Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. Due to my precarious income (ask any self-employed artist about this) I have decided to suspend my Riverdog Farm vegetable box subscription for the month of October. I had some medical and dental expenses in the last few months and need to retrench financially. Zen teaches me that things change all the time: sometimes life or love or money expands, sometimes it contracts: you all know that I recently won the love sweepstakes big time. Now it is time to pay more attention to income and spending.

What that means is that on The Kale Chronicles October will be the month of Work With What You Got, cooking what is in the fridge, what is in the freezer, what is in the pantry, what is in the garage. The seasonal element will continue since I will be utilizing lemons and apples from our trees and I can never resist foraging when I see edible fruit on the streets of Berkeley and Kensington. I will supplement judiciously with items from the Berkeley Farmers’ Market and write about the cooking decisions I make. I do have an exotic ingredient on hand because Tropical Traditions kindly sent me a quart of coconut oil, which I have yet to try. Many of us in this country have far more than we need and I will be mining the surplus that lurks in our household, jams, liquors, pastas, etc. When it occurs to me I will suggest variations on each recipe to make it easier for you to adapt my recipes to what is in your fridge, freezer and pantry.

October will not be Austerity Month, however, because October is the month of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, a glorious weekend of good live music and a full range of food booths. This is my favorite music festival of the year: I sit on a blanket in the sun, sketching, drinking coffee, eating crawfish etouffee or gyros or an ice cream sandwich, listening to Guy Clark and Emmylou Harris and Kevin Welch and Kieran Kane. This year I will have the added pleasure of sharing the event with Johnny, my new love thing. And before we even get there, Johnny and I will be traveling up to Sebastopol where he will play at Suzanne Edminster’s reception for her Dionysia painting show.

So where shall we begin with Work With What You Got?

Original watercolor painting shows pita bread, tzatziki, baba ghanoush and muhammara.

Indian Summer Mezze. Gouache on paper. 12″ x 12″. Sharyn Dimmick.

Well, what we got is hot weather, weather in which the only things that make me happy are going down to the Marina to swim in open water and drinking Coke floats. I need to get a dinner on the table that we can eat while watching the Presidential debate and I don’t want to be using the oven or stove much today. I have an abundance of cucumbers, eggplants and peppers from last week’s vegetable box, but no tomatoes or kalamata olives — that means we won’t be having Greek salad, my go-to hot weather meal. I decide that we will have spreads based on roasted vegetables, spreads that we can eat at room temperature.

I start by roasting eggplant for baba ghanoush in a 400 degree oven (Yes, I’m using the oven, but it is 6:30 in the morning. When the eggplant is done, I pop in several red Jimmy Nardello peppers and an orange bell pepper to roast for muhammara. I leave all of the vegetables to sweat in a glass bowl covered with foil. Then I think of tzatziki: I pull all of the cucumbers from the vegetable drawer. peel and seed them and put them in a bowl to chill. I grab the yogurt, spoon some out, set it in a colander over a bowl to drain and get nice and thick. While I’m at it I put on a full kettle of water to make some orange spice black tea for iced tea later. The oven use is over by 7:30 AM.

Then I start hunting for a pita bread recipe, finding a simple one in Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook. I adapt it to use sourdough starter rather than active dry yeast: it can rise all day while I swim and write. The slow rise will allow me to bake it when I return from the Marina and assemble the spreads.

Sourdough Pita Bread (adapted for sourdough starter from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook)

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup sourdough starter, 1 cup room temperature water and a dash of honey.

Stir with a wooden spoon and let stand for five minutes.

Add 1 cup whole wheat flour, 2 cups unbleached flour, a drizzle of honey and a bit of kosher salt.

Stir together and then knead for at least ten minutes until the dough passes the windowpane test.

Oil bowl. Return dough to bowl. Cover with damp cloth and set to rise. You can leave it alone for six to eight hours now.

When you want to bake it, preheat oven to 475. While oven heats, divide dough evenly into six to eight balls and cover balls with a dish towel. Let stand for fifteen minutes. Then roll each ball into a 1/2-inch-thick disk and place breads on ungreased baking sheets. Bake breads on lowest oven rack for about ten minutes. Stack warm breads in a basket covered with a towel. Serve with dips or spreads of your choice or stuff for sandwiches.

The baba ghanoush and muhammara share a Middle Eastern palate. I will need lemon juice, garlic, tahini, pomegranate molasses, a slice or two of white bread for the muhammara. I will pick the lemons from the tree in the front yard. I have the other things in the refrigerator or pantry. Baba ghanoush is a blend-to-your-own taste puree of roasted eggplant, tahini, lemon juice, fresh garlic and (optional) olive oil. I like mine heavy on the lemon and garlic, light on the tahini, no oil added.

Food Notes: You need a few exotic ingredients for today’s menu, tahini and pomegranate molasses. You can attempt to make pomegranate molasses if you have a supply of pomegranate juice. If you neither have it, make it, nor buy it, you could eat the roasted vegetables cold as is, or put them in a marinade or salad of your choice. Tzatziki is pretty basic, mainly yogurt and seeded cucumber. Making your own pita is fun if you don’t have store-bought around the house, and it is especially nice to eat it warm right out of the oven. As I mentioned last week, I have run out of walnuts (I’ll buy some when the new crop comes in), so I will be using pistachios in tonight’s muhammara. You can make pita without sourdough — just use proofed dry yeast instead.

Song Notes: Fortuitously, Johnny Harper has a song called “Work With What You Got.” Listen for the verse about the gumbo cooks. Click on the song’s name: that will get you to Johnny’s Cur-Ville page. Look for the song there (it’s the third one, but you might want to listen to the others too).

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