Archives for category: seasonal recipes

Those of you who are kind enough to follow The Kale Chronicles as it morphs from a twice weekly blog to a monthly blog will have noticed that it did not make its May deadline. It was inevitable, given some things that are going on and it may be rocky here for awhile. I have not had time to take pictures, much less paint them in the last week or so — I have barely been able to attend to the garden (I just spent an hour on my hands and knees, pulling out burr clover).

But I harvested at least half a basket of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes tonight from the plant that has dynastic ambitions — having taken over as much of the fence line as possible (I think), it has shifted its focus to growing out over the patio. Johnny said it had to be cut back, but I am not going to do that. Perhaps I should have put in more stakes or a tomato cage, but it is too late for that now. It swallows up and shades everything in its path with abundant foliage and hundreds of yellow blossoms. It is the biggest tomato plant I have ever seen and I fear to think of what my Amish paste tomatoes and my Principe Borghese plants are going to look like — both of them have larger tomatoes than the Sun Gold.

I have pepper plants hardening off and chard that is bolting. We can eat lettuce from the garden now, as well as chard and kale and tomatoes. I set out some new Thai basil seeds because the Thai basil I planted before is underneath the giant tomato. In the process of digging to enrich the soil for the basil I discovered concrete about a foot down at the end of one of the bean rows. Uh-oh. I have not yet determined how far the concrete extends (I’m not that fond of digging).

My green bean plants have little tiny green beans and the Scarlet Runners do too. My pinto beans and black-eyed peas seem to have hybridized in a giant tangle: when they started out they looked like bush beans, but then the bush beans grew tangled vines that refuse to take to the supports I gave them. Meanwhile some of the butternut squash plants are growing through a row of green beans and I can no longer walk on what was a path in that part of the garden. I think that I saw some tiny butternut squash tonight, although I have seen no squash blossoms, which makes no sense — the only things in blossom are the tomatoes and various beans.

I need to know a lot of things. I need to know how to confine indeterminate tomatoes (and perhaps how to prune the non-bearing branches). I need to know how to encourage the butternut squash to fruit and how to protect the squash as they grow. I need an advanced placement course in staking and supporting plants because muddling through it on my own was not adequate (I have raised indeterminate tomatoes before, thank you very much, but only in ten gallon buckets, where they stay put, where, in fact, they were spindly and only produced a few handfuls of tomatoes. I love the abundance, but I am afraid we will not be able to walk in our yard by August and I feel sorry for the other plants that have no chance and no space to grow. I need to know what particular horrible garden pests or diseases have been plaguing my red cabbage plants, which may not be long for this world, although I have not had a single cabbage.

I sort it out as best I can. The garden is my refuge from other difficulties and I love going out and picking or cutting things to eat. Last night I made a chicken salad that incorporated cherry tomatoes and lettuce from the garden. I also used plain Greek yogurt, Madras curry powder, lemon juice (lime is better), celery and golden raisins.

May highlights included a visit from my best friend and her husband on the day that twenty-six mph winds blew the tomato trellis down and ripped stakes through the ground and my guest appearance with Johnny’s band, Johnny Harper and Carnival, in Sebastopol. I sang “Evangeline” by Robbie Robertson, which Emmy Lou Harris sang in “The Last Waltz.” The band has been doing a special series of shows featuring the music of The Band, while incorporating some of Johnny’s original compositions. Johnny is hard at work on a CD, to be released in October if all goes according to plan.

I hope you all are enjoying your late spring/early summer.

Sharyn (aka The Kale Chronicler)

Spring crops are in! Fresh Batavia lettuce rosettes at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. Last Saturday I stood in line for a three-pack of strawberries and a couple of large artichokes, food that hardly needs preparing: I sliced the strawberries over homemade waffles made with spelt flour and sour half and half and steamed the artichokes to eat with lemon butter. This easy cooking joins the long-cooked stews on the cooler days and keeps me from heating up the kitchen on the warmer days. We have had some of each in March, eighty-degree afternoons, fifty-one degree sunrises. Sheeting rain yesterday morning kept me from singing at the Berkeley market but allowed me to walk through the Bay Fair market with Johnny instead. I bought more artichokes, some sugar snap peas, cilantro, new potatoes. Johnny bought onions, scallions, red peppers (where did they come from?). The other day a man walked down our street with strawberries from Salinas and I bought half a flat for two dollars a basket. Johnny says they aren’t as good as the farmers’ market strawberries, but it was an impulsive buy to cheer up my sweetie who has been working hard on his first album.

I have been working hard, too. I played a private St. Patrick’s Day party on Saturday March 15, in addition to my usual busking. For that I had to practice up several Turlough O’Carolan tunes on the Celtic harp and refresh my memory of some “Irish” standards of the type that one only sings on St. Patrick’s Day (I was heard to grumble through the house, “I never will play ‘The Wild Rover’ no more”).

Photo of seed packets

Heirloom seed packets.

The day after the gig I whisked myself off to Santa Rosa to visit my friends Suzanne and Scott. Suzanne and I had a date with the Seed Bank in Petaluma, a haven for heirloom seeds. Suzanne staked me to a portion of them as a late birthday present and I quickly doubled the stake to get an English trowel and more seeds. It’s hard to describe the bounty of seed packets at the Seed Bank, over 1200 possibilities. I carefully chose varieties of basil and tarragon, snapped up some black garbanzo beans from Afghanistan, bought Blue Lake green bean seeds and Scarlet Runner beans. I deliberated over kinds of sunflowers and bought a blue and white sweet pea mix. I chose a French variety of lettuce and an Amish paste tomato. I could not get sugar snap peas or Genovese basil — apparently everyone in Northern California is planting those at the moment. But the peppers were nearly my undoing: an entire rack of peppers stood before me and I wanted them all, habaneros and jalapenos, cherry peppers, Thai peppers. I limited myself to poblano seeds and a packet with a beautiful illustration of a red bell pepper.

Much of this bounty is still sitting in packets in the breakfast nook because every time I have had time to plant things outdoors I have needed stakes or there has been rain. I lie awake nights thinking where to put things. I did manage to plant a couple of half rows of black-eyed peas and pinto beans and put together a small A-frame of scavenged pine boughs and bamboo for the scarlet runner beans. I planted some runner beans today, plus Blue Lake green beans, butternut squash and two varieties of basil (Thai and Ararat).

Tomato and tarragon seedlings

First seedlings

Last week I started seeds of two kinds of tomatoes and Russian tarragon in cardboard egg cartons. I started a second set when anything failed to germinate after six days and was jubilant an hour later when the sun came out and the first green bits poked up out my potting soil in tray number one. I have never started seeds indoors before and this small victory feels like magic. This morning I squeezed three new egg cups into my tray, each containing a poblano pepper seed.

The in-ground crops look good. We cut a few leaves of chard one night to go with a dinner of sweet potatoes and sour milk cornbread. The kale and two of the red cabbages are growing large. The Sun Gold tomato is a leggy green monster now with four sets of yellow blossoms already — perhaps we will have home-grown tomatoes by May. I am anxious to have tomatoes, tarragon and pepper plants to add to the garden, to plant lettuce and herbs and flowers, but I have to wait for drier weather. Not that we don’t need the rain in California. We do.  I wait impatiently for the intersection of a free day and a dry day and I hack a three-foot high sheaf of flowering weeds out of the side yard so that they do not invade my vegetable patch.

It excites me to grow some of our food. I prepared the ground of my mind for this by subscribing to a farm box and converting myself to seasonal eating several years ago. Then I managed a small organic garden in an after school recreation program where we successfully grew beans, peas and tomatoes. We planted cleome and borage and lemon verbena, a true geranium, pumpkins: I watched a visiting child snap the one small pumpkin off its vine during a Hallowe’en party and I was let go before everything bloomed.

Hills and trees from Bay Fair platform.

Bay Fair Landscape #1. 5″ x 7″ ink and watercolor. Sharyn Dimmick.

I started some garden sketches for this post but the rain has interrupted my garden sketching as well. Instead I sketch strangers on BART trains and the view of hills and trees from the bench on the platform. The sketching exercises come from the new edition of Natalie Goldberg’s Living Color, a beautiful book with a gallery of paintings as well as lots of fun things to do. I feel happy with my life when the days contain music and sketching and cooking and gardening and writing. Sketching calms me and engages me, a meditation of the moving hand and eye, tethering my restless mind to the paper and the scene in front of me, just as busking tethers my mind to chords and lyrics, my hands to the fingerboard, my feet to the floor, while my voice rides the breath. In kitchen work, the anchor is my chopping knife, my whisk, the spoon in my hand, in gardening it is the trowel or fingers twisting weed stems as I thank them for breaking up the soil.

Dear Kale Chronicles’ Readers and Friends,

It has been a long time since I sent you an update, much less a painting or a recipe. As Christmas Eve turned to Christmas Day I was standing in the kitchen at my mother’s house, baking a last batch of Russian teacakes, a traditional holiday cookie for us, consisting of butter, finely chopped walnuts, powdered sugar and enough flour to hold it all together. I had bought fresh walnuts in the shell from the Berkeley Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning and shelled them earlier on Monday evening while listening to Christmas carols on public television. Unfortunately, I had not consulted the recipe for amounts and had shelled just 1/2 cup when I needed 3/4 cup: as soon as I looked at the cookbook I went back to shelling nuts and wielding my chef’s knife.

It was an all-cookie Christmas this year, supplemented only with batches of Betsy’s delicious Italian Glazed Almonds. I did not have funds available for purchasing gifts in 2012, so I made them, Cocoa Shortbread and Pfefferneusse, Smitten Kitchen’s maple butter cookies, thin Moravian ginger cookies. For several days I busked in the Berkeley BART station in the morning and baked in the afternoon and evening, preparing a silver tray of cookies for my friend Elaine’s Chanukah party, packing a waxed cardboard box with almonds for another. When I wasn’t baking I was borrowing a guitar from Fat Dog at Subway Guitars who kindly lent me a Johnson to play while my beloved Harmony went to the guitar doctor, who treated her for a couple of serious cracks, rehearsing with Johnny for a gig at Arlington Cafe in my home town or giving my annual Christmas music party for which I prepared butternut squash soup, Mexican corn soup, Swedish rye bread and Finnish cardamom bread.

I remember standing at the bread board chopping resinous walnuts, seeing the chopped nuts in the metal measuring cup, the knife blade against the wood, thinking “This is not so bad a way to spend the evening.” True, it was late and I was behind on Christmas preparations, but I focused on the pleasure that a fresh tin of powder-sugar dusted cookies would bring my mother, Johnny (they are his favorite) and my sister-in-law who threatened to kill Johnny on Christmas Day if he had eaten them all. As the knife flashed through the nut meats, as the butter and sugar whirled in the mixer, as I rolled the cookie dough into small balls in the quiet night kitchen I thought how lucky I am:

1) My mother and brother are healthy and here to celebrate Christmas with this year.

2) I have a pleasant and safe home to live in.

3) I have found someone to love who loves me back.

4) I, too, am healthy.

5) My lone guitar has been safely repaired

6) Johnny and I played a gig together in my hometown to generally favorable responses and both ended the evening in the black financially.

7) Friends came to hear us play.

8) My song about our courtship, “Clueless,” continues to be a runaway hit and fun to play.

Honestly, I can’t remember more of those midnight thoughts now. Suffice it to say that I thought of my patient readers who have put up with my long absence from the blogosphere.

Just in case anyone has not had enough cookies over the past month or has never made Russian teacakes at home, I’ll share the recipe with you, slightly modified from that presented in our Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook.

Russian Teacakes

Soften 1 cup (two sticks) of butter — I use one stick salted butter and one stick unsalted.

Shell and finely chop 3/4 cup fresh walnuts

Combine butter with 1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract in electric mixer until creamy.

Slowly add 2 and 1/4 cups sifted flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, incorporating flour completely before each addition.

Mix in chopped nuts.

Chill dough as necessary. If you work late at night in a cold kitchen you will not need this step (or want to wait for the dough to chill either). Before baking, preheat oven to 400.  Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes until some color shows on the bottom edges. Roll warm cookies carefully in powdered sugar — they are delicate and will develop mangy-looking spots where the butter comes through. Let cool and roll again, or sift or sprinkle more powdered sugar to cover each cookie. Store in airtight tins for up to a week or two. (Mom recommends providing other cookies for the family to eat if you want to keep Russian teacakes on hand very long).

Food notes: the fresher the walnuts, the better the cookie. ‘Nough said. If you live in the South you could try making them with local pecans. If you prefer to bake exclusively with unsalted butter you will want to add 1/4 tsp of salt to your sifted flour. I use unbleached flour in these. Mom likes all-purpose. I have never tried them with a whole-grain flour — part of their attraction is that they are snowy white and ethereal. We only eat them once a year….

Painting notes: The reign of the emperor’s new clothes is long. You’ll know I am painting again the day you see a new painting here. Also, it has been so long since I’ve taken a photo that I cannot find the charger for my camera battery. Oops.

Writing classes: I will be teaching a six-week writing practice group on Tuesday nights in the East Bay starting January 8, 2012. My teacher Natalie Goldberg developed writing practice as a way to help people get their real thoughts on paper. For more information, see my ad on craigslist.

Happy New Year to everybody! See you again in 2013. –Sharyn

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…

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.

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).

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.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 184 other followers