In March 2013 I was sick for a week (just a run-of-the-mill virus) and on the road for the better part of a week in the back seat of a car to and from the Bay Area to Seattle. By March 11 I was back at my “day job,” busking in Berkeley BART stations two shifts a day: I leave at 7:15 in the morning and often return from my second shift around 5:00 PM, although I have been known to get home as early as 3:30. I sing about three hours a day, all I can manage without wearing my voice out.

I come home for lunch between shifts. Lunch is leftovers from last night’s dinner or toasted cheese sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat. Yesterday I had leftover (canned) turkey chili, leftover cornbread and a leftover roasted yam with a few raw vegetables on the side. We generally have a pot of black tea with lunch, shielding the milk pitcher from Ozzy the border collie who is quite fond of his “tea” (milk served in a saucer).

Last week I bought a bunch of carrots, a sack of blood oranges and two pounds of walnuts at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. I no longer buy these things to whip up exotic meals: I buy them to supplement my diet that is less rich in fresh fruits and vegetables than it was a mere six months ago. Mostly, I eat the oranges out of hand: I’ve eaten three of the five with my lunch this week and one at the bus stop as a snack. Carrots can be breakfast ingredients (I’m still making Sawsan’s carrot cake oatmeal around once a week ) as can walnuts: the nut rule is almonds if I am in a hurry and walnuts if I have the spare time to crack them and dislodge them from their shells. Yesterday I fixed my boiled-in-milk oatmeal with dried cranberries, homemade candied citrus peel from last winter and fresh walnuts.

In fact, much of my culinary creativity goes into modifying my morning oatmeal. This morning I ended up throwing a couple of tablespoons of Nutella into it and reminiscing with Johnny about the chocolate cereals of my childhood, formerly known as “Cocoa Puffs” and “Cocoa Krispies” (“Count Chocula,” a late comer, doesn’t count). I added almonds for crunch and tossed in some slivered candied citrus peel, mostly orange. I enjoyed Nutella oatmeal as a change, but I probably wouldn’t eat it more than once a month, not being a chocolate-for-breakfast fiend.

In case anyone has missed my previous post on oatmeal and/or polenta for breakfast I normally cook half a cup of rolled oats in a cup of milk with a pinch of kosher salt. To this I add fruit, nuts, syrups, in various combinations: I have drafted granola to add texture. I have made a syrup of fresh ginger, dried apricots, lemon peel, sugar and water and added two teaspoons of the fruit and syrup to my oats. I sometimes combine chopped dried apricots, chopped almonds and flaked coconut. I have used many dried fruits: sour cherries, cranberries, raisins, apples, pears. I have used walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans and hazelnuts. I have included candied ginger. I have added maple syrup, palm syrup, turbinado sugar, homemade cherry syrup.

Food Notes: If you have them, fresh hazelnuts would be delicious in Nutella oatmeal in place of the almonds, or in addition to them. Please experiment with whatever fruits and nuts are grown in your area.

I have been thinking for several days about a blog update for February 2013. Somehow I thought I would have time to paint a painting and to post a variation on the sweet potato flapjacks from Rufus’ Guide. I made the pancakes as suggested and Johnny and I enjoyed them for breakfast. I only made one substitution, which was to swap in a cup of whole wheat pastry flour. The thing is — and it may have been the whole wheat flour — I had to keep adding liquid because the pancakes were thicker than I like them. By the second day I had run out of buttermilk and the batter was still too thick, so I beat an extra egg into it and thinned it again with regular 1% milk: this produced thin, light pancakes with beautiful markings on them from the butter I fried them in, the interiors a pale orange hue. I would have loved to paint them. Maybe I will paint them someday, but not tonight with the clock approaching bedtime. Go and look at Greg’s version. Mine are thinner and lighter is all. If you like thick flapjacks, follow his recipe. If you like pancakes to be more like Swedish pancakes, use my adaptation.

Why couldn’t I paint? Well, February is full of holidays, both official and personal: Johnny and I both have birthdays this month, there was Valentine’s Day. We have been together six months and so had our half-year anniversary this week as well. Then, I decided to busk twice a day five days a week because I am just not earning enough, so now I go out every morning for two hours and every afternoon for another hour. Add in travel time, rest time, meals, a writing student, cat care for a friend, writing practice. I am rarely in my room long enough to start a painting and if I am I am talking on the phone, renewing my Craigslist ad or answering business calls or email.

Still, I probably could have eked out a painting except that Johnny had a family emergency that left us in limbo for days and culminated in the death of someone very dear to him.

So eat your pancakes, friends, or your Lenten fish. Rejoice that you have loved ones around you, if you do. Remember that this is the only life you get as far as we know. Do your best to enjoy it, the blue sky of California or the snow crystals in Illinois. Celebrate what you can and mourn what you must. I’ll return to you when I can. As always, I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read the chronicles, especially those of you who have stuck around during the declining frequency and the dearth of pretty pictures and recipes.

Sweet Potato Pancakes (adapted from a recipe posted on Rufus’ Guide)

Roast three small orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (sometimes known as “yams”) or use leftover cooked ones. Cool and mash them — just break them up.

Whisk together:

1 cup unbleached flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

2 Tbsp cinnamon sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

a pinch of salt

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp mace

Combine:

1 and 1/2 cups buttermilk (add more buttermilk or sweet milk as needed)

2 beaten eggs

mashed sweet potatoes

Stir wet ingredients into dry until just blended (you want to eliminate any soda lumps)

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat. When hot, add butter for frying.

Scoop out 1/4 cup portions of batter and fry in butter until bubbles appear and pop. Flip and fry on second side.

Keep pancakes warm in oven while you fry enough for everyone. Serve on warmed plates with warmed maple syrup and additional butter as desired.

When I began this blog in 2011 I was receiving a box of produce every week from Riverdog Farm and sometimes supplementing my produce box with additional items from the Berkeley Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. I was painting watercolors of food subjects twice a week to illustrate what I was cooking, eating and buying. In October 2012 I discontinued my produce subscription because I could no longer spare the twenty dollars a week it took to bring all of that fresh, organically-grown produce into the house. Mid-October I took up a career of busking at the local BART station, playing and singing for tips and the occasional CD sale. By November I had added shifts at the Farmers’ Market on Center Street.

Guitar Case. 5"x 7" Pen and Ink drawing. Sharyn Dimmick

Guitar Case. 5″x 7″ Pen and Ink drawing. Sharyn Dimmick

For three and a half months I have been singing and playing guitar in public places, earning whatever passers-by choose to pay me. I do not recommend this as a way of making your living — if I did not live at my mother’s house I would certainly be on the street for more than a few hours a day. I play for two or two and a half hours a shift, seldom repeating a song, and only taking breaks to drink water, answer questions or sell CDs. I arrive promptly for my shifts, thank everyone who throws so much as a penny in my case, sing my songs in a different order everyday so that no one gets bored with hearing the same one as he or she hurries to catch their train or buy their potatoes.

I am not the greatest guitar-player in the world, but I am competent: I can accompany the types of songs I sing. I have found that daily performing takes me back to songs I learned early in my life when I spent hours listening to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell records. I play the fingerpicked standards that all guitar students learned to play: “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor,” which I first heard the year I lived in Ireland, and “Railroad Bill.” I play Bob Coltman’s “Before They Close the Minstrel Show” which I first heard when I was a graduate student in folklore in North Carolina. I play James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes,” which I learned in high school from some other women who played the guitar. While I have a deep repertoire of traditional folk songs I find that many songs I love are too slow for public playing: people will tolerate Joni’s “That Song About the Midway” and Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” occasionally, but they seem to like a steady diet of acoustic blues and Bob Dylan songs.

Most musicians will tell you, to quote my friend Carol Denney, “Practicing doesn’t usually make you worse” (It can if you practice your mistakes so many times that you learn them by heart: then you have to unlearn them). It is unlikely that I have gotten worse from the daily practice of my craft in public — I now know I can play and sing for two and a half hours standing up by myself. I might get tired. My guitar might go out of tune and require retuning, but I now have the stamina to play for two and a half hours without stopping.

Back in a former life, I used to wish I was “a real musician.” I defined “a real musician” as one who plays everyday. I am perilously close to achieving that status now that I play six days a week in public — if I practice at home on the seventh day I have become “real” for that week.

Harmony 3. 5" x 7" pen, ink and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Harmony 3. 5″ x 7″ pen, ink and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Does it make me happy? Yes and no. I am itching for new repertory and must make the time to develop it when I am at home. I am hungry for new guitar skills (Fortunately, I am paired up with a man who can teach me licks and tricks in our spare time). I have fallen in love with the guitar style of Dave Van Ronk, plus some old guys from the 1920s whose records he learned from. At the same time, it is dispiriting to play for two hours and receive two dollars and a quarter on a day when I debuted two new songs and I gave it my all. January has not been kind to me as a busker.

The lack of fresh food means that I have few recipes to write about: every now and then I cobble together a delicious green fish curry or a curried apple, carrot and romanesco soup, but I eat a lot of pinto beans and spoon bread, scrambled eggs, peanut butter and jelly. My Farmers’ Market purchases last week were limited to two bunches of carrots, one of which I ate, Sawsan-style, grated into my morning oatmeal. The other bunch serves as crunchy food at lunch. I cook breakfast for Johnny when he’s here, make soups and bake bread, but I miss the variety of greens and citrus and roots that I complained of seeing too much of another January: now I see it as a wonderful and challenging abundance from which to work. I do sometimes look in on the wonderful blogs of others, but I don’t have the amount of free time I used to have.

I have acquired a writing student, who will start working with me in February for four weeks. I am excited about teaching Natalie Goldberg’s writing practice again.

I appreciate anyone who stops by to keep up with my story here, any subscribers or casual readers who have wondered at my long absence. It took me most of January to locate my camera battery recharger, without which I had no hope of illustrating anything. I leave you with some drawings of my old Harmony guitar, my constant companion in this latest phase of my life.

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

I believe I mentioned in a post at the beginning of November that I would take as my November themes solvency, National Novel Writing Month and gratitude. Shortly after that I began to experience a hurricane of self-doubt and wrote a post about my inability to work on The Kale Chronicles without the weekly infusion of a box of organically grown produce.

Several kind readers responded with comments telling me that they enjoyed my writing and would be glad to read it anytime, telling me not to worry about providing recipes, advising me to let the blog morph into whatever it would. I am more grateful than I can say for the kindness and support of my readers and thought I might compose a brief status report.

1) Solvency. I have continued my weekday morning busking at the Berkeley BART station, playing and singing two hours for tips. Thanksgiving Week was good to me — I sold three CDs that week and my daily earnings rose above $10.00 per day (when I started busking in mid-October I sometimes earned less than $5.00). I have had two weeks of double digit earnings and believed I had crossed a threshold when I ran into competition at the station this morning and earned only $3.50. C’est la vie. I have managed to cut my debt down to $249.06 and will keep chipping away at it until it is gone.

2) NaNoWriMo. Despite the Thanksgiving holiday and time off for recurrent back pain I did manage to complete the 50,000 words of writing required during National Novel Writing Month. I am well-trained in the art of sitting down and putting words on paper and my experience served me well. For your pleasure or idle curiosity I include the first day’s work on the memoir below. The memoir, which deals with my life with cerebral palsy and my struggles with money, love and work, is called “Broken.” The third section, which begins below, is called “Whole.”

Whole: Green Hat Incident

Wearing a green gown is unlucky in ballads: bad things happen to women in green dresses. They get raped (“Tam Lin”) even if they fall in love with the rapist later. Women put on a green dress to signify that they have been forsaken. Just before the Earl of Aboyne’s lady falls into a year of woe and dies she dons a green gown with red silk trimming to greet her returning lord.

One day in Ballad Group (in 2011) I happened to notice that Elaine was singing a song about a woman who wanted to get married who had sent her petticoats to be dyed green when she sent her shoes to be mended. When she finished the song, I wondered aloud why she would be dying her petticoats green and commented to the others that wearing green in ballads was generally a bad thing. After some discussion, Johnny Harper, who sits next to me at Ballad Group, reached over and tweaked the lime green hat that I was wearing.

I turned to him and said, “Green petticoats, not green hats.”

The session went on: when we get together to sing ballads we sit around a table full of potluck food. We eat and chat for a bit and then we go around the table widdershins (counterclockwise) for each person to sing a song. We sing for three or four hours and then pull out our calendars to schedule the next meeting.

Most of the ballad-singers are women. We had Malcolm for awhile before he moved back to England. Bill comes regularly and Ed Silberman sometimes drops by toward the end of a meeting. The group has been running for more than ten years and Johnny is, in fact, a Johnny-come-lately, brought a year or so ago by Marlene, who has been with us just a few years herself. The core of Ballads has been me, Elaine, Mary O’Brien, Sadie Damascus and Toni Gross, all “women of a certain age.” I started the ballad-singing session over ten years ago so that we would have a place to sing the traditional ballads that make other people yawn, cringe, head for the bathroom or remark unfavorably on our choice of repertory.

Ballad group is not where you would go to flirt with the boys. I once brought a date to Ballad Group — I thought he was a date, anyway — because I wanted to share something precious with him. I had sung him “Barbara Allen” at my house one day. He had listened through the whole thing and enjoyed it and I had invited him to Ballad Group to hear us sing. He came. Then we went out to eat afterwards. Some months later he told me he was “trying to be friends with me.”

When I got home, I turned the incident with Johnny over in my mind.

“He flirted with me,” I thought. “He’s never done that before. Maybe he likes me.” I wanted to call up the other members of the ballad group and see if they had noticed anything, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself, so I did the next best thing: I checked him out on Facebook — I became friends with him (sent him a friend request) and read his profile: he was single and interested in women. Good.

The incident — after all, he had touched me — left a spark. I lay in bed that night unable to get to sleep, touching myself while I played it over in my mind. I think I sent him an email called “Good Behavior,” praising him for bringing his acoustic guitar to Ballad Group that afternoon (he often brings a red Telecaster and a small amp, going electric at the Ballad Group the first day he showed up). He claims that he can play certain things better on the Telecaster because he can bend the strings more easily. That may be true, but I love it when he plays his Martin, so I sent him a note about it. I thought the subject line, “Good Behavior” was mildly flirtatious — I was trying to respond in kind.

Johnny never replied to the email. He continued to come to Ballads and he continued to sit next to me, but he never made another move. It’s true that every now and then we would say something to each other: once I pointed out to him that Sadie required a lot of space: she had come in, commandeered two chairs — one for her and one for her junk (projects) — and things were spilling off her lap onto the floor below. He looked and laughed, but he never flirted with me again. I told myself that he was just a flirty guy and it had been a thing of the moment, signifying nothing, but I recalled the spark I felt when he touched me and felt it wake me up, preoccupy me through a long night. I wrote about it the next day and then nothing happened.

Several months later, in May, I was preparing to make a trip to France to study with Natalie Goldberg there. While trying on clothes to take to Paris I decided I did not want to be a fat lady in France and instituted a routine of long, daily uphill walks to take off some weight and firm up in the five weeks before my departure. Exercise, while not my favorite thing, has a way of opening up things in my life because it forces me to pay attention to my body.

Meditation retreats are great opening experiences, too, because you take several days to be with your own thoughts and feelings whatever they are. You minimize distractions — you don’t talk or watch T.V. or check Facebook or make phone calls. At Natalie’s retreats you are allowed to read and write, but you are not supposed to be reading mysteries to take you out of your life but “literature” to study writing and teach you things you did not know.

Travel also opens you, unless it shuts you down. You are seeing new sights, eating new foods, encountering new customs, hearing new language and trying to speak it. You have no home to go to when traveling, although you may have a home base, a hotel room or a backpack that you take with you everywhere.

I spent a week with Natalie in Villefavard, France and then I spent a week in Paris, five days with other people from the retreat and two nights on my own. Although I had roommates, I spent a lot of time wandering the streets alone, taking long walks. Once I found a good bakery I went out for breakfast early every morning alone and sketched at my table while I waited for my croissant and hot chocolate to arrive. In the afternoons I would walk about the city. On my best day I walked along the quays all the way down to Shakespeare and Company and spent hours in the upper room sketching and writing. I may have gone from there to the Cafe de Deux Magot where I sketched again and ate a salad, following a Natalie itinerary of places to see. I had dessert at Cafe de Flor next door, a concoction of coffee ice cream and whipped cream.

In Villefavard I swam everyday in the small lake. One evening I went for a long walk along a lane. My time in Paris became an extended retreat, a way to be with myself, isolated by language: when I was out I would speak in my halting French. When I was in, there was often no one to talk to: I was alone in my shoe box room at the Hotel Bastille Baudelaire or sketching on my bed at Hotel du Quai Voltaire while my roommates toured or slept.

I had been home just a day or two when I had the thought that maybe Johnny would like to get together to play music. Musicians usually like to do this. I had repertory he had never heard, including original songs: at Ballads we are constrained by the rules, which require us to sing traditional ballads, or at least traditional songs with no known author. Once a year we can bust out our Bob Dylan songs, our Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire, our hits by Linda Ronstadt and The Rolling Stones: when I founded the Ballad Group I decided we could have the month of April as a safety valve, a pressure release, that we would have a free-for-all every April where we could sing anything we chose of any origin. I had hoped that allowing us one meeting to let our hair down would help us stick to the straight and narrow the rest of the year.

But this was July — April was far away. The thought to ask Johnny to get together had come up in my daily morning writing and I followed that thought by sending him an email.

3) Gratitude. I have fallen down a bit on this, having been experiencing several flavors of fear this month in its stead. Nevertheless, I am grateful that I have been able to explore all of my feelings in writing, grateful for my kind and patient readers and grateful for the presence in my life of Mr. Johnny Harper.

I still can’t say when I will be back with regular posts or paintings. My back is still troubling me but, as wise people say, “This, too, shall pass.”

– Sharyn

Painting Notes: Still no painting — apparently, the emperor found something else to wear at the back of his closet.

Dear Readers,

Apparently, I can’t write The Kale Chronicles right now: I can’t finish a painting. I cook very little and whatever I’ve cooked I’ve blogged about before. I cook oatmeal with milk in the morning for breakfast before I take the bus to downtown Berkeley to sing in the BART station. I eat leftovers for lunch. Mom has been cooking more and more since my brother Bryan moved in with us in July.

Bryan eats only fish, chicken and poultry in the animal kingdom. We recently bought a cheap supermarket turkey. Bryan prefers white meat so I took the dark meat and made turkey-apple stew, which I usually make post-Thanksgiving. What else have I made recently? Only gingerbread, adapted from Mollie Katzen’s recipe in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. When Mom said twice in five minutes that she thought butter was wasted in gingerbread I substituted coconut oil to please her and I used buttermilk because our yogurt had turned funny colors. We ate all of the gingerbread.

What am I doing? I am cranking out words for NaNoWriMo 2012, often at 5:30 in the morning. I leave the house at 7:15 every weekday to sing in the Berkeley BART station, playing for tips. I get home before 11 AM. Sometimes I write then if I have slept late. Then there is that lunch, whatever is around — leftover turkey enchiladas, leftover turkey-vegetable soup, leftover pasta.

Yesterday afternoon I reorganized my bookshelves after Bryan installed a new double shelf for me: it took three hours to shift all of the books around twice. Yesterday evening I went back down to Berkeley to sing a song with my friend Carol to celebrate the victory of common sense over Measure S. a ballot measure that made it illegal to sit on the sidewalks of Berkeley. Then I returned books to the library, practiced a song I’m trying to learn to play for a few minutes and fell into bed with a book, nodding off to Anne Lamott’s always-entertaining prose.

Last week I worked a sixteen-hour day on Election Day, which rewarded me by hurting my back, leaving me unable to sit, paint or lie down: all I could do was walk or stand for a few days, take hot baths to loosen my back muscles long enough for me to get to sleep. That is past now, but I am woefully behind on my reading, writing and painting.

I am wondering if the blog has come to the end of its useful life. I will not make a decision about it this week. I am always worried that I will run out of recipes because, in reality, I cook the same things over and over and, right now, I am cooking from a limited palette of what is around the house and what Mom brings in from Canned Foods Grocery Outlet and Smart and Final. This is what happens to people who cannot afford to buy fresh, seasonal food. I never thought I would be in that category and I don’t expect to spend the rest of my life in it.

We have some produce: we bought five limes yesterday and I scavenged a pomegranate from the Election Day goodies. The tree in the front yard produces Meyer lemons and we have a bowl of our own apples sitting on the counter. I have been more than six weeks without my beloved farm box and I miss it but can’t pony up the twenty dollars a week it would take to receive organic produce again. As the weeks pass I think, “Maybe next month.” “Maybe in January.”

I am sure that many of you know what it means to fall behind financially. I track every penny of spending and income. I don’t buy much — bus and BART tickets, the occasional coffee when I need to meet someone in a public place. Soon I will need a pair of shoes.

But I met with someone today who may help me find writing students and I sang at the Farmers’ Market this weekend and my back is better so I will table big decisions for a bit and keep on keeping on in some fashion until I have clarity on what to do next.

Painting Notes: Meet “The Emperor’s New Painting” (There’s nothing there).

Photo shows whole pecan rolls.

Hot homemade pecan rolls. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick, who ate the missing one.

Two of my lovely readers, Smidge and Granny, asked me separately what the theme for November would be on The Kale Chronicles. I said I wouldn’t know until Sunday. Here it is Sunday evening and I have had a little time to think about themes for November. My first theme for November is returning to solvency. To that end I sold some more books. To that end I studied the buskers at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market yesterday, watching to see who was making money and who was not: the guy playing quietly to himself and not looking at passers-by had two or three dollar bills in his hat; the guy who sat in a chair playing the blues with his face to the crowds had a guitar case full of dollar bills. Who do you suppose I plan to emulate when I make my debut next Saturday afternoon? In the spirit of solvency I will be continuing to work with what we’ve got around here: today’s recipe incorporates some of the lovely pecans Lisa Knighton just shipped out here.

My second theme for November is NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month. As a NaNoRebel I eschew the novel form altogether and have started another 50,000 word installment of my memoir, covering the history of Johnny and Sharyn, my pitiful finances and my various attempts to make money. I may post an excerpt of it here sometime in November to honor what I am doing (I spent the afternoon at a write-in at the Berkeley Public Library, scarfing leftover Hallowe’en candy and black tea, participating in “word wars” with my fountain pen — trying to write more words than dextrous young-ens typing on laptops — and feeling a little like John Henry meeting the steam drill…). At the end of the day I dropped my pen nib into my bottle of black ink by mistake and was grateful for my garage rag and bottle of water with which I scrubbed it clean, wiped the table and began to remove ink from my hands before going home to knead the roll dough that I had left rising in the fridge.

Which brings me to the third theme for November, always and forever a month of gratitude with Thanksgiving the third week in to remind us Yanks about sharing food with others, helping people and other things that got the Native Americans run out of their territory. My friend Vicki has started a month of gratitude posts on Facebook and it makes me happy to go to her page once a day and think about what I am grateful for: today it was the computer I type on and the apple pie that Mom made last night, specifically the slice of it I had for breakfast this morning with my decaf coffee.

When I was in the kitchen this morning mixing up sweet roll dough I realized that I had not had my hands in soft dough for a long time: roll dough is the lightest of yeast doughs — I can knead a full batch by hand without resorting to the Kitchen Aid with the dough hook. I used to make bread every week. I don’t know what happened to that habit — I just fell out of it somehow, between the demands of sourdough starter and the activities of daily living. I enjoyed having my hands in the fragrant dough, stirring with a wooden spoon, working in six cups of flour, greasing the bowl with a little butter before heating a tea towel and setting the dough to rise.

My pecan roll (and cinnamon roll and orange roll and spice roll) recipe comes from our trusty Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook. I make a full recipe of Sweet Roll Dough, using mostly butter, amending it to include a cup of whole wheat flour for health’s sake, scalding the milk because my Grandmother Carroll always scalded the milk. Before I leave to write at the library I divide the just rising dough in half. I give half to my mother to shape into clover leaf rolls and tell her to transfer my half to the refrigerator for a slow rise when she punches her dough down.

For the pecan filling I look at The Cheese Board Collective Works: they make delicious pecan rolls except for the mornings when some misguided person throws Sultanas or golden raisins in them and I have to pick them out. Repeat after me, “Raisins do not belong in pecan rolls, which are all about pecans, brown sugar and butter.” I take inspiration from their recipe, but not proportions: there is no way I am going to include a stick and a half of butter in twenty rolls. Theirs are good. Mine will not induce a heart attack. Pecans have healthy fat for you; butter not so much. If I use half a cup of butter it will be a lot.

To make your own pecan rolls, procure at least a cup of pecan pieces. Make sure you have milk, sugar, eggs, white and whole wheat flour, butter, yeast and brown sugar and cinnamon in the house. Then proceed with the recipe below.

Pecan Rolls

Proof 4 and 1/2 teaspoons yeast in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water. (If your yeast is sluggish, add a pinch of sugar and a pinch of flour)

Scald 1 cup milk.

Add to milk one stick of soft butter (1/2 cup) and 1/2 cup sugar. If you use salted butter you will not need to add any salt. Otherwise, add a pinch.

Pour milk mixture into a large mixing bowl.

Beat 2 eggs in the cup that you used to measure the milk. Temper the eggs with the warm liquid and add them to the  mixing bowl.

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

Check temperature with fingers. When mixture is no more than warm add reserved yeast.

Continue to add flour by the cupful until you have a soft but firm consistency. I used six cups total flour today, beginning with the cup of whole wheat and eventually adding five cups of unbleached flour, but sometimes the recipe takes as much as seven cups altogether. You know how bread is.

Cover roll dough with warm damp dish towel and go away for awhile. When dough has doubled in size, punch it down. If you do not have time to wait through the next rise, put the covered dough in the refrigerator and pull it out this evening or tomorrow morning. Let it warm and then roll it out on a floured board into a large rectangle. Roll it thin, but not so thin that it will break, perhaps 1/2 inch or a little thicker.

Let dough rest while you melt 1 stick of butter and stir in 3/4 cup brown sugar, plus 1/4 tsp cinnamon.

Spread one third of this mixture in the bottom of a baking pan (I used a 13″ x 9″ Pyrex pan), leaving a clear border at the edges with no goo.

Spread the rest of the butter and sugar mixture on the dough. Sprinkle on the pecans evenly and roll the dough up like a jelly roll, starting from the short side of the rectangle. Slice one-inch rounds from the log with a sharp, serrated knife and place each roll atop the goo in the pan. Let rise for fifteen minutes while you preheat your oven to 350.

Bake 25 minutes or until sufficiently brown. Then invert carefully onto another plate so that the goo runs down over the rolls. Enjoy, perhaps with a glass of milk.

Painting Note. No painting. I started one but I prefer not to paint after dark. When I finish it I’ll pop it into the post later in the week. Meanwhile I have NaNoWords to type.

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.

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