catch a bus and contented myself with picking up a basket of Sun gold cherry tomatoes and a pound and a half of fresh green beans: perhaps I will make a pasta of them or a pasta salad for the Fourth of July potluck and barbecue that I always go to.

Justine's Kitchen. 5" x 7" Ink and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Justine’s Kitchen. 5″ x 7″ Ink and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

In other news, I have been asked to assist Natalie Goldberg at her December retreat in Taos, New Mexico. This is a great honor, and the first time I have served at a long retreat. Many of my old writing pals are slated to be there. So, having just returned from France, I need to start saving air fare for New Mexico. I went back to “the day job” on Friday, singing in the BART station for tips.

France. This year it rained a lot, so I didn’t have as much chance to paint, sketch or swim as I did last year. Nevertheless, I have chosen images from my French sketchbook to illustrate this post. I hope you enjoy them.

It is the last day of May. I have worked my last shift of the day and have time to reflect on the changes that May has brought. First of all, spring produce has crept into our diets, even in reduced circumstances: in May I have bought cherries, apricots, peaches, strawberries, and, last week, blueberries, bargain blueberries in a large Ziploc bag that I have consigned to the freezer for future pies, muffins and waffles. Last week the Berkeley Farmers’ Market had its first bunches of basil, although they were gone by the time I finished singing my two-and-a-half hour shift.

No matter: Mom bought a large basil plant at Trader Joe’s. It sits on our breakfast room table, soaking up sun from the bay window and producing large green leaves, large as the palm of my hand. Now, I know that the Italians prize small, tender basil leaves, but I will work with monster basil if that is what we’ve got — I just have to remove the veins and stems and tear it into small pieces. Last night I made my first pesto of the season, a hybrid of walnuts, garlic, olive oil, torn basil and feta cheese, pounded in a mortar and stuffed into slits in boneless skinless chicken breasts. I handled the stuffed breasts carefully with tongs, browned them in a skillet and set them in a broiler pan on a sheet of heavy-duty foil to bake in a 325 degree oven. While they baked, I made sourdough-buttermilk biscuits for strawberry shortcake, seasoned some whipping cream with sugar and vanilla, stir-fried some bok choy with garlic, steamed some fresh corn on the cob. This was my first attempt at stuffing chicken breasts and I had a little difficulty cutting even pockets of equal depth, but that did not affect the flavor.

Earlier in the week I cooked a pork loin, slathered with peach chutney and wrapped in filo. I adapted this from something I saw Rachel Ray do once with chutney and puff pastry. Puff pastry is easier to work with than filo (it’s thicker), but I did manage to get part of the pork loin wrapped in pastry. I rolled the pork loin in the chutney-smeared pastry on a piece of cheap foil — that’s how I learned my lesson about using the good stuff when I cooked the chicken breasts later.

But before I even got to rolling up the pork loin I had to solve another problem: my jar of Frog Hollow Peach Chutney had only a tablespoon or so left in it and I needed perhaps half a cup of chutney. After halfheartedly consulting some online recipes for a chutney that would use the frozen peaches that we had on hand, I realized I could just read the ingredients on the Frog Hollow jar and fake it, guessing about quantities. So I took about a pound of frozen peaches and chopped them into bite-sized pieces.  I threw them into a sauce pan with some minced fresh garlic, a seeded jalapeno, a goodly grating of frozen ginger root, some organic sugar and some cider vinegar. I discovered that Frog Hollow Farm uses dried cherries in their chutney — no wonder it is so good. Not having dried cherries, I substituted a handful of dried cranberries. I cooked the chutney until it was thick and had darkened in color, stirring in the last of the jarred chutney and adjusting for seasoning (I had to add sugar a few times). I only made enough for the pork recipe, but I was impressed enough with the results that I may make it again.

I am still singing in the BART station five mornings and five afternoons a week, with Saturday singing shifts at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market three weeks out of the month. My busking income is rising slightly, my public repertory of popular songs getting a little larger. Last week I received a hundred-dollar tip from a woman who had occasionally tipped me a dollar: she handed me a CD of her piano music and a small, pale blue envelope.

“Put it in your pocket.” she said. “It is a lot of money.”

As I finished out my shift, packed up my gear and walked to the bus stop I enjoyed speculating about what “a lot of money” might mean. I was pretty sure it would be at least twenty dollars and fantasized about it being a grant of several thousand, with which I could complete my second music CD (about half done).

A hundred dollars is a lot of money to earn busking in one shift. Earning one hundred per shift is not typical. Neither is earning the sixty-four cents I earned during another two-hour shift later in the week. I came home laughing: since I started doing this seven and a half months ago I had never earned less than a dollar in an hour or two. I count myself lucky when any shift produces “double digits.” aka ten dollars or above, and a day when both shifts bring in double-digits is worth celebrating (cheaply, of course). Costly coffees and restaurant meals are rare in my life these days, but I get to work without a boss, except the one in my head. In May, my daily average hovered around nineteen dollars. I am debt-free and have managed to parlay some of my earnings into a plane ticket to France next month, where I will spend two weeks working and studying with Natalie Goldberg in Villefavard. No Paris sojourn this time around because I have a big project in July: watch this space for details at the end of June.

Will I paint again? Will I even sketch? I don’t know. I would like to find another “Nature Sketch” book like the one I took to France last year. I do expect to resume the Riverdog Farm produce box in July 2013 after a nine-month hiatus.

Also in May, I had the opportunity to hear Michael Pollan speak and read from his new book, Cooked. I look forward to reading the book at some point and to owning it down the road. He read us a section on death and fermentation, cheeses that smelled like body odors and the back ends of cows — highly entertaining. Anyone who likes reading about food and culture will enjoy his books.

Thank you to all of you who are still reading The Kale Chronicles, coming to you once a month at this juncture sans illustrations and proper recipes. Tune in at the end of June for further adventures and a preview of a life-changing July event.

Not so much has changed since I wrote my March blog: I am still busking in the Berkeley BART stations twice a day five days a week, plus singing at the Farmers’ Market some Saturdays. I get up and eat breakfast, often flavored oatmeal cooked in milk, but sometimes leftover pie or scrambled eggs with cheese or vegetables, fresh cinnamon rolls, Shredded Wheat with sliced strawberries now that spring has come.

I am almost always home for lunch, which I generally eat with a pot a black tea, served with milk, English-style. Today I had tacos from some leftover poached chicken, simmered in green salsa, with sour cream, shredded cheese, romaine lettuce and cilantro. Yesterday I ate leftover rolls and Cotswold cheese, a blood orange and a sliver of leftover coconut custard pie (It was a pie-for-breakfast day).

Painting of ingredients for improvised gumbo -- Davis pepper spray incident in background.

Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Ever since my younger brother moved home my mother has taken over most of the cooking — she seems to think that Bryan will starve without her intervention. I sometimes cook for Johnny: Friday I cooked him an impromptu gumbo, featuring andouille sausage, leftover shrimp, chicken and fennel, not unlike the Mumbo-Jumbo Gumbo I’ve written about before. Tonight I helped prepare a simple supper of spaghetti, grated cheese, Italian sausage-flavored Prego from the jar. I ate my pasta mixed with leftover sauteed bok choy. Mom fixed a bowl of fresh blackberries with sugar and, voila, c’est tout.

I am still buying bags of “cosmetically-challenged” Moro blood oranges from the Farmers’ Market and eating them out of hand as snacks. I still buy Farmers’ Market carrots, which are sweeter than supermarket ones. I still buy fresh walnuts in the shell — not much has changed, although last week I bought a few fresh sugar snap peas to snack on.

Original ink and watercolor painting shows people around breakfast table.

Second Breakfast at Vicki’s. 12″ x 12″ ink and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Tomorrow I am taking a morning off my busking day job to attend a pre-dawn Morris Dance event in Tilden Park. I will assist my friend Vicki at the grand May Day breakfast after the sun has been danced into the sky (You last heard of Vicki when I mentioned attending the Hobbits’ Second Breakfast at her house). Perhaps I will bring back some food stories or recipes for May. You never know. Anything can happen.

What I completely forgot to mention in my March post because I was running around going to Natalie Goldberg‘s readings for her new book, The True Secret of Writing, is that I am featured in the book: the chapter on Practice contains a story about me, a snippet of my writing and the words to my song “The Wallflower Waltz.” Those of you who are interested in writing or meditation practice (which is the true secret of writing) will want to read this book. Natalie, of course, is best-known for her book Writing Down the Bones.

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