Archives for the month of: December, 2011

Dear Chronicles Readers and Subscribers,

I am skipping out the back door to music camp in just a few minutes. I will be north of Santa Rosa with three hundred folk musicians.

This is a time of the year when I don’t cook: the farm deliveries are on hiatus and the fridge is full of Christmas leftovers.

Happy New Year to You All. May 2012 bring you what you need and at least some of what you want. I’ll see you again in January. — Sharyn

Painting shows pink adobe, woman leaving and rooster on a rail fence.

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright. 8″ x 8″ gouache on paper. Sharyn Dimmick

painting of pomegranates, limes and December sunrise.

December Still Life. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

On December 23rd in the evening the sun has gone down, but not before I started to capture the hues of pomegranates and limes on a wicker plate and the sky outside my bedroom window: it is a December still life. There are limes on the lime tree, pomegranates from my last trip to the Farmers’ Market, a fresh version of Christmas colors in seasonal produce.

I started “The Kale Chronicles” in late August of 2011, just a bit over four months ago and have taken my readers through the foods of late summer, fall and the festivals of winter. Today I have no special food to offer you, other than food for thought. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking: I cook as I usually do, identifying things that we need to use and thinking up combinations that will please us. In the last few days I have made a pork stir-fry with cabbage, broccoli and leeks, a pot of brown rice, a pot of apples stewed in apple cider, a quick apple crostata, some sour cream buns. Today we ate the leftover stir-fry and rice for lunch and some of the stewed apples for dinner with fried potatoes made from leftover baked potatoes, some fresh spinach, and a slice of ham. I did not save a special recipe to wow you: many times we eat fairly plain food around here, but our food is wholesome and good. Our Christmas meal will feature several standards: roast turkey stuffed with bread stuffing, mashed potatoes and pan gravy, tossed green salad of spinach and arugula, roasted yams, cranberry sauce, my Grandma’s rolls, pies, pies, pies, cookies and candy (most likely from See’s unless Susan sends me some caramels). Other than the candy (which we used to make) we make everything ourselves from scratch and will be up at 5 AM Christmas morning sauteing and stuffing for our two o’clock dinner. Our double oven makes it possible to do all this in one day, heat our dishes, keep pies warm.

I look forward to being with you through a whole year in 2012, showcasing the produce I get from my vegetable box from Riverdog Farm, eating my way through all of the seasons, making tiny forays into preserving food, hoping to entice you to seek out the freshest foods you can find, whether you pull them from your own garden or fields or buy from farmers who grow the food. Take a moment to thank the farmers in your heart for without farmers and gardeners we would have a bare table in December, at least here in the northern hemisphere.

Wishing you well in the beautiful December light, whether it is the winter sunshine that pours in my window, the light reflected off the snow, starlight, candle light, fire light, the light in one another’s eyes. Happy Chanukah. Merry Christmas. Whatever festivals you celebrate, may there be peace and rejoicing at your table and over all the world.  — Sharyn

painting of kale salad

Kale Salad. 8″ x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

When I started a blog called “The Kale Chronicles,” I liked the alliteration and I felt like I was perpetually struggling with kale: Riverdog Farm put in my vegetable box frequently and I had found no truly satisfying way to eat it in three years. Then I went to Mabel Dodge Luhan House in New Mexico this November and Jane Garrett served a kale salad. I ate some. Then I went up for seconds. Then I asked for the recipe.

Jane obliged and I have made this salad twice since returning home. Every time I make it, I eat big bowls full of it and I eat it everyday until it is gone. I made it again tonight and just ate a flat soup bowl full of it.

Why do I like it so much? It could be the dressing: Meyer lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, tahini, tamari and a little bit of honey — I might eat that on shoe leather, although I doubt it. I might like it because you blanch the kale before attempting to eat it. I just like it.

I’ll give you Jane’s version as she wrote it and then I’ll explain how and why I altered it.

Jane Garrett’s Kale Salad

Blanch two bunches of kale*.

Add what you like: grated carrots, radishes, dried cherries, almonds, red potatoes, feta, mint.

Toss with the following dressing:

1/2 cup lemon juice with zest

1/3 cup olive oil

2 Tbsp tahini

2 Tbsp Braggs’  OR 1 Tbsp tamari

3 cloves garlic (I pressed mine)

1/4 tsp agave OR  1/4 tsp honey

*If you are going to eat kale, you need to remove the stems and ribs. Jane didn’t tell you this because she thinks everyone knows it. So, before you blanch the kale, remove the stems and ribs and compost them.

My alterations: I don’t have any Braggs’, which I believe is Braggs’ amino acid, or some such thing, and I haven’t been inclined to go out and get any. I deduced that it was contributing the salty flavor, so I substituted 1 Tbsp tamari for the 2 Tbsp of Braggs’. I used Meyer lemons because we have them growing in our front yard — they are sweeter and less sharp than Eureka lemons, the ones you usually find in the supermarket. I used 1/4 tsp honey for the agave because, once again, I don’t keep agave in the house — I don’t object to it or its flavor — it’s just not something I have around the house. Lastly, I don’t measure my olive oil: take Jane’s measurement if you want to be precise — I just dress the kale with some olive oil, mix together the other ingredients and toss the salad.

I haven’t been adventuresome in mixing things into this yet because I actually like the taste of the kale smothered in this dressing. I did put in half a handful of dried sour cherries tonight, but I couldn’t really taste them — the dressing is pretty powerful.

What I hope is that this salad helps some of you eat kale who have found it hard to enjoy in other preparations, especially those of you who are at your wits’ end when kale shows up in your farm box (Someone removed a bunch of kale from his box today and set it on top of the stack for someone else to take home!). It works for me.

Now, the award: Jen aka Zestybeandog kindly awarded me The Versatile Blogger Award. This pleases me because 1) Who doesn’t like an award and some recognition 2) Versatility in the kitchen is one of the hallmarks of my cooking style and 3) I get to pass the award on to several other bloggers whose blogs I enjoy. I am also to reveal seven things about myself

1) I love to sing. I sang in school choirs and church choirs. I have one CD, “Paris,” featuring traditional ballads, original songs and covers.

2) I started a ballad-singing group in Berkeley many years ago. It’s still going.

3) Besides painting food subjects I like to paint flowers, song illustrations and occasional landscapes. Animal portraits have been creeping in lately…

4) I used to work as a Recreation Leader in a program that brought together children with disabilities and able-bodied, neurotypical children.

5) I used to be a psychotherapist (MFT)

6) I love open-water swimming and swim in the Berkeley Marina, weather-permitting, from May through October.

7) I sell paintings. Just thought I’d throw that in because I do sell my original watercolors. I am happy to sell them. I am working on developing related products, including cards, trivets, canvas bags, etc. with images from “The Kale Chronicles.” If you want something, please ask.

Where to start? I have just been in the blogosphere for a little over four months, In that time I have come to enjoy the following blogs:

Bitsandbreadcrumbs by Betsy — Betsy cooks stuff I want to cook myself.

Kitchen Inspirations by Eva Taylor. Can’t tell you why exactly — that’s the nature of inspiration — I just like Eva’s blog.

Angry Cherry – the baking blog with personality and many original ideas. She makes things I want to try someday.

JustaSmidgen — lovely photos and some stunning recipes: malted milk meringues anybody? Or pomegranate salad?

From the Bartolini Kitchens — John chronicles his family’s Italian recipes, tells great stories and is one of the kindest people in the blogosphere that I have run across

Lauren is baking her way around the world, making things from every country she can think of. She is particularly honest, which makes her fun to read.

Linda, at Savoring Every Bite makes lovely cheesecakes, attends to decor as much as to food, is generous with her comments and posts a variety of recipes. Pumpkin fans must subscribe to her blog in the fall.

Bewitching Kitchen. Sally has a not-so-secret love of baking bread. In this, we are sisters. She just posted a wonderful-sounding caramelized carrot soup.

SmittenKitchen. This is a big, well-known blog. You may already read it. If you don’t, go there now: Deb has it all: recipes, photos, stories.

As you can see, those are food blogs.

I also read art blogs, or art and food blogs.

The first art and food blog I found was Jane Robinson’s Art Epicurean. Jane paints lovely abstracts and publishes a wide variety of recipes

My latest food and art blog discovery is The Hungry Artist by Melissa. I look forward to seeing more of her work (she just posted some wonderfully-shaped fig cookies on FoodBuzz)

And, somewhere in between, I found Dichotomyof. She makes colorful patchwork cushions, raises children and cooks, too.

For pure art (without food), go to

Bees ATC. Nancy posts a drawing everyday around midnight central time. They are usually colored pencil drawings.

Saltworkstudio: Suzanne has developed quite a following for her abstract acrylic work and collages. She teaches in Sonoma County, but she has gone to Rome for the holidays. I’m sure she’ll have stories to tell when she gets back

And, last, but not least, there is Donna Louise, neither a food nor art blog, but a modern serial by a funny, offbeat writer who shall remain nameless for the time being (at the writer’s request).

painting of English toffee and ingredients as seen by a horse.

Sebastian and the English Toffee. 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Last week Susan Darm showed up to show you how to make her delicious caramels. This week she is back with her English Toffee recipe. The basic recipe has only three ingredients — shouldn’t you be making some? Think of how nice it will be standing over a warm, fragrant pot of caramel on these cold days.

Susan says:

I did not get this recipe from a book. It may have been given to me by a neighbor, Mrs. Steel, who was from England. I never wrote it down because the recipe was simple, consisting of only three ingredients. These were cooked together carefully then poured out, cooled and broken into pieces which could be covered or dipped in chocolate and robed in chopped almonds. I made English Toffee at the holidays for years. So far I have not found any commercial toffee that tastes as good.

English Toffee

One pound granulated sugar

One pound butter (I have used salted and un-salted. Salted works better for me).

One cup raw almonds

Prepare a buttered cookie sheet. I use a buttered silicon cooking mat on a cookie sheet but it works just as well without the silicon. In a good quality saucepan about 10 inch diameter, place the sugar and butter. Melt these together stirring continuously until they are completely melted and start to bubble. Add the raw almonds. Continue to cook at a slow boil while stirring constantly never lifting the spoon from the mixture. If you are using a candy thermometer you will do this until it reads 290-300 degrees f (between soft crack and hard crack stage). If not using a thermometer, cook until the candy starts to turn a beautiful toffee color and pulls away from the sides of the pan as you stir. Remove the pan from the heat. Carefully remove the stirrer from the pan. Do not allow any candy on the stirrer to drip back in to the pan, it could taint your candy and ruin the texture. Pour the candy on to the baking sheet or silicon mat. I let it cool just a little then use a silicon spatula to smooth the surface and spread the nuts uniformly. I sometimes score the candy lightly with a knife just before it hardens so I get uniform sized pieces when I break the cooled candy. Once the candy has cooled you can do what you want, break it in to pieces to dip in chocolate, crumble it, or chocolate coat the whole big piece to give as a gift along with a little hammer. Have fun and be creative!

Food Notes (from Sharyn): We pour our candy into buttered Pyrex oblong pans. It works for us.

Painting note: Today’s painting features Susan’s horse, Sebastian, who says, “Western tack, please, but English toffee!”

Susan promises to come back next fall and teach us how to cure olives.

painting shows loaf of Swedish bread

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While I was away for the weekend my Mom bought some oranges. I wrote about eating my first orange of the fall and winter in Taos, New Mexico in November, but these were the first oranges we have had in the house since spring. Suddenly oranges are calling to both of us. I planned to stir up a lunch of bread and soup to warm us up this cold day. Plenty of beets, turnips, carrots and half a head of cabbage dictated borscht, brought together with chicken broth from the freezer, the last few cherry tomatoes on the vines and a package of dried mushrooms (my sister-in-law likes Ukranian borscht with mushrooms in it).

When I asked Mom if she wanted Swedish rye or whole wheat bread to go with the soup, she said, “Swedish rye. We haven’t had that in a long time.” Indeed we haven’t — I only make it when I can get fresh oranges. Now, I know you can buy oranges any old day at the grocery store and that they come from Florida, Israel, Mexico, goodness knows where. Since I live in California, I eat and cook with California oranges in season and one of the first things I make when they come in in the winter is this sweet rye bread, flavored with orange juice and zest, anise seeds and raisins.

I learned to bake this from my childhood friend, Lori Johnson. I’ve tweaked it a bit over the years, substituting orange juice for some of the water in the original recipe. This makes wonderful toast and dynamite peanut butter sandwiches.

Into a large mixing bowl, measure

1 Tbsp shortening

1/3 cup molasses

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 scant Tbsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp anise seed

In the 1-cup liquid measuring cup that you used to measure the molasses, place 1/4 cup warm water and 1 package active dry yeast (2 and 1/4 tsp).

Beat yeast and water with a fork. Let yeast proof while you

Zest one orange into the mixing bowl.

Then cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice into a 2 cup measuring cup. Add water to reach 1 and 1/2 cups total liquid. Add this to mixing bowl.

Add 1 cup sifted unbleached flour.

Check temperature. If contents of mixing bowl is now lukewarm or cooler, add proofed yeast and stir.

Next add 2 cups rye flour and beat until smooth (I use a large wooden spoon). There will be flour clumps. That’s okay — you are beating to develop gluten in the rye flour and the lumps will vanish if you beat hard and long enough. The batter should turn glossy.

Stir in 1 cup raisins, a few at a time, incorporating each batch before adding more (Exposed raisins will burn in the oven’s heat).

Add 3 to 3 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour until you have a soft dough.

Let dough rest 10 minutes.

Knead dough until smooth — at least ten minutes. Form into ball. Grease your mixing bowl and place dough in it. Cover with a damp warm towel and put in a warm place to rise until double (I check it in about an hour: rye flour slows the rising time of bread). Punch it down. Let it rise again until double. Grease loaf pans, or round pans or baking sheets. Divide dough in half and shape into two standard loaves, round loaves or free-hand braids. Preheat oven to 375. Let rise again. If you wish, you may slash the tops of the loaves ten minutes before putting them into the oven.

Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until crust sounds hollow when thumped. For best texture, let the bread cool on a rack before cutting.

Food notes: If you must have an additional holiday touch, you might substitute dried cranberries for the raisins. I have not done this myself. Heidi of 101 Cookbooks has a link to some rye flour shortbread cookies on her recent sticky gingerbread post: I am thinking of making them with anise seed and orange zest to duplicate the flavors of this bread in cookie form.

All you candy-makers please visit again on Wednesday December 14 for another recipe by Susan Darm, featuring English toffee.

painting shows miniature horse looking through window at caramels.

Scamp and the Christmas Caramels 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Today The Kale Chronicles presents a holiday confection from Susan Darm: at our house candy and certain cookies are seasonal foods, made only in December.  In November 2011, Susan brought some of her caramels to a writing retreat in New Mexico and we all swooned. Susan lives in Brentwood in eastern Contra Costa County, an area formerly known as the Horn of Plenty. My favorite peach farm, Frog Hollow Farm, is still out there, although much of the fertile land has been paved over for housing. When Susan is not making candy she is an equine enthusiast, physical therapist and aspiring writer. Here’s Susan:.

I have always loved candy. As a child in grade school, I figured out that if I was going to eat as many sweets as I liked, I would have to learn to make them. I started out simply with a snack of bread, butter and white sugar. This was a respectable after school snack in my mother’s eyes, something she herself ate as a child. When I got bored with this snack I began experimenting with sugar, butter and/or syrup boiled in a sauce pan, cooled then either eaten plain or poured over nuts. I got the idea of cooking sugar from my father. He made pecan rolls at Christmas and I loved the gooey topping made of brown sugar, butter and pecans.

By the time I reached high school I had graduated to more complex concoctions. The first real winner, a candy that was good enough to share with others, was English Toffee. After 10 or 15 years of English Toffee, I got burned out on making the same candy over and over. I started searching for new recipes. I experimented heavily with both caramel and fudge. I was better suited to making caramel; it has similar properties to toffee. The recipe I ended up using as a base for my caramels is common and can be found with minor variations anywhere on the internet. Once you get the knack of making basic caramels, there are endless variations as far as using nuts, chocolate, salt for salted caramels, constructing layered candies (like Turtles) or shortening the cooking time and making caramel sauce instead of candy. I have even incorporated marshmallows, walnuts and chocolate in to the caramel with sweet results kind of like a caramel rocky road. It was good for me to make these candies. Over the years I began to eat less myself and enjoyed giving it away more than eating it.

The key to caramel making is attention to these details:

  1. Once you get to the actual cooking stage (after the ingredients have melted together), the spoon must not be removed from the pot and you must stir continuously without scraping the sides of the pot. I use a bamboo paddle and envision the paddle moving the candy in a pattern around the pot so no area is left unstirred.
  2. Manage the temperature of the stove to keep the pot at a slow boil.
  3. When you pour the candy out, do not scrape the pan. You may scrape the pan later and eat the scrapings.
  4. I no longer use a candy thermometer because I am able to eyeball the proper cooking stage. I suggest you start with a candy thermometer then estimate the time it takes to achieve the desired ball stage on your stove and quit the thermometer. I find the thermometer cumbersome and by the time I read the proper temperature my candy is overcooked.
  5. Every stove is different. On my old stove, the caramel took about 18 minutes to cook. On my new stove it is always ready in 12 to 15 minutes. This is why I use my eyes.

Easy Basic Caramels

Prepare a buttered 9 by 9 inch pan. Silicon works the best. You may fill the bottom of the pan with nuts. I use raw walnuts or toasted salted almonds or pecans. I have also used macadamias and Brazil nuts. Any nut tastes great with caramel! The caramels also taste good plain.

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup dark corn syrup

1 cup butter

Put these ingredients in to a 10 inch heavy bottomed sauce pan, melt together and while stirring constantly bring to a slow boil. Turn the heat down and maintain a slow boil uncovered for 4 minutes without stirring. Keep the bamboo spatula in a cup of warm water while the concoction is boiling. After 4 minutes of slow boil, remove the pan from the heat and add:

One can of sweetened condensed milk

Put the pan back on the stove and over low/medium heat boil the concoction while stirring constantly without removing the spoon. If you use a thermometer you will cook it to 238 degrees f. If you use your eyes, the caramel will turn a warm brown caramel color and start to pull away from the sides of the pan. Once they have reached the desired temperature or color, remove the pan from the heat. At this point you may stir in any flavoring you would like. Most people like to add vanilla. I do not. Then pour the caramel in to the 9 by 9 buttered pan. Let the pan cool completely. I refrigerate them overnight. Once you have the basic caramel you can dress it any way you like. I remove the slab of caramel from the pan and cut it into small rectangles. I dip the bottoms of the rectangles in chocolate then wrap them individually in waxed paper (like my grandma used to do). You can also press salt in a decorative pattern on to the top of each piece or mold them in to balls, push nuts around the ball and dip it in chocolate. These caramels are very forgiving. Slightly undercooked they make a soft melt in your mouth caramel. Slightly overcooked they are firmer and must be served at room temperature.

These caramels keep well for several weeks in the refrigerator.

I try to put love in to everything I make. I believe we can taste when food is cooked with love. I also try to use local ingredients as much as possible. I am trying to find healthier candy to make and share. For next year I will work on making nougat with local honey, almonds from our orchard and egg whites from my mother in law’s chickens. This will be a lower fat candy made with ingredients from close to home. Wish me luck and I hope to share my results.

Food Notes: Sharyn here.I grew up making caramels at Christmas with cream, but have never made them with condensed milk (it won’t be long now!). My mother remembers boiling cans of condensed milk as a child to make caramel, so it is a tried and true method.  I also agree with Susan about candy thermometers: I learned to make candy the old-fashioned way by dropping samples into cool water or across plates and looking for textures: soft ball, hard ball, hard crack, etc. Next week, I’ll post Susan’s English toffee recipe for you.

Painting of Christmas cookies on green and red tablecloth.

Christmas Eve. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil and white gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

A few years back, Mom had a hankering to make pfefferneusse, a cookie she remembered buying in her childhood in Illinois. Pfefferneusse are small round spicy cookies frosted with royal icing flavored with anise. They are not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like gingerbread or chai and you eat Good ‘N’ Plenty or black licorice, these are for you.

Mom had a basic recipe for pfefferneusse, typed on an index card. The only problem I saw with it is that it called for candied peel — can you say “yuck?” I pictured the multi-colored tubs of peels and fruit that Mom kept around for fruitcakes. And then I had an inspiration: what if we substituted candied ginger for the nasty candied fruit? It wasn’t hard to talk Mom into the recipe alteration.

The first year we made them, these cookies were okay, but Mom said there was something missing. Thinking about the name, she combed around through other cookbooks and found that pfefferneusse used to contain pepper, in addition to mace, cinnamon and allspice. The second time we made them we ground some fresh white pepper in the coffee grinder and added that to the cookie dough. Now you are talking. This year I added back just a touch of my home-candied non-yucky orange peel, picking the last orange peels from the jar of mixed lemon, orange and tangerine peels that I made last March.

I present to you our version of pfefferneusse, a non-rich, spicy cookie that is a good foil for butter cookies and shortbread on the holiday cookie buffet. Pfefferneusse are cookies that get better as they sit around: the flavors mellow and blend and the icing keeps them from getting too hard. Make them ahead of when you want to eat them: the dough benefits from chilling for at least a day before you bake the cookies. I made my first batch of the season on Wednesday morning, baked them on Thursday afternoon, frosted them Thursday night and served them to guests on Friday.

The first day:

Beat 4 eggs (I use an electric mixer for this job, but you can beat by hand if you are a hardy type)

Gradually incorporate 2 cups of white sugar.

Add

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp mace

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp  ground ginger

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground white pepper

a dash of minced, candied orange peel OR a grating of fresh orange zest (optional)

Add 4 cups of flour — it will make a stiff dough.

Fold in 1/2 cup minced candied ginger.

Cover the mixing bowl with something (a tea towel, waxed paper, or plastic wrap) and set in the refrigerator to chill for a couple of hours.

After a couple of hours, remove the dough from the refrigerator and knead it for awhile, in the bowl or on a board. If you use a board, try not to incorporate further flour. Return the dough to the refrigerator overnight.

On Day 2 (or 3 or 4):

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Lightly grease a couple of baking sheets.

Form dough into balls the size of a small walnut and place them on prepared cookie sheets.

Bake each tray for twenty to twenty-five minutes. Cookies should firm up but not brown much if at all.

Remove cookies from baking sheets and let cool completely before frosting with your royal icing

If you have a favorite recipe for royal icing, go ahead and use that except substitute anise flavoring for any vanilla, lemon extract or almond flavoring you usually use — if these don’t have anisette frosting they are not really pfefferneusse.

If you don’t have a recipe for royal icing, you can do what I do:

I separate 2 eggs, put the yolks in a jar covered with water in the refrigerator for another use, and beat the whites. When the whites are opaque, but not yet stiff, I start adding powdered sugar while continuing to beat them. When the icing is somewhat thick and glossy I stop and stir in some anise flavoring: you have to taste it to do this step — too much and it will remind you of toothpaste, not enough and what’s the point? If you are timid, you can add it drop by drop and stand there tasting it forever. I would recommend with beginning with 1/2 tsp and increasing the extract according to your tastes.

Frosting things is not my forte: I usually do it the quickest way, which is to pick up each cookie, dip it in the icing, twirl it to get rid of any drips and set it on brown paper. One further note: you need a dry day to frost them or your icing may turn tacky, even if it hardens initially. Let them dry fully before storing them in an air-tight container.

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