Archives for posts with tag: The Kale Chronicles

One of my favorite soups is a roasted duck noodle soup from Thai Lucky House in Berkeley: order it and you get a big bowl of clear broth with rice noodles, baby bok choy, fresh herbs and slices of roasted duck. Lucky House has a caddy of chilies — dried, fresh, pickled, in sauce — that you can add to your bowl at will: it makes a warming winter meal and is great to chase cold and flu bugs away.

This year we cooked a duck for Christmas dinner in addition to our free-range turkey. A few days ago, I cut the remaining breast meat from the carcass in strips and put the rest in a pot of cold water with lots of star anise. I brought the pot to a simmer, turned it off, and brought it to a simmer again several times over the next three hours, yielding a rich, clear, reduced broth, which I skimmed for fat.

I then brought the broth to a rolling boil and tossed in some rice noodles and chopped broccolini (or gai lan). I seasoned with tamari, chili paste, fresh lime juice and hoisin sauce. I turned the broth off again and covered the pot for the rice noodles to soften. When they seemed done, I reheated the soup one last time and tossed in the slices of reserved duck breast, a few leaves of basil and some cilantro sprigs.

This yielded a delicious soup on the first day, but the rice noodles continued to soften as the leftover soup sat, teaching me a lesson: next time I will prepare the seasoned duck broth, but I will put some in a smaller pot and only cook the noodles and vegetables that I plan to eat that day. When I want more soup I will cook more noodles and vegetables in another bowl of broth, eliminating mushiness.

Since my traditional December cookie spree, including pfefferneusse and cocoa shortbread, I have cooked very little because I am spending everyday packing. The movers arrive Sunday morning January 5th to take my way too many things to Johnny’s house: after eighteen years in my mother’s house I am moving to share Johnny’s home in San Leandro. Stay tuned for continuing adventures as I set up in a new kitchen and breakfast nook and start a garden in the sunny backyard. I promise to take some photos once I get settled and, after that, I may even get back to painting. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading The Kale Chronicles. Wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year with some transformations of your own.

Dear Semi-Abandoned Readers,

On August 28, 2013 I fell while taking out the compost, injuring my right wrist. It has taken me seven weeks to get a proper diagnosis and a cast: two hairline fractures, a sprain (stretched ligaments) and tendinitis. I can only type with my left hand, which needs to perform all other hand functions (dressing, bathing, eating, holding the phone, etc.). This is why you have not heard from me lately.

My “cooking” consists of pouring bowls of cold cereal and milk and spreading peanut butter on toast. I mooch cooked food off friends who cook, eat whatever my mother prepares for the family dinner, microwave attractive leftovers and carry on as best I can.

The blog will return when I have recovered full use of my dominant hand. Meanwhile, there is plenty to read in the blogosphere, judging from my inbox.

Be well.

Sharyn

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.

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.

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.

Photo of Sharyn Dimmick's illustrated cookbook (aka The Kale Chronicles cookbook)

Photo shows cover of Sharyn Dimmick’s cookbook, Seasonal Recipes with Paintings, developed before the beginning of The Kale Chronicles blog.

Long before The Kale Chronicles blog began I frequently wrote about what I was cooking each week. In 2010 I assembled a limited edition cookbook called “Seasonal Recipes with Paintings,” featuring a recipe for each month of the year with an original painting. I gave these for holiday gifts. For half of 2010 and half of 2011 I lurked about on the A-List Blogging Club, learning about blogging and what I did and did not want to do with my maiden blog.

Then one night I was talking to my friend Neola on the phone and she said, “Why don’t you write about food? Everyone always likes it when you write about food — I even like it and I don’t eat vegetables.” It’s true: whenever I wrote about food my writing friends said things like “You should do a cookbook” and “I can’t read your writing when I am hungry.” Neola suggested that I write about what I got in my produce box each week and what I did with it. Then I happened upon a post called “The Kale Chronicles” on the net and I knew I had my blog title because I frequently struggled with making kale edible, despite the  fact that it had been showing up in my box regularly for the past several years. I painted a “cover painting” for the blog, now in a private collection in Florida and chose an image of it for my gravatar — that little signature picture box you will see in the Comments section. And I decided I would paint for the blog, rather than take photos because I enjoy painting more. The lurking, the phone call, the writing, the produce box, the inspiration for the title, all came together to create The Kale Chronicles, which is a year old today. I thank Neola, the A-List Blogging Club, the practice of writing as taught by Natalie Goldberg and every single one of the 106 subscribers and 15,699 visitors who have taken the time to read the essays, cook the recipes, look at the paintings, buy the music, wish me well when I was ill, encourage me to go on and be or become my friends online and in the real world. I am deeply grateful for your company and support.

One of the things that I am most grateful for in my adult life on a daily basis is that I can eat whatever I like. When I was a child I had to eat everything on every dinner plate no matter how I felt about it — I don’t mean I had to try things or taste them: I had to eat “a reasonable portion.” If I served myself a portion that my father did not deem reasonable, he would serve me twice as much. When I grew up I vowed that I would never eat a long list of foods again: mayonnaise, avocado, English peas, asparagus, tuna, liver, etc. I learned to eat some formerly despised foods, including cauliflower and eggplant by preparing them differently than my mother did. But the big deal is that I get to decide what I eat now.

Some people do not get to decide what they will eat. Some people are poor enough to eat whatever they can get. Others have restrictions due to illness or sensitivities. My friend Lauren, one of my writing pals who studies with Natalie Goldberg and was with me in France, follows a restricted diet due to a poorly understood autoimmune disease. She was happy in France, eating a wide variety of non-chemical, non-genetically modified foods, but then she came back to the United States and was finding it hard to get quick, tasty healthy meals on her table.

And then I had an idea: I had seen her food list in France and my blogging anniversary was coming up. What if I let the food blogging community see her lists of what she could and could not eat and then let bloggers send in recipes for Lauren? So, today, on The Kale Chronicles’ first anniversary I am pleased to announce The Lauren Project, a recipe contest that keeps to the foods Lauren can eat. Below you will find 1) a list of foods Lauren can eat and 2) a list of foods Lauren cannot eat. It is important that you look at both lists when designing your recipes for her because using a restricted food will mean that she cannot try your recipe.

Lauren's chile potholder prototype.

Lauren’s chile pepper pot holder in process — the real thing is way cuter.

Prizes. Yes, there will be prizes. Lauren and I conferred on this. Lauren will award a homemade chili pepper potholder for a winning recipe. I will award 1) a signed Kale Chronicles’ cookbook (made before I started the blog, featuring fourteen recipes and thirteen prints of my watercolor paintings) 2) an original painting (winners’ choice) 3) a “Paris” CD (full-length folk music CD, featuring songs by Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson, Shelley Posen and yours truly, which includes a booklet of original paintings and all of the lyrics to all of the songs). Also, anyone within the U.S. or Canada who enters a recipe in The Lauren Project will be eligible for free shipping for any painting he or she purchases from me in 2012.

Here are the ingredient lists. Please read them carefully.

1)”Yes” Foods:  Grains: White rice, brown rice, red rice, black rice, wild rice, quinoa, cornmeal, millet, gluten-free oats

Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, spinach, lettuce, kale, collards, chard, mustard greens, sorrel, summer squash, winter squash, beans (except pinto and lima beans), peas, corn, asparagus, artichoke, fennel bulb, leek, garlic, shallot, turnip

Fruit: apples (tart varieties only), blackberries, raspberries, boysenberries, currants, lemon, lime

Dairy: eggs, cows’ milk yogurt

Meat and fish: Buffalo, lamb, game meats, beef and chicken in moderation, some fish (see exceptions on other list)

Nuts and legumes: cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, almonds (in moderation), pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, garbanzo beans, black beans, mung beans, cannellini beans, lentils, adzuki beans, red beans, black-eyed peas, white beans

Seasonings: salt, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, anise, rosemary, sage, cloves, vanilla.

Other: olive oil, coconut (including coconut milk), organic non-genetically-modified sugar (must use sparingly). Maple syrup (also use sparingly — Lauren needs to limit her intake of all sugars).

2) “No” Foods: Must avoid — DO NOT USE IN YOUR RECIPES — : grains containing gluten — no wheat, rye, or products made of them. No mushrooms or fungus of any kind. Nothing containing mold — no blue cheeses, moldy cheese rinds, etc. No goat cheese or goat’s milk. No cheddar cheese. No yeast, vinegar, mayonnaise, alcohol, caffeine, honey, agave, cocoa, chocolate or artificial sweeteners. Nothing fermented. No soy or soy products. No basil, oregano, paprika, chili, sesame, cinnamon or mint. No beets, cucumber, eggplant, bell pepper, chili peppers, potato, tomato, cabbage, onion, avocado or tomatillo. No blueberries, strawberries, melon or peaches. No pork, turkey, ostrich, tilapia, shellfish or mollusks (mussels, clams, etc.). No hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, pinto beans or lima beans.

A few words from Lauren:

i am so excited! 

one of my biggest issues is breakfast. i just can’t seem to manage cooking that early in the morning which means i usually just skip breakfast and go straight to lunch (or eat breakfast at 11:30). my favorite breakfast is beef and butternut stew – i do best with heavy protein and very few grains – but i can’t eat it every day. i’m also hungry for one-pot meals that i can cook in bulk and freeze. my last request is for a simple way to get more veggies into my diet. I don’t do well with raw, so things that i can cook quickly with minimal prep (maybe also some good pre-prep tricks for processing veggies when i buy them so they are ready to cook at a moment’s notice). oh, and one more thing… eggs are best cooked in things or scrambled really well. i don’t always do very well with whites. if anyone has questions regarding items not on the lists i’m happy to answer inquiries (mostly they are borderline foods that are okay sometimes or when prepared in certain ways.
thank you so much for doing this and for even thinking of me. it means a lot.

Because we are being kind to Lauren, we ask that you get your grains and organic sugar from reputable gluten-free and non-GMO sources. Organically grown things are less likely to cause less trouble than conventionally grown products. But you can experiment with what you have in your cupboards and then write the recipe for organic, gluten-free products.

Photo of cover of Paris CD by Sharyn Dimmick.

Photo shows front cover of Sharyn Dimmick’s music CD, “Paris.”

Deadline: You must submit your recipe(s) to The Kale Chronicles by midnight Pacific time on August 31st, 2012. You may submit them in the Comments field here, or post them in the Comments field of The Lauren Project page. (Look above and click on it). We will announce the prize winners in a September blog post. You may also post your recipes on your own blogs with the tag “The Lauren Project” and a link to this contest post, but if you don’t send them to me here as well I might miss them (and we wouldn’t want that).

I was working on a recipe for Lauren this week, but then I felt the irresistible urge to go to another music festival in Sonoma County, stay up till 2 AM, flirt with some men, sing some songs. To do that, I had to bake a Gravenstein apple pie, make a Greek salad, cough up twenty bucks, wash my hair and spiff up. I came back tired and happy with my hair full of campfire smoke. I will keep working on the recipe and post it by the deadline, hoping to inspire you to create recipes for Lauren as well, but I might inspire you to run off to folk festivals and flirt with guitar-players. Oops. C’est la vie.

Love,

Sharyn (aka The Kale Chronicler)

List update. We have just added “coriander” to the Yes list as of 8/23/12.

This is a hard time to leave the Bay Area: I took my first swim of 2012 in the Berkeley Marina two days ago. Cherries and apricots are here, with peaches coming soon. I’m going on vacation at the end of the week, traveling to France for a writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg and a few days in Paris. 
Meanwhile, it’s time for another guest post on The Kale Chronicles. Lisa Knighton, who taught us how to make Shrimp and Grits back in April, is back with one of her favorite cakes for you. Enjoy.
Original watercolor painting shows vanilla cake with caramel icing.

Caramel Cake. 8″ x 8″ Gouache on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Cake making stirs my earliest memories. My mother and my grandmother often allowed me to help, sat me up on the counter-top, wedged the large mixing bowl tight between my skinned knees, then said in a soft voice: “Here, hold the mixer steady.”

They instructed me to keep a close eye, watch as the beaters turned the softened butter and white sugar to a creamy, fluffy mixture.
“Listen, now,” Granny said. “This is the secret to a good cake: cream the butter and the sugar for a long time.”
“How long?” I would later ask, once I was living on my own and trying to make the perfect birthday cake.
“Oh, I don’t know how long,” Granny said. “When it looks light and fluffy, give it a taste. It’s ready for the next step when the sugar crystals aren’t crunchy anymore.”
I worry that cake baking is a dead art. I ask around to see if this is true.
Cindy, a cousin who teaches elementary school in Georgia, writes me to say: “Lisa, cake baking here is not a dead art.”  Her family’s favorite is a Cream Cheese Pound Cake. She tells me that she likes to try new recipes.

Glenda, another cousin, tells me that her favorite cake is: “A toss up between old fashioned Lemon Cheese Cake and Caramel Cake with really thin layers.”

Glenda’s mother, Aunt Anna often made freshly grated coconut cake for her daughter’s birthday. “I loved watching her crack that coconut and shred it,” Glenda says.
Pat, a friend from Birmingham, Alabama, bakes Toll House cakes, “Like the cookie, but a cake!” And Rita, who lives and works in Germany, tells me about a raspberry cake her son and husband enjoy.

Isaac, my twenty-one year old nephew, asks: “Will you to teach me to make a cake?”
I have him set up the stand mixer, take out all the ingredients. When we reach the first step, I lean in and say: “The secret to a good cake is in this step.” Isaac turns to me, and smiles. He’s heard this before. I’m glad to be passing along this cake making tradition.
When I bake a cake, I begin with white layers, sometimes called vanilla layers. For this recipe, I turn to Bevelyn Blair’s Everyday Cakes. My favorite is Layer Cake No. 1. As a matter of fact, when I open the cookbook, the pages automatically fall open to this recipe on page 97.
Hill Street Press, of Athens, Georgia, reissued this baker’s-necessity-of-a-book back in 1999. I do have many favorites from Blair’s book, including the German Chocolate Cake and the Brown Sugar Pound Cake. Forget the box mixes and get to work on a masterpiece from this book. You will not be disappointed. And hey, let me know how your cake turns out.
Layer Cake No. 1
2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk (2% or whole)
Bring all refrigerated ingredients to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 6 to 8 or more minutes (remember, this is the secret to a good cake: creaming the butter and sugar until the crystals of sugar are nearly dissolved). Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each egg. Mix together your sifted flour and other dry ingredients. Alternate adding small amounts of the flour mixture and the milk to make your batter. Add the vanilla. Mix well.
Pour batter into three or four greased and lightly floured cake pans. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until tests done. Cool, then assemble layers, covering each with caramel icing.
Betty Kea’s Caramel Icing
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
6 tablespoons half & half (or one small can of milk)
2 cups sifted powdered sugar (4x)
Bring butter and brown sugar to boil. Boil four minutes, stirring constantly. Add 6 tablespoons half & half, stirring; boil for two more minutes, stirring. Remove from heat and allow to cool for ten minutes. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
Blog Notes: Watch for another cake post on June 27th, “Let Them Eat Cake, Part II.” Thanks to the magic of WordPress I can post something while I am gone, without lifting a finger or breaking silence. I haven’t lost my seasonal focus, but I will not be cooking for the next couple of weeks. I will be eating and I will tell you all about that when I return in early July. I’ll just remind you that I own no mobile devices and will not be able to respond to comments while I am away, but I love reading your comments and I will answer you when I get home. Lisa may chime in on the cake comments, too.

Warning: this post may contain an embedded rant or two.

In the kitchen this morning, I have two large dry crusts of French bread, three eggs and several heads of baby romaine lettuce from the farm box. This late spring day appears to be one of the warm variety. I don’t know if these ingredients suggest anything to you: to me they suggest Caesar Salad.

My mama told me that Caesar Salad contains anchovies in the dressing. Cursory internet research suggests that Cesare Cardini used Worchestershire sauce rather than anchovies. I don’t even like anchovies, but I was taught to chop them finely and put them in the dressing for a Caesar Salad, so I do. I would not eat them on pizza. I would not snack on them out of the tin. I have never dared to make a pasta puttanesca because of the anchovies in it, but I keep anchovies in a jar of olive oil just so that I can make this salad when the mood strikes or when the ingredients are sitting around in the kitchen.

Furthermore, I do not care for any egg preparation that involves soft egg yolks — or hard egg yolks, for that matter. That leaves out poached eggs, fried eggs, eggs sunny side up, deviled eggs, hard-boiled eggs and Easter eggs. But I make an exception for Caesar Salad dressing, which calls for a coddled egg, cooked for one minute before you mix it with the other dressing ingredients.

Painting shows Caesar Salad and ingredients.

Caesar Salad. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

The salad that makes me set aside my food aversions is truly magical. You put in anchovies and barely cooked egg yolk, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, black pepper. You toss the dressing with croutons, Romaine leaves and freshly grated Parmesan cheese and you have a crunchy, green refreshing salad with adequate protein from fish, egg and cheese. There is no need to add shrimp or grilled chicken to this salad as many American restaurants do.

First, make garlic-infused olive oil. Heat some garlic cloves in olive oil and allow the garlic and oil to sit while you do other things. While you are at it, halve a raw clove of garlic and rub it onto your wooden salad bowl. If you like raw garlic, set aside a couple of cloves to squeeze into the salad, or pound them in a mortar or mince them with a knife. I actually like minced or pressed raw garlic better than the more subtle garlic oil.

Then make croutons. Chop your leftover French bread into cubes. We like to use stale sourdough. You can saute them in a little of your garlic oil, or you can toss them with some of it and bake them in your oven for a few minutes at 300 degrees. I usually bake my croutons. Sometimes I just bake sourdough bread without any oil: the croutons will absorb dressing from the salad anyway.

Then wash your romaine lettuce and dry it thoroughly in a dish towel or a salad spinner.Tear into bite-sized pieces unless you particularly enjoy the exercise of cutting lettuce with your fork. Place lettuce in your garlic-rubbed salad bowl.

Take two or three anchovies from a tin and mince them finely — no one wants a big bite of anchovy in this salad — we just want the flavor. Set them aside for now.

Grate some Parmesan cheese. 1/4 cup will do in a pinch, but you might want to use more to get the snow drift effect.

Halve one lemon and get ready to squeeze it.

Dress your lettuce with a small amount of garlic olive oil. Add minced garlic if using.

Now coddle an egg: boil it for one minute only. Remove it from the pot. Crack it right into your salad bowl and toss with the lettuce.

Add the minced anchovies and toss again.

Squeeze lemon directly onto the salad. Toss again.

Add croutons and grated Parmesan. Toss again.

Grind some fresh black pepper over the salad. Toss again.

Taste and adjust seasonings.

Food notes: If you can’t stand handling anchovies, you could try using anchovy paste in a tube. I have never used it. Please do coddle the egg and use it in the dressing: the slightly-cooked egg, anchovies and lemon are what creates the distinctive Caesar dressing. You cannot get the proper effect without the egg. You cannot get the proper effect without some form of anchovies — if you are afraid of them, try using a little less — start with one anchovy if you are squeamish and work your way up. You cannot skip the cheese either, or the croutons — if you do, you have not made a Caesar salad, but some other kind of romaine salad. You cannot make a vegan Caesar — don’t even try. If you are a vegan, find some other way to eat your romaine. You cannot make a kale Caesar either: by definition, Caesar salad is made of romaine lettuce. Got it? You have latitude with the garlic, the oil, and the croutons and the amount of anchovy you use. For the Parmesan, you need to get the good stuff and grate it yourself: this is not the time to use stale, pre-grated cheese or the stuff in the green can: when you are only using a few ingredients, they need to be the freshest and finest you can get. That chicken and shrimp? Save them for another entree or cook and serve them on the side, please. Once you try the real Caesar salad, you will love it or hate it, but at least you will know what it is, that you have tried Caesar salad and not one of the many abominations that blacken and borrow its name.

If you’ve made it through the rant, you may notice that I put no salt in the dressing: both anchovies and cheese pack a lot of salt and I don’t miss it. But I did say you could adjust seasonings: that is code for add lemon, salt, pepper, garlic or cheese to taste. Enjoy. And if you experience any revelations after making proper Caesar salad, please come back to testify in the Comments section.

It is cherry season in California. For a few short weeks in May or June fresh cherries appear at the Farmers’ Market in Berkeley. First there are Brooks, then Burlats. Later there are Bing cherries. I eat them all. Mostly, I eat them fresh, for a snack. Lately I have been sneaking them into my morning cereal: my current favorite concoction involves 1/3 cup blue cornmeal cooked in 1 cup of milk with a bit of salt, a small handful of raw almonds pounded in a mortar, a handful of stoned cherries and a couple teaspoons of shredded coconut. This is also good with rolled oats — if you use oats, use 1/2 cup.

Do any of you have binders full of recipes that you have clipped from the food sections of local newspapers? Do you have a lot of recipes you haven’t actually cooked? Me, too. Sometimes I try one and toss it out with a “What were they thinking?” gesture. Sometimes I learn something. Sometimes I just store them, loosely organized by main ingredient, in a huge binder that takes two hands to lift off the shelf, but I know they are there waiting for “someday” when I’ll cook them.

Cherry Focaccia with Chocolate.

One such recipe was Ed Murrieta’s recipe for cherry focaccia. A Google search for the original publication date in the Contra Costa Times informed me that I have been saving this recipe since June 7, 2004. I saved it because it has an irresistible photo of a golden brown round focaccia, dimpled with cherries, cut into wedges, with a pile of fresh cherries in the center. It looks so pretty that I wanted to make it “someday.”

Well, folks, today was someday. I made a trip on the bus to the Farmers’ Market yesterday to buy more basil for more pesto and to buy cherries for this bread. Insert disclaimers here. One, I don’t generally like focaccia — it is too thick, too bland, with the wrong ratio of toppings to crust: I think of it as failed pizza. Two, I think chocolate-covered cherries are revolting. My Grandmother liked them: nasty, sickly cherries in too sweet milk chocolate. And cherry cordials, worse, if possible: bad chocolate filled with wet cherry filling that squirts you when you bite into it. Yuck. Three, my favorite cherry recipes involve sour cherries, either canned or dried, since fresh sour cherries are hard to come by in this part of the world. Four, I can’t stand anything cherry-flavored: cherry flavor reminds me of medicine. This includes cherry Starbursts (why, oh why?). The only exception I can think of is Royal Crown Sour Cherry candy — do they still make it anymore?

But this cherry focaccia was calling my name. First of all, it is a filled focaccia: you make two circles of dough. You put fresh, pitted cherries on top of the first circle, sprinkle it with chopped bittersweet chocolate, and put the second circle on top. Then you push more cherries into the top layer and sprinkle it with raw sugar before it goes into the oven. Plus, you need a starter to make this and I keep a jar of sourdough starter in my refrigerator at all times. I fed the starter yesterday and let it sit out on the counter while I went to the market and bought cherries.

I wanted to send you to Ed Murrieta for the original recipe, but when I Googled him the first thing I found was an article about how his entrepreneurial business had failed, leaving him to live on food stamps. Then I found some recipes including marijuana. Wherever he is now and whatever he is doing I wish him well and thank him for this gorgeous focaccia recipe. I could send you to the newspaper site, but they seem to want you to activate a free trial subscription to let you read the recipe. What can I do? I can rewrite the recipe — I did make a couple of changes.

Here’s the bad kitty confession. Murrieta’s recipe calls for bread flour. In my heyday when I had a regular job and regular paychecks I would have gone out and bought bread flour. I would have insisted on bread flour. Now I am not so proud or so picky: I use what we have on hand. I am an experienced baker and can handle sticky doughs and doughs behaving badly. So I will tell you that Ed Murrieta called for 2 and 3/4 cups of bread flour, plus additional flour on the board during the kneading and shaping phases. I winged it with unbleached flour and some whole wheat flour to give it a more rustic quality. I’ll show you.

Murrieta called for a starter made  of 1/2 tsp dry yeast, 2/3 cup of water and 1 cup of bread flour. You mix this up in a glass jar with a wooden spoon, cover it with cloth and let it ferment on the counter for at least twelve hours (and up to 36). I skipped this, and just added 2/3 cup of my sourdough starter to the dough. If you already have a starter, you are good to go. If you want an official sourdough starter recipe, go here.

Focaccia stuffed with fresh cherries and chocolate.

Cherry Focacccia. 8″ x 8″ gouache on paper. Sharyn DImmick.

Fresh Cherry Focaccia with Chocolate

Make the dough first. You can pit cherries and chop chocolate while the dough rises. You can even go to the store for cherries and chocolate while the dough rises if you don’t go on the once-every-forty-five-minutes bus.

Dissolve 1 and 1/2 tsp yeast in 1 cup warm water.

While the yeast proofs, stir together in a large bowl 2 and 3/4 cups bread flour, 3 Tbsp sugar and 1 tsp kosher salt. If you do not have bread flour and are intrepid, start with 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 3 and 1/4 cups unbleached flour (You will have to add more).

Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients. Add proofed yeast, 2/3 cup sourdough starter (or Ed’s starter, above), 1 cup lukewarm water and 3 Tbsp olive oil. Mix with wooden spoon until a light dough forms. If your dough is more of a batter than a dough, add flour 1/4 cup at a time.

Flour a bread board or other work surface and keep the flour handy! You might want to make sure your flour bin is at least half-full. Turn out the dough onto the board and attempt to knead it. If it sticks to the board badly, knead in more flour, dust more flour on the board, pry it up and try again. Eventually, you will work enough flour into the dough that it resembles roll dough and is smooth and uniform in appearance. If you are smart, you will oil the bowl before you put the dough back in it to rise. Cover the dough with a damp tea towel and let it rise until double — 1 and 1/2 to two hours.

Now, go away and amuse yourself or clean your counters and put away your ingredients except the flour — you are not done with that. Before the dough is risen you will need to pit 2 cups (one pound) of cherries and chop four ounces of chocolate. I used a 70% Lindt bar that had cherries and chili in it.

When your dough is risen, put it on your floured board and let it rest for five minutes. You can use this time to oil a pizza pan or baking sheet.

Divide dough into two equal portions. Ignore one while you flatten, dimple and pull the other into a ten inch circle. See pizza-pulling instructions here. (Murrieta rolls out his). Transfer first portion to oiled pan. Spread 3/4 of your cherries on it and top with chopped chocolate. Flatten, dimple and pull the second circle into shape and place it on top of cherry-chocolate filling. Pinch the edges to seal the dough. Then decorate the top with the rest of the cherries, pushing them cut-side down into the dough at attractive intervals. Let the dough rest for thirty minutes while you preheat your oven to 400 and do a round of clean-up. Just before you put the focaccia in the oven sprinkle it with raw sugar.

Close-up photo of Cherry Focaccia.

Cherry Focaccia Close-up. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

Bake for forty-five minutes or until top and bottom are browned to your liking. Murrieta says to let the focaccia cool and then cut it into wedges. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. I let it cool for approximately five minutes and then cut a small wedge, which I ate standing at the cutting board. Then I reached for the knife again, which was smeared with melted chocolate. I ate the second piece standing in front of the board. Then I cut a much smaller wedge. Then I stepped away from the cutting board, drank a glass of milk and made tea, which I took upstairs so that I did not stay in the kitchen eating focaccia.

It was that good. It was sort of like someone had taken my two favorite things, crusty bread and pie, and magicked them into a single entity. Crusty, gooey, chocolatey, not too sweet, with a fresh cherry taste on top.

Cherry season is short. If you like bread and pie, make this now. Now. And invite some friends over if you don’t want to stay in your kitchen eating the whole thing. You could just call it cherry Kryptonite.

Food notes. This recipe is perfect as is, once you get the flour right. But it is ripe for variations. Try other kinds of chocolate and other kinds of fruit: fresh figs? And then branch out and use almond paste or ricotta filling with cherries or peaches or blueberries. Yum.

On Saturday my friend Margit and I walked through the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. I had been the week before and bought my first Brooks cherries of the year, walnuts in the shell, brown mushrooms. Stone fruit is beginning to come in: I saw apricots and bought a couple of baskets of cherries from Kaki Farms. Strawberries continue strong. Blueberries are here. Some vendors had bins of summer squash and the first beautiful broccoli was beginning to peep its heads out of baskets. But the thing that made me happiest was the bunch of basil I bought for two dollars.

Ah, basil. I didn’t even like the stuff when I was a child: it was just another mysterious seasoning in a Spice Island jar, dried and weird. It didn’t remind you of turkey stuffing like sage or pizza like oregano. Fresh basil was not seen or smelt at my house.

painting shows mortal and pestle, basil, basket of walnuts.

Making Pesto. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil, Sharyn Dimmick.

All that has changed now. All late spring, summer and early fall, I buy basil by the bunch and set it like a bouquet in a glass of water on the kitchen counter next to the olive oil. I chiffonade it over green beans and steam them, tuck it into ears of corn before roasting them, add it to Greek salads, put it in turkey meatloaf or burgers. It is probably the herb I use most during the summer. Today and many other days will find me sitting at the breakfast room table, pounding torn basil leaves, salt, garlic, walnuts and grated cheese in my large Vietnamese mortar with a little olive oil.

Did I say walnuts? I did. Classic pesto is made with pine nuts. I have nothing against pine nuts except the cost. If I lived in New Mexico or Italy I might make pesto with pine nuts. Since I live in California I make it with walnuts and have come to love the combination of bitter and sweet freshly cracked nuts with pounded basil leaves and garlic (I also use walnuts to make a cilantro pesto, flavored with lime).

The first pesto I tasted was served in a restaurant (I no longer remember which one). When I lived in San Francisco I used to buy little plastic tubs of Armanino pesto. Then for awhile I made my own in a blender, until my friend Leila mentioned that pounded pesto had a superior texture. Because our blender is old and cranky I was spending lots of time mincing basil and garlic before feeding its maw and I decided to get a mortar and pestle.

My friend Elaine and I went mortar hunting in Oakland Chinatown and I brought back not one mortar, but two: I have a small marble mortar that I use to crush spices and small amounts of nuts and I have my big wooden Vietnamese mortar for pesto duty each summer.

I start in the kitchen, smashing garlic cloves with the side of a knife and peeling the skins away. The garlic goes directly into the mortar and gets a sprinkle of kosher salt, which helps the pestle break down the garlic fibers. Then I take a utility bowl, my basil bouquet and the big mortar and pestle into the breakfast room. I inhale the spicy green scent of the basil as I pick leaves, discard stems, and tear each leaf into smaller pieces. I pick and tear for awhile, then I pound for awhile, then pick and tear another layer of leaves. The aroma gets richer. When I have torn and pounded every last leaf I take the basket of walnuts and nutcracker from the sideboard and start cracking and shelling. There is no measuring involved: the pesto comes together and is done when its taste and texture suits me — the size of the bunch of basil is the determining factor: I will add enough other ingredients to blend with it, to complement it, but the basil is the star, so I start with garlic and salt, add all the basil, then add walnuts. The last step is grating Parmesan or pecorino with my microplane and stirring in a little olive oil.

If I need a break while I am pounding basil I will pour a little olive oil over the top. This helps keep the color bright. I do not care for oily pesto and have a light hand with the oil: I am not too fussy about whether the final product is bright green: I know it will be delicious and we are going to eat every spoonful and scrape the jar besides.

I never get tired of pesto. When the basil really gets going in mid-summer I try to make enough of it to freeze to last all year. I am never successful because if I have fresh pesto on hand I want to eat it on pasta, on sandwiches, in salad dressing, on green beans, on broccoli, on broiled portobello mushrooms, dolloped on the top of a pizza just out of the oven, or added to a winter vegetable soup. Every year I manage to freeze a few small jars or a bag of pesto cubes made in an ice cube tray, but I am dipping into my stash practically as soon as basil disappears from the Farmer’s Market. At the same time, I have days when I wonder why I have bought yet another bunch (or two, if they are on sale), condemning myself to a few more hours of sitting at the table, pounding away when I could be walking or swimming or reading or whatever else it is that people do on long summer days, instead of inhaling basil fumes and oil of walnut rising from warm wood.

We ate our pesto with whole wheat rotini, fresh sugar snap peas and some roasted red peppers from a jar.

Food notes: You can, of course, make pesto with any fresh  leafy herb and any nut. Some people use seeds instead — pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds. Margit is allergic to walnuts and pecans so she can make hers with almonds. Elaine has used Brazil nuts successfully. Pine nuts are delicious. You can make pesto from arugula or from soaked sundried tomatoes. Some people make it with spinach or kale. You can mix herbs, too: basil, cilantro and mint is nice, or arugula and mint. You can make it in a blender or a food processor if you have one.

Blogging notes: Susie of SusArtandFood very kindly nominated me for another blogging award, the illuminating blogger award. I love it when people read The Kale Chronicles and I love it when they like it and I really like it when they find something useful here for themselves. What I don’t like is posting blog award patches on my site — I don’t think they look nice. And while I’m happy to let you know what blogs I enjoy reading I am not much good at making lists of them on the spot: I do have lists of links, although I probably should update them — perhaps at my one-year anniversary. You will find more details about me and my life in the posts than you perhaps want so I don’t think you need to know that my favorite color is green or that my favorite ice cream is coffee ice cream. My emphasis is seasonal home-cooked food. I’m quite happy when you read and comment on The Kale Chronicles and I do my best to respond to every comment I receive. Thank you all.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 189 other followers