Archives for the month of: October, 2012
Original watercolor painting depicts bag of grits, pile of grits and bowl of grits.

Grits. 12″ x 12: watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

My pal Lisa, who has taught you (or tried to teach you) how to make cornbread, caramel cake and shrimp and grits, kindly sent me a care package of Southern specialties to enhance Work With What You Got month here at The Kale Chronicles: now I’ve got two pounds of stone-ground grits from Charleston, South Carolina, a bag of whole pecans, and a bag of pecan pieces, straight from Georgia.

I have my eye on a pecan pie and a batch of pecan rolls as soon as we remember to replenish our supply of yeast, but I thought I would start out by making grits for breakfast so that I could really taste the stone-ground goodness of these particular grits. The lovely cloth bag they came in said I would need to cook the grits for twenty-five or thirty minutes. No problem. What it didn’t say was to allow ten minutes to get the plastic gizmo off the top of the bag so that I could get to the grits inside: ten minutes with two knives is what it took — I’ll have to ask Lisa how she pries hers off.

Anyway, there were two recipes printed right there on the bag. One said I could cook my grits in water. The other said I could cook them in a mixture of milk, water and cream. Since I knew it was obligatory to eat them with butter I took the middle way, rinsed them with water, as instructed, and then cooked 1/3 cup grits in one cup of milk with a little salt. It probably did take twenty-five minutes to cook them: they got nice and thick and creamy, smelling faintly of corn.

Now, I ate grits when I lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Kroger there had at least half an aisle devoted to grits: instant grits, quick grits, big boxes of grits, little boxes of grits. I had never seen so many grits in my life and I had never eaten them before. While I lived there we made a field trip to Columbia, South Carolina, and saw a film about grits. The filmmakers asked people what they ate on their grits. Most people said they ate them with butter, salt, salt and pepper. A few ate them with Tabasco sauce, but one memorable woman said she ate hers with peanut butter and chow-chow. I’ll leave it to Lisa to explain what chow-chow is — that I have never eaten — it’s some kind of Southern pickle.

My stay in Chapel Hill branded me as a Yankee, even though I am a Westerner. I did not know that the Civil War or The War Between the States was called “The War of Northern Aggression” until my roommate informed me otherwise. People used to ask test questions at gatherings. One of the questions was, “Do you want biscuits with your eggs, or grits?” Yankees choose biscuits, toast, anything but the mild, creamy pile of grits on the breakfast plate.

Anyway, all I added to my hot, creamy bowl of stone-ground grits was the traditional pat of butter. With butter, salt and the milk they were cooked in the grits were faintly sweet, tasting slightly of corn. I found them to be a thoroughly unobjectionable breakfast cereal. They have more character than Cream of Wheat and not the heft of oatmeal. I’ll fix them again soon for Johnny because he likes them and then I will branch out into cheese grits or start throwing contraband ingredients in, such as dried apples. I have a mind to make Lisa’s Shrimp and Grits, too, as soon as I can find Gulf shrimp or something wild-caught here: we don’t like to think about farmed shrimp coming from Thailand when we live right here on the coast.

Stay tuned for pecan pastries and desserts.

Sharyn’s Stone-ground Carolina Grits

Measure 1/3 cup stone-ground grits.

Film a saucepan with water.

Put the grits in the saucepan until just covered with water* and then carefully pour the water off without pouring the grits down the sink.

Add to the grits pan 1 cup of milk (I used 1%) and salt to taste.

Bring the grits and milk to a full boil and then reduce the heat enough to keep them at a simmer. Stir periodically with a wooden spoon until the grits are thick and creamy.

Transfer the grits to a cereal bowl, add a pat of butter, stir and dig in. This recipe serves one, for the grits fan in your house. If you make it for two, each person gets his or her own pat of butter.

Food Notes: the better quality grits you start with the better this breakfast is going to be. Lisa sent me the good stuff. I don’t vouch for what you will get if you use instant grits or quick grits, but I am not a fan of instant oatmeal or quick oats as a breakfast cereal either: usually the texture is better in the old-fashioned, less-processed forms of grains and cereals.

Million Dollar Bash: self-portrait with Johnny Harper.

Million Dollar Bash (Self-Portrait with Johnny Harper). 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

While many of the locals were preoccupied with the Worlds’ Series (Yay, Giants!), my sweetie got asked to play a last minute gig for a party in Oakland. Being the gentleman that he is, he asked me along to sing harmony and to wear a red dress that harmonizes nicely with his Telecaster. Saturday found us in someone’s backyard under a white cloth canopy on a temporary stage, setting up mic stands and duct taping the sign on the tip jar. The party was a reunion of sorts for some rescued pit bulls and their owners. One of the pit bulls is named Johnny Justice and we spent a certain amount of time swiveling our heads around whenever we heard people calling “Johnny.”

From where we sat on our stools onstage we could see lit Jack-o-lanterns on small tables, a bar that looked like a tiki shack, guests wearing colorful cowboy hats. A man in a red Western shirt was there to provide square dance music and calls after dark. Folding chairs and picnic tables were scattered about, along with a few hay bales. A small barn held a few of the less social pit bulls.

Bad Boy that he is, Johnny — the man, not the dog — launched into a Dylan tune called “Million Dollar Bash” after playing a few other things. He followed that with a rendition of “Pretty Boy Floyd” by Woody Guthrie, striking his blow for singing about economic justice. Demure little me sang along on both songs and was not above raising my floor length skirt for a moment to flash some leg when the lyrics called for flash. We were not asked to leave, despite such wicked antics, and, in fact, we were encouraged to have a drink and fill a plate after darkness fell. We could have square-danced, too, had we wanted to, but Johnny chose to break down gear instead and deposit the gig check in the bank.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “The rich are different from you and me.” People had driven in from Minnesota to attend the soiree. We wondered what the hosts were feeding them and wandered over to the food troughs. What we found were hot dogs and fixings: vegetarian hot dogs, sausages, hot dog buns, squeeze bottles of mayonnaise and barbecue sauce, bins of sauerkraut and dill pickles and red peppers and onions, so, once again, I was dining on a hot dog, this time with barbecue sauce, sauerkraut, red peppers and dill pickles.

The tiki bar held red wine, white wine, tiny bottles of water, warm beer in cans and several mixed drinks made in quantity in large glass jars. One, the Barn Burner, consisted of bourbon, ginger ale and apple cider, while another featured vodka, ginger ale and limes. I drank a virgin lime and ginger onstage and had the real thing later. Johnny gave me a sip of his Barn Burner, a tasty fall drink to be sure. He also gave me a cut of the take from the gig, proving once again what a good guy he is, and giving me the right to say that I get paid to sing, although, as Gillian Welch says in “Everything Is Free,” “We’re gonna do it anyway” — you can’t keep musicians from playing music, but we are really happy when you pay us and feed us to do it.

As luck would have it, we still have turkey hot dogs and sausages in our refrigerator. If hot dogs are good enough for the rich, I guess they are good enough for us to eat, too. The last time I ate hot dogs this frequently was on hot dog day in elementary school. Every Wednesday parents would gather in the auditorium of Kensington Hilltop Elementary School and boil hot dogs, place them in buns, adorn them with ketchup or mustard, or leave them plain and deliver them to each classroom. Or perhaps it was in junior high when I went through a phase of eating a hot dog, a cup of Hawaiian Punch and a package of Hostess chocolate doughnuts for lunch everyday (I survived the diet of my adolescence and your children will too, most likely). We do not, however, keep a bar stocked with vodka and bourbon — I turn vodka into homemade vanilla extract if it crosses my path and no one here drinks bourbon at all — for that, we’ll have to get invited to another private party. And, in case any rich people are listening, I would recommend upgrading the ginger ale to ginger beer — Cock’nBull brand is the best I’ve ever had.

Part of working with what you’ve got is being alert for opportunities. Yesterday my mother and sister-in-law took advantage of the re-opening of the North Berkeley Safeway Store. Among other things, they scored free French bread, free peanut butter, free soup, free Diet 7 Up (which my brother will drink), organic carrots. Yesterday in the BART station someone put an entire package of chocolate chip cookies in my guitar case where I was collecting tips. Unfortunately, they were “chocolate chip” cookies made with artificial chocolate and artificial vanilla, but I have to keep Sharyn the food snob separate from Sharyn the performer: as a performer, I just smile and thank people for their contributions, while the food snob makes a note to look for someone else who might want the cookies. It turns out that Bryan will take care of those too — he’s not particular.

Busking is going well. I am not getting rich there in the Berkeley BART station, but I am attracting attention, compliments about my voice, my repertoire, even my guitar-playing. I am enjoying watching people and interacting with toddlers: one man handed his small son a dollar bill to put in my guitar case and the boy stood holding the bill and smiling for a minute or two before he let himself drop it into the case. We all smiled. I would have given him a cookie if I had healthy cookies with me. People give me bills, change, BART tickets, nods and smiles. One man tipped his hat to me as he went up the escalator. Occasionally, someone buys one of my “Paris” CDs, which makes me really happy. My playing is getting smoother, surer, my rhythm more solid, my personality more unflappable. I am learning to move on my feet, shift my weight, keep a handkerchief in my pocket and stash my capo there when I am not using it.

Original watercolor painting of "Dojo Dog" Wushu hot dog.

Dojo Dog. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Today, after my shift at downtown Berkeley BART I headed up to the University of California for an event in Sproul Plaza, birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. Today is Food Day, a day dedicated to good, healthy food. I had heard there are going to be free samples from vendors, which fits my current food budget.

When I got to Sproul Plaza, many Food Day booths were still setting up. I made the rounds of booths that were open, introducing myself as a food blog writer (No, they did not immediately pile packages of food in my arms and encourage me to take it home and cook with it). The first booth open was Healthyout. Healthyout has just released an App for the iPhone that lets you plug in diets, such as “gluten-free” or “Paleo” or “vegan” and then shows you a map of places you can obtain the food of your choice. They were giving away samples of granola. If you tested the app for them and reviewed it you could take home a package of granola. As I have no mobile devices I did not get to bring any granola home.

I then crossed the plaza and chatted with students from the U.C. Berkeley Residential Sustainability Program who are concerned that all students eat sustainable food, Their table featured a bowl of Kashi and bananas and Yoplait yogurt and a bowl of organic strawberries, Straus vanilla yogurt and homemade granola. Straus is a wonderful local dairy in Marin County that produces milk, cream, half and half, yogurt and ice cream from its own cows.  You are, of course, encouraged to choose the local dairy item, the strawberries and the granola, rather than the bananas that come from Guatemala. I asked who made the granola and what was in it. The young woman I was talking to made it herself with organic peanut butter, expeller-pressed canola oil, organically grown U.S. oats, apples from Smit Orchards near Lake Tahoe and cinnamon of unknown provenance. According to these students  the campus dining facilities now source much of their produce from local farms and get their meat from Nieman Ranch. These same women told me about another project of theirs called The Local. The Local buys produce in bulk on Sundays at the Temescal Farmers’ Market and sells the produce to students at cost, making it easier for them to eat farm-fresh fruits and vegetables.

Next I stopped at Oxfam America’s table and learned about their Grow Campaign and at the Berkeley Student Food Collective which maintains a store stocked with organic produce and healthy food. I also stopped by Bare Abundance, a nonprofit student organization that collects uneaten food from restaurants, hotels and grocery stores and distributes it to organizations helping people eat. A young woman there told me that wasted food was the second largest thing that went into landfills and I remembered Novella Carpenter’s story of feeding her pig on food gleaned from Chinatown dumpsters.

I chatted with two young women from SOGA, the Student Organic Gardening Association, who told me about the organic garden on the corner of Walnut and Virginia Streets and the eight different classes offered there in the spring. SOGA had beautifully designed T-shirts for sale, rich turquoises and purples bearing an elaborate line drawing of a radish.

By then I was getting peckish and crossed back to the other side of the plaza. A San Francisco-based company called Purity Organic was setting up to put out juice samples. Feelgoodworld,com next door procures product donations, makes food out of the products, sells the food from $2.00 to $4.00, whatever people can pay, and then sends the money to choicehumanitarian.

Then I lucked out. The student founder of the Dojo Dogs food cart was getting ready to make and serve sample hot dogs: beef dogs on fresh buns with various Asian seasonings. After watching him make two other dogs I snagged a piece of a hot dog that included pork sung, grilled shredded cabbage and Katsu, a  sweet sauce that tasted like it contained molasses, but is made from applesauce and soy. The sample was so good that I walked over to the nearby food truck and bought myself a Wushu dog of my very own, the same filling and delicious combination of ingredients. This has inspired me to fancy up our turkey hot dogs with miscellaneous ingredients from the pantry and fridge — cabbage, plum sauce and chile paste, anyone? My only caution is to watch the salt — I found myself thirsty for hours after I ate the Dojo Dog.

I capped off the day with a packet of fruit snacks from Berkeley’s own Annie’s organic food and a free concert by the local acapella group Decadence. Apparently Decadence sings every Wednesday noon at Sather Gate — I’ll be going back down there another day to hear them for sure. And if I’m flush I might get another Wushu Dojo Dog to eat while I listen.

So, you know I’ve been on a “Work With What You Got” kick for October at The Kale Chronicles. You know that I have been eating rye flakes, rolled oats and granola cooked with dried apples and milk, and then with Tropical Traditions Coconut Oil and peanut butter: when we ran out of peanut butter I substituted cashew butter and somehow breakfast keeps rolling along. So does dinner: Mom bought some black cod at Trader Joe’s on Wednesday and with Johnny coming over for dinner on Friday night (Yay!) I prepared the fish by baking it in a foil packet (similar to the baked salmon I made here) with roasted red bell peppers and kalamata olives from jars, fresh basil from the basil plant on the breakfast room table and a squeeze of Meyer lemon from our front yard tree. I made another round of my version of Shira’s Brussels sprout salad with toasted hazelnuts and dried cranberries, put some red potatoes in the oven to bake with the fish and spent some time in the kitchen with my mother concocting a family favorite dessert, a baked lemon pudding.

Original watercolor painting shows baked lemon pudding and ingredients.

Lemon Pudding. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil on Paper, Sharyn Dimmick.

The lemon pudding began, as things often do at our house, with substitutions: the classic recipe, culled from an index card in one of my mother’s recipe files calls for Wheaties (“Breakfast of Champions”) cereal in the topping. Mom’s search of our high storage cupboards revealed that the orange boxes she thought contained Wheaties were in fact Bran Flakes. Oh. She decided to combine Bran Flakes and Corn Flakes to approximate the missing Wheaties.

I went out to the yard to gather lemons from the tree, bringing in four of the ripest ones I could reach. I asked Mom about quantity. She said, “The recipe calls for the juice of two lemons, but these are bland — maybe add an extra one.”

I zested and juiced three lemons, squeezing each half through my hand. This resulted in just a quarter-cup of juice.

“That’s only a quarter-cup,” I said.

“Maybe do the other one,” she replied.

I juiced the fourth lemon, but did not zest it, mainly because I had absentmindedly cut it in half to squeeze instead of picking up the microplane. Life is imperfect and I one of its imperfect creatures.

I reminded Mom that the topping for this pudding is usually tooth-ache-ingly sweet. I was working on the lemon filling while she worked on the topping and we agreed to scant the sugar in our respective parts. She reduced the brown sugar in the recipe that doubles for crust and topping and I scanted the 3/4 cup white sugar in the filling. The result of the combined sugar reduction was a more delicious pudding than usual, which we ate with the leftover sweetened mascarpone from last week’s strawberry shortcake. I present to you the modified recipe with additional observations in the Food Notes.

Homey Lemon Pudding

For lemon filling:

Juice and zest 2 ordinary Eureka lemons or 4 Meyer lemons. Set aside.

Place in saucepan:

Scant 3/4 cup sugar

2 Tbsp flour

1/8 tsp kosher salt

Stir in gradually:

1 cup very hot water

Bring sugar-flour-water mixture to boil over direct heat, stirring constantly for ten minutes.

Remove from heat.

Beat 2 eggs until smooth.

Temper the eggs by drizzling a little of the liquid into the eggs and whisking with a fork. Drizzle a little more liquid and whisk again. Repeat two or three more times until the eggs are perceptively warm before adding the eggs to the filling and whisking to combine. Tempering the eggs prevents having bits of cooked eggs in your lemon filling.

Add reserved lemon juice and zest to filling and stir to combine. Let filling cool while you make the topping (which also serves as the pudding’s base). At this time, also preheat your oven to 325.

In a mixing bowl combine:

1 cup flour

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda

a pinch of salt (unless using salted butter)

Cut in 1/3 cup shortening (Mom uses part margarine and part unsalted butter)

Add:

3/4 cup lightly crushed Corn Flakes

3/4 cup lightly crushed Bran Flakes (OR 1 cup Wheaties*)

1/2 cup shredded coconut

Press 2/3 of brown sugar mixture into the bottom of a square pan.

Pour cooled lemon filling over topping

Top with remaining 1/3 topping.

Bake for 40 minutes.

Serve with barely sweetened whipped cream (creme chantilly) or sweetened whipped mascarpone. If you use Cool Whip or whipped nonfat dried milk I don’t want to hear about it, although I am not in your kitchens to supervise what you do.

Food Notes: If you have Wheaties on hand you only need a cup of them: they are thicker and crunchier than the other cereals we substituted here. On the other hand, the recipe was formulated for “old Wheaties,” which had less sugar than the current product, so substituting Corn Flakes and Bran Flakes may more closely resemble the original recipe. Bran Flakes on their own lack the necessary crunch, which is why Mom opted to mix them with Corn Flakes here. If you use salted butter in the topping you can skip the pinch of salt — it will provide all of the salt you need. Mom uses commercial sweetened shredded coconut — you can use unsweetened if you like: the topping ingredients provide plenty of sugar! We like tart lemon fillings — if you like yours sweeter either don’t scant the sugar in the filling or use one fewer lemon than we did.

Johnny and I liked the pudding so much that we had another square apiece after breakfasting on scrambled eggs with roasted peppers and cheddar cheese and sourdough toast on Saturday morning…

California has a long growing season, so even in years when the crops are delayed, when fresh corn does not show up until after Fourth of July, when we are still pining for the first tomatoes, when we have a cold spring, we have certain foods longer than you have them in other parts of the country. Case in point: strawberries. In mid-October the strawberries from Lucero Farm are sweeter than they were in June and July. Go figure.

Original watercolor painting depicts biscuit-type strawberry shortcake.

Cowboy Strawberry Shortcake. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

I know many of you have moved onto apples, pumpkins and grapes for your desserts, but my friend Margit presented me with a basket of those strawberries this Saturday and we did not eat them immediately. In our refrigerator (which I have not yet discussed) there languished an unopened pound container of mascarpone cheese that Mom bought at Canned Foods Grocery Outlet and never used because she didn’t have any recipes containing it.

I hunted around through my saved blogs folder and found some lovely recipes, none of which called for more than a quarter cup of mascarpone. I eliminated other wonderful recipes requiring me to mix the mascarpone with whipping cream and line tins with ladyfingers (no tiramisu). I went to my favorite site of all things Italian, In the Bartolini Kitchens, and still found nothing I wanted to make tonight. I looked up a Joyce Goldstein recipe for a rum mascarpone mousse but could not find the lone packet of unflavored gelatin which I swear has been lurking in our kitchen for years.

Then I read somewhere about sweetened, whipped mascarpone. Aha! We would have strawberry shortcake again, this time with mascarpone rather than whipped cream. I would use the occasion to get out my sourdough starter and make biscuits for the shortcake base.

First I had to taste the mascarpone. Undeterred by the expiration date of August 2012 (our refrigerator is cold), I broke the plastic seal and dipped a teaspoon into the cheese. My tongue told me it was fine — it reminds me of the clotted cream they eat in England. I put it back in the refrigerator while I washed and hulled the strawberries, fed my starter some fresh flour and a little water to invigorate it, left it on the counter to get warm and put a steel bowl and beaters  in the fridge to chill.

At 5:00 I began to assemble the shortbread dough, aka sourdough “cowboy” biscuits with extra sugar. You can find a recipe for sourdough starter here. I keep a jar of starter in the back of the refrigerator and use it indiscriminately to make waffles, biscuits and, pizza and bread.

I have adapted the recipe for cowboy sourdough biscuits (which the authors call “Rocky Mountain Sourdough Biscuits,” but their story features a cowboy cook who bakes them) from The Book Lovers’ Cookbook.

Sourdough “Cowboy” Biscuits for Shortcake

Preheat oven to 425.

Whisk together:

1 cup unbleached flour*

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 Tbsp sugar

Cut in 1/4 cup unsalted butter or shortening.

Stir in 1 cup sourdough starter.

A soft dough should form. Gather dough together and knead lightly, adding more flour by the tablespoon if it is really sticky.

Lightly flour a bread board, marble slab or other work surface. Roll out dough to 1/2 inch thickness

Cut dough with biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass. I like to use two cutters, one medium-sized and one small to make top hats. Roll together scraps to form more biscuits, handling dough as little as possible. Repeat until all scraps have become biscuits or top hats, forming the last scraps into a hat with your hands if necessary.

Transfer biscuits to ungreased baking sheet.

Melt 1 Tbsp unsalted butter and brush biscuit tops with it. Sprinkle with sugar (raw sugar is good) as desired. Let biscuits rest for fifteen minutes before baking them for ten to twelve minutes.

Split biscuits and top with prepared berries. Dollop with whipped, sweetened mascarpone.

Oh, I didn’t tell you how to make that? I told you to chill the bowl and beaters. Then beat your mascarpone with some sugar (suggested ratio: 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of sugar to one pound mascarpone), and vanilla extract as desired. I plan to eat the leftover mascarpone on biscuits after the strawberries are gone, perhaps with a nice cup of tea in the afternoons, unless Mom gets to it first — she says she will use it in pastry of some kind: sounds like a win-win to me.

Back when I wrote my tagline, local ingredients, transformation and creativity, I couldn’t see how transformative and creative life was going to get: what I knew was that I was committed to the practice of eating foods in their seasons and that I was nearly incapable of following a recipe without making some change based on making it healthier or using ingredients we had in the house. When I started The Kale Chronicles I had lost my day job but I could draw unemployment compensation for awhile and had some savings. I put my energy into nurturing the blog, hoping I might sell a few paintings and find a few writing students as my writing gained wider exposure.

Fast forward to 2012. I made a trip to France and acquired a guitar-player, coincidentally the love of my life. I took care of my teeth, which needed a few small repairs, and suddenly I was without funds — without savings, without much in my checking accounts, with retirement funds that it is too early to touch.

Now it is October, 2012. I dubbed it “Work With What You Got” month on The Kale Chronicles. Halfway through the month, I have not starved. Saturday the 13th I was down to $2.75 in my wallet, but I picked up $40.00 by having a garage sale on Sunday, Mom sprang for two tomatoes from the Farmers’ Market on Saturday and half a pound of shelled walnuts and we are, indeed, cooking with things we have in the house. Two tomatoes plus some lettuce and bread, some sliced dill pickles, mustard (for me), mayo (for Mom) and some turkey bacon gave us turkey BLTs for lunch. Mom cooked wheat berries for breakfast. Mixing them with dried cranberries, a tablespoon each of coconut oil and peanut butter plus a cup of milk gave me a filling breakfast.

After which I went to play music in the downtown Berkeley BART station this morning, trying my hand at the old trade called busking. Yes, that silver-haired woman singing with a beat-up Harmony guitar was me. I left my house at dawn to secure a good spot for the day and I sang for two hours, garnering five dollars above and beyond my bus fare, plus one $1.75 BART ticket. The first person I saw come down the escalator threw me some change, which felt like good luck to me.

Five dollars a day net may not be much, but if I make that everyday it will add up to a hundred and fifty a month. Besides, it was fun: I can honestly say I liked it better than any day job that I have ever had. I felt comfortable playing for two hours, except when I needed to stop and drink water. I felt grateful to anyone who threw change my way and to the three people who placed single dollar bills in my guitar case. One woman inquired about a CD, took the time to pick it up and turn it over in her hand and to ask me the price. I have ideas for things to play later (I’d love to learn the “Java Jive” and “One More Cup of Coffee for the Road” to take advantage of my position near the Peet’s kiosk) and I am sure I am going to learn more everyday.

Original painting shows shaved Brussels sprouts salad and ingredients.

Brussels Sprouts Salad. 8″ x 10″ gouache and watercolor pencil on canvas. Sharyn Dimmick.

All this is to say why I didn’t get a blog post out on Sunday as usual — I was busy earning money, just as I was busy this morning. Before I got so enterprising I did cook something new though, a shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette, inspired by Shira’s recipe on In Pursuit of More.

I was dubious about eating raw Brussels sprouts and thought I might blanch them instead, but I gamely tasted a tiny raw shaving. It was okay, actually, a bit stronger than raw cabbage. So I shaved fifteen Brussels sprouts (Trader Joe’s sells big stalks of them for three dollars apiece), added a quarter cup of  dried cranberries, forgot to use nuts (Shira used toasted pecans) and started concocting dressing.

I’m always appalled by large quantities of oil and I like my salad dressings sharp and tart, so I started with Shira’s 1/4 cup of apple cider (from the pantry, remember?) and 1/4 cup of cider vinegar, but I couldn’t bring myself to use 1/2 cup of olive oil. Instead I used 1/4 cup, plus about 2 Tbsp brown mustard and perhaps 1 tsp of honey. I ground some black pepper over the sprouts and cranberries, poured some dressing on and dug in.

I liked this salad so much that, having made it at lunch time, I was back eating it at dinner, having added 1/4 cup of shelled, toasted hazelnuts. The nuts may have made it even better, playing off the deep fall flavors of apple and mustard and greens. The dressing makes way more than you will need for a single salad and I have at least a cup of it waiting in the refrigerator to see what else I will eat it on: I plan to try making this salad with regular cabbage, shredded finely, while the dried cranberry supply holds out. Shira likes the dressing on cooked sweet potatoes, which sounds good to me, although we are currently a sweet-potato-less household.

Meanwhile, I have started experimenting with the coconut oil that Tropical Traditions so kindly sent me. First I put a tablespoon in a cup of hot cocoa, as suggested in one of their recipes, and then I tried adding a tablespoon of it to my oat-rye-granola cereal cooked in milk. I added a tablespoon of natural peanut butter, too, hoping to capture the elusive flavor of the coconut and peanut candy the Chick-O-Stick. I found that adding just one teaspoon of raw sugar brought the flavors together beautifully and that the coconut oil and peanut butter combo give my morning cereal some serious lasting ability — about four hours worth of activity later I finally got hungry again.

To continue with the theme, Work With What You’ve Got for October 2012 I thought I would inventory the pantry for ingredients, specifically two cupboards of the pantry: our cooler and the cabinet below it. A cooler, in case some of you don’t know, is a cabinet that shares an outside wall with the house in which some of the wall has been replaced with screens that let outside air into the cabinet. This means you can keep condiments such as oil, honey, peanut butter, mustard and ketchup in the cooler instead of storing them in your refrigerator. We also use our cooler to store unopened jars of pickles, jams, pumpkin, evaporated milk, salsa, as well as opened vinegars and salad dressings.

What I found:

1)  several jars of jam and jelly: black currant (3), tayberry(1), orange marmalade (1), apple jelly (3) ginger (1) sherry wine jelly (1)

2)  marinated artichokes and artichoke tapenade

3)  roasted red peppers (2)

4)  canned pumpkin (3)

5)  cashew butter, peanut butter and Nutella

6)  molasses, honey, lemon honey, dark and light Karo syrup, maple syrup

7)  Bakers’ unsweetened chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, chocolate chips

8)  dill pickles (3), sweet gherkins (1), capers (6)

9)  canned chicken (2)

10) red lentils, lentil soup mix

11) tomato juice, diced tomatoes, roasted tomato salsa, Prego pasta sauce (4)

12) salad dressings (4), vinegars (black, plum, rice, blackberry balsamic, red wine)

13) peach chutney, Worchestershire sauce (3), mustard (4)

14) shitake mushrooms, teriyaki sauce, teriyaki noodle mix, tamari, hoisin sauce, sesame oil

15) instant coffee, liquid espresso concentrate

16) Kitchen Bouquet

17) Campbell’s Cream of Chicken (3) and Cream of Mushroom (2) soups

18) minced onions (dried).

19) maraschino cherries, glaceed cherries, sour cherries (2), dates, mincemeat

In the cupboard below the cooler we have

20) garlic (3 heads, plus), onions (6), red potatoes (lots)

What this list of ingredients suggests to me is glazed meats and glazed fruit tarts to use up all of the apple jellies , salad dressings (as marinades), marmalade and mustard. Also Chinese food ( tamari, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, black vinegar). We also have the makings for cherry and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving here. I did not go through the cupboard where we keep pasta, rice and beans, the baking cabinet, or the jars on top of the fridge which hold rice, tea and dried chiles or the freezer, which holds fruit, meat, butter, cooked food.

Original watercolor painting shows four cooked dishes: cereal, soup, polenta and pie.

Four Dishes. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

What I actually ate yesterday is this: my new Work With What You’ve Got breakfast is a mixture of rye flakes, rolled oats and granola, cooked in milk with home-dried apples and commercial dried cranberries and pistachios. I still have a large jar of dried apples from windfall Gravensteins I foraged in Berkeley. We still have apples on our tree, too. The cranberries and pistachios came from Canned Foods Grocery Outlet two visits ago , as did the rye flakes. I made the granola some time ago. We are running low on rolled oats, which is why I went to rye with the last three-quarters cup of oats mixed in — the granola is oat-based, too, and cooks up well.

For lunch, I ate leftover chicken-vegetable soup that Mom made, with a whole wheat tortilla and a little bit of cheddar cheese, two cups of black tea with milk and the last homemade brownie (Mom baked while I was away for the weekend).

For dinner, I took the last of the Riverdog Farm beet greens and turnip greens that had been languishing in the fridge, trimmed them and chopped them and cooked them in polenta. I threw in the salty cotija cheese that my sister-in-law had brought us and added some pecorino Romano and a pinch of red pepper flakes — it was a good way to eat plenty of greens for dinner without feeling like I had to eat them plain. I’ll eat the rest of the green polenta for lunch or for dinner tonight since no one else cared for it.

Today I will be taking the last butternut squash from last year and turning it into butternut squash soup, roasting it in the oven while Mom makes lasagna. She said something about making a pie from the last of our current pie crust, too. Bryan only likes apple, pumpkin and coconut cream — maybe cherry — I’ll ask — maybe we can have a cherry pie (There are lots more cans of cherries in the garage).

Food notes: Breakfast cereal: most cereals can be cooked and will mix well — I’ve eaten combinations of wheat, oats, corn and rye as well as eating each one as a separate cereal. Cooking the cereal in milk adds protein for staying power and assures you of getting calcium in your diet for your bones. Cooking cereal with dried fruits adds sweetness without adding table sugar (unless you are using pre-sweetened dried cranberries!). Nuts also add protein and good fat.

Polenta: Polenta is versatile. You can eat it plain. You can stir cheese into it or tomatoes or peppers or greens or all four. You can eat it sliced and topped with marinara and cheese. You can eat it as a breakfast cereal with vanilla extract, milk and fresh or frozen fruit (see my polenta with peaches and Johnny’s polenta, a savory variation). Cornmeal or grits will do for polenta in a pinch — you’ll just get a slightly different texture.

What would you eat if you were eating out of your stored food right now? What have you got on hand?

A few days ago my Mom came home with a package of bacon from Safeway at fifty percent off and we proceeded to make our second round of BLTs for the summer. I fried the bacon and sliced up tomatoes. Before I was done I asked, “Do you want me to pour the grease into the grease can, or save it?”

She said, “Oh. I want the grease.”

I got out a clean glass jar and decanted as much of the bacon fat as I could into it.

Bacon grease is a dividing line in our household. Mom likes it in waffles. She likes to fry potatoes in it, too. But her favorite thing is to put it in cornbread. And I say, “Blecch.” I do not want to eat bacon grease at all. Bacon, yes. Bacon grease, no.

Just the thought makes me launch into opinions about cornbread. A few months ago Lisa Knighton, my pal from Georgia, who brought you shrimp and grits and caramel cake, mentioned that she had made cornbread for our mutual friend Ann, who follows a gluten-free diet. She mentioned using fresh corn and chipotle peppers in the cornbread.

I wrote back to say, “I don’t like things in my cornbread.”

Original painting shows cornbread variations and ingredients.

Cornbread. 8″ x 10″ Gouache and watercolor pencil on canvas board. Sharyn Dimmick.

What I mean is, I don’t want cornbread to contain fresh corn, or onions, or peppers. I don’t want it to contain cheese. I want it to be a plain, cornmeal-flavored food with a smooth texture. I like it kind of cakey and a little sweet — even a lot sweet: I’ve made it with maple syrup. I’ve made it with butternut squash puree to give it a deep golden color and a different kind of sweetness. But, just like I don’t want cookie crumbs in my ice cream I don’t want foreign textures in my cornbread.

Mom calls what I like “corn cake.” She likes sour cornbread. It can’t get too sour for her: she’ll load it up with buttermilk and bacon grease, lots of cornmeal, little flour. She puts in 1/4 teaspoon of sugar — I don’t know why she bothers. Her cornbread is flatter than mine, more dense. She taught me to heat the grease (or butter or butter and oil) in the pan in the oven before pouring in the cornmeal batter: this step gets you crisp crust on the bottom and Mom is a crisp crust person: she wants the pie crust to shatter against your teeth, the croissants to fall into shards of pastry, the cookies to be thin and crisp. I like all of that crispness. I will eat her sour cornbread, but I have to eat it with jam or honey on it and I prefer the lighter, sweeter version that I make, made with all butter or with butter and corn oil, with or without buttermilk, with sugar. I also like spoon bread, a cornmeal pudding made with eggs and milk, egg whites folded in at the end, almost a corn souffle. With sugar in it.

If you want to make cornbread my way, start with a ten-inch cast iron skillet. Preheat the oven to 450.

Melt 3 Tbsp butter or  a mixture of butter and corn oil in the skillet on the stove. Turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl measure 1/2 cup flour, 1 Tbsp baking powder , 1 tsp soda, 2 Tbsp sugar and 1 tsp salt into a bowl and whisk them together. Add 1 cup cornmeal and whisk again.

Measure 1 cup buttermilk, plus 2 Tbsp, into a small bowl. Beat 1 egg into the buttermilk.

Put the butter/oil in the skillet in the oven to heat up.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold until just combined (no flour pockets).  Then remove the hot skillet from the oven and carefully scrape the batter into the hot buttered skillet. This step produces a brown, crisp crust on the cornbread. Return skillet to hot oven and bake for about 20 minutes until the top has a few brown spots.

Cornbread is best eaten hot, but it can be nuked the next day for a few seconds in the microwave if there is any left — there probably won’t be.

Food notes: my cornbread recipe responds will to adaptations. You can use sour milk for the buttermilk. You can try using yogurt instead. You can eliminate the soda and make it with (regular) sweet milk. To make it cakier, try reducing the cornmeal by 1/4 cup and using unbleached flour instead: if you remove much more cornmeal than that it won’t be cornbread anymore. You could also add another egg to make it lighter, or an extra egg white if you have one hanging around. For a browner flavor, use brown sugar instead of white. You can use any kind of shortening or fat: I like the flavor of butter and corn oil amps the corn flavor slightly. In short, work with what you got.

And from Lisa:

My grandmother Eunice once told me about baking cornbread atop the car engine. As newlyweds she and my grandfather Oscar traveled often to Clearwater, Florida where she worked for the Studebakers as a cook and he set up cabanas and prepared beach-side barbecues.
“Now, Lisa,” she said settling into a seat at her kitchen table, “when your Big Daddy and I got hungry, he would pull the car off the road and I’d take out the picnic basket. I’d mix up some water with cornmeal, make little pones in the palm of my hand, then set them in a small pan. Daddy would raise the hood of the car and put the pan on top of the hot engine. Shortly, we’d have cornbread.”
Water and cornmeal, that’s all she used for making her roadway fast-food.
Now, unlike my grandmother and Sharyn, I like to put little bits of extra goodies in my cornbread. There’s whole kernel corn and chopped chipotle chili pepper. Or sauteed onions and garlic. Or leftover pimentos from making pimento cheese. And even sugar or honey, although this is not traditionally acceptable in some Southern households.
In making cornbread, which my yankee-born husband Mark loves, I usually begin with a recipe of Margaret Lupo’s and taken from her famous restaurant: Mary Mac’s Tea Room.
Mary Mac’s, located for all these many years on Ponce de Leon Ave in Mid-town Atlanta, brings a basket of cornbread muffins and biscuits to the table as soon as you are given a menu. The restaurant is known to attract celebrities and dignitaries from the world-over. Even the Dalai Lama has eaten there. I can’t know for sure, but I bet he loved the cornbread.
I’ve taken Mary Mac’s basic recipe and tweaked it to make it gluten-free, too. Good cornbread to me is a bit rustic and crunchy, so I use at least one cup of medium grind cornmeal. If you prefer a smoother or softer bread, use fine ground cornmeal only.
The Spicy Mexican Cornbread recipe here is great with just about anything.
First thing, pre-heat your oven to 500 degrees.
Beat 3 eggs well, then place them in an extra-large mixing bowl and add 3 cups buttermilk.
To the milk and eggs, add 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, 4 tablespoons grapeseed oil or olive oil. Mix well.
Next, add 2 cups fine cornmeal, 1 cup medium grind cornmeal, 1/2 cup almond meal, 1/2 cup brown rice flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda.
For the goodies, what I call the real reason for making this cornbread, I like to add 1 1/2 cups whole kernel white corn and one medium-sized chipotle pepper cut into small bits.
If you are using canned corn, drain it first. My preference is to keep a large bag of corn in the freezer, using what I need. If you don’t have a whole pepper, use 1 heaping tablespoon of dried chipotle pepper.
Just mix all the ingredients with a light touch. You want to form a thick, soupy batter. Let the batter rest for ten minutes or so. Pour into two well-greased pans. Yes, this is enough batter to make 12 cornbread muffins and a 10 inch cast-iron skillet full, or 24 muffins, or two ten-inch skillets of bread.
Bake the muffins for 16- 18 minutes; bake the skillets for 20 -23 minutes.
When you pull the bread from the oven go ahead and eat it right then. What we don’t eat I freeze and Mark and I eat later on.
If you are interested in making other Southern dishes, buy your own copy of Margaret Lupo’s Southern Cooking from Mary Mac’s Tea Room: www.amazon.com/Southern-Cooking-Mary-Macs-Room/dp/0877972575
 
I recommend Bob’s Red Mill meals and flours, most likely found at your local grocery. If you want to dip into the Southern regions and get some meal from a few of our local mills, try a bag:
From Athens, Georgia there is Red Mule: www.redmulegrits.us/index.html
From Columbia, Alabama there is Hall’s Milling Company. Their telephone number is: (334) 696-2286
Lisa Knighton

Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. Due to my precarious income (ask any self-employed artist about this) I have decided to suspend my Riverdog Farm vegetable box subscription for the month of October. I had some medical and dental expenses in the last few months and need to retrench financially. Zen teaches me that things change all the time: sometimes life or love or money expands, sometimes it contracts: you all know that I recently won the love sweepstakes big time. Now it is time to pay more attention to income and spending.

What that means is that on The Kale Chronicles October will be the month of Work With What You Got, cooking what is in the fridge, what is in the freezer, what is in the pantry, what is in the garage. The seasonal element will continue since I will be utilizing lemons and apples from our trees and I can never resist foraging when I see edible fruit on the streets of Berkeley and Kensington. I will supplement judiciously with items from the Berkeley Farmers’ Market and write about the cooking decisions I make. I do have an exotic ingredient on hand because Tropical Traditions kindly sent me a quart of coconut oil, which I have yet to try. Many of us in this country have far more than we need and I will be mining the surplus that lurks in our household, jams, liquors, pastas, etc. When it occurs to me I will suggest variations on each recipe to make it easier for you to adapt my recipes to what is in your fridge, freezer and pantry.

October will not be Austerity Month, however, because October is the month of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, a glorious weekend of good live music and a full range of food booths. This is my favorite music festival of the year: I sit on a blanket in the sun, sketching, drinking coffee, eating crawfish etouffee or gyros or an ice cream sandwich, listening to Guy Clark and Emmylou Harris and Kevin Welch and Kieran Kane. This year I will have the added pleasure of sharing the event with Johnny, my new love thing. And before we even get there, Johnny and I will be traveling up to Sebastopol where he will play at Suzanne Edminster’s reception for her Dionysia painting show.

So where shall we begin with Work With What You Got?

Original watercolor painting shows pita bread, tzatziki, baba ghanoush and muhammara.

Indian Summer Mezze. Gouache on paper. 12″ x 12″. Sharyn Dimmick.

Well, what we got is hot weather, weather in which the only things that make me happy are going down to the Marina to swim in open water and drinking Coke floats. I need to get a dinner on the table that we can eat while watching the Presidential debate and I don’t want to be using the oven or stove much today. I have an abundance of cucumbers, eggplants and peppers from last week’s vegetable box, but no tomatoes or kalamata olives — that means we won’t be having Greek salad, my go-to hot weather meal. I decide that we will have spreads based on roasted vegetables, spreads that we can eat at room temperature.

I start by roasting eggplant for baba ghanoush in a 400 degree oven (Yes, I’m using the oven, but it is 6:30 in the morning. When the eggplant is done, I pop in several red Jimmy Nardello peppers and an orange bell pepper to roast for muhammara. I leave all of the vegetables to sweat in a glass bowl covered with foil. Then I think of tzatziki: I pull all of the cucumbers from the vegetable drawer. peel and seed them and put them in a bowl to chill. I grab the yogurt, spoon some out, set it in a colander over a bowl to drain and get nice and thick. While I’m at it I put on a full kettle of water to make some orange spice black tea for iced tea later. The oven use is over by 7:30 AM.

Then I start hunting for a pita bread recipe, finding a simple one in Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook. I adapt it to use sourdough starter rather than active dry yeast: it can rise all day while I swim and write. The slow rise will allow me to bake it when I return from the Marina and assemble the spreads.

Sourdough Pita Bread (adapted for sourdough starter from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook)

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup sourdough starter, 1 cup room temperature water and a dash of honey.

Stir with a wooden spoon and let stand for five minutes.

Add 1 cup whole wheat flour, 2 cups unbleached flour, a drizzle of honey and a bit of kosher salt.

Stir together and then knead for at least ten minutes until the dough passes the windowpane test.

Oil bowl. Return dough to bowl. Cover with damp cloth and set to rise. You can leave it alone for six to eight hours now.

When you want to bake it, preheat oven to 475. While oven heats, divide dough evenly into six to eight balls and cover balls with a dish towel. Let stand for fifteen minutes. Then roll each ball into a 1/2-inch-thick disk and place breads on ungreased baking sheets. Bake breads on lowest oven rack for about ten minutes. Stack warm breads in a basket covered with a towel. Serve with dips or spreads of your choice or stuff for sandwiches.

The baba ghanoush and muhammara share a Middle Eastern palate. I will need lemon juice, garlic, tahini, pomegranate molasses, a slice or two of white bread for the muhammara. I will pick the lemons from the tree in the front yard. I have the other things in the refrigerator or pantry. Baba ghanoush is a blend-to-your-own taste puree of roasted eggplant, tahini, lemon juice, fresh garlic and (optional) olive oil. I like mine heavy on the lemon and garlic, light on the tahini, no oil added.

Food Notes: You need a few exotic ingredients for today’s menu, tahini and pomegranate molasses. You can attempt to make pomegranate molasses if you have a supply of pomegranate juice. If you neither have it, make it, nor buy it, you could eat the roasted vegetables cold as is, or put them in a marinade or salad of your choice. Tzatziki is pretty basic, mainly yogurt and seeded cucumber. Making your own pita is fun if you don’t have store-bought around the house, and it is especially nice to eat it warm right out of the oven. As I mentioned last week, I have run out of walnuts (I’ll buy some when the new crop comes in), so I will be using pistachios in tonight’s muhammara. You can make pita without sourdough — just use proofed dry yeast instead.

Song Notes: Fortuitously, Johnny Harper has a song called “Work With What You Got.” Listen for the verse about the gumbo cooks. Click on the song’s name: that will get you to Johnny’s Cur-Ville page. Look for the song there (it’s the third one, but you might want to listen to the others too).

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