Archives for posts with tag: Sharyn Dimmick

Birthday greeting

Birthday card.

My fifty-sixth birthday finds me at home, taking a rare day off the day job (busking in the Berkeley BART station and the Berkeley Farmers’ Market), spreading sheets of newspaper around parts of the backyard, weighting it down with rocks and bricks and whatever I can find. My friend Celi at thekitchensgarden recommended this method of composting after we determined that I could neither keep chickens nor build and turn a compost bin. Underneath the newspaper are used coffee filters and eggshells. The other vegetable and fruit scraps get buried in big pits. My birthday present requests have included bales of straw, seeds, plants and child-sized garden tools — I garden on my knees or sitting on the ground: I am slightly obsessed with the garden and the possibility of growing some of our own food.

I ate oatmeal for breakfast, graced with dried cherries and maple syrup: our kind friend Mary Katherine treated us with a gift certificate to Trader Joe’s as a housewarming present and we bought ourselves a hoard of delicious cheeses, salmon steaks, grass-fed beef steaks and lamb tips as well as the breakfast goods. We are not eating our meat and fish bounty yet because I am still on a soup or stew kick: this week we ate curried yellow split pea soup with spiced yogurt, taken from the Green’s cookbook, along with loaves of Mark Miller’s Cumin Orange Bread and some Asian cucumber salad provided by my friend Elaine. We also went out to Angeline’s in Berkeley for Johnny’s birthday, where we ate voodoo shrimp (me), crawfish etouffee (him) and banana bread pudding with caramel sauce and whipped cream (we split it). Also, on Valentine’s Day we ate a very spiffy dinner at Zatar, featuring lamb and crab salad and a fish tagine, cardamom ice cream and red wine-poached pears. I know, I know: we are a celebrating couple of people in February — it’s a good month to be us. But when I am not dining finely, out or at home, I am grubbing in the dirt,  or putting containers out in the yard to catch water. I have planted my first Sun Gold tomato plant, plus three red cabbages, three chard plants, one kale and one parsley. The parsley did not survive, soaked by the copious rain of the last few days, but the other things are doing fine: my mint plant is glorious and green, thanks to the local abundance of sun, followed by the welcome rain in my drought-stricken state. It was supposed to pour all day, they said. We did have showers in the morning, but I haven’t seen any real rain today yet.

detail from watercolor garden painting.

Detail from “Garden 101″ painting.

My covetousness knows no bounds: I want to put in a Meyer lemon tree and a Bearss lime, a Gravenstein apple, maybe a green fig and a persimmon. Apricots and walnuts are supposed to grow well here, too: the neighbor’s have an old walnut — maybe one will grow itself! Fortunately, my thrift is intact: I cart home bags of leaves from parking lots and gutters to enrich our soil and I bought a mixed bean soup mix to plant in the backyard: legumes are good for the soil, breaking up hard dirt with their roots and fixing nitrogen to nuture future plants. If we get some shelling beans, so much the better. I plan to broadcast black-eyed peas as well, which are delicious fresh from the pod, particularly when prepared an Indian way.

It’s getting onto lunch time: I will probably have some more homemade bread and some cheese, a pear and a pot of tea. Johnny is taking me out for dinner, to Ajanta, my favorite Indian spot, where we will taste the new tasting menu. A garden, a blog, a painting, a nice meal with my true love. What else could I want? (Don’t get me started…)

painting depicts backyard garden.

Garden 101. Sharyn Dimmick 12″ x 12″ Gouache and watercolor pencil

Painting shows ingredients for turkey-apple stew, plus a border collie.

Turkey-Apple Stew. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Thanksgiving Day found me with my family in the house where I grew up, preparing traditional Thanksgiving dishes with my mother. At eighty-three Mom still does the heavy lifting, so to speak: she makes the dressing, stuffs it into the turkey. She makes her never-fail pie crust, which we fill with pumpkin, eggs, evaporated milk, brown and white sugars and spices and with sliced Pippin apples (The Gravensteins are long gone by Thanksgiving Day). I make rolls from my Grandmother’s recipe, only pausing to sneak a half cup of healthy whole wheat flour into the dough. Wednesday afternoon we peel potatoes and snap the ends off fresh green beans from the Bay Fair Farmers’ Market and boil and peel chestnuts for the dressing, cook whole cranberries with a little sugar and water. Thursday afternoon I make salad dressing and whip cream while Mom prepares a simple brown gravy from pan drippings, flour and water. We roast yams in the oven after the pies come out, cook the green beans in the microwave and the potatoes on the stove. I scoop the dressing from the bird. Bryan carves the turkey and lays slices on a platter.

Original watercolor painting shows ingredients for apple pie

Gravenstein Apple Pie. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

At two o’clock we sit down to a bountiful table, the three remaining Dimmicks and our guests Johnny Harper and Art Peterson, who will play music in the living room after they have eaten their fill. This year I am struck by how long this has been our family tradition, how many years Mom and I have made this meal together, dividing our tasks and cooperating to get the food on the table in a timely fashion. We do have skirmishes: I am a careful baker, sifting the flour into a cup on a flat surface, heaping it high and leveling it off with my hand, but I find that I cannot sift easily with my recovering wrist. When I ask Mom to sift, she holds the cup in the air, occasionally shaking it to settle the contents, and hands me cups that I don’t think are full enough to level. We laugh about this later, after I have told her how much I like making this meal with her every year. We are the last two generations of our family and we do not know how much longer we will get to do this together. I enjoy the simplicity of a day spent preparing a feast and the routines we have developed.

The day after the holiday finds me with many fall tasks undone, due to a thirteen-week hiatus with a compromised right hand. My winter sweaters need hand-washing. It is time to start making cookies for Christmas and for an early Chanukah party. Add to my schedule three hours of hand and wrist exercises per day and I wonder, like many of you, how I will ever get everything done. The only answers I can come up with are to keep it simple and to just do the next task, to jettison things that seem too much for this year, as I work to transform my injured hand and wrist to new strength and health.

At the same time as I celebrate old family traditions, a new opportunity has arrived: my friends Maia Duerr of Liberated Life Project and Lauren Ayer of Quilts of Change have put together a Virtual Holiday Faire for 2013, where you can purchase my Paris CD and two original watercolor paintings, plus notecards, quilted bags, coaching services and other offerings. Please visit the Faire to have a look for yourself. Your purchase will help support independent artists and consultants.

Last, but not least, Susan of Susan Eats London, kindly sent me a care package to raise my spirits: she went to her favorite bulk bins and picked out aleppo pepper, dukkah, farro, Puy lentils and Nigella seeds, none of which I have ever used, plus blue cornmeal, fresh fig jam and three kinds of chocolate! I shall be having some cooking adventures in the future. If any of you want to provide suggestions or links for using these ingredients, the Comments field is open. I am thankful for all who enjoy reading The Kale Chronicles and grateful that my hand will allow me to type a blog post for you.

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

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.

Peace sign with cookie border, containing salmon, zucchini and lentils.

Peace Sign. 6″ x 6″ Watercolor Pencil on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Dear Friends,

Lauren and I promised we would announce the winners of The Lauren Project recipe contest in September. Without further ado, your winners are:

First Prize: To Babu Srinivasan for his salmon with turmeric

Second Prize: To Lynn for zucchini roasted with shallots.

Third Prize: To Suzanne for her lentil potage.

Honorable Mention to Will for his astounding cookies. Lauren will be sending him one of her chili pepper oven mitts.

At this writing, Babu has chosen the cookbook as his prize, Lynn has chosen a Paris CD and we have not heard from Suzanne yet.

Lauren says:

top three in order:
babu’s salmon
lynn’s zucchini
suzanne’s lentils
honorable mention:
will’s cookies
everything has been delicious, but these were not only delicious, they were deliciously easy to make and had only a few ingredients all of which i regularly have on hand. there are still a few i haven’t made yet mostly because i found them intimidating, but i plan to keep working through the list and get to the more complicated dishes when i have more time. thank you so much for doing this. i am so happy to have at least five dishes i will be adding to my regular food rotation

Sharyn says: Thank you to everyone who participated in the recipe contest. We appreciate everyone’s attempts to follow Lauren’s dietary guidelines. I know she has cooked several dishes from the recipes submitted and posted photos of them on Facebook. We are happy to be awarding the first prizes in the history of “The Kale Chronicles.”

Please remember that even if you did not win you will be eligible for free shipping of any Kale Chronicles’ painting should you choose to purchase one or more before midnight December 31st. In addition, if you purchase a painting before October 15th, I will take ten percent off the purchase price and if you purchase a painting before November 1st I will take five percent off the purchase price. These are the lowest prices ever offered for my paintings so take advantage of them while you can. You can also buy your own copy of my Paris CD, using this link: http://cdbaby.com/cd/SharynDimmick I appreciate each and every sale: they help me survive as an independent artist and also help fund new work (I have a second CD in progress).

To look at the winning recipes and other submissions, please visit The Lauren Project page. Please feel free to submit additional recipes for Lauren there any time: there is no deadline on generosity.

Watercolor painting of bowls of polenta, tomato, Martin guitar in green chair.

Johnny’s Polenta. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Some of you know that I frequently eat polenta as a breakfast cereal during summer and early fall, cooking it in milk, stirring in a fresh peach or a handful of wild blackberries. Some of you know I have spent part of the summer flirting with a guitar player, wondering how much he liked me, being alternately elated and crushed as I went to play music at his house, attended band rehearsal, sang at a small festival in Santa Rosa, followed him up to another festival called Cur-Ville. You’ve seen me donning red dresses and trying to let go.

That phase has ended: the guitar player is mine now and, to prove it, spent the better part of the long weekend at my house. Mornings found us in the kitchen, brewing coffee, figuring out what to eat for breakfast. I cooked him eggs twice, scrambled with cheese and Gypsy peppers, served with sourdough toast. This morning I asked him what he ate for breakfast besides eggs. He mentioned a dish of polenta and various cheeses, topped with tomato and avocado.

We always have cornmeal, so I put on a pot of  salted water to boil and put out the cheese collection for Johnny to look at while I measured out a cup of cornmeal. He selected Red Leicester, a cheddar, and chopped it into small pieces.  I added some grated pecorino Romano. While the polenta was warm I added a chopped tomato. We tasted the polenta. He added a bit more cheese, I added a pinch of kosher salt and a healthy sprinkle of paprika and we had a beautiful golden breakfast, flecked with tomato red, Johnny’s gift to me and my gift to you.

After we ate, I did the dishes, dancing at the sink while Johnny sat in a green chair and played me Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.” Occasionally, I turned around to look at him to sync my back-up vocals to his lead. Dishes have never been this much fun — who knew? All you need is a guitar-player in your kitchen to play songs for you while you wash and rinse. But you can’t have mine — he’s taken. Sorry.

If you want to make Johnny’s Polenta, measure water and cornmeal in a four-to-one ratio (I used four cups of water to one cup of cornmeal, but you could use one cup of water to a quarter cup if you want only one serving).

Add a bit of salt to the water — not too much, since you are going to be adding cheese later.

Boil polenta and water mixture until it has thickened to your liking. Remove from heat and stir in

Chopped and grated cheeses to taste : I used about 3 ounces of cheddar and 1 ounce of pecorino Romano.

Add one large chopped tomato.

Add 1/2 tsp of either sweet or hot paprika, depending on your proclivities: this adds wonderful color as well as a subtle flavor.

Taste and season as necessary. You will have to provide your own soundtrack for dish-washing.

Food Notes: You can make this with cornmeal or polenta, or even grits — whatever cereal-like corn product that you have hanging around. Lauren, if you are listening, you could swap some permitted vegetable for the contraband tomato and eliminate the cheddar, substituting some cheese you like, such as the cumin cheese we ate in France.

The Lauren Project: Thanks from Lauren and from me to all who sent recipes to the Lauren Project. Lauren is out in California, cooking up test batches of recipes. She and I will confer soon and announce the prize winners in an upcoming blog post. Before we complete the winners’ post we will contact our winner to ask what prize he or she desires. Then we will contact the second place finisher, third-place contestant, etc. until all prizes are awarded. Those of you who did not win will still be eligible for free shipping on any Kale Chronicles’ painting purchased by midnight December 31st, 2012.

First of all, let me remind you that The Lauren Project recipe contest will close at midnight Pacific time on August 31st. There is still time to get your entries in and become eligible for a potholder, a painting, a music CD, a cookbook. We have received a lot of exciting entries — Lauren may be testing some of them as I write this.

This has not been a big cooking week for me: I had two days of jury duty, getting up early and packing lunches of peanut butter on raisin bread, or turkey and cheese on whole wheat, chopping up watermelon to fit into Tupperware containers, gulping my morning coffee at the bus stop after spilling half of it on my way down the hill. When I got home I would be famished for tea, having missed our traditional afternoon tea break. My teeth are fine now, but Mom has a temporary cap, bridging three front teeth, and is eating soft foods again. Mom made chicken and noodles. Mom and I made ranger cookies, throwing in a little peanut butter that did not meet our standards for eating in sandwiches. The weather flip-flopped, cold one day and hot the next. Today I made two breakfasts, one for me and one for a guest: I ate rye flakes cooked with granola in milk; he got scrambled eggs with cheese and Gypsy peppers and sourdough toast (We had two eggs left and a heel of sourdough — otherwise I would have eaten eggs, too). Then, before lunch I roasted and chopped things for Baingan Bharta, which we had for dinner with basmati rice and plain yogurt. Lunch was a toasted whole wheat tortilla with cheese and chile paste — I hardly need to tell you how to make that.

Original watercolor painting shows Muhammara and ingredients.

Muhammara. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

The fall food palate includes corn and tomatoes still, green beans and cucumbers. Eggplant is in, along with plenty of peppers, both hot and sweet types. Is it cheating to tell you about something I will surely cook soon? Let’s talk about Muhammara.

Muhammara is a Middle Eastern spread of roasted peppers and walnuts, thickened with bread and flavored with cumin, garlic and pomegranate molasses. I make it in the fall when peppers come in and I still have fresh walnuts. Muhammara is good with toasted pita bread, grilled lamb sandwiches, celery sticks. I’ll eat it by the spoonful and run my finger along the empty bowl.

I first ate Muhammara at Zatar restaurant in downtown Berkeley. Muhammara has a lovely red-orange color and an intriguing flavor from the molasses, essentially pomegranate juice boiled down into a thick sweet and tart syrup. I learned to make it myself from Epicurious.com, but I messed with it a little.

If you have a glut of red peppers in your kitchen, roast them in the oven, rubbed with a little olive oil. Slip the skins by putting them in a glass bowl covered with a dish towel, letting them steam in their own heat.

Otherwise, open

1 jar of roasted red peppers. Discard the liquid and put the peppers into your blender.

Add 1 slice of bread. (French bread is good for this  — don’t use rye or raisin bread).

Chop and toast 1/3 cup walnuts

Add walnuts to the blender with

juice of 1 lemon

2 tsp pomegranate molasses

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Mash 2 to 4 cloves of garlic with 1/2 tsp salt. Add to blender

Add enough olive oil to blend. The original recipe I found on Epicurious calls for a horrifying 3/4 cup. I would use 1/3 cup max, but suit yourself.

Whirl in blender until you have a thick red paste. Try to get it out of the blender before you actually start eating it!

I recently had some dental work done — after I lost my job a couple of years ago it didn’t seem too important to keep up visits to the dentist. I went last week. And I paid for it because Dr. Liu found a cracked tooth, a broken tooth and a cracked filling (but no tooth decay!). Last week he set to fixing all that. He adjusted a crown while he was at it. I have to go back to have the cracked tooth fixed after I get through with jury duty, which starts today. So, following on my anniversary post about The Lauren Project, I share with you some of the things I ate  — um, drank, since I could neither bite nor chew. It does give me empathy with those on restricted diets.

The first night following surgery I had a coffee milkshake, coffee ice cream whirled up in the blender with a little one percent milk. I was feeling pretty happy that I had an excuse to have one for dinner and even forbore to put Kahlua in it. By 9 PM I was hungry, however, and had to resort to a serving of coconut yogurt.

The next morning I was determined to eat something normal, so I cooked my usual breakfast of rolled oats in milk with a pinch of kosher salt, four walnuts and two teaspoonfuls of rhubarb compote (remember the rhubarb experiments?). I found even the amount of chewing required for oatmeal and walnuts to be unpleasant so I resolved to have liquid lunches and dinners for another day.

I got hungry again before 11:00 AM — I was up at 5:30 AM and had eaten at around 7:30 and had taken a little walk at 10:00. This time I set to work on a smoothie, consisting of a fresh mango and a container of strawberry yogurt with a pinch of crushed cardamom. Delicious, but after I had had a few sips I realized I was going to get tired of sweets fast.

What to do? I put aside the mango smoothie, rinsed the blender and decided it was time to try gazpacho.

This was kind of a big deal to me because have never liked tomato juice, Snappy-Tom, bloody Mary’s, or V-8 — can you say yuck? So I didn’t look up anybody’s recipe for gazpacho. We had cold soups when I was in France: my favorite one there incorporated melon, bacon and cream: it sounds gross, but it was really good.

Original watercolor painting shows tomatoes, cucumbers, gypsy peppers and lemon.

Greek Salad Vegetables, 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Anyway, then I thought of the delicious liquid that hangs out at the bottom of a bowl of Greek Salad. I decided my best shot at gazpacho was to make a Greek salad and liquify it. I proceeded to chop 2 heirloom tomatoes, 2/3 of a large, peeled Armenian cucumber, 2 Gypsy peppers (ranging from yellow through orange to red). I added 1 large pressed clove of garlic and a small handful of chopped, pitted Greek olives. Then I went out to front yard and picked the ripest Meyer lemon I could find on the tree.

I blended all that up. I tasted it cautiously, with the intention of adding feta cheese. But you know what? It didn’t need the cheese. It didn’t need oil or black pepper or salt or red pepper flakes or red wine vinegar. It didn’t need a single blessed thing. I encourage you to try it, even if you are afraid of all of those red, cold, tomato-based drinks, especially if you like Greek salad.

I had a glass of Greek gazpacho for lunch, followed by the rest of my strawberry-mango smoothie. I have another glass of gazpacho left for later, waiting for me in the refrigerator. And tonight I’ll probably indulge in another coffee shake — the only thing that would make it better would be if I had a stash of malted milk powder, but we haven’t seen it lately at Grocery Outlet.

What are your favorite things to eat when you have dental work? C’mon. ‘Fess up.

Original painting of many-leaved tree with roots.

The Lovely Blog Award. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Last week Shira of In Pursuit of More tagged me in a relay, charging me with writing about hope and John Clinock of artratcafe generously bestowed on me the one lovely blog award. I am honored by the kind intentions of my fellow bloggers and will do my best to live up to their trust.

A major tenet of the two forms of Buddhism I have practiced is the practice of letting go, letting go of outcomes, letting go of expectations, letting go of desires. This does not immediately sound like fun, does it? That’s because we want what we want, even if wanting it is causing our suffering. I am personally undertaking a course of consciously letting go these days because I find myself falling in love. First I fell in love with a city, a country, a way of life, when I went to France. Then I fell in love with my guitar again, starting to play daily after a hiatus of a year.  I fell in love with my room, starting to see ways that it could be improved. Every summer I fall in love with open water swimming when the days get warm enough to swim at the cove down in the Berkeley Marina. And, as you might have expected, I am somewhere on the continuum of falling in love with another person with all of that continuum’s abundant symptoms: sleeplessness, excitement, fear of the unknown. There is pleasure in falling in love and there is pain. There is fantasy and reality, hope and dread. I find that the easiest approach, although it is hard to put into practice, is to treat the entire experience as a practice, to work with whatever it brings to me in any given moment: if I am sleepless, get up and read or write. If I am inspired to write a love song, write a love song. If I am scared, feel the fear.

One aspect of treating life as a continuous practice is that there is no room for hope. Hope causes us to leap into the future, into some better world that is different from what we are experiencing right here, right now. When I am right here, I can respond to my fear or excitement as it occurs; when I am jumping into hope, I lose my opportunity in the present moment. My teacher is fond of saying “The love you want is no other place.” And, I, of course, am hoping that she is wrong, that there will be glorious love in a field of flowers some other day. But I know what she means: our only chance is this moment, what we find there now, where we find ourselves now. We can’t count on having another moment, better or worse.

What we can count on is that things will change: if I am sleepless for three weeks running, during week four I will fall into a deep sleep when the body needs it. The foods of the changing seasons that I highlight on The Kale Chronicles reveal this in a beautiful way: now there are Gravenstein apples and gypsy peppers, summer squash and tomatoes, cucumbers, green figs, the first grapes, blackberries, melons. Soon eggplants will come in and peaches will begin to fade away until next summer brings the new crop. I stir a couple of spoonfuls of apple crisp into my morning oatmeal and plan another round of zucchini-feta pancakes for lunch, topped with Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. Next month, perhaps next week, I will be eating something different. Food becomes more satisfying when you are not reaching for raspberries in December and tomatoes in February, when you eat what there is now, choosing your favorites, perhaps, but working with what you’ve got.

Love cannot resist reaching into the future, imagining scenarios, conjuring kisses out of the air. So let it. Just know that the fantasies, the daydreaming are a current and temporary state: mine them for their images and ideas, laugh at them and at yourself, an ingenue in a fifty-four year-old body. Watch as your mind tosses up Loggins and Messina songs (Where did they come from?). Sing them if you want — no one needs to know.

What do I hope for? I hope for the courage to face my life, the courage to be in whatever state I find myself in until that state changes. I hope for the courage to respond authentically to whatever I need to respond to. Today I thank Shira (who is in La Belle France) for encouraging me to meditate on hope and John who says lovely things about The Kale Chronicles. With my one-year blogging anniversary coming up fast (next Sunday) I tell you that I had some hopes for the blog: I hoped a few people would like my recipes. I hoped my writing would acquire a wider platform. I hoped a few people would buy my paintings and maybe even my music CDs. I hoped that I would find some writing students who want to do writing practice. Some of that has happened. But writing The Kale Chronicles has become much bigger than that because I have discovered an entire community of like-minded souls, people who care passionately about what they eat and where it comes from, but, beyond that, care about how they live their lives, treating each other with kindness and humor. I started a blog and found myself in a whole new community. I am made welcome here as I am made welcome in my communities of writers and singers and artists. And I will be calling on you soon with a special anniversary challenge, The Lauren Project — I know you will step up to the plate. There will be prizes and glory and the opportunity to help a lovely young woman find more joy in the kitchen.

Original watercolor painting shows ingredients for cucumber raita.

Cucumber Raita. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

In the meantime — back to the present — a simple raita recipe for cucumber season, courtesy of Padma, my Indian roommate in college, who taught me how to make it. The secret to good raita is no shortcuts — you must cut the cucumber into spears and de-seed it with a knife and then you must slice each spear into small bits with the knife — if you grate it, the cucumber turns watery. Raita is all about texture. So set aside an hour to make raita — you won’t be sorry.

Cucumber Raita

Peel 2 cucumbers (or use an Armenian cucumber, which requires no peeling). Slice each cucumber lengthwise into quarters, sixths or eighths, depending on its circumference. Remove all of the seeds. Slice the now seedless cucumber into small pieces and put in a steel or Pyrex bowl. Grate 1/2 of a fresh coconut into cucumbers. Add one bunch chopped cilantro.

Heat a small amount of peanut oil in a small skillet. When oil shimmers, add 1 tsp of mustard seeds and 1 dry red chile. Fry for a few seconds until mustard seeds pop and add chile, mustard seeds and oil to cucumber mixture to season it. Add plain yogurt and salt to taste, making it as creamy or as light as you like.

Food notes: You can, of course, make this with dessicated coconut — it’s just not as good as when you use fresh. Make sure your coconut is unsweetened — sugar in raita is gross. You can eat the raita as a salad, as a side dish with an Indian meal, or simply mixed with rice.

One Lovely Blog Award: I’m supposed to give you seven random facts about me. Here goes:

1) I’ve written two new songs in the last week, “Ingenue” and “The Werewolf.”

2) I like to eat pie for breakfast, although I usually eat oatmeal or polenta cooked with milk and sweetened with seasonal fruit.

3) My favorite color is kelly green. I also like lavender and blue, crimson, claret, raspberry, all balanced with plenty of black.

4) I am a Pisces, Sagittarius rising, Gemini moon, Venus in Aquarius.

5) Although I am a folk musician and will always be one, I have always (always?) had a fantasy of singing with a rock band.

6) If I could only eat one type of food for the rest of my life, it would be Indian food.

7) This bull needs a big meadow: don’t put me in a pigeonhole — I won’t fit.

Now I need to pass the award to fifteen of you. In no particular order

1) Celi at The Kitchen’s Garden — Celi writes about sustainable farming, a subject dear to my heart. Beyond that she is fun and knows how to tell a story.

2) Shira at In Pursuit of More has endeared herself to me by her generosity and her commitment to simplicity.

3) The Caerus blog, a brand new blog, showcases the artful thoughts of Suzanne Edminster, Karina Nishi Marcus and a growing cadre of guest artists. Look for it on Thursday mornings and go back to read the back archives.

4) The Literary Jukebox. I found this one this morning. Maria Popova posts a literary quote and a song everyday. Great for literate music junkies.

5) Debra at Breathe Lighter. Debra shares all aspects of her life in San Gabriel — recipes, photographs, pet stories, field trips, music, all accompanied by her enthusiasm for life.

6) John at artratcafe provides an art education by featuring the work of many diverse artists. He writes poems, too. Foodies will like his brilliant posts on food that combine illustrations, literary quotes and recipes with a certain je ne sais quoi.

7) John at From the Bartolini Kitchens writes an ongoing love letter to his Italian family and the foods of his culture. Want to make cheese or fresh pasta? See John.

8) Eva Taylor of Kitchen Inspirations  knows how to put it all together: the dress, the shoes, the place settings. Lately she has been experimenting with healthier, lighter versions of favorite foods, keeping to a low-carb diet.

9) Betsy of Bits and Breadcrumbs cooks food I want to eat — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

10) My writing pal Bob Chrisman has branched out and now writes a memoir-type blog called swqm60. Check it out.

11) Jane Robinson at Art Epicurean posts abstract paintings and encouragement for creative types.

12) My old friend Maura writes theonceandfutureemptynest about her life with husband, children, grandchildren, parents, dogs, running shoes, kayaks and literary ambition. A graceful writer, her thoughts will resonate with the sandwich generation.

13) I’ve already sent you to look at Deby Dixon’s photos on Deby Dixon Photography.  Have another look, please.

14) Can’t leave out my pal, Movita Beaucoup! This chick is funny. And an incredible baker when she leaves off the Crisco frosting. And someday she is going to buy a painting (but you could beat her to it and buy up all of the best ones first. Just saying…)

15) Your nominee. Please use the comments to tell us all about the blogs you love the most, the ones you open first everyday, among other things. We have free speech here.

Original painting shows cherry plums, plum cake, plum caramel.

Plum Cake. 9″ x 12″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Sometimes circumstances conspire to create an end. Today is my sister-in-law’s birthday and she is coming over to go out to lunch with my mother in Walnut Creek. Barbara likes plum cake. I had half a colander of fresh cherry plums on the counter and a jar of wild plum jam that I needed to use. I had just read David Lebovitz’s blogs on butterscotch sauce (which I am dying to make) and peach cobbler, plus a post on plum cake made with cornmeal from Two Peas and Their Pod. Barbara loves whipped cream. So what would I do? I would make the cornmeal-plum cake, adapting it a little to give it a more butterscotch-y flavor by substituting some evaporated cane juice for half a cup of the white sugar and I would use the jam to make some plum caramel to serve with the cake.

For the plum caramel, I followed a recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts, except, instead of cooking fresh plums, I just added plum jam (aka cooked plums) to the caramel base, cooked it for a few minutes and strained the results. You can make simple caramel by putting 1/2 cup of sugar in a saucepan with 2 Tbsp water and melting it over high heat, shaking the pan every now and then (do not stir). When it takes on a pale golden color, remove it from the heat and carefully add 1/4 cup water, not getting too close to the pan. You can stir now. If you are adding fruit puree to the caramel, add it now (this works with any berry or stone fruit), add it now and cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Strain out any solids or seeds that have slipped through, put your caramel in a clean jar in the fridge and you are good to go for later. Fruit caramel is less acidic and more complex than simple purees and is perhaps my favorite recipe I learned from this cookbook.

Now the cake. You can see the original here. Since cakes are not my favorite things I followed the recipe closely with just two substitutions (okay, three). First, I had medium eggs rather than large — they were organic and brown — so I threw in an extra one. Then, I had lots of cherry plums rather than the four or five large plums cited in the recipe. I already told you I put in 1/2 cup of evaporated cane juice for 1/2 cup of white sugar. Oops. Um. Four substitutions. I substituted a quarter cup of sour half and half for some of the buttermilk because, you know, we had it, and it is similar, but richer.

So, this is what you get when you put together all of those substitutions with the original recipe:

Barbara’s Birthday Plum Cake

Pit the cherry plums you are using (Or pit and chop larger plums into bite-sized pieces). Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350.

Measure 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour. After measuring sift it into a small mixing bowl.

Whisk into flour 1 tsp baking powder,

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup corn meal

Then soften 1 and 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (12 Tbsp)

Cream butter with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice until light and fluffy.

Add — one at a time — 4 medium eggs (or use three large), incorporating egg fully before next addition.

Measure 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 cup sour cream or sour half and half, plus 1/4 cup buttermilk, which is what I used).

Alternate flour mixture and buttermilk, in increments, starting and ending with flour.

Butter and flour a cake pan. I used a bundt pan because it looks festive.

Scrape half of the batter into the pan. Scatter plums over batter. Top with remaining batter.

Bake for fifty minutes. Test to see if it is done. In a bundt pan, my cake took one hour and five minutes to show some browning on the top and to pass the toothpick test.

Cool by hanging bundt pan on a glass bottle. This is fun. Trust me.

Serve with barely sweetened whipped cream and a pool or drizzle of plum caramel. If you are my sister-in-law, add more whipped cream. Enjoy.

Food Notes: Keeping to the art of substitution, you can use any sour thing for the buttermilk — yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, even sour milk. You can make the cake as originally suggested with all white sugar, or use all evaporated cane juice. You can probably use some other fruit for the plums, although the plums (with skins) provide a beautiful color and a nice tartness that plays well against the cake. The whipped cream provides yet another contrast (and besides, we like whipped cream when we are celebrating).

Watermelon pickle: I had a problem with the watermelon pickle — it wasn’t the recipe — it was me. so I’ll be trying it again with this week’s watermelon and report back on that later.

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