Archives for category: beverages
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.

Original watercolor painting of tea service.

Rose Teapot. 5.75″ x 9″ Watercolor on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Recently I happened to read a recipe for sweet tea that raised my Irish hackles to a fare-thee-well. Those of you who know me well can raise your eyebrows and chuckle because you know what is coming. The rest of you might want to duck and cover for the duration of the tea rant unless you, too, are a fanatic about properly brewed tea. We’ll get to what that is in a moment.

What was it, you may ask, that occasioned this rant? On a perfectly lovely blog by a polite Canadian writer who makes beautiful cakes decorated with white roses, festoons her posts with poetry and takes professional photographs, I read a recipe for sweetened ice tea (aka “sweet tea”) that called for a pinch of baking soda. Baking soda! I started screaming. I even began my comment with Aieeee! Because, my friends, baking soda does not belong in iced tea: nothing belongs in iced tea but tea leaves steeped in boiling water (and then strained out), cold water and ice. Sugar is optional — I will get to that later.

Properly made tea is part of my cultural inheritance, the one thing that has survived generations in the United States (Well, we bake bread, too, so perhaps there are two things left). I have terrified my best friend by talking about the minimal requirements for a proper cup of tea, which are:

1) a tea kettle

2) a tea pot

3) boiling water — full, rolling boil, if you please, but started from cold water from the tap.

4) loose black tea leaves

and

5) a teaspoon with which to measure the tea leaves

This is how we begin. If you are not familiar with your tea pot (or have just acquired it to meet my requirements), measure cold tap water into your tea pot until it is nearly full, perhaps seven-eighths. Experienced tea drinkers may skip this step since you will already know how many proper cups of tea your teapot makes. Then pour the water, cupful by cupful into your cold tea kettle, counting as you go to see how many cups of tea your pot is meant to hold, allowing a little head room so that the brewed tea does not slop out of the spout when you lift the tea pot. Once you know how many cups of tea fit in your pot you can memorize the amount of water to put in your kettle. You need to add a little extra to allow for water loss from steam and to provide extra water for scalding the pot. If you don’t know what I am talking about, don’t worry: all will be revealed.

Put your cold kettle onto a hot burner at highest heat. While you wait for it to boil you may prepare a tea tray with a cup and saucer (extra points for fine china), or a mug if you must, along with anything you take in your tea. The classic accompaniments are lemon slices, a pitcher of milk, sugar lumps (kudos if you have sugar tongs), or loose sugar. Some people use honey and many people like to include an extra pitcher of hot water to dilute tea that gets too strong or warm up the pot — we will not be bothering with the water. If your tea tray is large enough and you are strong from consuming proper black tea all your life you may want to include acceptable tea snacks such as a plate of biscuits, scones, or buttered toast, crumpets or tea sandwiches.

Original pen, ink and acquarelle sketch shows glass teapot with peach and delphineums.

Glass teapot. 5″x 7″ Ink and acquarelle on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

When your kettle comes to a full rolling boil (large bubbles rolling across the surface of the water), you bring your tea pot alongside the kettle and pour a few inches of water into the pot. This is called “scalding the pot.” Cover the pot with its lid while you reach down the loose tea, properly stored in tin or glass canisters within easy reach. Before adding tea leaves to your tea pot, be sure to dump out the scalding water. In the interest of ecology I have been known to return this water to the kettle, but you can dump it into your dishpan or utility bowl if you’d rather, or pour it down the sink to clear the drain — don’t say I never give you any choices,  With your teaspoon, carefully measure one teaspoon of tea leaves for each cup of tea your tea pot holds. Some people add one additional teaspoon “for the pot.” We find that our tea is strong enough to walk on its own without this tradition. Pour boiling water over the tea leaves until the pot is nearly full and put the lid on pronto. Now you let it sit for awhile, otherwise known as steeping.

Now, what kind of tea should you use? I specified black tea because that is the tea I know best and it is actual tea made from tea plants. There are many kinds of black tea grown in different places in the world. There are pure teas of one type, such as “Ceylon” or “Assam” and there are tea blends, such as “English Breakfast” and “Irish Breakfast.” Assam happens to be my favorite. A certain species of mutants (surely it is part of their gene pool) like Earl Grey Tea. a black tea scented with oil of bergamot — to my ilk this tea tastes like tea cut with perfumed bath water, but I will not chastise them for their choice as long as they don’t serve it when I am coming over. There are other flavored black teas as well, featuring black currant or lemon. I say stick with the basics until you learn what you like: if you were born an American, you may never have had a proper cup of tea in your entire life.

If you have bought your tea leaves in a tin, the tin will likely include guidelines for how long to steep your tea. If you have bought it from a bulk bin or a jar at Country Cheese you will be on your own for the timing. We let our tea steep for about seven minutes before pouring the first cup. If it looks too light, we pour it back and let it steep some more.

Strictly speaking, what you are supposed to do is decant the steeped tea into another clean scalded pot once it reaches the intensity you want. Decanting your tea rids you of the leaves, making it impossible for your perfect tea to acquire bitterness from the sitting leaves. This is entirely proper, but we have a few lazy Philistine habits and one of them is not decanting our tea. During the steeping process, the tea leaves will sink to the bottom of the pot and during the sipping process any that got in there will sink to the bottom of your cup where you can avoid them or read your fortunes if you are good at that sort of thing. In any case, we generally drink our tea so fast and brew it so perfectly that it does not get bitter in the pot. All of us drink our tea with milk (never cream). My brother Bryan drinks his with milk and sugar. We put the tea in the cup before the additions so that we can check the tea’s color.

To make iced tea, all you do is make your largest pot of black tea as described above. After steeping, this time you decant it immediately into a serving pitcher and dilute it with cool water. If you are going to drink it immediately you will want to add ice — if not, it can now sit in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it — since you have decanted it, it cannot get bitter and you will not need to add any baking soda. Sheesh.

If you want sweet tea, I recommend making a pitcher of simple syrup. Take a saucepan and add equal amounts of sugar and water, 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water. Boil this, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Decant syrup into a nice pitcher and provide guests with spoons. Simple syrup combines with tea better than grainy, granulated sugar, which sinks to the bottom repeatedly, leaving your last swallow of tea much sweeter than your first. You will have to stir your tea a few times to diffuse the syrup evenly even so. Each guest can sweeten her tea to her liking and your mother can have hers unsweetened as she prefers.

Original watercolor painting shows long and short red dresses.

Red Dresses. 8 and 1/2″ by 12″. Watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

While you are practicing making proper tea or rejoicing in the fact that you already know how to make it, I will be putting on my red dress and my back-up singer hat to sing with Johnny Harper and the Hard Times Choir at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa. If you read this early enough in the morning, come on out and look for us at The Grand Coulee Stage at 12:50. We’ll be singing Woody Guthrie songs to celebrate his hundredth birthday.

Maybe it was walking up hills for three days, which rendered me tired and lowered my resistance. Maybe it was reading the second installment of Jackie’s “What I Ate Last Week” at Marin Mama Cooks (It is fun to know the details of another person’s life and table). Maybe it was this hilarious account of food aversions called “Ten Gastric Ways of Making Me Talk.

It was lunch time. I was hungry. And on the way downstairs I decided to make my first green smoothie.

Some of you are saying “Oh no!” and thinking about cancelling your subscriptions. “She isn’t…” She’s gone too far.” “This is not going to make me love local, seasonal food.” “Run for the barf bag.” “Shh. You can’t say that on a food blog.”

painting of blender, fruit, spinach and the resulting green smoothie in a glass.

Green Smoothie. Sharyn Dimmick. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil.

I had read about green smoothies. I had promised myself I would try one once when I had some strong-flavored ingredients on hand to offset the spinach.

In the refrigerator was a small bowl of fruit salad, that bowl that sits for days while you each wait for the other person to eat it: “Maybe she’ll eat it tomorrow….” And that fruit salad was made of fresh pineapple, organic strawberries rescued from the bargain bin and a few tangerines. Plus, I had a mango on the counter from our last visit to Grocery Outlet and I had a quarter of a bag of the fresh spinach that came last week. Green smoothie time.

I chucked the bowl of fruit salad into the blender with all of its juices. I cut open the mango, sliced and scored it, turning it inside out to release the mango cubes from the skin.

How much spinach? You didn’t think I was going to use a recipe, did you, or consult one? My guideline was not so much that it would be disgusting or overpower all of the other ingredients. Stripping off any thick stems I put in a small handful of leaves, maybe half a cup.

The blender whirred. When it was no longer chopping anything I got out a glass and poured a test taste.

First of all, it wasn’t green. It was orange- yellow with a green undertone and it was too thick to drink easily. But it didn’t taste bad at all.

Okay. Thinning. What was I going to use? I don’t like super cold drinks so ice was out. I have some indifferent raspberry sorbet in the freezer. Don’t need the sugar. Ah, yogurt — plain yogurt and more spinach.

I added two dollops of plain yogurt and another small handful of spinach, concentrating on the smallest leaves. The blender whirred it around again.

This time it was the color of an avocado face mask, the color of split pea soup. It was green. I poured it into the glass and tasted cautiously.

It did not taste like spinach. It still tasted faintly of mango and strawberries, more sweet than vegetal, with a tang from the yogurt. If I had had them, I would have added more strawberries, frozen raspberries or blueberries, or more pineapple. It was fine without them.

Since I don’t usually drink my lunch I wanted something to chew on (Where are the bar snacks?). I toasted a piece of sourdough bread to satisfy my teeth and jaws.

Should you make a green smoothie? I don’t know. Do you like wheat grass and other green things? Do you have a juicer, which will widen the ingredients you can put in it? Is it hot where you live and too late to cook lunch? Do you need to use a mango, some fresh spinach and some berries today? Do you have an appetite for all things new? Are you willing to try to drink your veggies because you refuse to eat them? Answering yes to any of those questions may predispose you to make a green smoothie at least once. I did it and lived to tell the tale.

Painting shows lime, mint leaf, ginger root and glass.

Lime-Ginger-Mint Cooler. 4″ x 6″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

What season is it anyway? I am in the kitchen, trimming cabbages, peeling rutabaga, cutting the tops off carrots. I was going to make Caesar Salad with baby romaine to celebrate the first warm, bright Sunday of May, but all of the lemons on our tree are small and green, so instead I trim the remaining winter vegetables. The rutabaga has that hot taste it sometimes gets and some of the carrots are watery. They don’t know what season it is supposed to be either.

I start slicing fennel, thinking I’ll stir up some kind of mustardy vinaigrette for it. I go back upstairs for a recipe that is surely in my saved blogs folder and can’t find it. I search two or three blogs I read for fennel salad and come up empty-handed. Yes, I make a fennel salad, but I want to make a different one. I mix some whole-grain mustard with some red wine vinegar and put that on the sliced fennel. I eat quite a lot of that while I’m thinking (I haven’t had lunch).

I go back upstairs and find an intriguing recipe for rutabaga, which I have all of the ingredients for. I look for the Mario Batali original, but can’t find it. Do I really want to make rutabaga home fries? Not before I eat something. But what am I going to eat? There on the toaster oven is the dry French bread I was going to make into croutons for the salad. When in doubt, eat bread and cheese. I cut the bread into three slices. Our cheese supply is limited today: we are down to mozzarella, Pecorino and those crusts of Parmesan that you throw into vegetable soup, so I cut a few slices of mozzarella, add some Pecorino for flavor, pile fennel shards on top of that and put the whole thing in a 400 degree oven. Fifteen minutes later the cheese is browned in spots the way I like it, the fennel is warmed through. I eat a cheese toast. I go upstairs. I eat another one. In ten minutes I am back downstairs for the last piece.

This time I stay long enough to make pizza dough. I keep sourdough starter in the fridge and try to use it once a week. Mozzarella and Pecorino are perfect pizza cheeses, so I mix together 3 cups of flour*, and 1 and 1/2 cups of water and let it rest for ten minutes. Then I add 1/2 cup of sourdough starter and a little over 1 tsp kosher salt. I let the KitchenAid mix that several minutes with a dough hook while I add flour, tablespoon after tablespoon after tablespoon, waiting for the dough to leave the sides of the bowl, which it doesn’t want to do today. Eventually, I move it to a floured board and knead by hand as it absorbs all of the flour from the board. We do this dance for quite awhile and then  I smear a little olive oil in the bread bowl, cover it with a dish towel and consign it to the refrigerator: I will make the pizza tomorrow. The arcane pizza-making instructions come from The Cheese Board Collective Works, one of my favorite cookbooks for pizza and sourdough bread.

Now, some people I know make delicious pizza. They seem to plan what they will put on it. Around our house, we make pizza because we have a lot of odds and ends of cheese and meat, or half a jar of olives to use or some leftover pasta sauce or eggplant that needs to come out of the freezer. Or we make pizza because it will use the mozzarella we have in the house. I spied some green olives on the door of the fridge that I suspect will become pizza ingredients and I believe I have some roasted red peppers in the cooler.

The cooler, by the way, is a cabinet that more houses should have. It is a cupboard built next to an outside wall of the house. Part of the wall has been replaced with a screen. Because fresh air cools the cabinet, you can keep oil, vinegar, mustard, ketchup — things that might otherwise take up space in your refrigerator — in the cooler. We store canned goods in there, too, both homemade and store-bought, and things like Karo syrup.

The day slips away after that in another round of phone calls and emails about hotels in France. Sigh. I whir 1/4 cup of minced candied ginger in the blender with the juice of two limes and a handful of fresh mint leaves. I pour most of it into a glass and add sparkling water. I call that dinner. Without the water this makes a great dressing for fruit salad: you can add more lime if it is too paste-like, but the fruit will give off juice. It’s a good alternative to dairy-based dressings and mayo (shudder). I’ve been known to dress carrot salad with it, too.

What do you do with “hot” rutabagas and watery carrots? I expect some gardeners or farm cooks will have some answers.

*I like to use part whole wheat flour in pizza dough, usually at least 1/2 a cup.

Painting of melons, agua fresca and limes.

Melon Liquada 8″x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Our heat wave has hit, the one we have been expecting since the end of July, bringing our typical Indian summer weather. I spent part of the weekend in a park in downtown Berkeley listening to an old-time string band contest, part of it at a hostel down the coast at Montara and part of it sitting on the outdoor patio of Jupiter alehouse back in Berkeley listening to more old-time music.

Before I left for the weekend, I had to prepare food for the overnight at the hostel. I had been asked to bring salad and juice. The abundant peppers and tomatoes made Greek salad a no-brainer, with the last of the Armenian cukes. so I packed tomatoes, red peppers and quartered cucumber into a small beverage cooler with some blue ice, adding a small jar of olive oil, a clove of garlic, two small Meyer lemons and a pre-mixed jar of red wine vinegar, dry mustard and black pepper. plus a package of feta in brine.

Juice presented a problem: I don’t drink juice and don’t keep it around and I don’t go out and buy things for potlucks — I use what I have. But I had two large melons from the veggie box, problematic in themselves since neither of us in this house enjoy orange melons, so I decided to make liquada or agua fresca.

Saturday morning found me seeding a large muskmelon and an even larger orange honeydew, paring away the rinds and dropping chunks of the flesh into the blender with a little water in the first batch. I squeezed in one lime and blended several batches, straining the pulp over a large mixing bowl. I have never made proper agua fresca before and was surprised by the amount of time that it took to force the liquid from the melon pulp through a strainer, perhaps half an hour for the two melons. Because I tasted the flesh of the melons beforehand and they were very sweet I didn’t add any sugar. After a taste test I threw in a dash of salt — less than a quarter teaspoon — to intensify the flavor, squeezed in one more lime and added a little crushed cardamom because I can’t resist messing with things. I poured the strained liquada into a five gallon jar and added two trays of ice cubes to keep it cold on its journey southward along the coast.

When I arrived at the hostel, I put the liquada in the refrigerator for Sunday’s breakfast and made a quick Greek salad. I had forgotten the kalamata olives. Oh well. All of the salad was eaten anyway. As for the liquada, or agua fresca, when there was still a cup or two of it in the jar I announced that I was ready to pour it down the sink and a couple of people said, “Oh no. Don’t do that” and rushed to get empty yogurt containers to take it home. Apparently liquified melon is popular with my friends.

You can, of course, make liquada out of other things — cucumbers, watermelon, berries, stone fruits. The important steps are to taste the fruit before and after liquefying it, to strain the pulp, to add lime for piquancy, and to serve it well-chilled, If I had not added two trays of ice cubes to mine I could have diluted it with plain water or served it cut with sparkling water. This is a hands-on, low-to-no-measurement recipe where you have to taste and adjust, taste and adjust, to get something you like.

I was tempted to add some juice from crushed ginger to the melon version, but the hostess of the potluck suggested that I make two batches if I wanted to do that. There are limits to what I will do and I didn’t want to carry two five gallon jars, along with my sleeping bag, backpack and cooler. I could have brought some ginger juice to spike the melon with in the cooler, but I didn’t think of that.

Melon Liquada or Agua Fresca

Seed melon or melons and remove rind. Chop flesh into pieces.

Taste melon flesh — if it is very sweet you will not need to add sugar.

Fill blender jar with melon chunks. Add a couple of tablespoons of water.

Blend until liquid. Season with juice of one lime and a dash of salt (1/8 tsp, perhaps).

Pour through large metal strainer set over a large mixing bowl. Push on solids to extract liquid (Try using a potato masher to push with).

Repeat until all melon has been blended and strained.

Taste and adjust seasoning with lime, salt, or sugar. It should be full-flavored because you are going to dilute it with ice or water.

Add optional flavorings — chopped mint, basil, crushed cardamom, juice extracted from fresh ginger, dark rum, etc. Taste again.

Pour into five gallon glass jar. Add two trays of ice and set jar in refrigerator to chill. The ice will melt and dilute the liquid. Or skip the ice and dilute to taste with water or sparkling water.

Agua fresca is best drunk on a hot day when you will appreciate it, perhaps outside on a patio in the shade. Please write in to comment if you invent some splendid variation.

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