Archives for the month of: August, 2012

First of all, let me remind you that The Lauren Project recipe contest will close at midnight Pacific time on August 31st. There is still time to get your entries in and become eligible for a potholder, a painting, a music CD, a cookbook. We have received a lot of exciting entries — Lauren may be testing some of them as I write this.

This has not been a big cooking week for me: I had two days of jury duty, getting up early and packing lunches of peanut butter on raisin bread, or turkey and cheese on whole wheat, chopping up watermelon to fit into Tupperware containers, gulping my morning coffee at the bus stop after spilling half of it on my way down the hill. When I got home I would be famished for tea, having missed our traditional afternoon tea break. My teeth are fine now, but Mom has a temporary cap, bridging three front teeth, and is eating soft foods again. Mom made chicken and noodles. Mom and I made ranger cookies, throwing in a little peanut butter that did not meet our standards for eating in sandwiches. The weather flip-flopped, cold one day and hot the next. Today I made two breakfasts, one for me and one for a guest: I ate rye flakes cooked with granola in milk; he got scrambled eggs with cheese and Gypsy peppers and sourdough toast (We had two eggs left and a heel of sourdough — otherwise I would have eaten eggs, too). Then, before lunch I roasted and chopped things for Baingan Bharta, which we had for dinner with basmati rice and plain yogurt. Lunch was a toasted whole wheat tortilla with cheese and chile paste — I hardly need to tell you how to make that.

Original watercolor painting shows Muhammara and ingredients.

Muhammara. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

The fall food palate includes corn and tomatoes still, green beans and cucumbers. Eggplant is in, along with plenty of peppers, both hot and sweet types. Is it cheating to tell you about something I will surely cook soon? Let’s talk about Muhammara.

Muhammara is a Middle Eastern spread of roasted peppers and walnuts, thickened with bread and flavored with cumin, garlic and pomegranate molasses. I make it in the fall when peppers come in and I still have fresh walnuts. Muhammara is good with toasted pita bread, grilled lamb sandwiches, celery sticks. I’ll eat it by the spoonful and run my finger along the empty bowl.

I first ate Muhammara at Zatar restaurant in downtown Berkeley. Muhammara has a lovely red-orange color and an intriguing flavor from the molasses, essentially pomegranate juice boiled down into a thick sweet and tart syrup. I learned to make it myself from Epicurious.com, but I messed with it a little.

If you have a glut of red peppers in your kitchen, roast them in the oven, rubbed with a little olive oil. Slip the skins by putting them in a glass bowl covered with a dish towel, letting them steam in their own heat.

Otherwise, open

1 jar of roasted red peppers. Discard the liquid and put the peppers into your blender.

Add 1 slice of bread. (French bread is good for this  — don’t use rye or raisin bread).

Chop and toast 1/3 cup walnuts

Add walnuts to the blender with

juice of 1 lemon

2 tsp pomegranate molasses

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Mash 2 to 4 cloves of garlic with 1/2 tsp salt. Add to blender

Add enough olive oil to blend. The original recipe I found on Epicurious calls for a horrifying 3/4 cup. I would use 1/3 cup max, but suit yourself.

Whirl in blender until you have a thick red paste. Try to get it out of the blender before you actually start eating it!

Friday I called my friend Margit to ask her something or other and she said, “Oh. I forgot to tell you — the pears are ready for picking.” She has a backyard tree.

After lunch I walked down the hill, borrowed a tall kitchen step stool and began to pick pears. Most were green (good pears ripen off the tree), a few were yellow. I took a large bag home and revised my plans for making a large Gravenstein apple pie for my ballad group on Saturday, deciding instead to make a Pear Tart Tatin. This time around I added a jigger of dark rum to the pears after I cut them and sprinkled a few grains of crushed cardamom over the pears and caramel before I laid on the crust.

Original watercolor shows pain perdu with carmelized pears on plate.

Pain Perdu with Pears. 6″ x 6″ Watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

When the tart tatin was in the oven I noticed that I still had rum in the pie plate where the pears had been. You know I hate to waste things, so I went fishing for the yellowest pears I had, the ones that would not keep another day. I peeled them, cut away the cores and stems and any brown, mushy spots. I plunked them into the rum. After I finished flipping the tart tatin onto a plate I poured the pears and rum into the cast iron skillet and set it in the still warm oven. I hoped the pears would start to cook from the residual heat and perhaps soak up some caramel flavor from the pan.

This morning I wrote and read and listened to music for awhile before breakfast, perhaps a bit too long. I knew I wanted coffee and I knew I needed to cook the pears, but what would I do with them? I didn’t want to take the time to make a pot of oatmeal. Ah. Pain perdu, “lost bread,” aka French toast. Because I was only feeding myself I took 1 long slice of sourdough sandwich bread, cut it in half and toasted it in the toaster oven. While it toasted I beat 1 egg in a shallow pan, added about 1 and 1/2 Tbsp of sugar and a splash of vanilla. I put the bread into the egg mixture, turning it over once.

Meanwhile I set the cast iron skillet on low heat. I heated the pears, rum and leftover caramel for a few minutes, then pushed the pears to the side to continue cooking and added just a smidgeon of butter, perhaps a teaspoon to prevent the bread from sticking. I turned the heat up to medium and cooked the bread on both sides before removing it to a plate and spooning the pears and caramel on top of it.

Food Notes: This made a lovely breakfast as is, but I could imagine adding some ricotta, quark or yogurt for the contrasting flavor.

Other Notes: The Lauren Project is cooking right along. Several people have submitted recipes to the contest. Some people have sent us more than one. But those of you who have not submitted anything yet still have some time: the contest deadline is August 31, 2012, 12 midnight, Pacific Time. After that, Lauren will review (and perhaps test cook) some of the recipes and we will begin awarding prizes. In case you have forgotten, or are new to this contest, the prizes will consist of one red chile pot holder, one signed seasonal cookbook with paintings by Sharyn Dimmick, one copy of Sharyn’s music CD “Paris,” and one Kale Chronicles’ painting of your choice. One prize per person, please. When Lauren chooses her first winner I will contact that person to ask which prize they want and then we will move to the second winner and so on until we are out of prizes. All persons in the USA or Canada who submit recipes will be eligible for free shipping on any Kale Chronicles painting they purchase through the end of 2012.

I recently had some dental work done — after I lost my job a couple of years ago it didn’t seem too important to keep up visits to the dentist. I went last week. And I paid for it because Dr. Liu found a cracked tooth, a broken tooth and a cracked filling (but no tooth decay!). Last week he set to fixing all that. He adjusted a crown while he was at it. I have to go back to have the cracked tooth fixed after I get through with jury duty, which starts today. So, following on my anniversary post about The Lauren Project, I share with you some of the things I ate  — um, drank, since I could neither bite nor chew. It does give me empathy with those on restricted diets.

The first night following surgery I had a coffee milkshake, coffee ice cream whirled up in the blender with a little one percent milk. I was feeling pretty happy that I had an excuse to have one for dinner and even forbore to put Kahlua in it. By 9 PM I was hungry, however, and had to resort to a serving of coconut yogurt.

The next morning I was determined to eat something normal, so I cooked my usual breakfast of rolled oats in milk with a pinch of kosher salt, four walnuts and two teaspoonfuls of rhubarb compote (remember the rhubarb experiments?). I found even the amount of chewing required for oatmeal and walnuts to be unpleasant so I resolved to have liquid lunches and dinners for another day.

I got hungry again before 11:00 AM — I was up at 5:30 AM and had eaten at around 7:30 and had taken a little walk at 10:00. This time I set to work on a smoothie, consisting of a fresh mango and a container of strawberry yogurt with a pinch of crushed cardamom. Delicious, but after I had had a few sips I realized I was going to get tired of sweets fast.

What to do? I put aside the mango smoothie, rinsed the blender and decided it was time to try gazpacho.

This was kind of a big deal to me because have never liked tomato juice, Snappy-Tom, bloody Mary’s, or V-8 — can you say yuck? So I didn’t look up anybody’s recipe for gazpacho. We had cold soups when I was in France: my favorite one there incorporated melon, bacon and cream: it sounds gross, but it was really good.

Original watercolor painting shows tomatoes, cucumbers, gypsy peppers and lemon.

Greek Salad Vegetables, 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Anyway, then I thought of the delicious liquid that hangs out at the bottom of a bowl of Greek Salad. I decided my best shot at gazpacho was to make a Greek salad and liquify it. I proceeded to chop 2 heirloom tomatoes, 2/3 of a large, peeled Armenian cucumber, 2 Gypsy peppers (ranging from yellow through orange to red). I added 1 large pressed clove of garlic and a small handful of chopped, pitted Greek olives. Then I went out to front yard and picked the ripest Meyer lemon I could find on the tree.

I blended all that up. I tasted it cautiously, with the intention of adding feta cheese. But you know what? It didn’t need the cheese. It didn’t need oil or black pepper or salt or red pepper flakes or red wine vinegar. It didn’t need a single blessed thing. I encourage you to try it, even if you are afraid of all of those red, cold, tomato-based drinks, especially if you like Greek salad.

I had a glass of Greek gazpacho for lunch, followed by the rest of my strawberry-mango smoothie. I have another glass of gazpacho left for later, waiting for me in the refrigerator. And tonight I’ll probably indulge in another coffee shake — the only thing that would make it better would be if I had a stash of malted milk powder, but we haven’t seen it lately at Grocery Outlet.

What are your favorite things to eat when you have dental work? C’mon. ‘Fess up.

Photo of Sharyn Dimmick's illustrated cookbook (aka The Kale Chronicles cookbook)

Photo shows cover of Sharyn Dimmick’s cookbook, Seasonal Recipes with Paintings, developed before the beginning of The Kale Chronicles blog.

Long before The Kale Chronicles blog began I frequently wrote about what I was cooking each week. In 2010 I assembled a limited edition cookbook called “Seasonal Recipes with Paintings,” featuring a recipe for each month of the year with an original painting. I gave these for holiday gifts. For half of 2010 and half of 2011 I lurked about on the A-List Blogging Club, learning about blogging and what I did and did not want to do with my maiden blog.

Then one night I was talking to my friend Neola on the phone and she said, “Why don’t you write about food? Everyone always likes it when you write about food — I even like it and I don’t eat vegetables.” It’s true: whenever I wrote about food my writing friends said things like “You should do a cookbook” and “I can’t read your writing when I am hungry.” Neola suggested that I write about what I got in my produce box each week and what I did with it. Then I happened upon a post called “The Kale Chronicles” on the net and I knew I had my blog title because I frequently struggled with making kale edible, despite the  fact that it had been showing up in my box regularly for the past several years. I painted a “cover painting” for the blog, now in a private collection in Florida and chose an image of it for my gravatar — that little signature picture box you will see in the Comments section. And I decided I would paint for the blog, rather than take photos because I enjoy painting more. The lurking, the phone call, the writing, the produce box, the inspiration for the title, all came together to create The Kale Chronicles, which is a year old today. I thank Neola, the A-List Blogging Club, the practice of writing as taught by Natalie Goldberg and every single one of the 106 subscribers and 15,699 visitors who have taken the time to read the essays, cook the recipes, look at the paintings, buy the music, wish me well when I was ill, encourage me to go on and be or become my friends online and in the real world. I am deeply grateful for your company and support.

One of the things that I am most grateful for in my adult life on a daily basis is that I can eat whatever I like. When I was a child I had to eat everything on every dinner plate no matter how I felt about it — I don’t mean I had to try things or taste them: I had to eat “a reasonable portion.” If I served myself a portion that my father did not deem reasonable, he would serve me twice as much. When I grew up I vowed that I would never eat a long list of foods again: mayonnaise, avocado, English peas, asparagus, tuna, liver, etc. I learned to eat some formerly despised foods, including cauliflower and eggplant by preparing them differently than my mother did. But the big deal is that I get to decide what I eat now.

Some people do not get to decide what they will eat. Some people are poor enough to eat whatever they can get. Others have restrictions due to illness or sensitivities. My friend Lauren, one of my writing pals who studies with Natalie Goldberg and was with me in France, follows a restricted diet due to a poorly understood autoimmune disease. She was happy in France, eating a wide variety of non-chemical, non-genetically modified foods, but then she came back to the United States and was finding it hard to get quick, tasty healthy meals on her table.

And then I had an idea: I had seen her food list in France and my blogging anniversary was coming up. What if I let the food blogging community see her lists of what she could and could not eat and then let bloggers send in recipes for Lauren? So, today, on The Kale Chronicles’ first anniversary I am pleased to announce The Lauren Project, a recipe contest that keeps to the foods Lauren can eat. Below you will find 1) a list of foods Lauren can eat and 2) a list of foods Lauren cannot eat. It is important that you look at both lists when designing your recipes for her because using a restricted food will mean that she cannot try your recipe.

Lauren's chile potholder prototype.

Lauren’s chile pepper pot holder in process — the real thing is way cuter.

Prizes. Yes, there will be prizes. Lauren and I conferred on this. Lauren will award a homemade chili pepper potholder for a winning recipe. I will award 1) a signed Kale Chronicles’ cookbook (made before I started the blog, featuring fourteen recipes and thirteen prints of my watercolor paintings) 2) an original painting (winners’ choice) 3) a “Paris” CD (full-length folk music CD, featuring songs by Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson, Shelley Posen and yours truly, which includes a booklet of original paintings and all of the lyrics to all of the songs). Also, anyone within the U.S. or Canada who enters a recipe in The Lauren Project will be eligible for free shipping for any painting he or she purchases from me in 2012.

Here are the ingredient lists. Please read them carefully.

1)”Yes” Foods:  Grains: White rice, brown rice, red rice, black rice, wild rice, quinoa, cornmeal, millet, gluten-free oats

Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, spinach, lettuce, kale, collards, chard, mustard greens, sorrel, summer squash, winter squash, beans (except pinto and lima beans), peas, corn, asparagus, artichoke, fennel bulb, leek, garlic, shallot, turnip

Fruit: apples (tart varieties only), blackberries, raspberries, boysenberries, currants, lemon, lime

Dairy: eggs, cows’ milk yogurt

Meat and fish: Buffalo, lamb, game meats, beef and chicken in moderation, some fish (see exceptions on other list)

Nuts and legumes: cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, almonds (in moderation), pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, garbanzo beans, black beans, mung beans, cannellini beans, lentils, adzuki beans, red beans, black-eyed peas, white beans

Seasonings: salt, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, anise, rosemary, sage, cloves, vanilla.

Other: olive oil, coconut (including coconut milk), organic non-genetically-modified sugar (must use sparingly). Maple syrup (also use sparingly — Lauren needs to limit her intake of all sugars).

2) “No” Foods: Must avoid — DO NOT USE IN YOUR RECIPES — : grains containing gluten — no wheat, rye, or products made of them. No mushrooms or fungus of any kind. Nothing containing mold — no blue cheeses, moldy cheese rinds, etc. No goat cheese or goat’s milk. No cheddar cheese. No yeast, vinegar, mayonnaise, alcohol, caffeine, honey, agave, cocoa, chocolate or artificial sweeteners. Nothing fermented. No soy or soy products. No basil, oregano, paprika, chili, sesame, cinnamon or mint. No beets, cucumber, eggplant, bell pepper, chili peppers, potato, tomato, cabbage, onion, avocado or tomatillo. No blueberries, strawberries, melon or peaches. No pork, turkey, ostrich, tilapia, shellfish or mollusks (mussels, clams, etc.). No hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, pinto beans or lima beans.

A few words from Lauren:

i am so excited! 

one of my biggest issues is breakfast. i just can’t seem to manage cooking that early in the morning which means i usually just skip breakfast and go straight to lunch (or eat breakfast at 11:30). my favorite breakfast is beef and butternut stew – i do best with heavy protein and very few grains – but i can’t eat it every day. i’m also hungry for one-pot meals that i can cook in bulk and freeze. my last request is for a simple way to get more veggies into my diet. I don’t do well with raw, so things that i can cook quickly with minimal prep (maybe also some good pre-prep tricks for processing veggies when i buy them so they are ready to cook at a moment’s notice). oh, and one more thing… eggs are best cooked in things or scrambled really well. i don’t always do very well with whites. if anyone has questions regarding items not on the lists i’m happy to answer inquiries (mostly they are borderline foods that are okay sometimes or when prepared in certain ways.
thank you so much for doing this and for even thinking of me. it means a lot.

Because we are being kind to Lauren, we ask that you get your grains and organic sugar from reputable gluten-free and non-GMO sources. Organically grown things are less likely to cause less trouble than conventionally grown products. But you can experiment with what you have in your cupboards and then write the recipe for organic, gluten-free products.

Photo of cover of Paris CD by Sharyn Dimmick.

Photo shows front cover of Sharyn Dimmick’s music CD, “Paris.”

Deadline: You must submit your recipe(s) to The Kale Chronicles by midnight Pacific time on August 31st, 2012. You may submit them in the Comments field here, or post them in the Comments field of The Lauren Project page. (Look above and click on it). We will announce the prize winners in a September blog post. You may also post your recipes on your own blogs with the tag “The Lauren Project” and a link to this contest post, but if you don’t send them to me here as well I might miss them (and we wouldn’t want that).

I was working on a recipe for Lauren this week, but then I felt the irresistible urge to go to another music festival in Sonoma County, stay up till 2 AM, flirt with some men, sing some songs. To do that, I had to bake a Gravenstein apple pie, make a Greek salad, cough up twenty bucks, wash my hair and spiff up. I came back tired and happy with my hair full of campfire smoke. I will keep working on the recipe and post it by the deadline, hoping to inspire you to create recipes for Lauren as well, but I might inspire you to run off to folk festivals and flirt with guitar-players. Oops. C’est la vie.

Love,

Sharyn (aka The Kale Chronicler)

List update. We have just added “coriander” to the Yes list as of 8/23/12.

Original painting of roller coaster, park burrito in foreground.

Free-Form Roller Coaster with Burrito. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn DImmick.

Yesterday my best friend and I made an impromptu excursion to the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom amusement park in Vallejo. I have loved roller coasters since my introduction to them at Bay Fair mall at age four: as soon as the ride finished, I apparently looked at my mother, eyes shining, and said “Can we go again?” Better than a merry-go-round, better than a see-saw. My daredevil brother and I would ride anything that moved at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and I have fantasized about making a roller coaster tour of the United States (Shoulda done it when I was younger though — those wooden coasters really shake up the neck these days).

Anyway, just for the record, I rode the Roar (old, wooden, jolting and large), The Boomerang (modern, turns loops, goes forward and backwards), The Medusa (pure fun: classic slope-climbing, twisting, turning, presents illusions of imminent crashes into cross-beams) and Superman, the new coaster. Superman deserves a sentence of its own: its wheels run on the outside of narrow metal tracks, allowing for straight vertical drops, twisting, turning upside down, reversing direction — it does all that at a higher speed than the other coasters, the cars roaring into and off the loading platform. Suzanne joined me on the Roar and the Boomerang. We also road water rides, The Ark, and a 48-year-old elephant. Elephant rides are a lot less smooth than horseback rides because the elephant is so wide: you lurch with each step, listing to one side, feeling the elephant muscles sliding out from under you. I  also rode something called the Voodoo, some rocking, swinging, flipping, scary thing. Not too scary — I like these kinds of rides.

For a speed-loving, gravity-defying adult (The Ark operator broke into a chorus of “When I’m Sixty-Four” when Suzanne and I got into our seats, being the poor judge of age most twenty-somethings are), the challenge of amusement park outings is not the rides or lines, but the food. Six Flags parks have a policy forbidding “outside food.” You cannot even bring in a bottle of water. What this means is that you can stash a picnic lunch in your car all day, get your hand stamped and walk half a mile to retrieve it when you get hungry, or you can bring a twenty-dollar bill and take your chances with park food.

Suzanne did food reconnaissance between rides. She settled on a Panda Express meal of Kung Pao Chicken, Broccoli Beef and noodles — she said she was trying to calculate the most vegetables per meal. I have eaten Panda Express meals at airports and, if you choose carefully, you can get something tasty and a fair amount of vegetable matter, but it will have more sugar, salt and fat than I normally eat in a given day.

I opted for the chicken burrito at Machos Nachos, hoping that I could customize it. While I stood in the long line I noted that the “lime cilantro rice” was white rice with a few green shreds in it and that the cheese was some indeterminate, bland, pale blend. I made my plan, which was to ask for a grilled chicken burrito with pinto beans, shredded lettuce, sour cream and salsa, skipping the rice and cheese. I spied some chocolate milk as I reached the service counter and nabbed it, so as not to pay $3.79 for a bottle of water or to ingest any high fructose corn syrup (aka soft drinks).

The servers accommodated my requests cheerfully, pausing only to attempt to sell me a $14.99 refillable plastic drink cup. At the last minute, I spied some pickled jalapenos and asked that the server add some. That cost me an extra dollar, even though I had forgone the cheese and rice.  My lunch was served in a cardboard carton with a plastic cup of salsa. The burrito was cut in half and wrapped in foil.  Lunch set me back $15.15, for which I could easily get two super-sized burritos and a drink at any respectable taqueria.

How did it taste? It was fine, except for the fact that the grilled chicken was cold — that was a nasty shock: warm beans, cold grilled chicken. Is there some health regulation involved here? The chocolate milk (Berkeley Farms) was sweeter and less-chocolaty than I like, but it did not have corn syrup in it, for which I am grateful.

Let me just say that California is a major agricultural state — it used to provide one-fifth of the produce consumed in the United States when I was a child — and summer crops are in full swing. Suzanne and I saw a stand for fresh roasted corn, but we did not investigate it, having had enough carbs in our lunch already. It cannot be too hard to bring in fresh, seasonal tomatoes and cucumbers for salads, to make fresh fruit cups, to offer slices of watermelon to park visitors, but, of course, it is easier to open cans of nacho cheese sauce, flip pre-made burgers served with mustard and ketchup packets. It doesn’t seem to beyond the scope of food service to operate deep-fryers, producing onion rings and French fries, but God forbid that someone would have to slice lettuce and tomatoes.

Alright. So you don’t go for the food. But you do have to eat while you are there and my days of living on SnoCones, cotton candy and pink popcorn are long over. My favorite amusement park treat is soft serve ice cream made with dried milk or frozen yogurt, but I didn’t see any — it has been replaced by the reprehensible fake food called “Dippin’ Dots,” by Dove Bar stands, and by Coldstone Creamery outlets. I would be interested to hear how any of you other roller coaster aficionados handle amusement park meals — I ate a healthy oatmeal breakfast and said to myself, “It’s just one day.”

Original painting of many-leaved tree with roots.

The Lovely Blog Award. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Last week Shira of In Pursuit of More tagged me in a relay, charging me with writing about hope and John Clinock of artratcafe generously bestowed on me the one lovely blog award. I am honored by the kind intentions of my fellow bloggers and will do my best to live up to their trust.

A major tenet of the two forms of Buddhism I have practiced is the practice of letting go, letting go of outcomes, letting go of expectations, letting go of desires. This does not immediately sound like fun, does it? That’s because we want what we want, even if wanting it is causing our suffering. I am personally undertaking a course of consciously letting go these days because I find myself falling in love. First I fell in love with a city, a country, a way of life, when I went to France. Then I fell in love with my guitar again, starting to play daily after a hiatus of a year.  I fell in love with my room, starting to see ways that it could be improved. Every summer I fall in love with open water swimming when the days get warm enough to swim at the cove down in the Berkeley Marina. And, as you might have expected, I am somewhere on the continuum of falling in love with another person with all of that continuum’s abundant symptoms: sleeplessness, excitement, fear of the unknown. There is pleasure in falling in love and there is pain. There is fantasy and reality, hope and dread. I find that the easiest approach, although it is hard to put into practice, is to treat the entire experience as a practice, to work with whatever it brings to me in any given moment: if I am sleepless, get up and read or write. If I am inspired to write a love song, write a love song. If I am scared, feel the fear.

One aspect of treating life as a continuous practice is that there is no room for hope. Hope causes us to leap into the future, into some better world that is different from what we are experiencing right here, right now. When I am right here, I can respond to my fear or excitement as it occurs; when I am jumping into hope, I lose my opportunity in the present moment. My teacher is fond of saying “The love you want is no other place.” And, I, of course, am hoping that she is wrong, that there will be glorious love in a field of flowers some other day. But I know what she means: our only chance is this moment, what we find there now, where we find ourselves now. We can’t count on having another moment, better or worse.

What we can count on is that things will change: if I am sleepless for three weeks running, during week four I will fall into a deep sleep when the body needs it. The foods of the changing seasons that I highlight on The Kale Chronicles reveal this in a beautiful way: now there are Gravenstein apples and gypsy peppers, summer squash and tomatoes, cucumbers, green figs, the first grapes, blackberries, melons. Soon eggplants will come in and peaches will begin to fade away until next summer brings the new crop. I stir a couple of spoonfuls of apple crisp into my morning oatmeal and plan another round of zucchini-feta pancakes for lunch, topped with Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. Next month, perhaps next week, I will be eating something different. Food becomes more satisfying when you are not reaching for raspberries in December and tomatoes in February, when you eat what there is now, choosing your favorites, perhaps, but working with what you’ve got.

Love cannot resist reaching into the future, imagining scenarios, conjuring kisses out of the air. So let it. Just know that the fantasies, the daydreaming are a current and temporary state: mine them for their images and ideas, laugh at them and at yourself, an ingenue in a fifty-four year-old body. Watch as your mind tosses up Loggins and Messina songs (Where did they come from?). Sing them if you want — no one needs to know.

What do I hope for? I hope for the courage to face my life, the courage to be in whatever state I find myself in until that state changes. I hope for the courage to respond authentically to whatever I need to respond to. Today I thank Shira (who is in La Belle France) for encouraging me to meditate on hope and John who says lovely things about The Kale Chronicles. With my one-year blogging anniversary coming up fast (next Sunday) I tell you that I had some hopes for the blog: I hoped a few people would like my recipes. I hoped my writing would acquire a wider platform. I hoped a few people would buy my paintings and maybe even my music CDs. I hoped that I would find some writing students who want to do writing practice. Some of that has happened. But writing The Kale Chronicles has become much bigger than that because I have discovered an entire community of like-minded souls, people who care passionately about what they eat and where it comes from, but, beyond that, care about how they live their lives, treating each other with kindness and humor. I started a blog and found myself in a whole new community. I am made welcome here as I am made welcome in my communities of writers and singers and artists. And I will be calling on you soon with a special anniversary challenge, The Lauren Project — I know you will step up to the plate. There will be prizes and glory and the opportunity to help a lovely young woman find more joy in the kitchen.

Original watercolor painting shows ingredients for cucumber raita.

Cucumber Raita. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

In the meantime — back to the present — a simple raita recipe for cucumber season, courtesy of Padma, my Indian roommate in college, who taught me how to make it. The secret to good raita is no shortcuts — you must cut the cucumber into spears and de-seed it with a knife and then you must slice each spear into small bits with the knife — if you grate it, the cucumber turns watery. Raita is all about texture. So set aside an hour to make raita — you won’t be sorry.

Cucumber Raita

Peel 2 cucumbers (or use an Armenian cucumber, which requires no peeling). Slice each cucumber lengthwise into quarters, sixths or eighths, depending on its circumference. Remove all of the seeds. Slice the now seedless cucumber into small pieces and put in a steel or Pyrex bowl. Grate 1/2 of a fresh coconut into cucumbers. Add one bunch chopped cilantro.

Heat a small amount of peanut oil in a small skillet. When oil shimmers, add 1 tsp of mustard seeds and 1 dry red chile. Fry for a few seconds until mustard seeds pop and add chile, mustard seeds and oil to cucumber mixture to season it. Add plain yogurt and salt to taste, making it as creamy or as light as you like.

Food notes: You can, of course, make this with dessicated coconut — it’s just not as good as when you use fresh. Make sure your coconut is unsweetened — sugar in raita is gross. You can eat the raita as a salad, as a side dish with an Indian meal, or simply mixed with rice.

One Lovely Blog Award: I’m supposed to give you seven random facts about me. Here goes:

1) I’ve written two new songs in the last week, “Ingenue” and “The Werewolf.”

2) I like to eat pie for breakfast, although I usually eat oatmeal or polenta cooked with milk and sweetened with seasonal fruit.

3) My favorite color is kelly green. I also like lavender and blue, crimson, claret, raspberry, all balanced with plenty of black.

4) I am a Pisces, Sagittarius rising, Gemini moon, Venus in Aquarius.

5) Although I am a folk musician and will always be one, I have always (always?) had a fantasy of singing with a rock band.

6) If I could only eat one type of food for the rest of my life, it would be Indian food.

7) This bull needs a big meadow: don’t put me in a pigeonhole — I won’t fit.

Now I need to pass the award to fifteen of you. In no particular order

1) Celi at The Kitchen’s Garden — Celi writes about sustainable farming, a subject dear to my heart. Beyond that she is fun and knows how to tell a story.

2) Shira at In Pursuit of More has endeared herself to me by her generosity and her commitment to simplicity.

3) The Caerus blog, a brand new blog, showcases the artful thoughts of Suzanne Edminster, Karina Nishi Marcus and a growing cadre of guest artists. Look for it on Thursday mornings and go back to read the back archives.

4) The Literary Jukebox. I found this one this morning. Maria Popova posts a literary quote and a song everyday. Great for literate music junkies.

5) Debra at Breathe Lighter. Debra shares all aspects of her life in San Gabriel — recipes, photographs, pet stories, field trips, music, all accompanied by her enthusiasm for life.

6) John at artratcafe provides an art education by featuring the work of many diverse artists. He writes poems, too. Foodies will like his brilliant posts on food that combine illustrations, literary quotes and recipes with a certain je ne sais quoi.

7) John at From the Bartolini Kitchens writes an ongoing love letter to his Italian family and the foods of his culture. Want to make cheese or fresh pasta? See John.

8) Eva Taylor of Kitchen Inspirations  knows how to put it all together: the dress, the shoes, the place settings. Lately she has been experimenting with healthier, lighter versions of favorite foods, keeping to a low-carb diet.

9) Betsy of Bits and Breadcrumbs cooks food I want to eat — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

10) My writing pal Bob Chrisman has branched out and now writes a memoir-type blog called swqm60. Check it out.

11) Jane Robinson at Art Epicurean posts abstract paintings and encouragement for creative types.

12) My old friend Maura writes theonceandfutureemptynest about her life with husband, children, grandchildren, parents, dogs, running shoes, kayaks and literary ambition. A graceful writer, her thoughts will resonate with the sandwich generation.

13) I’ve already sent you to look at Deby Dixon’s photos on Deby Dixon Photography.  Have another look, please.

14) Can’t leave out my pal, Movita Beaucoup! This chick is funny. And an incredible baker when she leaves off the Crisco frosting. And someday she is going to buy a painting (but you could beat her to it and buy up all of the best ones first. Just saying…)

15) Your nominee. Please use the comments to tell us all about the blogs you love the most, the ones you open first everyday, among other things. We have free speech here.

Original painting shows cherry plums, plum cake, plum caramel.

Plum Cake. 9″ x 12″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Sometimes circumstances conspire to create an end. Today is my sister-in-law’s birthday and she is coming over to go out to lunch with my mother in Walnut Creek. Barbara likes plum cake. I had half a colander of fresh cherry plums on the counter and a jar of wild plum jam that I needed to use. I had just read David Lebovitz’s blogs on butterscotch sauce (which I am dying to make) and peach cobbler, plus a post on plum cake made with cornmeal from Two Peas and Their Pod. Barbara loves whipped cream. So what would I do? I would make the cornmeal-plum cake, adapting it a little to give it a more butterscotch-y flavor by substituting some evaporated cane juice for half a cup of the white sugar and I would use the jam to make some plum caramel to serve with the cake.

For the plum caramel, I followed a recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts, except, instead of cooking fresh plums, I just added plum jam (aka cooked plums) to the caramel base, cooked it for a few minutes and strained the results. You can make simple caramel by putting 1/2 cup of sugar in a saucepan with 2 Tbsp water and melting it over high heat, shaking the pan every now and then (do not stir). When it takes on a pale golden color, remove it from the heat and carefully add 1/4 cup water, not getting too close to the pan. You can stir now. If you are adding fruit puree to the caramel, add it now (this works with any berry or stone fruit), add it now and cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Strain out any solids or seeds that have slipped through, put your caramel in a clean jar in the fridge and you are good to go for later. Fruit caramel is less acidic and more complex than simple purees and is perhaps my favorite recipe I learned from this cookbook.

Now the cake. You can see the original here. Since cakes are not my favorite things I followed the recipe closely with just two substitutions (okay, three). First, I had medium eggs rather than large — they were organic and brown — so I threw in an extra one. Then, I had lots of cherry plums rather than the four or five large plums cited in the recipe. I already told you I put in 1/2 cup of evaporated cane juice for 1/2 cup of white sugar. Oops. Um. Four substitutions. I substituted a quarter cup of sour half and half for some of the buttermilk because, you know, we had it, and it is similar, but richer.

So, this is what you get when you put together all of those substitutions with the original recipe:

Barbara’s Birthday Plum Cake

Pit the cherry plums you are using (Or pit and chop larger plums into bite-sized pieces). Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350.

Measure 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour. After measuring sift it into a small mixing bowl.

Whisk into flour 1 tsp baking powder,

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup corn meal

Then soften 1 and 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (12 Tbsp)

Cream butter with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice until light and fluffy.

Add — one at a time — 4 medium eggs (or use three large), incorporating egg fully before next addition.

Measure 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 cup sour cream or sour half and half, plus 1/4 cup buttermilk, which is what I used).

Alternate flour mixture and buttermilk, in increments, starting and ending with flour.

Butter and flour a cake pan. I used a bundt pan because it looks festive.

Scrape half of the batter into the pan. Scatter plums over batter. Top with remaining batter.

Bake for fifty minutes. Test to see if it is done. In a bundt pan, my cake took one hour and five minutes to show some browning on the top and to pass the toothpick test.

Cool by hanging bundt pan on a glass bottle. This is fun. Trust me.

Serve with barely sweetened whipped cream and a pool or drizzle of plum caramel. If you are my sister-in-law, add more whipped cream. Enjoy.

Food Notes: Keeping to the art of substitution, you can use any sour thing for the buttermilk — yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, even sour milk. You can make the cake as originally suggested with all white sugar, or use all evaporated cane juice. You can probably use some other fruit for the plums, although the plums (with skins) provide a beautiful color and a nice tartness that plays well against the cake. The whipped cream provides yet another contrast (and besides, we like whipped cream when we are celebrating).

Watermelon pickle: I had a problem with the watermelon pickle — it wasn’t the recipe — it was me. so I’ll be trying it again with this week’s watermelon and report back on that later.

Photo of ripe red watermelon in steel bowl.

The one that got away — part of the watermelon that rolled off the counter.

On Wednesday I received a small watermelon from my Riverdog Farm CSA. Grown eighty-some miles away in summer heat, the melon was sweet and pink — I know because five minutes after I set it on the counter I heard an odd thunk: it had rolled off the counter and split open when it hit the floor. There would be no saving this watermelon for later. I picked it up, washed it off and tasted it. Good. Then I set it aside for a few days as the temperature took a nosedive and the fog rolled in to stay — who wants to eat watermelon in fifty-degree weather?

Fortunately, I had a plan for some of this watermelon: when I bought my Nesco American Harvest dehydrator the booklet contained this sentence: “Cantaloupe and watermelon slices become candy-like when dried.” Candy-like. Hmm. Then Krista and Jess reported on their dried watermelon chips. I knew I had to try it when watermelon came along again.

I spent an hour in the kitchen this morning, cutting 1/2 inch thick slices of watermelon, removing the seeds and cutting the rind away. The easiest way to do this proved to be to cut a slice and then slice through the melon perpendicular to the rind to produce small batons or wedges and then to cut the rind away. After half an hour of this, I noticed that I was developing a neat pile of watermelon rind.

Now, I am one of those people that, if you give her a slice of watermelon, will eat deep into the rind. Watermelon rind reminds me of cucumber with no bitterness and no seeds. And yet, because Mom doesn’t can, I have never made watermelon rind pickles. I called her into the kitchen and asked, “Back in the day when you ate watermelon pickles, were they sweet or sour?”

“Not sweet enough,” she said.

“Sort of like bread and butter pickles?” I asked.

“Not as good,” she said.

She told me to look in the old Mowequa cookbook, but I headed upstairs to check my saved blogs file. Not too far into the seven hundred recipes I had saved was Natalie’s recipe for watermelon pickle. I have started to make it and will report on the results on Wednesday.

Painting depicts apple pie ingredients: flour, butter, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg.

Gravenstein Apple Pie 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn DImmick

Things to make right now: Gravenstein apples are in! Ann and I picked a big bowlful of them from a yard in Berkeley and Mom made our first Gravenstein apple pie of 2012. I cannot say enough good things about this pie so if you are lucky enough to live within range of Gravenstein apples, by all means, get some. Bernie at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market has them right now if you don’t want to forage for them, or if you need more. I also made zucchini-feta pancakes this week. This time I threw a little leftover pesto with the fresh herbs and feta — it’s a delicious variation. As I write this I have another peach and plum crisp in the oven, this time made with white and yellow peaches and little cherry plums from someone’s backyard tree. And two days ago I made this tomato tart, again with lemon cheese, but with brown mustard and shredded tarragon. And of course this is a good time for Deborah’s somewhat famous tomato platter or Greek salad, with tomatoes and cucumbers in the market and peppers beginning to come in.

Photo of watermelon candy, aka dried watermelon

Watermelon candy in the dehydrator.

The watermelon candy is small and sticky — it reminds me of dried tomatoes, only sweeter and pinker. I was catching up on my sleep today after nearly a month of periodic insomnia so I didn’t take the time to do a new painting. Instead I offer you photos of watermelon and watermelon candy.

I have not been doing so well with the Daring Bakers’ challenges lately. I started the June challenge on the morning of the day I was leaving for France. Everything went wrong, from the lemon curd having gone missing to the cake rising unevenly and sticking to the barrier. I left the curd, the cake, and the white “chocolate plastique” in the refrigerator and fled to Europe. I did write about the cake, hoping to post the blog from Paris, but that proved impossible and by the time I got back I didn’t feel like posting the sad story anymore: the upshot was that my Mom assembled the cake and it tasted fine, but it did not look much like a checkerboard because the cake batter was yellowish and my flavors were lemon and coconut. C’est la vie.

Today I am finishing the July challenge on August 1st. Mea culpa. It has been a busy month with new things to do. Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers. Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged us to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

Original painting shows plate of two kinds of crackers, plus ingredients.

Crackers. 6″x 6″ Watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

I have a house guest at present who cannot eat gluten or cow’s milk-based dairy projects. Because the July challenge required us to make two kinds of crackers using two different methods I decided I would try to make gluten and dairy-free crackers for Ann, using the Seedy Crackers as a basic recipe and substituting a garbanzo and fava bean flour from Bob’s Red Mill for the cited wheat flour.

Often when I have tried to make gluten-free baked goods it has been difficult to get them to stick together. Gluten-free cooks buy xanthan gum or gluten-free baking mix to get around this problem, but I use what I have, so I just measured the garbanzo flour cup for cup as I would wheat flour, measured in the poppy and sesame seeds, added the salt. For oil I used a French olive oil that has been infused with hot red pepper. So far so good.

When I added the water, a texture problem appeared: the dough was not crumbly as I had feared — it was wet and sticky. Oops. I covered it with a tea towel and let it sit for fifteen minutes as advised. When it did not firm up, I added another 1/3 cup of garbanzo flour and poured at least half a cup of garbanzo flour onto my cutting board.

I was able to roll and cut the first batch, barely. The dough stuck to the rolling pin. For batches two and three I ended up just patting the dough as thinly as I could before cutting it with a fluted cutter.

The crackers began to smell sweet and I opened the oven. I baked three batches and let them cool. Ann said they smelled really good. Then she tasted one. She really likes them and asked for the recipe (below). I was unhappy that the dough was so wet and that I couldn’t roll them thinly and get them super crisp, but the flavor is fine.

After dispensing with cracker trial number one I went to the all-dairy, all-gluten, all-butter recipe for cheese crackers made in a log and sliced. Because my iconic cracker of addiction is the commercial Cheez-It, I modified the recipe to eliminate walnuts and rosemary, flavoring the crackers with cheddar cheese, Pecorino Romano, paprika and a little nutmeg instead. I shaped them into logs and rolled them up in wax paper to chill for at least an hour.

We could just call these things “heart-attack-on-a-plate” with their stick of butter and ten ounces of cheese and salt. I did sub in some whole wheat pastry flour, although I used mostly white flour as called for. They are utterly delicious, thin, crispy, buttery and cheesy.

Without further ado, the recipes I used:

Gluten-Free Seed Crackers

Whisk together:

2 and 1/3 cups garbanzo and fava bean flour (gluten-free)

1/3 cup sesame seeds

1/3 cup poppy seeds

1 scant tsp kosher salt

1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder.

Stir in 3 Tbsp olive oil*

Add about 3/4 cup water, slowly.

You will want to add the water slowly — in my experience, the dough was too wet, making it hard to roll and cut.

Rest dough for fifteen minutes, covered with a towel. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425.

Flour a board with another half cup of garbanzo flour or more. Take 1/3 of the dough. Either use a rolling pin (it will stick) or flatten the dough with your hands. Cut out with a biscuit cutter. Place on baking sheets and into oven.

The recipe I started from recommends baking them for seven minutes, flipping them over, giving them seven minutes more and then an extra five minutes. I did not do that. I did turn them and checked occasionally to see if they were done, mostly by the smell.

* I used an olive oil from France that has been infused with red peppers, but you can use any you like.

Fully-Leaded Cheese Crackers (All the butter, cheese and salt)

Soften 1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)

Grate 8 ounces of good quality Cheddar cheese, plus an ounce of Pecorino Romano

Combine butter and cheese in a bowl (I used my hands).

Add 1 cup unbleached flour, 3 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour, 1 scant tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp paprika and grated fresh nutmeg to taste.

Knead to combine and form into logs. Wrap logs in waxed paper and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 325.

Slice logs thinly and place slices on baking sheets (there is so much fat in here that I did not bother to grease them). Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 170 other followers