Archives for posts with tag: self-portraits (watercolor)
Million Dollar Bash: self-portrait with Johnny Harper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original watercolor self-portrait with produce and guitar. Sharyn Dimmick.

Self Portrait with Wanting Mind. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and acquarelle.

Recently, I have been reintroduced to wanting mind. You know, the voice in your head that says life would be glorious if the day were sunnier, if there were more space in the freezer, if he would call. Wanting mind is a tremendous source of suffering because when you are listening to its siren song that something different would be better you can miss the opportunities that surround you right now, at this moment. Wanting mind likes to whine about the small thing that it has focused on like a high-powered laser directed at a spot of brain cancer, but whereas the laser may do you good, wanting mind will not.

It does no good to whine about what you don’t have or what you wish you had, dreaming up imaginary improvements to the present moment. You can put those on the page or the easel: often I paint things to look better than they actually do: my favorite is inventing backgrounds so that I don’t have to paint the same walls and windows over and over — I create wallpaper, wooden counters, checkered floors never seen in my actual house. It is alright to imagine improvements that you can create, but it is better if they don’t depend upon the actions of others or require removal of reality: thirty years of wishing I did not have cerebral palsy did nothing to remove it; accepting that I have it has been much more helpful.

What could I find to want in the middle of glorious summer? The farmers markets are overflowing with peaches, corn, tomatoes, ripe strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. My beloved Gravenstein apples will come in in two or three weeks says the apple man. Frog Hollow Farm had a sale on “cosmetically challenged peaches” Saturday, three dollars a pound for organic gold, and I took home a big sack. Fresh green figs came in the Riverdog Farm box, along with tiny green beans, cucumbers, lettuce, the first orange cherry tomatoes, fresh basil. For breakfast this morning I could have peaches, ollalieberries, blueberries or all three.

So what am I complaining about? I’m not complaining, I’m making a point: humans can always find a way to wish something was different, whether it is the weather, the menu, the president. Corporations make it their business to supply us with everything we want, things we don’t want and things we hadn’t even thought of wanting. Do you want tomatoes in December? Someone will ship them across the world for you. They won’t taste good. They will vaguely resemble tomatoes. And then you will think  what you need is fresh basil to go with them. But you don’t. What you need to do is wait for summer to taste the ripe, heirloom tomatoes on Deborah’s platter or pick them with Claire out of her allotment in England. Whenever summer comes where you live there will eventually be tomatoes and that is the time to eat them.

Seasonal eating is a voice speaking against the utterances of wanting mind. Seasonal eating tells you to go out and buy the peaches now because they will never get any better than on this July day in California. You eat them for breakfast with polenta cooked in milk and vanilla extract, sometimes a sprinkle of almonds. Seasonal eating says “Buy all of the ripe fruit you can eat — it’s better for you than other things, anyway.” The key is “ripe fruit,” whatever is coming off the trees and bushes in your neighborhood right now. If you are handy at preserving, you can buy extra and save some to freeze or can to tide you over in the winter months of potatoes, carrots, winter squashes and hardy greens. I always dry tomatoes. I never dry enough to last until the next tomato season, but I keep at it.

Two nights ago I took six bags of citrus peels from the freezer (We did need freezer room) and began the laborious process of scraping pith from them with a steak knife and a teaspoon. My hours of work will be rewarded with long-keeping candied peel from the lemons, oranges, limes and grapefruit we ate in the long winter months: the candied peel will enhance Christmas pfefferneusse, flavor muffins, serve as sweet snacks when this year’s peaches and berries are long-gone. This morning I took the thrice-boiled peels and scraped the white pith from them, watching the thin-bladed knife slide under the loose pith, left hand reaching into the pot for a new peel, right hand wielding the blade. And I realized I was out of time, that the only objects in the world were the citrus peels, the knife, the motion, the smell drifting up from the cutting board, that I no longer knowed or cared what time it was. This is the opposite of wanting mind and the cure: become absorbed in something simple.

The best way to make friends with seasonal eating is to visit farmers’ markets. Go every week for awhile to become familiar with what is in season now. Choose your foods and plan your menus around what is available. Or you can look for a CSA box, a community-supported agriculture program, that serves your area. For a flat fee, you get a box of fresh-picked produce each week, helping you to eat what is at its best now (My CSA also gives us some preserved things, precious bags of dried tomatoes and peaches during the winter or early spring).

Gardeners and farmers know that many things taste their best right out of the ground, warmed by the sun, eaten before the natural sugars can turn to starch. Nutritional studies now tell us that organically grown fresh-picked produce has more vitamins, minerals and micronutrients than produce that has been trucked across continents or oceans in refrigerated containers. Biting into just-picked local produce can even quell the wanting mind for a few minutes, stop it dead as it thinks instead “This is marvelous.” Unfortunately, its next thought will be, “How can I get more?”

Eating seasonally keeps me experiencing the pleasures that can be had on any given day. In the fall I might enjoy mushrooms. Every winter I make butternut squash soup with ginger. In the warm days of midsummer and early autumn I cannot eat enough Greek salads, enjoying the convergence of cucumbers, bell peppers and tomatoes. The first big treat of spring is strawberry shortcake. And we are all happier when we reach for the pleasures that we can have: when it is too cold to swim, light a fire and curl up with a book, bake some biscuits, make some gumbo, or get out a big pot and those citrus peels And when he is busy doing whatever he is doing it is a good time to pick up the guitar, the pen, the saucepan, the cookbook, the paintbrush — even the vacuum cleaner — and just do the next thing. He’ll call in his own time and the moment is about what to do when you feel that longing tugging at your sleeve.

Food Notes: As a bonus for soaking, scraping and boiling all of those peels, I got, besides the candied peel and the moments of peace, a lovely citrus-flavored simple syrup for cake, iced tea, baklava?

Painting Note: This week and last I have been participating in a new do-it-yourself artist residency, the Caerus Artist Residency, started by my friend Suzanne Edminster and her friend Karina Nishi Marcus. For a peek at my current sketchbook (including a slide show), please visit the Caerus blog.

self-portrait of Sharyn Dimmick at Occupy Oakland with meditator and wolverine rolls.

Self-Portrait at Occupy Oakland with Wolverine Rolls. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor penciil. Sharyn Dimmick

Last week was quite a week: I landed in Oakland, CA, for two days of vocational tests so that some poor soul can help me find a suitable day job. The testing center sat across the street and several stories above the site of “Occupy Oakland.” To get to my testing site by 9:00 AM I had to leave my house when it was barely light, loaded with reading material, pens, water, a thermos of milk and enough food for lunch and to get me through five hours of testing. I went back today for the third and final testing shift.

The first day I took sourdough bread, Cotswold cheese, an apple, two homemade spice snaps and a zucchini-gingerbread muffin. The next day I don’t remember what I took, but it was similar: apple, cheese, bread. I eat my lunch in the park where the demonstrators gather.

Monday I had off from testing and got to stay home all day. I took advantage of the hours at home to mix up some sourdough of my own, using recipes from my favorite bread book, The Cheese Board Collective Works (Read more about my most-used cookbooks here). Sourdough breads are made from wet, slow-rising doughs so it helps to have a whole day to make them.

I made a batch of wolverines, a round, part-whole wheat, sourdough bun, containing dried sour cherries, apricots and pecans (I used walnuts). The original recipe also calls for golden raisins (sultanas), but I see no reason to include them.

About now, you are either turning away in horror at the dried fruit, or you are hoping for the recipe. Alas, I must encourage you to buy your own copy of The Cheese Board Collective’s book because the instructions for making the sourdough starter alone take two full pages. Wolverines are made from a recipe called “Suburban Bread” (another full page), but they get their own page, too, and you also need to read the pages on shaping, working with sourdough and making sourdough in a non-commercial oven. Me? I’ve done this before.

Anyway, a “quick” batch of wolverines takes over nine hours if you already have your sourdough starter on hand. That I had — my “Cheese Board” starter gave up the ghost a couple of years ago, but I made a new sourdough starter from another recipe four weeks ago and have a healthy batch in the fridge that must be used weekly. I’ve been making “cowboy biscuits,” leavened with sourdough, soda and baking powder once a week, but Mom informed me on Sunday that she liked regular baking powder biscuits much better. Oh well. So I had the sourdough starter and we love wolverines. “We” love bread of all kinds (except perhaps sourdough biscuits and Irish soda bread), but we are particularly partial to crusty yeast-risen breads. I like wolverines so much that I ate two last night when they came our of the oven, had one for breakfast this morning, and took another for lunch today with some more Cotswold cheese. It is with the greatest restraint that I am not eating another as I type but am instead eating cold green beans with a bit of basil.

I ate my wolverine sitting on the ground in a sunny spot next to the bicycle lockers. The tent city was much larger than it had been on Friday afternoon and there were a lot of new booths and information tables. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship does sitting meditation there, so I sit with them after I eat my lunch while people talk, the wind blows, traffic signals send their audible walking calls, a clock tower chimes the half hour. I think about my blog and day jobs when I forget to focus on my breath or sounds or sensations. I “sit” on my backpack, pretending it is a zafu, putting it between my knees and sitting astride — it makes a pretty good substitute, although I can feel the lumps made by my water bottle and thermos.

Vocational testing doesn’t tell me much I don’t already know: I like writing, painting, singing and cooking. “About” page gives you more of the scoop on this. I’ll write for hire. I’ll teach writing practice for hire. I like to sell paintings. I sell music CDs too. I sit with the Buddhists for free and I cook for free. Long, complicated projects like wolverines don’t phase me because I like to take my time doing things and make things from scratch. Sourdough baking is a big adventure — if you love yeast baking and are up for a challenge, get yourself a good instruction book and go for it on a day when you can be home all day (or all night for you night-owls). If you don’t have sourdough starter on hand, you’ll need anywhere from three days to two weeks to mix it up and get it going vigorously. If you go for the Cheese Board book, you’ll find wonderful recipes for pizza and many quick treats such as muffins and scones in addition to the sourdough chapters.

Occupy Oakland is calling for a general strike tomorrow. I imagine the Peace Fellowship will be sitting there again. I will be “working” at home again and grateful to be there with my computer and my paints, a pot of black tea and at least one more wolverine.

Cowboy Sourdough Starter (adapted from The Cheese Board Collective Works and the “Rocky Mountain Sourdough Starter” recipe in The Book Lover’s Cookbook).

Get a glass jar with a non-rusted metal lid. Please note: this metal lid is the only metal object you will allow near the starter and you don’t want the metal to touch the starter. Big pickle jars are good. Punch several small holes in said lid, as though you want to keep something alive in the jar (You do!)

Place 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour or bread flour in the jar.

Add 1/2 cup whole wheat flour or rye flour

Add 1 tsp kosher salt.

With a wooden spoon, stir to mix well. Do not use metal while making or handling sourdough starter.

Dissolve 2 and 1/4 tsp  baking yeast (equivalent of one packet) in

2 cups warm water (not too hot or you’ll kill the friendly yeast)

Add dissolved yeast to jar and stir again with your wooden spoon until it is mixed well.

Place a folded linen or cotton smooth kitchen towel on top of your jar and set it in a warmish place where you can remember to stir it twice a day. You will be leaving it out for at least two or three days — remember, you want it to sour. Save the lid for later — you don’t need it at this stage. The towel allows your local yeasts that live in the air to join the yeast in the jar.

Check the starter twice a day. When it is bubbly and smells like yeast you can bake with it by taking it out cup by cup and adding it to biscuits, pancakes or yeast breads. Whenever you remove a cup of starter you need to add a cup of water and a cup of flour to the starter jar.

Sourdough starter is designed to be used once  a week or more often. You can store it in the refrigerator. Sometimes liquid separates and rises to the top. You can either pour this off or stir it back in. It will keep for months if you use it regularly. Watch out for mold (mine has never molded): if your starter develops visible mold or bad smells throw it out, wash your jar thoroughly and start again.

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