In February I started a garden in bare, neglected ground. Over five months I dug out green plastic netting, dog shit, pieces of asphalt, mallows, too many weeds to count. I added compost, coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable scraps. I carted home pine boughs and pine needles, sticks and leaves I found in the gutters. I bought plants, I was given plants. I raised tomatoes and peppers from seed. I planted squash and beans, basil and tomatoes. The Sun Gold tomato took over almost an entire fence line. I added sunflowers and blue sweet peas.

With the miracle of sun and water, things grew. Two-inch squash appeared on the butternut vines, more than one, more than two, as the vines reached out into the yard for more sun. The beans and tomatoes were awash in blossoms, the green beans too tiny to pick yet, the shelling beans swelling. I was so happy and proud of my first home vegetable garden in sunny San Leandro. I fed friends chard and kale and gave away extra tomato seedlings.

And then I had to leave, not an easy decision. A situation arose that I could not live with and we could not come to an agreement about it. There is plenty of love left, but nothing to do with it at present, just as there were plenty of vegetables in the garden when I left and no one to tend them. Unless my ex-landlord or someone Johnny knows steps in to take care of it, the garden will die. In its death as in its life the bean roots will nourish the soil, fixing nitrogen. The plants will go back to the soil which gave them part of their life. I had custody of the garden for a brief time, enough time to grow things, but not enough time to gather in the entire harvest.

June finds me back at my mother’s house, sleeping on a sofa, my belongings in the capacious living room in boxes and bins and garbage bags. My mother and brother have been working on the never-refinished hardwood floor of my old bedroom and I can’t move my stuff in there yet. I brought with me several tomato seedlings and three pepper plants. One of the pepper plants appears to have a broken stem and may die soon. The other two are sitting outside in a copper bowl, waiting for me to find somewhere to plant them. My sister-in-law brought a large, healthy-looking tomato seedling from her house and we must find a place for that, too. We put three tomato plants in cages in two large buckets. I have many seeds left, but nowhere to plant them: I’ll find a pot for some Thai basil and perhaps some other herbs, but I will be beginning again in the foggy land in the path of the Golden Gate.

Meanwhile, I blanch and scrape citrus peel — I had saved peel for five months in the freezer and there is no room for it here. To save it, I have been working for three days, blanching and scraping lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit rinds. As I write, the orange peel is done and beginning to dry, the lemon and lime simmers on the stove and the grapefruit in the refrigerator awaits its hour-long sugar bath. The methodical scraping of pith with a steak knife was meditative, the long hours of labor calming the mind: it was good to have something simple to do, although after twelve hours or so I would be glad to see the labor ended. I thought I might be canning tomatoes and beans this summer — instead I am harvesting citrus peel for baked goods. As I blanch and scrape, perhaps I will leach any bitterness from my soul and let my heart rest in the sweetness of life, the sweetness of each tiny blessing. I am grateful to be able to read and write, to smell the clean, sharp citrus in the air. I am grateful for my readers, friends and family and grateful for a sweet life that I had for nearly two years.

Those of you who are kind enough to follow The Kale Chronicles as it morphs from a twice weekly blog to a monthly blog will have noticed that it did not make its May deadline. It was inevitable, given some things that are going on and it may be rocky here for awhile. I have not had time to take pictures, much less paint them in the last week or so — I have barely been able to attend to the garden (I just spent an hour on my hands and knees, pulling out burr clover).

But I harvested at least half a basket of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes tonight from the plant that has dynastic ambitions — having taken over as much of the fence line as possible (I think), it has shifted its focus to growing out over the patio. Johnny said it had to be cut back, but I am not going to do that. Perhaps I should have put in more stakes or a tomato cage, but it is too late for that now. It swallows up and shades everything in its path with abundant foliage and hundreds of yellow blossoms. It is the biggest tomato plant I have ever seen and I fear to think of what my Amish paste tomatoes and my Principe Borghese plants are going to look like — both of them have larger tomatoes than the Sun Gold.

I have pepper plants hardening off and chard that is bolting. We can eat lettuce from the garden now, as well as chard and kale and tomatoes. I set out some new Thai basil seeds because the Thai basil I planted before is underneath the giant tomato. In the process of digging to enrich the soil for the basil I discovered concrete about a foot down at the end of one of the bean rows. Uh-oh. I have not yet determined how far the concrete extends (I’m not that fond of digging).

My green bean plants have little tiny green beans and the Scarlet Runners do too. My pinto beans and black-eyed peas seem to have hybridized in a giant tangle: when they started out they looked like bush beans, but then the bush beans grew tangled vines that refuse to take to the supports I gave them. Meanwhile some of the butternut squash plants are growing through a row of green beans and I can no longer walk on what was a path in that part of the garden. I think that I saw some tiny butternut squash tonight, although I have seen no squash blossoms, which makes no sense — the only things in blossom are the tomatoes and various beans.

I need to know a lot of things. I need to know how to confine indeterminate tomatoes (and perhaps how to prune the non-bearing branches). I need to know how to encourage the butternut squash to fruit and how to protect the squash as they grow. I need an advanced placement course in staking and supporting plants because muddling through it on my own was not adequate (I have raised indeterminate tomatoes before, thank you very much, but only in ten gallon buckets, where they stay put, where, in fact, they were spindly and only produced a few handfuls of tomatoes. I love the abundance, but I am afraid we will not be able to walk in our yard by August and I feel sorry for the other plants that have no chance and no space to grow. I need to know what particular horrible garden pests or diseases have been plaguing my red cabbage plants, which may not be long for this world, although I have not had a single cabbage.

I sort it out as best I can. The garden is my refuge from other difficulties and I love going out and picking or cutting things to eat. Last night I made a chicken salad that incorporated cherry tomatoes and lettuce from the garden. I also used plain Greek yogurt, Madras curry powder, lemon juice (lime is better), celery and golden raisins.

May highlights included a visit from my best friend and her husband on the day that twenty-six mph winds blew the tomato trellis down and ripped stakes through the ground and my guest appearance with Johnny’s band, Johnny Harper and Carnival, in Sebastopol. I sang “Evangeline” by Robbie Robertson, which Emmy Lou Harris sang in “The Last Waltz.” The band has been doing a special series of shows featuring the music of The Band, while incorporating some of Johnny’s original compositions. Johnny is hard at work on a CD, to be released in October if all goes according to plan.

I hope you all are enjoying your late spring/early summer.

Sharyn (aka The Kale Chronicler)

Manzanita. Ink and watercolor. 8" by 12". Sharyn Dimmick.

Manzanita. Ink and watercolor. 8″ by 12″. Sharyn Dimmick.

I am obsessed with the garden. Johnny has taken to calling me “Farm Girl” (I have never lived on a farm although I had great uncles and grandparents who farmed). Since I last wrote I have planted both Teddy Bear Sunflowers and Mexican sunflowers, plus the blue sweet peas. The first sunflower leaves are just breaking through the soil and the sweet peas are what I call “invisible plants” — that means “I know they are there even if you can’t see them. Please water them, honey.”

The monstrous Sun Gold tomato plant is gargantuan now and full of blossoms and small green tomatoes: I do not know when they will begin to turn orange, but the heat wave we are having now might help them along. Soon they will have sibling tomato plants, which are hardening off in the garden as I write. I planted Amish paste tomato seeds and Principe Borghese seeds, but I did not label them, so I will not be able to tell the plants apart until they fruit. The leaves, however, are different colors, so I can be assured I have two different kinds.

So far I have been unable to produce peppers or Russian tarragon from seed in three tries and one of my varieties of basil failed to germinate. When the  basil plants get bigger I’ll be able to tell which one I have and I will plant some more somewhere. I will also plant more lettuce in the shade of other plants.

The scarlet runner beans have begun to climb up their improvised tepee, but nothing is in flower yet except the tomato plant. The butternut squash have their first real leaves. The cabbages are much larger, beginning to crowd one another, but there is no sign of heads forming. I have not grown cabbage before.

One of these days I will have an herb-planting day and put in dill, oregano and chives. I will also add some green beans to fill in the gaps in the bean rows. I want to plant more and more, but I am watering by hand and it already takes almost an hour to get around the garden with my tea kettles and milk bottles.

MK's Breakfast Strata. 12" x 12" gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

MK’s Breakfast Strata. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

When I am not in the garden (I don’t sleep there!) or fussing over seedlings I still busk, cook, sketch, etc. I recently left the plants to Johnny’s care and some fortuitously-timed rain and went for a long weekend in the lower elevations of the Sierra Nevada. The event was called Ballads on the Mountain, hosted by a friend who likes to call herself “Mary Kingsley.” Twelve women assembled to sing traditional ballads from the Francis James Child collection and to eat up a storm. Kingsley’s red kitchen produced meal after meal. One of my favorites was new to me: breakfast strata, a savory concoction of eggs, cheese, sourdough bread cubes, meat and vegetables. We had a wonderful one with chicken apple sausage and mushrooms, which I’m going to share with you here and then cook for Johnny when the weather cools off again. I don’t have any problem with eating this dish for lunch, brunch or supper either, believing in breakfast served all day.

Mary Kingsley’s Breakfast Strata (adapted)

12 slices dry sourdough bread, cubed

8 eggs, beaten

3 cups shredded cheese

2 cups sliced mushrooms

12 oz sliced chicken apple sausage

3 Tbsp prepared mustard

1/2 tsp salt (optional)

1/4 tsp cayenne

olive oil for greasing pan

Toast your bread cubes in a 250 oven until dry and perhaps a little golden in spots. While the bread toasts you can saute your mushrooms. Set aside bread, then bump your oven up to 325. Lightly oil or butter a 3 quart rectangular baking dish. Place half of bread cubes in baking dish. Top with half of the mushrooms and half of the cheese. Top with half the sliced sausage. Repeat layers of bread, mushrooms, cheese and sausage.

Whisk cayenne, mustard and salt into beaten eggs. Pour eggs over other ingredients. Press down with the back of a wooden spoon to make sure all bread gets moistened.

Bake uncovered for 50 to 60 minutes until puffed and set. Enjoy.

Food notes: The recipe MK sent me included variations, one with sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus. When I saw this, I immediately wanted to incorporate sun-dried tomatoes into my own strata. I would also like it with peppers. MK actually made one with mushrooms and leftover broccoli for a vegetarian. The original recipe also calls for 3 cups of milk, which MK eliminated. Since I didn’t miss it, I have eliminated it, too. If you add it, you’ll probably get a more custardy texture, rather than the firm, dry, one that I enjoyed, with crunch from the bread crumbs.

Painting notes: When I wasn’t eating, sleeping, or singing, I was staring out the window at a manzanita. Hence the painting. The other painting attempts to capture the strata and some of the many reds in MK’s kitchen.

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.

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