Archives for the month of: September, 2012

It is definitely fall: shorter days, cooler nights, a brisk crispness in the air. Last night there were drifting wisps of fog and a big moon, but the air was balmy as I walked my two miles home from the closest bus stop. I got up early this morning — it doesn’t matter how late I get to sleep, I will wake in the morning when the light changes — wrote for half an hour and checked emails. Then I got back under a big pile of autumn covers, talked to Johnny on the phone for awhile.

Original watercolor painting shows gingerbread waffle and ingredients.

Gingerbread Waffle. 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil and gouache on paper. Sharyn Dimmick

When I got up the second time, it was time to make breakfast and the first thing I thought of was gingerbread waffles. Fall flavors have been creeping into our menus — we had our first pumpkin pie of the season and a butternut squash waits on the counter for me to make my signature squash soup with ginger and thyme. I keep a big binder of clipped recipes and turned to the waffle section, taking out the plastic-enclosed recipe.

I often don’t include anything extra in news clippings, saving space and just keeping the recipe, but at the bottom of the column in tiny type this clipping says “Adapted from ‘Waffles from Morning to Midnight’ by Dorie Greenspan.” I present to you an adaptation of an adaptation: I couldn’t make this recipe without taking the chance to throw in half a cup of my neglected sourdough starter and without incorporating a quarter cup of whole wheat flour for depth, texture and health benefits — surely there despite the half stick of melted butter, three-quarters cup of brown sugar and the maple syrup I drizzled on top. I also doubled the eggs.

Sourdough Gingerbread Waffles.

Measure into a large bowl:

1/2 cup sourdough starter

1/4 cup molasses

1 cup buttermilk

Separate four large eggs, putting the whites into a small mixing bowl and adding the yoiks to the buttermilk-molasses-starter mixture.

Melt 1/2 stick butter (I used salted and omitted salt in the recipe. If you use unsalted you may want to add 1/4 tsp kosher salt to your dry ingredients)

Beat the egg whites until stiff.

Then beat the molasses mixture just until combined.

Into a separate bowl, measure and whisk together:

1 and 3/4 cups unbleached flour

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 Tbsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1 Tbsp ground ginger

3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Fold dry ingredients into molasses mixture until just blended.

Add melted butter and stir until combined

Fold in egg whites — batter should be streaky, not uniform in color.

Preheat waffle iron and prepare toppings: I melted some butter, sliced some peaches and heated some maple syrup. Tomorrow I will probably serve them with blackberries, fresh peaches and figs. Cook waffles according to the directions for your waffle maker.

Food notes: if you don’t have sourdough starter, omit it and increase buttermilk to 1 and 1/2 cups. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use yogurt instead, or use regular sweet milk and eliminate the baking soda in the recipe. Or you can use 1/4 tsp of lemon juice or vinegar to sour your milk and proceed with the recipe as written. If you have whole wheat pastry flour you can substitute 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour for 1 cup of unbleached flour: in that case, eliminate the regular whole wheat flour and use 1 cup of unbleached and 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour. Serve waffles with whatever floats your boat: bacon, pears and blueberries (a la local restaurant La Note), fruit syrup, jam, cinnamon sugar, pecans and whipped cream.

Peace sign with cookie border, containing salmon, zucchini and lentils.

Peace Sign. 6″ x 6″ Watercolor Pencil on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Dear Friends,

Lauren and I promised we would announce the winners of The Lauren Project recipe contest in September. Without further ado, your winners are:

First Prize: To Babu Srinivasan for his salmon with turmeric

Second Prize: To Lynn for zucchini roasted with shallots.

Third Prize: To Suzanne for her lentil potage.

Honorable Mention to Will for his astounding cookies. Lauren will be sending him one of her chili pepper oven mitts.

At this writing, Babu has chosen the cookbook as his prize, Lynn has chosen a Paris CD and we have not heard from Suzanne yet.

Lauren says:

top three in order:
babu’s salmon
lynn’s zucchini
suzanne’s lentils
honorable mention:
will’s cookies
everything has been delicious, but these were not only delicious, they were deliciously easy to make and had only a few ingredients all of which i regularly have on hand. there are still a few i haven’t made yet mostly because i found them intimidating, but i plan to keep working through the list and get to the more complicated dishes when i have more time. thank you so much for doing this. i am so happy to have at least five dishes i will be adding to my regular food rotation

Sharyn says: Thank you to everyone who participated in the recipe contest. We appreciate everyone’s attempts to follow Lauren’s dietary guidelines. I know she has cooked several dishes from the recipes submitted and posted photos of them on Facebook. We are happy to be awarding the first prizes in the history of “The Kale Chronicles.”

Please remember that even if you did not win you will be eligible for free shipping of any Kale Chronicles’ painting should you choose to purchase one or more before midnight December 31st. In addition, if you purchase a painting before October 15th, I will take ten percent off the purchase price and if you purchase a painting before November 1st I will take five percent off the purchase price. These are the lowest prices ever offered for my paintings so take advantage of them while you can. You can also buy your own copy of my Paris CD, using this link: http://cdbaby.com/cd/SharynDimmick I appreciate each and every sale: they help me survive as an independent artist and also help fund new work (I have a second CD in progress).

To look at the winning recipes and other submissions, please visit The Lauren Project page. Please feel free to submit additional recipes for Lauren there any time: there is no deadline on generosity.

Friday morning I was invited to a Hobbits’ second breakfast in Piedmont. I saw no reason not to go. Second breakfasts work for me because I get up before dawn most days and can eat my first breakfast before 6:00 AM — by 11:00 I might be a little hungry, by noon I have to eat again. Plus, I love breakfast food: eggs, waffles, pancakes, bacon, cinnamon rolls, leftover pie, home fries, fresh fruit.

Original ink and watercolor painting shows people around breakfast table.

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

Unlike most of the events I go to this breakfast was not billed as a potluck, but I asked Vicki if she wanted me to bring something and she said I could if I wanted to. I had been eying a recipe for Brown Sugar Pecan Pear Muffins and had actually printed it out. This morning I took it into the kitchen with me. I peeled and chopped six small pears and then I started messing around: I saw the two large peaches on the counter that needed to be eaten and thought, “Why not put them in with the pears?”

The original recipe calls for a cup of canola oil. I do not like canola oil and I do not like recipes that call for a cup of oil either (a cup of butter is different, somehow, and I use a cup of vegetable shortening in my pie crust, which is probably worse for you, but a cup of oil produces an oily texture in quick breads). I substituted a cup of plain yogurt, raising the protein content of the muffins.

Then I looked at the 3 cups of all-purpose flour. Um. Too gummy and too white for me. I am out of whole wheat pastry flour, but I need to healthy this up a bit, especially since I am going to indulge in the entire cup of brown sugar it the recipe calls for. So, I used a cup and a half of unbleached flour, a half cup of regular whole wheat flour and a cup of rolled oats.

After that I followed the recipe as written, except I don’t use non-stick cooking spray, so I slathered the muffin tins with Crisco, and I didn’t have any pecans so I substituted pistachios.

Here is the modified recipe:
Peach-Pear-Pistachio Muffins with Brown Sugar
Preheat oven to 350.

Grease 2 12-cup muffin tins.

Peel and dice 6 small pears or four large ones.

Dice two large peaches and combine with pears

Shell 1 cup pistachios and add to fruit.

Beat 2 large eggs with 1 cup of plain yogurt, 1 cup packed brown sugar and 1 cup of oats (quick or rolled oats are fine, instant not), plus 1 tsp vanilla.

Measure 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus 1/2 cup whole wheat flour.

Add 2 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp baking powder to flour mixture, along with a touch of salt. Add 1 and 1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp cardamom.

Fold liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. Fold in fruit and nuts.

Spoon muffin batter into greased muffin cups

Bake for 25-30 minutes, depending on how dark you like your muffins to be.

Makes 2 dozen muffins.

Food Notes: These muffins are sweeter than my standard multi-grain muffins, but they are not so sweet that they make your teeth hurt. They make a nice treat on cooler mornings and evenings. When the cardamom hits the liquids it sends up a glorious aroma — it’s worth making them once for that alone. If pears and peaches are long gone in your neck of the woods, try using apples and fresh figs, or use dried fruit that has been soaked in a little rum or juice to re-hydrate.

I took half of these muffins to the Hobbits’ Second Breakfast, a delightful affair where we ate bacon, sauteed mushrooms, shirred eggs made in muffin tins, toast, butter, lemon curd, artisan jams, pumpkin bread and pots of black tea, with chamomile for those that don’t indulge. The table was all set with matching place settings, flowers from someone’s garden, thick, white woven napkins. We spent the meal largely discussing singing and cooking — what’s not to like?

I am still working my way through the pears from my friend Margit’s tree. Because we picked them green and I stored them in the back of our refrigerator in a paper bag they have been holding up nicely.

Original watercolor shows salad of pears, arugula, cranberries, feta, pistachios.

Pear-Arugula Salad. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Two nights ago I wanted a light dinner. I had some arugula I needed to use. I had pears. I decided to make a salad. I washed and spun the arugula in the salad spinner. Then I went out to pick a ripe Meyer lemon from our tree. Returning to the cutting board, I squeezed both halves of the lemon into the bowl and then cored and sliced three greenish pears lengthwise, leaving the skins on. I tossed the pears with the lemon juice to prevent browning. Then I added a small splash of olive oil and tossed the arugula and pears again. Next I shelled some pistachios and grabbed a handful of dried cranberries.

I was thinking of shaving Parmesan or Pecorino Romano into the salad, but feta won out: I crumbled a small block of feta over the greens, fruit and nuts, then tasted to adjust seasoning. The only thing it needed was a bit of honey to bring out the sweetness. I drizzled a little on top and tossed the salad again.

This is a wonderful salad for the first few days of fall weather when it is sometimes warm enough to eat a salad for lunch or dinner. I served it again last night as a side salad with a dinner of turkey chili, cornbread and Gravenstein apple pie. The second time I made it I used roasted pistachio oil instead of olive oil. By the time I cooked and ate I didn’t have enough time to finish my painting, which is why this post is a day later than usual.

If you should live somewhere where pears and arugula are available in late November, this would make a lovely Thanksgiving Day salad. If not, make it and eat it while pears and arugula are to be had.

“Some of the time, not all the time” says the Dylan song “Hanging Out the Clothes.” That’s how I feel about cooking. Sometimes I love thinking about cooking, perusing cookbooks, thinking about flavors. Sometimes I am inspired by a particular ingredient from the Farmers’ Market down in Berkeley or a glut of foraged blackberries. Sometimes I just want to put the closest thing in my mouth and be done with it.

Original watercolor painting shows Greek-style salmon and ingredients.

Greek Salmon. 12″ x 12″ gouache on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

There is a special pleasure in cooking for someone when you want to please them. Our most recent foray to Canned Foods Grocery Outlet fetched us some wild caught salmon from Washington State. Standing over the freezer case, eying the fish, I ask Mom, “Does Bryan eat salmon?”

“I think so,” she says. “Does Johnny eat salmon?”

It is rare for Mom to bring up Johnny in conversation. He’s only been over to the house in the past three weeks: although I’ve known him much longer than that, he never had reason to come up here before last month.

“I don’t know,”I said. “I’ll ask him when I see him.” In the meantime we bought the salmon filet, enough to feed at least four people.

Johnny and I schedule our visits in advance. We live a good distance away from one another and public transit schedules are not conducive to spontaneous trips to see one another, so, instead of dropping in on each other all of the time we schedule visits and try to spend a significant amount of time together when we get together.

We bought the salmon on Tuesday and Johnny was coming over on Thursday night. When he told me he liked salmon, I made a dinner plan: I would make the pear tart tatin that he once wanted to elope with (He’s mine, pear tart!), microwave some fresh green beans, bake some red potatoes and cook the salmon in foil topped with seasonal vegetables: cherry tomatoes, orange bell peppers, kalamata olives, basil, a little feta — basically a Greek salad without cucumber thrown on top of the fish. Everything except the green beans could cook in the same oven and, with a little prep work I could have an easy dinner that was festive and delicious.

In the morning I made pie crust for the tart and put it to chill. In the afternoon I took the salmon out to thaw, laid it on foil on baking sheet and oiled the skin-side with a little olive oil. Then I went to work on the pears, peeling, coring, slicing, putting them to soak in a little dark rum, sprinkling ground cardamom over them. I made the caramel in a cast iron skillet, arranged the pears on top, rolled out the top crust. I preheated the oven, adding a handful of potatoes on the side. Then I snapped beans and cut up half a basket of red cherry tomatoes, and a large orange bell pepper. I tore up a few basil leaves, plucked a handful of pitted olives from a jar, diced a small cube of feta and I was ready to go, scattering all that on top of the salmon. The minute Johnny arrived I put the tart and the salmon in the hot oven and told him we had a half hour to ourselves before I had to mess with food again.

I can’t remember what we did for that half hour. He might. He set table for me in the dining room because the breakfast room was a mess and I did not want to excavate the table. I had him test the fish a few times because I don’t cook salmon often. All told, we cooked the fish for perhaps 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Brother Bryan arrived home just as it came out and we all sat down to eat.

Johnny and I liked the salmon so much that I scrambled the leftovers for breakfast with eggs and we ate them with the last slices of the pear tart tatin — have to get rid of that stuff quickly since Johnny has threatened to run off with it.

In the early fall when tomatoes are piling up on the counter and the temperature dips lower a few times a day, I naturally turn to making pizza. If I put together the sourdough crust first thing in the morning I can have three pizzas ready by 6:30 or 7:00 PM in the evening. I keep a jar of sourdough starter in my refrigerator in a big glass former pickle jar. I use to to make biscuits and waffles and occasional batches of wolverine rolls, but my favorite thing to do with it is make pizza dough. If you use your sourdough starter at least once a week it stays in good shape to help your dough rise.

Original  unfinished watercolor painting of pizza with fresh figs.

Fig Pizza. 12″ x 12″ gouache on paper (unfinished painting). Sharyn Dimmick.

Because I bought a lot of figs on Saturday I pretty much knew I was going to make a fig pizza, or a pizza featuring figs and other seasonal ingredients. I had some corn, some fresh arugula, lots of red Jimmy Nardello peppers from last week’s farm box. This seemed like a good combination to me: a little sweetness from the corn, a little bitter and peppery green taste from the arugula, a little savoriness from the pepper, more sweetness from figs that would roast in the oven as the pizza cooked, the contrasting flavor and texture of mozzarella and Pecorino cheese.

Because my go-to pizza recipe makes three pizzas, I asked my family what they would like on their pizza. Bryan voted for a pesto pizza with fresh spinach. Mom likes more traditional pizzas: for her I used a spoonful or two of Prego, topped with a little mozzarella, a little Pecorino, some feta. She liked it but said that it tasted blah after the rich taste of the pesto pizza.

The fig pizza? I loved it. I loved having all those flavors going on in one slice of pizza. Was it an entree? Was it a dessert? Was it breakfast? It can be all of that. I have eaten it for dinner, for lunch, for a late-night after-rehearsal gotta-have-it meal. I ate the last of it for breakfast this morning. If there had been more I would have eaten another piece or two.

If you want to make this seasonal pizza, you will need sourdough starter. You can stir up sourdough starter in a few days, so if you do it today you might be able to make pizza by the weekend. The recipe that I got from the Cheese Board Collective Works calls for  3 and 1/4 cups bread flour, 1/2 cup of starter, 1 and 1/2 cups water and 1 and 1/2 tsp salt. I prefer to use 1 cup of whole wheat flour in the flour mixture (I sometimes feed my starter some whole wheat flour as well) and a scant tsp of kosher salt. Because I don’t usually have bread flour on hand I have to add extra unbleached flour, sometimes several times, but eventually the dough comes together.

You can also make this with any other pizza crust that you like. For more details about working with sourdough pizza dough, see my previous post, “How to make thin-crust sourdough pizza.” Once you have your pizza dough risen, place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Then you need to divide the dough into three pieces, cover it and let it rest for twenty minutes. I form mine into a baguette-shaped log and cut it into even thirds, then shape each third into a small round.

While the rounds rest covered on the cutting board I grate or chop cheese. Frozen mozzarella slices more easily that it grates and the cheese gets crumbly from its time in the freezer. I grate hard cheeses, including Parmesan and Pecorino with a microplane. I mix the pound of mozzarella with a quarter to half-cup of grated cheese.

Taking one round at a time I make typing motions with my fingers, dimpling the dough. I rub my pizza pans with a little olive oil and transfer one round to each pan. Then I reach my wrists under the dough, pulling and stretching until I get a ten-inch circle.

Then it is time to assemble the pizza. I used green figs with pink centers, preparing them by cutting them into quarters and removing the stems. I started by putting a layer of the mixed cheese on top of the pizza crust. Then I cut the corn directly from the cob onto the cheese layer, sprinkled the arugula over it. I topped it with another layer of cheese, dotted with quartered figs.

I bake the pizza for about ten minutes on the top rack of the oven, then for ten minutes on the middle rack. Then I use a peel to transfer it to the hot pizza stone for its final ten minutes. I made the other kinds of pizza at the same time, rotating them through the oven racks as needed.

If you pizza as much as I do, make a recipe of sourdough pizza dough and have yourself a pizza party. If you can’t abide figs in pizza, top it with something else. I can’t get enough fresh figs in their short season.

Painting Note: The light faded from the sky before I had time to finish this painting. I decided I could show you a work in progress rather than a finished painting. When I finish it I’ll update the post. — Sharyn

My heart is not with food blogging these days. I eat, of course. This morning I stirred up some sourdough waffles with a side of bacon and a bowl of fresh peaches to feed my guitar-player and my mother and myself. I made him coffee, too, which he drinks black. Our routine is that he drinks what anyone has left in the carafe when we first come down to the kitchen in the morning and then I make him some more as needed, before or after I make my own single cup of decaf. For lunch I just ate a slice of a tomato tart I made yesterday by cooking up cornmeal mush, spreading it in a tart pan and layering on sliced fresh tomatoes, fresh corn, arugula and two kinds of cheese. The tart was okay, but nowhere near as good as David Lebowitz’s tomato tart that I discovered last year. With that I had a piece of cocoa cake with salted caramel frosting that came home with me from yesterday’s music potluck. The cake is a dense, moist, not-too-sweet cake with a little cinnamon in the batter; the salted caramel icing you could eat with a spoon and not miss the cake.

When Johnny left here this morning at 10:30 I came back and lay on my bed under the top cover, listening to music, sometimes dozing. I am lucky to be able to spend my Sundays dozing since he and I are in the infamous sleep-deprived state of early love, when we can think of a million things to say to each other, a million songs to sing and, as the song says, “better things to do, maybe nothing to say,”* when we aren’t running our mouths. He, the poor man, has to work, has to function, will be up in front of a crowd singing at an Obama benefit this evening in Oakland. The adrenaline of performing will get him through. I’ll be there to cheer him on and to hang around at the show, but all I have to do is get my body on a bus or two and manage not to fall asleep while staring out the window or listening to what Johnny calls the “internal jukebox,” the songs that play in my head on a constant basis: when I hit the kitchen to make waffle batter this morning, my mind tossed up Tommy Thompson’s “Hot Buttered Rum”: “In the dead of winter when the silent snowbirds come/You’re my sweet maple sugar, honey, hot buttered rum.”

We are far from the dead of winter at the moment, but it is solidly fall in the Bay Area with leaves turning on the liquid ambar trees, with blue sky days and the light fading just after seven in the evening. Mornings and afternoons can be brief and warm when our trademark fog is not taking a holiday. Clothes are negotiations between long-sleeved cotton T-shirts and fleece vests, with an extra layer tucked into a backpack for turning weather: yesterday I shucked both my beret and my fleece vest by the time I walked the half-dozen plus blocks to a house on a  hidden lane in Bernal Heights in San Francisco. Johnny met me at the door and ushered me to a seat at the table where he sat with his red Telecaster and a small amp. We debuted a new song called “Clueless,” that I wrote about all of the missteps and misunderstandings of our courtship. We sang and played with old and new friends until 7 PM, at which time the falling light made people want to go home, get on the road.

Original watercolor painting shows vase of monardia, green figs.

Monardia and Green Figs. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Yesterday’s Farmers’ Market was a busy one, lots of awnings set up to shield the produce from the bright morning sun. I bought three baskets of green figs and half a dozen Frog Hollow peaches, the last of the year as Frog Hollow Farm moves on to pears and the seasons turn. I bought a bouquet of monardia, its herbal fragrance and red violet flowers lighting up a corner of my room and a spot on the dining room table. I will try to make something with figs before the week is out — I bought three baskets because if I buy one or two I just eat them out of hand for snacks — this way I’ll have some left to put in a salad or a dessert — I should trawl through my hundreds of saved food blogs to see what I might like to make, or, better, bring a small stack of cookbooks to my cozy bed and see what other cooks have done with fresh figs. I’m imagining a sweet and savory salad with fresh corn and arugula and roasted figs, but I will not make that salad this evening.

Sourdough Waffles (adapted from a basic waffle recipe in the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook)

Separate 2 eggs, whites in a small bowl, yolks in a large one.

Whip the egg whites first. Set aside. Don’t bother to change the beaters or wash them — never do extra work unless it is getting you something good like flavor or texture.

Measure 2 cups milk into bowl with egg yolks.

Add 1 cup sourdough starter.

Add 2 cups flour, 4 tsp baking powder, a little kosher salt, sugar to taste (I use less than 1/4 cup)

Add 1/2 cap of vanilla extract and a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Blend egg yolk-milk-starter-flour-sugar with your electric mixer, a whisk or a wooden spoon.

Add 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) soft butter. Beat until just incorporated.

Fold egg whites into the waffle batter. Leave it lumpy and irregular.

Preheat waffle iron. Use the time to warm plates, melt butter, heat syrup, cut up fresh fruit, set table.

Brush waffle iron with melted butter, especially if it is a non-stick waffle iron. Our waffle iron takes  one and half spoons of batter. Cook waffles according to your waffle iron’s instructions. Hold waffles in the oven or serve each one hot out of the iron with desired accompaniments. You can store leftover batter in the refrigerator for a few days, after which time you will have eaten it anyway.

Food Notes: Convert this to buttermilk sourdough waffles by using buttermilk or sour milk in place of sweet milk and adding 1 tsp baking soda.

Song Notes: * from Cheryl Wheeler’s “Miss You More Than I’m Mad.”

I still have a lot of pears in the house from my friend Margit’s tree, sitting in a brown bag in the back of the refrigerator so that they will stay as green as possible for as long as possible: my mother only eats pears when they crunch — I’ll eat them slightly softer than that, but I do not enjoy pears that have turned yellow (It’s that mushy texture).

Yesterday I pulled out the pears and found about five yellow ones, two large and three small. I had volunteered to make a dessert last evening — my mother has a sweet tooth and is eating soft foods until her current round of dental work is over. Plus, I had done something that made her uncomfortable and needed to work my way back into her good graces.

Original watercolor painting shows pear clafouti, dried cranberries, pears.

Pear Clafouti with Cranberries. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

What to make? I could roll out pie crust and make another pear tart tatin. But Johnny once said he wanted to elope with that when I served it at Ballad group, so it would be better to make that when he is around to enjoy it. Carly Sullivan had posted a recipe for clafouti that I had saved. I took a look at it again, and then adapted it for ingredients we had. Basically, I used white sugar instead of honey, milk and half and half instead of buttermilk, omitted the vanilla and added dried cranberries to the fruit layer, browned the butter and cooked the pears in it, throwing the sugar on top to caramelize, cooking it down until the mixture was fairly dry, giving the pears time to absorb butter, sugar, lemon, ginger and cranberry flavors. The cranberries made it pretty, too.

To make the clafouti I just made:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Select 2 large yellow pears (or 3 smaller ones). Core and slice them thinly, but do not peel them: the skins help hold the pear slices together.

Melt 2 Tbsp butter over medium heat in a skillet, allowing the butter to brown, but not burn, before adding the sliced pears.

Sprinkle about 1/4 cup sugar over the top and jerk the skillet a few times so that the sugar gets distributed among the pears.

Allow mixture to cook down until the pears have released their liquid and the liquids have reduced to a thin caramel.

Turn off heat.

Add the juice of half a lemon, a generous grating of fresh ginger (use your microplane and grate directly over the fruit), a small handful of dried cranberries.

Pour the fruit mixture into a tart pan or pie plate.

Now make the batter:

Crack 3 eggs and whisk them.

Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and whisk again.

Whisk in 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

Add 1/4 cup half and half and 3/4 cup milk*

Add vanilla extract (I poured it into the cap from the vanilla bottle and used about half a capful).

Whisk until just blended.

Pour batter over prepared fruit in pan.

Bake for thirty-five minutes. Serve warm or cold, cut in pie-like wedges.

* Our standard milk is 1%. If you have whole milk, like Celi, just use a cup of whole milk — I added the half and half to make the milk richer, but you can make it with any kind of milk you have, including soy milk, nut milk or coconut milk.

Food Notes: This made a easy, delicious dessert, creamy and custardy with crisp, buttery edges. Cooking the fruit first on the stove meant no watery flavors. This would make an excellent Thanksgiving dessert if you are not utter traditionalists like we are, having to have pumpkin pie with whipping cream, made from the recipe on the Libby’s can, slightly modified. (We also make fruit pie of some description, cherry or apple or blueberry or mixed berry, depending on what is around).

The Lauren Project: Lauren is back in Santa Fe, still cooking up your recipes. Please be patient: we will announce the prize winners by the end of this month.

Watercolor painting of bowls of polenta, tomato, Martin guitar in green chair.

Johnny’s Polenta. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Some of you know that I frequently eat polenta as a breakfast cereal during summer and early fall, cooking it in milk, stirring in a fresh peach or a handful of wild blackberries. Some of you know I have spent part of the summer flirting with a guitar player, wondering how much he liked me, being alternately elated and crushed as I went to play music at his house, attended band rehearsal, sang at a small festival in Santa Rosa, followed him up to another festival called Cur-Ville. You’ve seen me donning red dresses and trying to let go.

That phase has ended: the guitar player is mine now and, to prove it, spent the better part of the long weekend at my house. Mornings found us in the kitchen, brewing coffee, figuring out what to eat for breakfast. I cooked him eggs twice, scrambled with cheese and Gypsy peppers, served with sourdough toast. This morning I asked him what he ate for breakfast besides eggs. He mentioned a dish of polenta and various cheeses, topped with tomato and avocado.

We always have cornmeal, so I put on a pot of  salted water to boil and put out the cheese collection for Johnny to look at while I measured out a cup of cornmeal. He selected Red Leicester, a cheddar, and chopped it into small pieces.  I added some grated pecorino Romano. While the polenta was warm I added a chopped tomato. We tasted the polenta. He added a bit more cheese, I added a pinch of kosher salt and a healthy sprinkle of paprika and we had a beautiful golden breakfast, flecked with tomato red, Johnny’s gift to me and my gift to you.

After we ate, I did the dishes, dancing at the sink while Johnny sat in a green chair and played me Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.” Occasionally, I turned around to look at him to sync my back-up vocals to his lead. Dishes have never been this much fun — who knew? All you need is a guitar-player in your kitchen to play songs for you while you wash and rinse. But you can’t have mine — he’s taken. Sorry.

If you want to make Johnny’s Polenta, measure water and cornmeal in a four-to-one ratio (I used four cups of water to one cup of cornmeal, but you could use one cup of water to a quarter cup if you want only one serving).

Add a bit of salt to the water — not too much, since you are going to be adding cheese later.

Boil polenta and water mixture until it has thickened to your liking. Remove from heat and stir in

Chopped and grated cheeses to taste : I used about 3 ounces of cheddar and 1 ounce of pecorino Romano.

Add one large chopped tomato.

Add 1/2 tsp of either sweet or hot paprika, depending on your proclivities: this adds wonderful color as well as a subtle flavor.

Taste and season as necessary. You will have to provide your own soundtrack for dish-washing.

Food Notes: You can make this with cornmeal or polenta, or even grits — whatever cereal-like corn product that you have hanging around. Lauren, if you are listening, you could swap some permitted vegetable for the contraband tomato and eliminate the cheddar, substituting some cheese you like, such as the cumin cheese we ate in France.

The Lauren Project: Thanks from Lauren and from me to all who sent recipes to the Lauren Project. Lauren is out in California, cooking up test batches of recipes. She and I will confer soon and announce the prize winners in an upcoming blog post. Before we complete the winners’ post we will contact our winner to ask what prize he or she desires. Then we will contact the second place finisher, third-place contestant, etc. until all prizes are awarded. Those of you who did not win will still be eligible for free shipping on any Kale Chronicles’ painting purchased by midnight December 31st, 2012.

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