Archives for category: vegetables
Watercolor painting of sweet peas in vase

Sweet Peas

I have not written a blog post in so long that I can’t remember when I last wrote. I have kept up busking and working for my friend Elaine. I even painted a couple of new paintings this spring. I continue to be interested in eating clean food, while Monsanto contaminates the food supply with glyphosate and who knows what else.

Emerald Dent Corn

If I grow my own food organically, I know what has gone into it. For a few years I have grown kale and chard, butternut squash and tomatoes. Last year I added Thai basil. I’ve grown beans before, mostly to fix nitrogen in the soil: although I love fresh green beans, the aphids loved them, too, so I plant scarlet runner beans to go with this year’s emerald dent corn.

After severe drought, California got rain in 2017 and I am able to start thinking about planting trees and shrubs in my no-shade yard. I dream constantly about peach trees, a Fuyu persimmon to shade the patio, a pomegranate, a kadota fig tree, apples and blackberries and raspberries, a Meyer lemon. I have been studying books on backyard orchards and radical pruning to keep trees to six feet.

At the same time I dream of home-grown fruit and relieving shade, I see every eyesore and obstacle in my yard and work to transform them. I have neither money to hire work done nor funds for trellises and pavers — I want what I have to spend to go for trees and vines. I am neither handy or particularly strong, having been disabled from birth by cerebral palsy. I am good, however, at finding alternative ways to do things.

Lately, I have been finding objects. Today I dragged this old box spring three quarters of the way down my street because the wood framing looked like a trellis to me. Or a raised bed.

Bed or Trellis?

A kindly neighbor carried it into my backyard and leaned it against my fence where it awaits its transformation.

I build a compost heap in a rotting stump to speed decomposition because the stump occupies the area where I want my persimmon tree. I scavenge large sheets of cardboard to solarize the weeds in the side yard where I think the berry patch is going to be.

Whenever I get stuck, I just ask myself, what can I do? There are weeds to pull and tomatoes to pick and cardboard to bring home, seagull feathers to pick up from the ground to fold into the compost bins. It isn’t planting season yet, but there is time to disrupt weed growth, to make worm tea, to find garden tools at Berkeley’s Urban Ore. The corn is growing and someday, despite my impatience, I will have garden fruit.

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Hello. It is the last day of March and I have moved again: on March 21 I moved out of my mother’s house and back to San Leandro. I am still unpacking things and rearranging them — I can’t remember where everything went last time around, although I remembered the locations of all of the pieces of furniture. As I settle into the house and take up routines of cleaning and cooking I find myself thinking a lot.

These are the kinds of things I think. “I want to make some bread. I don’t have any whole wheat flour. I have oats and cornmeal and molasses and white flour. I can make anadama bread. If I make double amounts of the cornmeal mush we can have cornmeal pancakes for breakfast tomorrow. If the oven is on to bake bread, I should roast a butternut squash from the cache that I grew last year. We can have that tonight with baked beans and fresh bread.” Then I bake bread and roast squash, saving the squash innards in the freezer for some future batch of butternut squash soup. Using the oven to prepare more than one dish at a time is something I learned from my mother in her kitchen.

I think about the garden. Because I am going on a short trip to New Mexico in late April I do not want to start seedlings or plant anything new outside until I get back. The garden, however, had plans of its own. Forty tomato plants have started themselves from the smushed remains of last year’s tomatoes, tomatoes that fell off the huge Sun Gold vine. Many of them decided to grow between the tiles of the only paved area in the yard, although some have reasserted themselves in the soil by the fence where I planted them last year. The largest of the patio tomatoes is now in flower. We will have to wait to see what we get because Sun Gold tomatoes are hybrid tomatoes. I had also planted Amish paste tomatoes and Principe Borghese. It remains to be seen if any of them have come up in the tomato forest. The chard asserted itself as well and formed two healthy clumps in a boggy area near the shed. So far my gardening activities have been limited to weeding, cutting down dandelions and thistles and teasing out oxalis from the stems of the chard. I cut chard everyday to eat, adding it to pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives and feta or scrambling it into eggs with scallions. I think, eating from the garden, that I would like to plant some lettuce soon, maybe some radishes for variety, and then I remember that I am going away in less than a month and it would be better not to plant anything until I can be here to tend the garden.

I think about what I need and what I don’t need. At certain points in unpacking I declare “I don’t need any more stuff.” Then I realize I haven’t seen my set of biscuit cutters (“Maybe they are in the cookie-cutter tins by the kitchen bookshelf”) or my dough cutter. Because two of my bookshelves sit in the kitchen as a makeshift pantry and china cabinet respectively I have to edit the books that I display on the bedroom shelves. Last time around I consigned the short story collections to the shed. This time I have them out, but I am thinking they will be boxed up once again so that I have room for music books and volumes of poetry. Another strategy is to place books I have bought but have not yet read on a high shelf and to ask Johnny, who is tall, to get them down as I need them. Tomorrow, my “day off” I will face the book-sorting issue: last time I rearranged the books three times before I was satisfied.

When I spill water on the floor I am full of desire for a new, more effective mop and a large batch of cotton rags. When I think of making soup I covet an immersion blender, or, at least, a working regular blender. When I bake bread in conjoined loaf pans I remember the nice set of bread pans I saw at a thrift store in Berkeley and wonder if they are rust-proof and if they are still there. I make mental lists of groceries: whole wheat flour, lemons, sour cream, cinnamon sticks. Whenever I put something away in some inconvenient place I think, “Is there a better place for that in the kitchen?” (or the bedroom, or the bathroom).

As per the last time I moved I cannot find my camera battery on the evening that I write this blog post. If I find it soon I will perhaps add some pictures of the tomato forest.

Anadama Bread

In a saucepan combine:

1 and 1/2 cups water

1 tsp salt

1/3 cup cornmeal

Stir constantly until cornmeal thickens and bubbles. Pour into mixing bowl.

In a glass measuring cup, measure 1 and 1/2 Tbsp of corn oil or soft shortening. Add to cornmeal mixture.

In that same greasy measuring cup, pour 1/3 cup molasses. Add molasses to cornmeal.

DO NOT WASH THAT CUP YET. Into that molasses-smeared cup, put 1/4 cup water. Pop it in the microwave for a few seconds until lukewarm and add 4 and 1/2 tsp yeast. Stir with a fork until the yeast dissolves.

In another bowl measure 4 cups sifted flour.

Either go away and leave cornmeal mixture to cool to lukewarm and then add dissolved yeast OR start adding flour to the cornmeal mixture, which will help cool it. When the mixture is lukewarm add the rest of the flour and the dissolved yeast and begin to knead the dough. You may have to add more flour to overcome the stickiness of the molasses. I like to turn the dough out of the bowl and knead it on a lightly-floured  wooden surface.

When the bread is smooth and no longer sticky, add 1 Tbsp butter or oil or shortening to the mixing bowl and place the dough in it again. Cover with a dampened and warmed linen or cotton towel and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled (over an hour). Punch down. Let rise again (about half an hour).

Grease a bread pan or pans and shape dough. This recipe makes a good-sized round loaf or four small loaves. Preheat oven to 375 Bake for forty to forty-five minutes until nicely browned. Remove loaves from pans and let cool before slicing.

This September there have been a couple of sightings of my old vegetable garden in San Leandro. First I heard that butternut squash had taken over the entire yard. I asked about the beans, but my informant hadn’t seen any beans. Then I got an email from someone else, explaining that my garden had fed her all summer, that she had eaten green beans and tomatoes and butternut squash and given beans and squash away to neighbors of hers. I am happy that people were able to eat the produce I grew since I could not eat it myself. I still longed for some of those butternut squash and put in a call to my former landlord to ask if I could pick some squash (Johnny is away for the time being).

Poblano peppers.

Poblano peppers.

Meanwhile in my new container garden here in foggy Kensington one of the poblano pepper plants has finally fruited and a single principe borghese tomato is slowly turning red in the sunny days of September. The other tomato plants are full of pale pink and green Amish paste tomatoes and more borgheses and a mystery tomato from my sister-in-law’s Vallejo garden, currently a two-tone green job. Will the tomatoes ripen before the plants die? Before it rains? Will I bring the green tomatoes inside to ripen? Will I make a green tomato chutney? Stay tuned for the October tomato and pepper report.

The landlord called back. He said, “I know who planted that garden” and granted me access to pick produce there. When my friend M. and I drove out we found the wildest of gardens: all of the hard surfaces had been obscured by foliage. Squash vines snaked everywhere: from where I had planted them along the back fence line they had crossed the entire yard and begun to climb up the back stair. All paths and spaces between rows had vanished and I had to step carefully through unripe squash to remove ripe squash from the vines that also bore squash blossoms, tiny green squash and full-sized green squash.

Buried beneath green leaves ripe principe borghese tomatoes crept along the ground close to the house while ripe Sun Gold cherry tomatoes lurked in the understory and green ones grew through the side fence. Some of the weeds I had worked to eradicate found new openings where the green beans had been. I cut the three small heads of purple cabbage that I had planted in February, but left chard and kale growing by the back fence. I did not find any Amish paste tomatoes or basil or pepper plants in the tangle, but I could not reach large portions of the yard in the amount of time I had. I did find some dried bean and pea pods, picked what I could and shelled about half a cup of mixed black-eyed peas and pinto beans while I waited on the BART platform to go home. M. hauled most of the butternut squash we picked in the trunk of her car, but I carried a token specimen in my backpack. along with a Tupperware container of tomatoes and the shelling beans.

Butternut squash.

Butternut squash.

As I write this, I am roasting principe borghese tomatoes in the oven with olive oil and a little garden mint*. Pinto beans and black-eyed peas are soaking together in a big pot. Small slices of peeled butternut squash share the oven with the tomatoes. I propose to make a soup to honor my gardens, here and there, the honorable labor I did, the lovely San Leandro sun and fertile soil, the strong heirloom seeds that survived my inexpert care and the lack of rain,  the compost of coffee grounds, egg shells, tea bags and the occasional chicken head. I will flavor the soup with chiles to honor the poblano plant and its late-borne fruit.

The local library has recently yielded up treasures, including The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart and The Heart of Zen: Enlightenment, Emotional Maturity, and What It Really Takes for Spiritual Liberation. I read them and write about them and work at becoming aware of my habits and my reactive emotional patterns, watering my life with sitting meditation and compassion meditation in the hope of bearing sweeter fruits from new seeds while extracting learning from the old bitter ones. I begin to advertise writing practice classes again — perhaps this time I will find more students. I continue to practice music and to busk in the BART station and Farmers’ Market, practicing gratitude and patience, saying with Leonard Cohen each day, “And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before The Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but ‘Hallelujah.'” I wish you all a fine fall.

Principe Borghese tomatoes.

Principe Borghese tomatoes.

* This is the first year I have raised this variety: they are very pretty, about the size of cherry peppers, but I don’t especially care for their flavor, either eaten raw or oven roasted — they are not sweet enough to suit me, but they are a drying tomato so I will dry some and report back about that next month. It may be that I just have not discovered their secret(s). I had wanted a paste tomato, a drying tomato and tomatoes to eat raw and chose accordingly from recommended heirlooms. Plus, I had to have the Sun Gold hybrid cherry, the most delicious tomato I have ever tasted (Those I grow every year).

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)

Spring crops are in! Fresh Batavia lettuce rosettes at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. Last Saturday I stood in line for a three-pack of strawberries and a couple of large artichokes, food that hardly needs preparing: I sliced the strawberries over homemade waffles made with spelt flour and sour half and half and steamed the artichokes to eat with lemon butter. This easy cooking joins the long-cooked stews on the cooler days and keeps me from heating up the kitchen on the warmer days. We have had some of each in March, eighty-degree afternoons, fifty-one degree sunrises. Sheeting rain yesterday morning kept me from singing at the Berkeley market but allowed me to walk through the Bay Fair market with Johnny instead. I bought more artichokes, some sugar snap peas, cilantro, new potatoes. Johnny bought onions, scallions, red peppers (where did they come from?). The other day a man walked down our street with strawberries from Salinas and I bought half a flat for two dollars a basket. Johnny says they aren’t as good as the farmers’ market strawberries, but it was an impulsive buy to cheer up my sweetie who has been working hard on his first album.

I have been working hard, too. I played a private St. Patrick’s Day party on Saturday March 15, in addition to my usual busking. For that I had to practice up several Turlough O’Carolan tunes on the Celtic harp and refresh my memory of some “Irish” standards of the type that one only sings on St. Patrick’s Day (I was heard to grumble through the house, “I never will play ‘The Wild Rover’ no more”).

Photo of seed packets

Heirloom seed packets.

The day after the gig I whisked myself off to Santa Rosa to visit my friends Suzanne and Scott. Suzanne and I had a date with the Seed Bank in Petaluma, a haven for heirloom seeds. Suzanne staked me to a portion of them as a late birthday present and I quickly doubled the stake to get an English trowel and more seeds. It’s hard to describe the bounty of seed packets at the Seed Bank, over 1200 possibilities. I carefully chose varieties of basil and tarragon, snapped up some black garbanzo beans from Afghanistan, bought Blue Lake green bean seeds and Scarlet Runner beans. I deliberated over kinds of sunflowers and bought a blue and white sweet pea mix. I chose a French variety of lettuce and an Amish paste tomato. I could not get sugar snap peas or Genovese basil — apparently everyone in Northern California is planting those at the moment. But the peppers were nearly my undoing: an entire rack of peppers stood before me and I wanted them all, habaneros and jalapenos, cherry peppers, Thai peppers. I limited myself to poblano seeds and a packet with a beautiful illustration of a red bell pepper.

Much of this bounty is still sitting in packets in the breakfast nook because every time I have had time to plant things outdoors I have needed stakes or there has been rain. I lie awake nights thinking where to put things. I did manage to plant a couple of half rows of black-eyed peas and pinto beans and put together a small A-frame of scavenged pine boughs and bamboo for the scarlet runner beans. I planted some runner beans today, plus Blue Lake green beans, butternut squash and two varieties of basil (Thai and Ararat).

Tomato and tarragon seedlings

First seedlings

Last week I started seeds of two kinds of tomatoes and Russian tarragon in cardboard egg cartons. I started a second set when anything failed to germinate after six days and was jubilant an hour later when the sun came out and the first green bits poked up out my potting soil in tray number one. I have never started seeds indoors before and this small victory feels like magic. This morning I squeezed three new egg cups into my tray, each containing a poblano pepper seed.

The in-ground crops look good. We cut a few leaves of chard one night to go with a dinner of sweet potatoes and sour milk cornbread. The kale and two of the red cabbages are growing large. The Sun Gold tomato is a leggy green monster now with four sets of yellow blossoms already — perhaps we will have home-grown tomatoes by May. I am anxious to have tomatoes, tarragon and pepper plants to add to the garden, to plant lettuce and herbs and flowers, but I have to wait for drier weather. Not that we don’t need the rain in California. We do.  I wait impatiently for the intersection of a free day and a dry day and I hack a three-foot high sheaf of flowering weeds out of the side yard so that they do not invade my vegetable patch.

It excites me to grow some of our food. I prepared the ground of my mind for this by subscribing to a farm box and converting myself to seasonal eating several years ago. Then I managed a small organic garden in an after school recreation program where we successfully grew beans, peas and tomatoes. We planted cleome and borage and lemon verbena, a true geranium, pumpkins: I watched a visiting child snap the one small pumpkin off its vine during a Hallowe’en party and I was let go before everything bloomed.

Hills and trees from Bay Fair platform.

Bay Fair Landscape #1. 5″ x 7″ ink and watercolor. Sharyn Dimmick.

I started some garden sketches for this post but the rain has interrupted my garden sketching as well. Instead I sketch strangers on BART trains and the view of hills and trees from the bench on the platform. The sketching exercises come from the new edition of Natalie Goldberg’s Living Color, a beautiful book with a gallery of paintings as well as lots of fun things to do. I feel happy with my life when the days contain music and sketching and cooking and gardening and writing. Sketching calms me and engages me, a meditation of the moving hand and eye, tethering my restless mind to the paper and the scene in front of me, just as busking tethers my mind to chords and lyrics, my hands to the fingerboard, my feet to the floor, while my voice rides the breath. In kitchen work, the anchor is my chopping knife, my whisk, the spoon in my hand, in gardening it is the trowel or fingers twisting weed stems as I thank them for breaking up the soil.

Birthday greeting

Birthday card.

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

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

detail from watercolor garden painting.

Detail from “Garden 101” painting.

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

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

painting depicts backyard garden.

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

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.

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).

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.

“Some of the time, not all the time” says the Dylan song “Hanging Out the Clothes.” That’s how I feel about cooking. Sometimes I love thinking about cooking, perusing cookbooks, thinking about flavors. Sometimes I am inspired by a particular ingredient from the Farmers’ Market down in Berkeley or a glut of foraged blackberries. Sometimes I just want to put the closest thing in my mouth and be done with it.

Original watercolor painting shows Greek-style salmon and ingredients.

Greek Salmon. 12″ x 12″ gouache on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

There is a special pleasure in cooking for someone when you want to please them. Our most recent foray to Canned Foods Grocery Outlet fetched us some wild caught salmon from Washington State. Standing over the freezer case, eying the fish, I ask Mom, “Does Bryan eat salmon?”

“I think so,” she says. “Does Johnny eat salmon?”

It is rare for Mom to bring up Johnny in conversation. He’s only been over to the house in the past three weeks: although I’ve known him much longer than that, he never had reason to come up here before last month.

“I don’t know,”I said. “I’ll ask him when I see him.” In the meantime we bought the salmon filet, enough to feed at least four people.

Johnny and I schedule our visits in advance. We live a good distance away from one another and public transit schedules are not conducive to spontaneous trips to see one another, so, instead of dropping in on each other all of the time we schedule visits and try to spend a significant amount of time together when we get together.

We bought the salmon on Tuesday and Johnny was coming over on Thursday night. When he told me he liked salmon, I made a dinner plan: I would make the pear tart tatin that he once wanted to elope with (He’s mine, pear tart!), microwave some fresh green beans, bake some red potatoes and cook the salmon in foil topped with seasonal vegetables: cherry tomatoes, orange bell peppers, kalamata olives, basil, a little feta — basically a Greek salad without cucumber thrown on top of the fish. Everything except the green beans could cook in the same oven and, with a little prep work I could have an easy dinner that was festive and delicious.

In the morning I made pie crust for the tart and put it to chill. In the afternoon I took the salmon out to thaw, laid it on foil on baking sheet and oiled the skin-side with a little olive oil. Then I went to work on the pears, peeling, coring, slicing, putting them to soak in a little dark rum, sprinkling ground cardamom over them. I made the caramel in a cast iron skillet, arranged the pears on top, rolled out the top crust. I preheated the oven, adding a handful of potatoes on the side. Then I snapped beans and cut up half a basket of red cherry tomatoes, and a large orange bell pepper. I tore up a few basil leaves, plucked a handful of pitted olives from a jar, diced a small cube of feta and I was ready to go, scattering all that on top of the salmon. The minute Johnny arrived I put the tart and the salmon in the hot oven and told him we had a half hour to ourselves before I had to mess with food again.

I can’t remember what we did for that half hour. He might. He set table for me in the dining room because the breakfast room was a mess and I did not want to excavate the table. I had him test the fish a few times because I don’t cook salmon often. All told, we cooked the fish for perhaps 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Brother Bryan arrived home just as it came out and we all sat down to eat.

Johnny and I liked the salmon so much that I scrambled the leftovers for breakfast with eggs and we ate them with the last slices of the pear tart tatin — have to get rid of that stuff quickly since Johnny has threatened to run off with it.