Archives for category: salads

Those of you who are kind enough to follow The Kale Chronicles as it morphs from a twice weekly blog to a monthly blog will have noticed that it did not make its May deadline. It was inevitable, given some things that are going on and it may be rocky here for awhile. I have not had time to take pictures, much less paint them in the last week or so — I have barely been able to attend to the garden (I just spent an hour on my hands and knees, pulling out burr clover).

But I harvested at least half a basket of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes tonight from the plant that has dynastic ambitions — having taken over as much of the fence line as possible (I think), it has shifted its focus to growing out over the patio. Johnny said it had to be cut back, but I am not going to do that. Perhaps I should have put in more stakes or a tomato cage, but it is too late for that now. It swallows up and shades everything in its path with abundant foliage and hundreds of yellow blossoms. It is the biggest tomato plant I have ever seen and I fear to think of what my Amish paste tomatoes and my Principe Borghese plants are going to look like — both of them have larger tomatoes than the Sun Gold.

I have pepper plants hardening off and chard that is bolting. We can eat lettuce from the garden now, as well as chard and kale and tomatoes. I set out some new Thai basil seeds because the Thai basil I planted before is underneath the giant tomato. In the process of digging to enrich the soil for the basil I discovered concrete about a foot down at the end of one of the bean rows. Uh-oh. I have not yet determined how far the concrete extends (I’m not that fond of digging).

My green bean plants have little tiny green beans and the Scarlet Runners do too. My pinto beans and black-eyed peas seem to have hybridized in a giant tangle: when they started out they looked like bush beans, but then the bush beans grew tangled vines that refuse to take to the supports I gave them. Meanwhile some of the butternut squash plants are growing through a row of green beans and I can no longer walk on what was a path in that part of the garden. I think that I saw some tiny butternut squash tonight, although I have seen no squash blossoms, which makes no sense — the only things in blossom are the tomatoes and various beans.

I need to know a lot of things. I need to know how to confine indeterminate tomatoes (and perhaps how to prune the non-bearing branches). I need to know how to encourage the butternut squash to fruit and how to protect the squash as they grow. I need an advanced placement course in staking and supporting plants because muddling through it on my own was not adequate (I have raised indeterminate tomatoes before, thank you very much, but only in ten gallon buckets, where they stay put, where, in fact, they were spindly and only produced a few handfuls of tomatoes. I love the abundance, but I am afraid we will not be able to walk in our yard by August and I feel sorry for the other plants that have no chance and no space to grow. I need to know what particular horrible garden pests or diseases have been plaguing my red cabbage plants, which may not be long for this world, although I have not had a single cabbage.

I sort it out as best I can. The garden is my refuge from other difficulties and I love going out and picking or cutting things to eat. Last night I made a chicken salad that incorporated cherry tomatoes and lettuce from the garden. I also used plain Greek yogurt, Madras curry powder, lemon juice (lime is better), celery and golden raisins.

May highlights included a visit from my best friend and her husband on the day that twenty-six mph winds blew the tomato trellis down and ripped stakes through the ground and my guest appearance with Johnny’s band, Johnny Harper and Carnival, in Sebastopol. I sang “Evangeline” by Robbie Robertson, which Emmy Lou Harris sang in “The Last Waltz.” The band has been doing a special series of shows featuring the music of The Band, while incorporating some of Johnny’s original compositions. Johnny is hard at work on a CD, to be released in October if all goes according to plan.

I hope you all are enjoying your late spring/early summer.

Sharyn (aka The Kale Chronicler)

Back when I wrote my tagline, local ingredients, transformation and creativity, I couldn’t see how transformative and creative life was going to get: what I knew was that I was committed to the practice of eating foods in their seasons and that I was nearly incapable of following a recipe without making some change based on making it healthier or using ingredients we had in the house. When I started The Kale Chronicles I had lost my day job but I could draw unemployment compensation for awhile and had some savings. I put my energy into nurturing the blog, hoping I might sell a few paintings and find a few writing students as my writing gained wider exposure.

Fast forward to 2012. I made a trip to France and acquired a guitar-player, coincidentally the love of my life. I took care of my teeth, which needed a few small repairs, and suddenly I was without funds — without savings, without much in my checking accounts, with retirement funds that it is too early to touch.

Now it is October, 2012. I dubbed it “Work With What You Got” month on The Kale Chronicles. Halfway through the month, I have not starved. Saturday the 13th I was down to $2.75 in my wallet, but I picked up $40.00 by having a garage sale on Sunday, Mom sprang for two tomatoes from the Farmers’ Market on Saturday and half a pound of shelled walnuts and we are, indeed, cooking with things we have in the house. Two tomatoes plus some lettuce and bread, some sliced dill pickles, mustard (for me), mayo (for Mom) and some turkey bacon gave us turkey BLTs for lunch. Mom cooked wheat berries for breakfast. Mixing them with dried cranberries, a tablespoon each of coconut oil and peanut butter plus a cup of milk gave me a filling breakfast.

After which I went to play music in the downtown Berkeley BART station this morning, trying my hand at the old trade called busking. Yes, that silver-haired woman singing with a beat-up Harmony guitar was me. I left my house at dawn to secure a good spot for the day and I sang for two hours, garnering five dollars above and beyond my bus fare, plus one $1.75 BART ticket. The first person I saw come down the escalator threw me some change, which felt like good luck to me.

Five dollars a day net may not be much, but if I make that everyday it will add up to a hundred and fifty a month. Besides, it was fun: I can honestly say I liked it better than any day job that I have ever had. I felt comfortable playing for two hours, except when I needed to stop and drink water. I felt grateful to anyone who threw change my way and to the three people who placed single dollar bills in my guitar case. One woman inquired about a CD, took the time to pick it up and turn it over in her hand and to ask me the price. I have ideas for things to play later (I’d love to learn the “Java Jive” and “One More Cup of Coffee for the Road” to take advantage of my position near the Peet’s kiosk) and I am sure I am going to learn more everyday.

Original painting shows shaved Brussels sprouts salad and ingredients.

Brussels Sprouts Salad. 8″ x 10″ gouache and watercolor pencil on canvas. Sharyn Dimmick.

All this is to say why I didn’t get a blog post out on Sunday as usual — I was busy earning money, just as I was busy this morning. Before I got so enterprising I did cook something new though, a shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette, inspired by Shira’s recipe on In Pursuit of More.

I was dubious about eating raw Brussels sprouts and thought I might blanch them instead, but I gamely tasted a tiny raw shaving. It was okay, actually, a bit stronger than raw cabbage. So I shaved fifteen Brussels sprouts (Trader Joe’s sells big stalks of them for three dollars apiece), added a quarter cup of  dried cranberries, forgot to use nuts (Shira used toasted pecans) and started concocting dressing.

I’m always appalled by large quantities of oil and I like my salad dressings sharp and tart, so I started with Shira’s 1/4 cup of apple cider (from the pantry, remember?) and 1/4 cup of cider vinegar, but I couldn’t bring myself to use 1/2 cup of olive oil. Instead I used 1/4 cup, plus about 2 Tbsp brown mustard and perhaps 1 tsp of honey. I ground some black pepper over the sprouts and cranberries, poured some dressing on and dug in.

I liked this salad so much that, having made it at lunch time, I was back eating it at dinner, having added 1/4 cup of shelled, toasted hazelnuts. The nuts may have made it even better, playing off the deep fall flavors of apple and mustard and greens. The dressing makes way more than you will need for a single salad and I have at least a cup of it waiting in the refrigerator to see what else I will eat it on: I plan to try making this salad with regular cabbage, shredded finely, while the dried cranberry supply holds out. Shira likes the dressing on cooked sweet potatoes, which sounds good to me, although we are currently a sweet-potato-less household.

Meanwhile, I have started experimenting with the coconut oil that Tropical Traditions so kindly sent me. First I put a tablespoon in a cup of hot cocoa, as suggested in one of their recipes, and then I tried adding a tablespoon of it to my oat-rye-granola cereal cooked in milk. I added a tablespoon of natural peanut butter, too, hoping to capture the elusive flavor of the coconut and peanut candy the Chick-O-Stick. I found that adding just one teaspoon of raw sugar brought the flavors together beautifully and that the coconut oil and peanut butter combo give my morning cereal some serious lasting ability — about four hours worth of activity later I finally got hungry again.

I am still working my way through the pears from my friend Margit’s tree. Because we picked them green and I stored them in the back of our refrigerator in a paper bag they have been holding up nicely.

Original watercolor shows salad of pears, arugula, cranberries, feta, pistachios.

Pear-Arugula Salad. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Two nights ago I wanted a light dinner. I had some arugula I needed to use. I had pears. I decided to make a salad. I washed and spun the arugula in the salad spinner. Then I went out to pick a ripe Meyer lemon from our tree. Returning to the cutting board, I squeezed both halves of the lemon into the bowl and then cored and sliced three greenish pears lengthwise, leaving the skins on. I tossed the pears with the lemon juice to prevent browning. Then I added a small splash of olive oil and tossed the arugula and pears again. Next I shelled some pistachios and grabbed a handful of dried cranberries.

I was thinking of shaving Parmesan or Pecorino Romano into the salad, but feta won out: I crumbled a small block of feta over the greens, fruit and nuts, then tasted to adjust seasoning. The only thing it needed was a bit of honey to bring out the sweetness. I drizzled a little on top and tossed the salad again.

This is a wonderful salad for the first few days of fall weather when it is sometimes warm enough to eat a salad for lunch or dinner. I served it again last night as a side salad with a dinner of turkey chili, cornbread and Gravenstein apple pie. The second time I made it I used roasted pistachio oil instead of olive oil. By the time I cooked and ate I didn’t have enough time to finish my painting, which is why this post is a day later than usual.

If you should live somewhere where pears and arugula are available in late November, this would make a lovely Thanksgiving Day salad. If not, make it and eat it while pears and arugula are to be had.

Yes, I am still here (I haven’t decamped for France again), but I thought you might enjoy a special tomato season treat, a guest post from my friend Deborah Sandler.

Deborah Sandler has enjoyed California’s bounty of fresh local food since arriving here in 1979, and swears never to live anywhere else because the food is so good.  She loves to cook and to feed people, and often tells her guests, “Nobody goes hungry at my house!” Deborah is a Farmer’s Market freak, often attending at least two a week, year round, rain or shine, on the lookout for whatever is in season and at its best.  Tomatoes are one of her favorite foods, and she shares one of her tomato recipes here.  When she isn’t cooking, she sings, and practices family law (while making sure to bring her office-mates lots of fresh food, because nobody goes hungry in her office either).

Original watercolor painting shows platter of tomatoes, olives, basil, feta cheese.

“My Somewhat Famous Tomato Platter.” (after Deborah Sandler). 8″ x 8″ Acquarelle on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Tomatoes are finally in season!  I yearn for them during the winter, and sometimes am seduced into buying hothouse tomatoes that look lovely but do not have the texture or zing of the real thing.  When you bite into a tomato that has been locally grown, recently picked, and never refrigerated, the flavor is huge and unmistakeable.  When I was growing up on the East Coast, tomatoes came wrapped in plastic, colored a sickly pink, four to a package, all exactly the same size and shape, firm and tasteless.  I lived in the suburbs, and didn’t know anyone who was growing tomatoes, so it was quite rare that I got to taste a real tomato.  That changed once I moved to California.  Many of the restaurants featured amazing tomatoes in their salads, and friends actually grew some in their yards.  I had no idea a tomato could look, smell or taste like this!  In recent years, heirloom tomatoes have appeared all over the place, stunning in their profusion of shapes, colors and flavors.  Their names are poetic and whimsical – here are just a few examples from one web site that sells seeds for them, and from my  local Farmer’s Markets:  Arkansas Traveler, Banana Legs, Bloody Butcher (ew!), Cherokee Purple, Black Russian, Dingwall Scotty, Green Zebra (and yes, these have stripes), Halfmoon China, Hank (hey, that’s my dog’s name!), Jersey Devil, Berkeley Tie-Die, Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Mr. Stripey, Nebraska Wedding, Yellow Pear, and Stump of the World.

I live in Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay Area, about 30-45 minutes inland from the ocean and from San Francisco.  For those not in California, that means that the climate here is far different from that in San Francisco.  Where the City might be 62 degrees and foggy on a summer afternoon, here it may be over 100 degrees and sunny.  We get some of the San Francisco fog, but not much.  The down side is that our winters are colder, foggier, and danker than those in San Francisco.  We are only an hour from the Central Valley, which runs down through the center of the state, and where much of the nation’s produce is grown.  Even closer is Brentwood, a major agricultural area just to the east of us, that features plenty of U-Pick farms and orchards, as well as farm stands.  Because our local weather is so warm, plenty of people around here grow their own produce, and some even sell at the local Farmer’s Markets.  Here is a partial but by no means exhaustive list of Farmer’s Markets within 15-30 minutes of my house:  Martinez Sunday morning (I think this is now year-round), Martinez Thursday mornings, Concord Tuesday afternoons (year round), Concord Thursday evenings, Pleasant Hill, Lafayette, Moraga, Danville, Orinda, Walnut Creek Saturdays at The Shadelands and Sundays on Locust Street (more on these below), Martinez at the Contra Costa County Regional Medical Center, Walnut Creek Kaiser, Concord High School, and the list goes on.

My favorites are the Walnut Creek Saturday morning market at The Shadelands, and the Walnut Creek Sunday morning market on Locust Street.  Both are very large, with over 40 vendors,  and both are year-round.  The Saturday market is only a few years old but already bustling with happy patrons.  The Sunday market has been there over 20 years, and most of that time I’ve been there.  The vendors there have watched my kids grow up, and know me well as one of their regulars.  At The Shadelands, my favorite tomato vendor is Swank Farms, which has several tables strewn with all sorts of heirloom tomatoes every week.  At the Sunday market, I like Roseland Farms, where the seller has numerous flat boxes of heirlooms sorted by color.  He also is one of the very few vendors that sells San Marzano tomatoes, one of the world’s best cooking tomatoes.  These last weeks sitting out on the table, cook into very flavorful sauces and soups, or can be sliced into salads as firm yet flavorful dependable little oblong beauties.  Roseland Farms also has a big pile of cherry tomatoes of all kinds, and you can grab them by the handful or pick them out one by one.  The Shadelands market had a map with push pins, showing the location of each vendor, and how far away their farm is from the market site.  The average distance they come is only 89 miles.  The average distance food travels to our supermarkets is 1,500 miles.  The map had a sign on it reading, “Choose the food less traveled!”

Here is one of my favorite things to do with tomatoes.  This is my somewhat famous tomato platter.  Amounts are approximate.  I made this up, and it doesn’t have official amounts of anything.  Mess around with this as much as you want, and change it to your taste. The secret is the freshness of the ingredients.  And do not ever refrigerate tomatoes – it destroys their flavor!  Slice several heirloom tomatoes (as many colors as possible) onto a large platter in several layers.  You can make patterns of color or just do it randomly.  Chop up a handful or two of feta cheese and sprinkle that over the tomatoes.  Then sprinkle a generous handful or two of olives over that.  Lately I use mixed Greek olives from Whole Foods, and I recommend you not use olives from a jar – get fresh ones from an olive bar if you can.  If you have fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes in several varieties, sprinkle a handful of those over the top. Then chop up a generous handful or two of fresh basil leaves and sprinkle that over the top and around the platter.  The vinaigrette I use is homemade, and is quite tart, so you may want to try it separately before using it here, to adjust for taste if you want. This reverses the usual proportions in a vinaigrette, and has 2 parts vinegar to 1 part oil.  1-1/2 T best quality olive oil, 3 T red or white wine vinegar, 10-15 shakes of salt, 10-15 grinds of fresh ground pepper or 3 or 4 shakes of coarse ground black pepper, 2 or 3 shakes of granulated garlic, 2 or 3 shakes of dried mustard. Mix thoroughly and pour over the tomato platter, serve immediately.

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.

photo depicts fresh lettuce in colander with Buddha looking on.

From the Winter Garden. Photo by Kuya Minogue.

Today The Kale Chronicles features a guest post from Kuya Minogue of Creston, British Columbia, who shares what she has learned about winter gardening in her locale. Kuya and I met at a Natalie Goldberg writing retreat in New Mexico. When I saw a Facebook post of hers on harvesting greens from her winter garden I asked her to share her garden story with you. Although it is May and not winter in the northern hemisphere now, perhaps it will allow some of you cold-climate gardeners to plan next year’s winter garden. You can find more of Kuya at zenwords here.

When it’s twenty below Centigrade outside and the garden is buried under four feet of snow, it’s hard to imagine that under the plastic cloches and row covers in the greenhouse beds, the spinach, lettuce, chard and cilantro that I seeded in late August are lying dormant, waiting for a warm day to awaken them from their winter hibernation. But it only takes a few warm days in mid-winter to bring them out of sleep and into a delicious and completely alive salad.

photo of spinach growing in Creston, B.C.

Spinach in January. Photo by Kuya Minogue.

Last year, we had a week of above zero sunshine in Creston, BC where my winter garden lives, and by the end of that week, when I removed the cloche from the spinach bed, I found salad ready greens. The leaves were thick and juicy. There’s nothing better than a garden fresh salad in January, and the amazing thing is that all it took was one plastic snow-covered cloche to keep the plants alive and a few warm days to make a salad. When the weather turned cold again, I recovered the spinach and it lived through another two months of frost.

In that January warm spell, when I looked at the lettuce under the row cover inside the greenhouse, the leaves were so withered that I thought that winter had taken them. But by the first week of March, the lettuce had revived, and by the second week of April, we were eating fresh spinach and lettuce salads straight out of the garden. I was afraid the lettuce would be bitter, but only the outside leaves had the taint of winter. The butterball at the centre of the plant was crisp and fresh, and tasted like summer.

I don’t like to mix my first collection of winter salad greens with store bought tomatoes, cucumbers or avocado. I prefer to sprinkle winter garden green onions and a handful of garden-fresh cilantro over the greens, and to make a lemon and olive oil dressing that has a squirt of liquid honey and tamari sauce, and a sprinkling of minced garlic from last year’s garden. From first bite to the last, I’m transported to the warm days of summer.

Hardy greens survive the winter too: chard, kale and a chinese vegetable whose name I don’t know are ready to eat by mid March. By mid April, they are so prolific that I invite anyone who comes to the Zen Centre to meditate or do some yoga to take a mixture of these greens and some winter garden onions home with them so they can clean them, cut them into bite size pieces and then stir fry them in sesame seed oil, lemon juice and tamari.  The cooking greens are also delicious if I simply steam them and eat them with a little butter.

painting of picked mixed greens in colander, Buddha image.

Buddha with Greens from the Winter Garden. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

I learned about winter gardening when one of my Zen students, a horticulturalist, offered to give a Winter Gardening Class at the zendo. Having lived through many years of Canadian winters, I was skeptical when we seeded the beds in late August and then put them under cover in mid-October. It just seemed impossible that anything as delicate as spinach or lettuce could survive the winter. But I was wrong. Even in Canada, we can grow greens in the winter and eat garden-fresh salad in the spring. If we can do it here, you can do it anywhere.

 

 

painting depicts ingredients for Romanesco with Gorgonzola Over Pasta recipe

Romanesco. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

This week’s farm box included romanesco. Romanesco looks like cauliflower invented by Martians: it has points, spirals, triangular formations and it is often a stunning shade of neon green. You may not have eaten it: I would not have eaten it if I had not subscribed to Riverdog Farm in 2007.

Now, I’ll just tell you that I grew up eating cauliflower smothered with cheese sauce. I would have grown up not eating cauliflower smothered with cheese sauce if I could have managed it, but our family had rules, one of which is that you ate everything you were served. I did not make up this rule, but I had to live with it.

Part of my journey as a cook and as an adult has been to revisit foods I did not care for in my childhood. Some of them stay on the “Do not eat” list: avocado and asparagus have not made it to edible, much less pleasurable, and English peas require careful and judicious camouflage. I still will not eat cauliflower in pale orange cheese sauce, but I will eat it with a sauce featuring two of my favorite things: gorgonzola and cumin seeds.

The same farm that brought romanesco into my life brought me the recipe with which to cook it from the RiverNene CSA in England. I modified their ingredients list and then I modified their cooking method: what I have kept are a little butter, the cumin seeds, some milk and some gorgonzola, although not the quantities of each that I first saw. To get the most out of the creamy, cheesy sauce I like to serve it with pasta. I like whole wheat penne because the darker-colored pasta looks nice with the pale vegetable and sauce and has a nice chewy texture. That said, you could serve it on spinach pasta or tomato pasta for some color and you can eat it without pasta if you are counting carbs.

Romanesco with Gorgonzola over Pasta

Put your pasta water on to boil.

Cut or break your romanesco into florets.

Melt a little butter in a saucepan, perhaps 1 or 2 tablespoons

Fry 1 Tbsp cumin seeds in the butter until aromatic.

Stop the cooking by whisking in 2 Tbsp of flour

Then add some milk — start with 1/2 cup and have more at the ready.

Alternate stirring the sauce and breaking up some Gorgonzola to melt into the sauce. The cheese will help thicken the sauce. If it gets too thick, add a little more milk. If it is too thin, cook it down for awhile or add more cheese.

When your pasta water boils, throw in 1/2 pound of whole wheat penne.

After the pasta has cooked for ten minutes, add your broken or chopped romanesco to the pasta water. Cook for one minute and drain, letting the pasta water fall into a serving bowl to preheat it.

Transfer the sauce, pasta and romanesco to your (drained) serving bowl and stir so that everything gets coated with sauce. Eat while it is warm.

Food Notes: If you don’t have romanesco, you can make this with cauliflower, or even broccoli — it just won’t have the Martian atmosphere. Sometimes I add a few snipped sundried tomatoes into the sauce for the bright taste and the flecks of color: it is winter, after all. Regular pasta works, too. Sigh. The original recipe called for 2 Tbsp of brandy — if you are a brandy-swiller, go ahead and add it to the sauce: I’m sure it tastes delightful.

I like to serve this with a winter salad of raw spinach and sliced oranges. Sometimes I dress it with Orange-Sesame Vinaigrette. However, I had recently read about an orange-tahini dressing and wanted to see if I could put one together (I love tahini and January is a big citrus month). I started by juicing one orange, one Eureka lemon and two Meyer lemons. That yielded one half cup of juice, which I poured into my old Good Seasons cruet (Remember those? They are handy for salad dressings that don’t come in packets!) I added 3 Tbsp Tahini. I tasted it. Now what? I had on the counter some olive oil that I had used to cover roasted red bell peppers. The peppers went onto last night’s pizza, but the oil. I measured 2 Tbsp of the roasted red bell pepper oil. Mmm. That gave a nice roasty flavor. Gotta have salt: I put in 1/2 tsp Kosher salt. And garlic: I pressed 1 small clove of garlic. A little sweetness: in went 1 tsp honey. I thought about putting some cumin in it, but I kept it simple this time — there’s cumin in the romanesco sauce after all.

For a little more heft, I kneaded up a batch of black rye bread, basing it on a recipe by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. But I left out the carrots and the caraway and threw in a little orange juice and zest. It’s rising now: I’ll report on it on Wednesday (or not, if it is not worth writing about).

It’s still January, so they are still doing citrus recipes over at #citruslove. They are worth checking out if you like citrus or have a seasonal glut of it like we do.

painting depicts meal of bread, soup and salad for January

January Feast. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

In January I crave greens. After the excesses of the winter holidays with their meat, squash, bread, potatoes and sweets, I want things sharp and bright-tasting while still needing warm dishes to chase away the chill. Thursday I cooked all day and hit upon that classic meal of soup, salad and bread.

I started with the oven on for Savoring Every Bite’s caramelized oranges and made some granola while I was at it, plus roasted a kabocha squash. Then I cleaned leeks and peeled potatoes for soup, scrubbing the potatoes first so that I could toss the peels and tough leek greens into a stock pot for vegetable stock. While that boiled, I sauteed 3 sliced leeks, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup of minced ham and some crumbled dried rosemary (use fresh if you grow it) in 2 Tbsp butter. As that cooked I peeled and diced about 1 pound of yellow Finn potatoes and added them to the pan to brown a bit. I then covered them with a pint of chicken stock and four cups of water, covered the pot and let them cook. Then I got out the mandoline to shred Savoy cabbage — I shredded nearly half a head of cabbage and set the mandoline aside for another use later.

When the potatoes were tender I mashed some of them and left some chunks. The soup was a little watery, so I seasoned it with salt and pepper and let it continue to cook uncovered.

Meanwhile, I got out three small fennel bulbs, whacking off the stalks and fronds for the vegetable stock pot, along with the tough outer pieces. Then I cut each bulb in half and shredded it with the mandoline over a salad bowl. I scored the peel of 1 large navel orange into quarters, saving the peel to candy another day, and segmented the orange and sliced the segments, putting them into the bowl with the fennel. Then I took my remaining orange-sesame vinaigrette and poured it over the oranges and fennel and stuck the bowl in the refrigerator.

I turned off the soup and let it sit (I added the cabbage ten minutes before reheating and serving it).

Then I turned my attention to bread, an orange-cumin yeast bread adapted from Mark Miller’s Coyote Cafe cookbook. The warm oven from caramelized oranges, granola and roasted squash would help the bread rise. Here’s my modified recipe

Orange Cumin Bread

Juice and zest 1 large orange (about 1/2 cup juice)

Scald 1/2 cup milk and set off heat to cool.

Dissolve 2 packages active dry yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water (or measure 4 and 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast).

Into large bowl of stand mixer, measure

1/2 cup sugar (any kind will do)

4 Tbsp corn oil

1/4 cup cornmeal

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 Tbsp ground cumin, plus the scalded milk and the orange juice and zest.

1/2 cup warm water

Mix to combine and then add dissolved yeast. Mix again.

Now add 4 cups unbleached flour and

1 scant Tbsp kosher salt

Switch to dough hook, or knead by hand, remembering to knead for at least ten minutes to develop the gluten. This dough can be sticky so you may need to add a little extra flour a tablespoon at a time or keep flouring your kneading surface.

Put dough in large bowl (I use the same one I mixed in) greased with a little oil or vegetable shortening. Cover dough with damp smooth kitchen towel (I warm my towel in the microwave for twenty seconds) and set bowl in warm place to rise until double (about an hour). Punch down and let rise again until doubled (thirty minutes this time). Meanwhile grease two standard loaf pans.

When bread dough has risen for the second time, deflate it and shape into two loaves. Put loaves in prepared pans and let rise until dough is even with the edge of the pan. Fifteen minutes before it gets there, slash the dough with a sharp knife — I make two parallel diagonal slashes in the top of each loaf — and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake for forty minutes, until crust is brown and tapped loaf sounds hollow. Remove from pan and cool on rack.

Now you can heat up your soup, toss in the cabbage, take the salad from the fridge and feed some happy people.

Soup notes: Any kind of potatoes will do for this soup — just don’t use purple ones! If you are a vegetarian, omit the ham and chicken broth in the soup and prepare it with vegetable stock or milk and water. If you are an omnivore and don’t have ham on hand, you could substitute bacon or prosciutto. If you don’t have leeks, substitute onions. If you don’t have Savoy cabbage, use another kind — anything but red or purple which will give you an undesirable color.

Bread notes: Mark Miller’s recipe calls for dried milk and orange juice concentrate — I have adapted it to use whole foods instead. He also calls for starting with whole cumin seed, toasting it and grinding it. I have done this and it is good, but if your cumin is fresh or you can’t get cumin seed, you can just use ground cumin. If your cumin has been around for awhile, toast it in a dry skillet. This bread is light and wheaty: for a variation, try reversing the proportions of cornmeal and whole wheat flour. Like most breads with fruit in them, it makes excellent toast.

This month I am participating in citruslove, a glorious collection of seasonal citrus recipes, #citruslove. Check ’em out here at the bottom of the post. Click on Linky tools there to see all the submissions.

painting depicts salad, varierty of citrus fruits.

Ginger-Sesame Vinaigrette 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn DImmick

What do we eat in January? The reds of the summer and late fall have given way to orange and green. Citrus is pouring in from the farm box, from the market, from my sister-in-law’s orange tree. Lemons and limes are ripening in the yard. This week’s box from Riverdog Farm featured a red Kabocha squash (which is a deep shade of reddish-orange), two pounds of oranges, one and a half pounds of mandarin oranges, a couple of leeks, rapini, spinach, two celery roots and a pound and a half of potatoes.

First up, I stir-fried the rapini in olive oil with garlic and squeezed a lemon over that. We ate it with roasted delicata squash seasoned with ginger, lime and an apple cider reduction made from the last of a bottle of cider. We had a slice of heated up ham, which Mom splashed a little maple syrup on at the last minute. We each ate a slice of homemade whole wheat bread. I peeled a tangerine for dessert and Mom cut half an orange into quarters. I watched as her face puckered and volunteered to use the other half of the orange in salad dressing tomorrow.

I first saw this vinaigrette recipe in the farm newsletter, where it was reprinted from the Sun-Times. I have adapted it to use a variety of citrus and I’ll make it from now until citrus fruits fade out in the spring to be replaced by strawberries. While the original recipe called for canola or safflower oil I like to use peanut oil, which goes well with the Asian flavors of ginger, sesame, rice vinegar and tamari.

Orange Sesame Vinaigrette

Juice and zest 1 orange or 2 tangerines or 2 blood oranges or any combination into a bowl, bottle or cruet.

Add

2 Tbsp rice vinegar

2 Tbsp tamari

2 Tbsp sesame oil

1 Tbsp honey

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1/2 tsp kosher salt

black pepper to taste

minced chives, scallions or green garlic, depending on what you have

Whisk in

1/4 cup peanut oil (or add it to jar and shake vigorously).

Toast

2 Tbsp sesame seeds in a skillet

Now, make a salad of winter greens: spinach, arugula, lettuce, watercress — whatever you can get. If you can’t get fresh greens, you can slice up napa cabbage on a mandoline. Add slivered carrots, cabbage, sliced fennel, radishes. Throw in roasted peanuts or almonds if you like. Segment your favorite citrus fruits. Toss the salad with the vinaigrette and reserved sesame seeds.

Food notes: You can also eat this vinaigrette on cooked greens or Brussels sprouts. If you are allergic to peanut oil, substitute another oil that you like. Tamari is a wheat-free soy sauce, not as salty as standard soy sauce.

Painting note: This painting is a little blurry because it is a photo of a photo — the original is in a private collection and is more vivid and well-defined.

January is citruslove month. Which makes sense in the Northern Hemisphere at any rate. There is a citrus love recipe posting project. The hash tag is #citruslove. More about it here.

Now, Lauren of PrinceProductions has kindly awarded me another blogging award, Food Bloggers Uncovered, just to make sure I start the New Year off right. She posted ten questions to answer:

1.   What, or who inspired you to start a blog?

After struggling mightily over how to launch a website and what would be on it, I was talking to my friend Neola and she said, “Why don’t you just write about food? You could write about what vegetables you get and what you do with them.” Neola knows I am passionate about seasonal eating, that it actually pains me to see recipes containing basil and tomatoes in January.

2.   Who is your foodie inspiration?

I have had the good fortune to eat at Greens in San Francisco, at Chez Panisse and Ajanta in Berkeley, and at Joseph’s Table and The Love Apple in Taos, New Mexico. The chefs at those restaurants, Alice Waters, Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” and Michael Pollan’s books have influenced me mightily. The produce from Riverdog Farm has forced me to stretch my cooking muscles, and increase my versatility and look for ways to render a variety of greens delicious.

3.   Your greasiest, batter – splattered food/drink book is?

The old Betty Crocker Picture cookbook, which is where I go when I have a question about anything basic (substitutions, cooking methods, standard dishes). I like it that it has tabbed sections for yeast breads and pies as well as main dishes, meat, poultry. Read more about the cookbooks I use the most here.

4.   Tell us all about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?

It would have to be in Paris in the winter where I ate coquilles St. Jacques, a poached pear and the best white bordeaux I have ever tasted, perfectly matched to the food.

5.   Another food bloggers table you’d like to eat at is?

I would like to dine with Susan Nye when she is cooking lobster, dine with anyone who likes to cook lamb, sit down to an Italian meal with John of the Bartolini Kitchens. Greg of Rufus’ Food  and Spirits Guide can make the pre-dinner cocktails and perhaps the bread pudding and you can all submit selections for the dessert cart. Are you listening, Linda? Get out the cheesecake! And I want to know what Christine of Angry Cherry is baking as well. Sally can bring the bread.

 6.   What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?

We have a KitchenAid, but I would like the heavier-duty model, please.

7.   Who taught you how to cook?

Mom taught me the basics, including the pie crust, and then I started collecting recipes and techniques and ideas wherever I found them: learned to cook a few Indian and Thai dishes from college roommates, copied flavors I had had in restaurants, watched people cook on T.V., and read lots and lots of cookbooks.

8.   I’m coming to you for dinner what’s your signature dish?

It depends on the season. Turkey and apple stew, perhaps, or posole (without the kale!). Served with home-baked bread and a simple pudding or pie. Or green curry of anything. Or something Indian served with cucumber raita, whole wheat tortillas and chutney: chicken biryani or Indian-style black-eyed peas from the Ajanta cookbook.

9.   What is your guilty food pleasure?

My secret love of these processed foods: Cheez-Its (original flavor), barbecue chips, and Golden Grahams, which they might as well call candy.

10. Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?

I refuse to eat a number of common foods: mayonnaise (I don’t care who makes it or if you call it “aioli”), avocado, hard-cooked eggs, most organ meats, tuna. I also refuse a number of delicacies: pate, sushi, oysters, caviar, Brie.

Finally…tag 5 other food bloggers with these questions…like a hot baked potato…pass it on.

No, no. We live in a democracy. Take it upon yourselves to answer these questions, or tell your friends about them. Alright, I nominate Granny Wise of Granny’s Parlour because I want to hear how she answers the questions. Who else? You know my favorites already. There’s Eva and Betsy and John, who doubtless have all been nominated for this before. I know, let’s give another award to Jane at ArtEpicurean. Done.

painting of kale salad

Kale Salad. 8″ x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

When I started a blog called “The Kale Chronicles,” I liked the alliteration and I felt like I was perpetually struggling with kale: Riverdog Farm put in my vegetable box frequently and I had found no truly satisfying way to eat it in three years. Then I went to Mabel Dodge Luhan House in New Mexico this November and Jane Garrett served a kale salad. I ate some. Then I went up for seconds. Then I asked for the recipe.

Jane obliged and I have made this salad twice since returning home. Every time I make it, I eat big bowls full of it and I eat it everyday until it is gone. I made it again tonight and just ate a flat soup bowl full of it.

Why do I like it so much? It could be the dressing: Meyer lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, tahini, tamari and a little bit of honey — I might eat that on shoe leather, although I doubt it. I might like it because you blanch the kale before attempting to eat it. I just like it.

I’ll give you Jane’s version as she wrote it and then I’ll explain how and why I altered it.

Jane Garrett’s Kale Salad

Blanch two bunches of kale*.

Add what you like: grated carrots, radishes, dried cherries, almonds, red potatoes, feta, mint.

Toss with the following dressing:

1/2 cup lemon juice with zest

1/3 cup olive oil

2 Tbsp tahini

2 Tbsp Braggs’  OR 1 Tbsp tamari

3 cloves garlic (I pressed mine)

1/4 tsp agave OR  1/4 tsp honey

*If you are going to eat kale, you need to remove the stems and ribs. Jane didn’t tell you this because she thinks everyone knows it. So, before you blanch the kale, remove the stems and ribs and compost them.

My alterations: I don’t have any Braggs’, which I believe is Braggs’ amino acid, or some such thing, and I haven’t been inclined to go out and get any. I deduced that it was contributing the salty flavor, so I substituted 1 Tbsp tamari for the 2 Tbsp of Braggs’. I used Meyer lemons because we have them growing in our front yard — they are sweeter and less sharp than Eureka lemons, the ones you usually find in the supermarket. I used 1/4 tsp honey for the agave because, once again, I don’t keep agave in the house — I don’t object to it or its flavor — it’s just not something I have around the house. Lastly, I don’t measure my olive oil: take Jane’s measurement if you want to be precise — I just dress the kale with some olive oil, mix together the other ingredients and toss the salad.

I haven’t been adventuresome in mixing things into this yet because I actually like the taste of the kale smothered in this dressing. I did put in half a handful of dried sour cherries tonight, but I couldn’t really taste them — the dressing is pretty powerful.

What I hope is that this salad helps some of you eat kale who have found it hard to enjoy in other preparations, especially those of you who are at your wits’ end when kale shows up in your farm box (Someone removed a bunch of kale from his box today and set it on top of the stack for someone else to take home!). It works for me.

Now, the award: Jen aka Zestybeandog kindly awarded me The Versatile Blogger Award. This pleases me because 1) Who doesn’t like an award and some recognition 2) Versatility in the kitchen is one of the hallmarks of my cooking style and 3) I get to pass the award on to several other bloggers whose blogs I enjoy. I am also to reveal seven things about myself

1) I love to sing. I sang in school choirs and church choirs. I have one CD, “Paris,” featuring traditional ballads, original songs and covers.

2) I started a ballad-singing group in Berkeley many years ago. It’s still going.

3) Besides painting food subjects I like to paint flowers, song illustrations and occasional landscapes. Animal portraits have been creeping in lately…

4) I used to work as a Recreation Leader in a program that brought together children with disabilities and able-bodied, neurotypical children.

5) I used to be a psychotherapist (MFT)

6) I love open-water swimming and swim in the Berkeley Marina, weather-permitting, from May through October.

7) I sell paintings. Just thought I’d throw that in because I do sell my original watercolors. I am happy to sell them. I am working on developing related products, including cards, trivets, canvas bags, etc. with images from “The Kale Chronicles.” If you want something, please ask.

Where to start? I have just been in the blogosphere for a little over four months, In that time I have come to enjoy the following blogs:

Bitsandbreadcrumbs by Betsy — Betsy cooks stuff I want to cook myself.

Kitchen Inspirations by Eva Taylor. Can’t tell you why exactly — that’s the nature of inspiration — I just like Eva’s blog.

Angry Cherry — the baking blog with personality and many original ideas. She makes things I want to try someday.

JustaSmidgen — lovely photos and some stunning recipes: malted milk meringues anybody? Or pomegranate salad?

From the Bartolini Kitchens — John chronicles his family’s Italian recipes, tells great stories and is one of the kindest people in the blogosphere that I have run across

Lauren is baking her way around the world, making things from every country she can think of. She is particularly honest, which makes her fun to read.

Linda, at Savoring Every Bite makes lovely cheesecakes, attends to decor as much as to food, is generous with her comments and posts a variety of recipes. Pumpkin fans must subscribe to her blog in the fall.

Bewitching Kitchen. Sally has a not-so-secret love of baking bread. In this, we are sisters. She just posted a wonderful-sounding caramelized carrot soup.

SmittenKitchen. This is a big, well-known blog. You may already read it. If you don’t, go there now: Deb has it all: recipes, photos, stories.

As you can see, those are food blogs.

I also read art blogs, or art and food blogs.

The first art and food blog I found was Jane Robinson’s Art Epicurean. Jane paints lovely abstracts and publishes a wide variety of recipes

My latest food and art blog discovery is The Hungry Artist by Melissa. I look forward to seeing more of her work (she just posted some wonderfully-shaped fig cookies on FoodBuzz)

And, somewhere in between, I found Dichotomyof. She makes colorful patchwork cushions, raises children and cooks, too.

For pure art (without food), go to

Bees ATC. Nancy posts a drawing everyday around midnight central time. They are usually colored pencil drawings.

Saltworkstudio: Suzanne has developed quite a following for her abstract acrylic work and collages. She teaches in Sonoma County, but she has gone to Rome for the holidays. I’m sure she’ll have stories to tell when she gets back

And, last, but not least, there is Donna Louise, neither a food nor art blog, but a modern serial by a funny, offbeat writer who shall remain nameless for the time being (at the writer’s request).