Archives for posts with tag: busking

It is the last day of May. I have worked my last shift of the day and have time to reflect on the changes that May has brought. First of all, spring produce has crept into our diets, even in reduced circumstances: in May I have bought cherries, apricots, peaches, strawberries, and, last week, blueberries, bargain blueberries in a large Ziploc bag that I have consigned to the freezer for future pies, muffins and waffles. Last week the Berkeley Farmers’ Market had its first bunches of basil, although they were gone by the time I finished singing my two-and-a-half hour shift.

No matter: Mom bought a large basil plant at Trader Joe’s. It sits on our breakfast room table, soaking up sun from the bay window and producing large green leaves, large as the palm of my hand. Now, I know that the Italians prize small, tender basil leaves, but I will work with monster basil if that is what we’ve got — I just have to remove the veins and stems and tear it into small pieces. Last night I made my first pesto of the season, a hybrid of walnuts, garlic, olive oil, torn basil and feta cheese, pounded in a mortar and stuffed into slits in boneless skinless chicken breasts. I handled the stuffed breasts carefully with tongs, browned them in a skillet and set them in a broiler pan on a sheet of heavy-duty foil to bake in a 325 degree oven. While they baked, I made sourdough-buttermilk biscuits for strawberry shortcake, seasoned some whipping cream with sugar and vanilla, stir-fried some bok choy with garlic, steamed some fresh corn on the cob. This was my first attempt at stuffing chicken breasts and I had a little difficulty cutting even pockets of equal depth, but that did not affect the flavor.

Earlier in the week I cooked a pork loin, slathered with peach chutney and wrapped in filo. I adapted this from something I saw Rachel Ray do once with chutney and puff pastry. Puff pastry is easier to work with than filo (it’s thicker), but I did manage to get part of the pork loin wrapped in pastry. I rolled the pork loin in the chutney-smeared pastry on a piece of cheap foil — that’s how I learned my lesson about using the good stuff when I cooked the chicken breasts later.

But before I even got to rolling up the pork loin I had to solve another problem: my jar of Frog Hollow Peach Chutney had only a tablespoon or so left in it and I needed perhaps half a cup of chutney. After halfheartedly consulting some online recipes for a chutney that would use the frozen peaches that we had on hand, I realized I could just read the ingredients on the Frog Hollow jar and fake it, guessing about quantities. So I took about a pound of frozen peaches and chopped them into bite-sized pieces.  I threw them into a sauce pan with some minced fresh garlic, a seeded jalapeno, a goodly grating of frozen ginger root, some organic sugar and some cider vinegar. I discovered that Frog Hollow Farm uses dried cherries in their chutney — no wonder it is so good. Not having dried cherries, I substituted a handful of dried cranberries. I cooked the chutney until it was thick and had darkened in color, stirring in the last of the jarred chutney and adjusting for seasoning (I had to add sugar a few times). I only made enough for the pork recipe, but I was impressed enough with the results that I may make it again.

I am still singing in the BART station five mornings and five afternoons a week, with Saturday singing shifts at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market three weeks out of the month. My busking income is rising slightly, my public repertory of popular songs getting a little larger. Last week I received a hundred-dollar tip from a woman who had occasionally tipped me a dollar: she handed me a CD of her piano music and a small, pale blue envelope.

“Put it in your pocket.” she said. “It is a lot of money.”

As I finished out my shift, packed up my gear and walked to the bus stop I enjoyed speculating about what “a lot of money” might mean. I was pretty sure it would be at least twenty dollars and fantasized about it being a grant of several thousand, with which I could complete my second music CD (about half done).

A hundred dollars is a lot of money to earn busking in one shift. Earning one hundred per shift is not typical. Neither is earning the sixty-four cents I earned during another two-hour shift later in the week. I came home laughing: since I started doing this seven and a half months ago I had never earned less than a dollar in an hour or two. I count myself lucky when any shift produces “double digits.” aka ten dollars or above, and a day when both shifts bring in double-digits is worth celebrating (cheaply, of course). Costly coffees and restaurant meals are rare in my life these days, but I get to work without a boss, except the one in my head. In May, my daily average hovered around nineteen dollars. I am debt-free and have managed to parlay some of my earnings into a plane ticket to France next month, where I will spend two weeks working and studying with Natalie Goldberg in Villefavard. No Paris sojourn this time around because I have a big project in July: watch this space for details at the end of June.

Will I paint again? Will I even sketch? I don’t know. I would like to find another “Nature Sketch” book like the one I took to France last year. I do expect to resume the Riverdog Farm produce box in July 2013 after a nine-month hiatus.

Also in May, I had the opportunity to hear Michael Pollan speak and read from his new book, Cooked. I look forward to reading the book at some point and to owning it down the road. He read us a section on death and fermentation, cheeses that smelled like body odors and the back ends of cows — highly entertaining. Anyone who likes reading about food and culture will enjoy his books.

Thank you to all of you who are still reading The Kale Chronicles, coming to you once a month at this juncture sans illustrations and proper recipes. Tune in at the end of June for further adventures and a preview of a life-changing July event.

Not so much has changed since I wrote my March blog: I am still busking in the Berkeley BART stations twice a day five days a week, plus singing at the Farmers’ Market some Saturdays. I get up and eat breakfast, often flavored oatmeal cooked in milk, but sometimes leftover pie or scrambled eggs with cheese or vegetables, fresh cinnamon rolls, Shredded Wheat with sliced strawberries now that spring has come.

I am almost always home for lunch, which I generally eat with a pot a black tea, served with milk, English-style. Today I had tacos from some leftover poached chicken, simmered in green salsa, with sour cream, shredded cheese, romaine lettuce and cilantro. Yesterday I ate leftover rolls and Cotswold cheese, a blood orange and a sliver of leftover coconut custard pie (It was a pie-for-breakfast day).

Painting of ingredients for improvised gumbo -- Davis pepper spray incident in background.

Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Ever since my younger brother moved home my mother has taken over most of the cooking — she seems to think that Bryan will starve without her intervention. I sometimes cook for Johnny: Friday I cooked him an impromptu gumbo, featuring andouille sausage, leftover shrimp, chicken and fennel, not unlike the Mumbo-Jumbo Gumbo I’ve written about before. Tonight I helped prepare a simple supper of spaghetti, grated cheese, Italian sausage-flavored Prego from the jar. I ate my pasta mixed with leftover sauteed bok choy. Mom fixed a bowl of fresh blackberries with sugar and, voila, c’est tout.

I am still buying bags of “cosmetically-challenged” Moro blood oranges from the Farmers’ Market and eating them out of hand as snacks. I still buy Farmers’ Market carrots, which are sweeter than supermarket ones. I still buy fresh walnuts in the shell — not much has changed, although last week I bought a few fresh sugar snap peas to snack on.

Original ink and watercolor painting shows people around breakfast table.

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

Tomorrow I am taking a morning off my busking day job to attend a pre-dawn Morris Dance event in Tilden Park. I will assist my friend Vicki at the grand May Day breakfast after the sun has been danced into the sky (You last heard of Vicki when I mentioned attending the Hobbits’ Second Breakfast at her house). Perhaps I will bring back some food stories or recipes for May. You never know. Anything can happen.

What I completely forgot to mention in my March post because I was running around going to Natalie Goldberg‘s readings for her new book, The True Secret of Writing, is that I am featured in the book: the chapter on Practice contains a story about me, a snippet of my writing and the words to my song “The Wallflower Waltz.” Those of you who are interested in writing or meditation practice (which is the true secret of writing) will want to read this book. Natalie, of course, is best-known for her book Writing Down the Bones.

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.

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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