Archives for category: vegetables

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

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

Original watercolor painting shows Muhammara and ingredients.

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

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

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

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

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

Otherwise, open

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

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

Chop and toast 1/3 cup walnuts

Add walnuts to the blender with

juice of 1 lemon

2 tsp pomegranate molasses

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original watercolor painting shows bowl of fruit salsa and ingredients.

Peach-Plum-Corn Salsa. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

I have my foot in several art camps: I hang out with writers at retreats. I meet regularly with groups of local folk musicians. And this past weekend I had the opportunity to attend to wrap-up party for the July 2012 Caerus Artist Residency in Sonoma County with my best friend (and Caerus co-founder) Suzanne Edminster.

I prepared a dish of fresh peach, plum and corn salsa, inspired by this recipe, and bought some blue and yellow gluten-free corn chips at the Santa Rosa Safeway. When I got to the party, the hostess gave me a bowl for the chips and I put my old, scarred Tupperware container on the table next to them. Other guests arrived, bringing fruit pies, buffalo wings, blackberry-apple crostata, pasta and green salads. The table held napkins, plastic forks and knives and paper plates.

I am used to folk music parties, which go something like this. Each person arrives and plunks something homemade or store-bought on a central table, greeting each other and often asking, “What did you bring?” Once people have dispensed with kitchen chores and stowed their instrument cases we take seats around the table and begin to chat and eat. It is only after we have served ourselves food and talked for awhile that someone will say, “Bill, do you have a song?” Or a late arrival will ask, “Have you been singing?” We say. “No, we’re still eating,” or “We haven’t sung a note.”

Musicians are always hungry. They congregate in kitchens where the acoustics are good, leaning against the counters. Opera singers cannot eat much before a performance, but feast afterwards — it doesn’t feel good to sing on an overly full stomach.  After a performance you are high on music, full of energy and ravenous.

Eventually at music parties everyone has had her fill and we start to sing, often taking turns going around the table. Some of us have tradtitional places or chairs we like to sit in. If it is big party, the tune-players will slip away to other rooms, leaving the singers to themselves. If it is a small gathering we will remain around the table all day.

The Caerus artists behaved differently. They sat their dishes on the table and started looking around. Some looked for places to display their art: an easel, a window seat, the edge of a wall. Most of them did not seem in a hurry to eat: they wanted to wander around and look at the art as though they were at an opening, carrying their small plates and congregating in groups of two or three. They ate alright, but they ate on the fly. My friend Suzanne says artists graze. I say that they are too busy to look around to eat seriously, but they will notice if the food is beautifully presented and admire serving dishes and particular utensils. These may be the people who say, “That looks too pretty to eat.” To a folk musician, there is no such thing as “Too pretty to eat” or “Too ugly to eat” either — if it is edible, someone will eat it.

At the Caerus party I parked myself in a chair next to the table (old habits die hard) and had conversations with whoever happened by. I stood out by not standing.

In case you are wondering what writers do at parties, in my experience they hug the table and yack: telling stories is the next best thing to writing them or reading them. And, in case you are waiting for a recipe, this is how I made the salsa.

Fresh Peach, Plum and Corn Salsa:

Chop 2 medium plums and 1 yellow peach into bite-sized pieces. Place in a medium-sized bowl.

Squeeze juice of 1 lime over the fruit.

Lightly steam two ears of corn and cut the corn from the cobs. Add corn to bowl.

Chop half a bunch of cilantro into mixture

Finely dice a small red onion. Add to bowl.

Cut 1 jalapeno pepper in half. Discard half of the ribs and seeds, reserving the other half. Mince the reserved ribs, seeds and jalapeno flesh. Mix thoroughly and allow several hours for the flavors to blend.

Food notes: I used Santa Rosa plums, a yellow peach and two ears of yellow corn, but you can use any plums, peaches or corn that you like. If jalapenos are too hot for you, discard all of the ribs and seeds before using and up the quantities of fruit and corn. If you freak out at cilantro or are allergic to it, substitute mint or fresh basil. And, of course, you can make it more acid by using more lime, more piquant with more onion. It would be delicious in a corn and cheese quesadilla or served alongside grilled chicken or fish. The original recipe calls for cumin, which I love — I just forgot to put it in this time.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it was walking up hills for three days, which rendered me tired and lowered my resistance. Maybe it was reading the second installment of Jackie’s “What I Ate Last Week” at Marin Mama Cooks (It is fun to know the details of another person’s life and table). Maybe it was this hilarious account of food aversions called “Ten Gastric Ways of Making Me Talk.

It was lunch time. I was hungry. And on the way downstairs I decided to make my first green smoothie.

Some of you are saying “Oh no!” and thinking about cancelling your subscriptions. “She isn’t…” She’s gone too far.” “This is not going to make me love local, seasonal food.” “Run for the barf bag.” “Shh. You can’t say that on a food blog.”

painting of blender, fruit, spinach and the resulting green smoothie in a glass.

Green Smoothie. Sharyn Dimmick. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil.

I had read about green smoothies. I had promised myself I would try one once when I had some strong-flavored ingredients on hand to offset the spinach.

In the refrigerator was a small bowl of fruit salad, that bowl that sits for days while you each wait for the other person to eat it: “Maybe she’ll eat it tomorrow….” And that fruit salad was made of fresh pineapple, organic strawberries rescued from the bargain bin and a few tangerines. Plus, I had a mango on the counter from our last visit to Grocery Outlet and I had a quarter of a bag of the fresh spinach that came last week. Green smoothie time.

I chucked the bowl of fruit salad into the blender with all of its juices. I cut open the mango, sliced and scored it, turning it inside out to release the mango cubes from the skin.

How much spinach? You didn’t think I was going to use a recipe, did you, or consult one? My guideline was not so much that it would be disgusting or overpower all of the other ingredients. Stripping off any thick stems I put in a small handful of leaves, maybe half a cup.

The blender whirred. When it was no longer chopping anything I got out a glass and poured a test taste.

First of all, it wasn’t green. It was orange- yellow with a green undertone and it was too thick to drink easily. But it didn’t taste bad at all.

Okay. Thinning. What was I going to use? I don’t like super cold drinks so ice was out. I have some indifferent raspberry sorbet in the freezer. Don’t need the sugar. Ah, yogurt — plain yogurt and more spinach.

I added two dollops of plain yogurt and another small handful of spinach, concentrating on the smallest leaves. The blender whirred it around again.

This time it was the color of an avocado face mask, the color of split pea soup. It was green. I poured it into the glass and tasted cautiously.

It did not taste like spinach. It still tasted faintly of mango and strawberries, more sweet than vegetal, with a tang from the yogurt. If I had had them, I would have added more strawberries, frozen raspberries or blueberries, or more pineapple. It was fine without them.

Since I don’t usually drink my lunch I wanted something to chew on (Where are the bar snacks?). I toasted a piece of sourdough bread to satisfy my teeth and jaws.

Should you make a green smoothie? I don’t know. Do you like wheat grass and other green things? Do you have a juicer, which will widen the ingredients you can put in it? Is it hot where you live and too late to cook lunch? Do you need to use a mango, some fresh spinach and some berries today? Do you have an appetite for all things new? Are you willing to try to drink your veggies because you refuse to eat them? Answering yes to any of those questions may predispose you to make a green smoothie at least once. I did it and lived to tell the tale.

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 shows lime, mint leaf, ginger root and glass.

Lime-Ginger-Mint Cooler. 4″ x 6″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

What season is it anyway? I am in the kitchen, trimming cabbages, peeling rutabaga, cutting the tops off carrots. I was going to make Caesar Salad with baby romaine to celebrate the first warm, bright Sunday of May, but all of the lemons on our tree are small and green, so instead I trim the remaining winter vegetables. The rutabaga has that hot taste it sometimes gets and some of the carrots are watery. They don’t know what season it is supposed to be either.

I start slicing fennel, thinking I’ll stir up some kind of mustardy vinaigrette for it. I go back upstairs for a recipe that is surely in my saved blogs folder and can’t find it. I search two or three blogs I read for fennel salad and come up empty-handed. Yes, I make a fennel salad, but I want to make a different one. I mix some whole-grain mustard with some red wine vinegar and put that on the sliced fennel. I eat quite a lot of that while I’m thinking (I haven’t had lunch).

I go back upstairs and find an intriguing recipe for rutabaga, which I have all of the ingredients for. I look for the Mario Batali original, but can’t find it. Do I really want to make rutabaga home fries? Not before I eat something. But what am I going to eat? There on the toaster oven is the dry French bread I was going to make into croutons for the salad. When in doubt, eat bread and cheese. I cut the bread into three slices. Our cheese supply is limited today: we are down to mozzarella, Pecorino and those crusts of Parmesan that you throw into vegetable soup, so I cut a few slices of mozzarella, add some Pecorino for flavor, pile fennel shards on top of that and put the whole thing in a 400 degree oven. Fifteen minutes later the cheese is browned in spots the way I like it, the fennel is warmed through. I eat a cheese toast. I go upstairs. I eat another one. In ten minutes I am back downstairs for the last piece.

This time I stay long enough to make pizza dough. I keep sourdough starter in the fridge and try to use it once a week. Mozzarella and Pecorino are perfect pizza cheeses, so I mix together 3 cups of flour*, and 1 and 1/2 cups of water and let it rest for ten minutes. Then I add 1/2 cup of sourdough starter and a little over 1 tsp kosher salt. I let the KitchenAid mix that several minutes with a dough hook while I add flour, tablespoon after tablespoon after tablespoon, waiting for the dough to leave the sides of the bowl, which it doesn’t want to do today. Eventually, I move it to a floured board and knead by hand as it absorbs all of the flour from the board. We do this dance for quite awhile and then  I smear a little olive oil in the bread bowl, cover it with a dish towel and consign it to the refrigerator: I will make the pizza tomorrow. The arcane pizza-making instructions come from The Cheese Board Collective Works, one of my favorite cookbooks for pizza and sourdough bread.

Now, some people I know make delicious pizza. They seem to plan what they will put on it. Around our house, we make pizza because we have a lot of odds and ends of cheese and meat, or half a jar of olives to use or some leftover pasta sauce or eggplant that needs to come out of the freezer. Or we make pizza because it will use the mozzarella we have in the house. I spied some green olives on the door of the fridge that I suspect will become pizza ingredients and I believe I have some roasted red peppers in the cooler.

The cooler, by the way, is a cabinet that more houses should have. It is a cupboard built next to an outside wall of the house. Part of the wall has been replaced with a screen. Because fresh air cools the cabinet, you can keep oil, vinegar, mustard, ketchup — things that might otherwise take up space in your refrigerator — in the cooler. We store canned goods in there, too, both homemade and store-bought, and things like Karo syrup.

The day slips away after that in another round of phone calls and emails about hotels in France. Sigh. I whir 1/4 cup of minced candied ginger in the blender with the juice of two limes and a handful of fresh mint leaves. I pour most of it into a glass and add sparkling water. I call that dinner. Without the water this makes a great dressing for fruit salad: you can add more lime if it is too paste-like, but the fruit will give off juice. It’s a good alternative to dairy-based dressings and mayo (shudder). I’ve been known to dress carrot salad with it, too.

What do you do with “hot” rutabagas and watery carrots? I expect some gardeners or farm cooks will have some answers.

*I like to use part whole wheat flour in pizza dough, usually at least 1/2 a cup.

painting shows a Mexican chocolate beet bundt cake with birthday banner.

Mexican Chocolate Beet Cake. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Sometimes I think I am wacko. Having gotten up to roll and fill Nazook, an Armenian pastry, before breakfast, I lingered in the kitchen to make a cake for someone who isn’t here and isn’t going to be here — isn’t a definition of whacked doing things at the behest of people who aren’t there?

Let me explain. There is this blogger who goes by the name of Movita Beaucoup. She challenged all comers to bake her a birthday cake and send her a photo by midnight. She promised us prizes. If you are reading this before 10 PM on Friday you still have time to get in on the action: just bake a cake and submit a photo of it to Miss Movita by midnight in your time zone.

Anyway, cakes are not my thing. How many times in the life of this blog have I said I prefer pie to cake? Many. I like to bake. I like to bake bread and pie and pastry as long as it is not too fiddly. But I couldn’t resist baking a cake for Miss B. because she makes me laugh and because she has said that someday she would like to own a Kale Chronicles painting. Besides, she writes about running from bears and worrying that the bathtub will fall through the floor.

When I met Movita (Well, I haven’t actually met her) here in the blogosphere she was carrying on about her need for an iPhone, I believe — some fool bit of modern technology to help her through culinary school. I joined in the chorus of readers offering her congratulations on signing up for a culinary program and informing her husband, charmingly called “2.0,” that she needed an iPhone. I don’t even have a cell phone of my own.

In my childhood, Mom baked us birthday cakes or cupcakes, any flavor we requested. I used to look at all of the cake pictures in our trusty Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook to think about what I wanted. That was before I figured out that I could request a birthday pie instead, and before my brothers figured out that they could have a fancy whipped cream cake from Virginia Bakery or an ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins. I remember relatively few cakes from those days, chiefly the igloo cake Mom made for Kevin’s birthday, an excuse to cut cake layers in half, frost the cake with white icing and upholster it with the cocktail sugar cubes my Dad kept in a secret location. This cake was the stuff of kid dreams, an entire cake covered with cubes of sugar meant to look like blocks of ice.

I have more sophisticated cake dreams now: I have eaten cakes from Tassajara bakery full of mocha buttercream. I have made genoise soaked in rum (twice). But I am still not a cake baker: I don’t own a piping bag and I don’t think fooling with frosting is fun. Plus, I write a blog featuring seasonal cooking and I’m not about to declare it Cake Season.

One of my pet peeves in baking fads is the popular red velvet (or blue velvet or green velvet) cake, which requires one to use vast amounts of red food coloring to produce a chocolate cake that was more appealing when it was left to look like chocolate instead of a vampire’s breakfast. What can I say? I have gray hair and I don’t think ingesting food dye is good for you. Many people, including my late brother, are allergic to food dye, or go berserk when they get it (No, I have not been sipping from the Schilling bottle). Now watch me find out that Movita’s favorite cakes are velvet cakes….

Fortunately, it is beet season, and I have learned to make a cake featuring a dark red batter, owing to the presence of pureed beets. Before you get upset, please remember that beets are often grown to make sugar and sugar is a valid ingredient in cake. This cake is chock-full of things people call superfoods, including beets, chocolate, cinnamon and extra virgin olive oil, as well as the usual suspects of eggs and flour. I considered making it with ground almonds to make it gluten-free, but I am not having the kind of a week that bodes success with those sorts of experiments.

I first made this cake from a recipe at recipezaar, reprinted in my farm newsletter by the folks at Riverdog Farm, but I have messed with it — you knew I was going to, didn’t you? I incorporated part of an egg yolk I had left from this morning’s egg wash and I wanted to use Mexican chocolate for its distinct flavor. Then I needed to add cocoa because Mexican chocolate is sweeter than the chocolate the recipe called for and I scanted the sugar. I added some cinnamon as well.

To make this cake, you will need at least a cup of pureed beets. I recommend preparing them ahead of time: you can boil or steam or roast them. Let them cool, remove their skins, and whirl them in your blender or food processor. I will not go into the five times I had to clean the stove or the seventeen times I washed my hands while preparing this recipe — if you need to have your all-white kitchen white at all times, do not make this cake.

For the brave, fun-loving and vegetable-minded, read on:

Mexican Chocolate Beet Cake

Preheat oven to 35o.

Rub a bundt pan with olive oil and dust it with a mixture of cocoa powder and ground cinnamon in lieu of flour

Cook, peel and puree 1 cup of beets (I used five small red ones) until completely smooth.

Melt one tablet of Mexican chocolate (3.15  oz) in your microwave and combine with beet puree.

Measure 1 cup olive oil, 1 and 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon into a large mixing bowl and blend until light-colored.

While you wait, sift 1 and 3/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup cocoa into a small bowl with 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1 and 1/2 tsp baking soda. Whisk to blend.

Add to oil mixture 1 egg yolk, then 3 eggs, one at a time, beating smooth between each addition.

When eggs are fully incorporated, add the chocolate-beet mixture. Then add flour-cocoa mixture in two or three additions.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. Place on middle oven rack and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. This is a moist cake: mine took forty minutes to bake through.

Now the hard part: for best results, let the cake sit covered overnight. This helps the flavors blend. Olive oil cakes tend to get better as they age, so age it for twenty-four hours before digging in. I’ll be taking mine to a potluck tomorrow afternoon.

To Movita Beaucoup: I made this healthy for you, within reason. But I am not there to stop you if you want to eat it with a little cacao nib whipped cream or a puddle of caramel sauce. Just saying. Happy Birthday!

Food notes: I used plain old red beets in this cake, but you can fiddle with the color by using mixtures of red and yellow beets. The batter is a dark, vibrant purple-red, but the cake bakes up red-brown. If you don’t have the extra egg yolk, leave it out — no one will miss it. Cinnamon is fat-soluble — that’s why I put it in with the oil — if you want to incorporate it more smoothly, you could mix it with the sugar before adding the sugar to the oil.

Painting shows knishes and ingredients.

The Irish Knish. 12″ x 12″ gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

Although my family is half-Irish, we are not big on St. Patrick’s Day food here. I should say I am not big on St. Patrick’s Day food, having suffered through a few childhood years of corned beef and cabbage. I lived in Ireland for a year when I was in college and remember the big food groups being potatoes, Swedes (rutabaga) as big as your head, bacon, butter and cheese with sides of oatmeal, biscuits and “puddings” covered with custard which came out of a tin. I also ate prawn sandwiches from a sandwich shop near Trinity College and gyros from carts off the street. In Dublin, I bought groceries daily and set my milk in a bowl of water on a window ledge: when the rare sun came out, the milk spoiled and it was time to make soda bread.

Yesterday, however, I came across a potato knish recipe on Smitten Kitchen (two, actually). Her knishes were so beautiful that I decided to make some, substituting the classic Irish vegetable, cabbage, where she had used kale. As I peeled and cleaned potatoes, I thought of my Irish grandmother, Grandmother Carroll, and was vigilant about removing every spot and blemish from each spud. Then, as I was sweating leeks and boiling the red potatoes, I realized that I could make the knish into a complete meal by adding some finely diced Canadian bacon to my leek mixture, giving the nod to my mother’s birthplace in Manitoba and the bacon of Ireland at the same time. Ye who eat kosher may recoil in horror here, but I imagine that many an Irish housewife in New York tried a knish or learned to make one from a neighbor and sweetened the recipe with bacon or ham in her own kitchen. I will not be offended if you leave out the Canadian bacon or if you only make knishes from your grandmother’s recipe.

I had never made a knish at all before this and I’m not even sure that I have eaten one. Certainly, no one has ever made them for me. I was up against a new dough. The filling of leeks, potatoes, cabbage and Canadian bacon was not unlike soups I have made this winter, although knishes require no broth and Deb added cream cheese to the potatoes. I followed suit with that: when I tasted the potato filling before making the knishes, the potatoes had a lovely sweet taste, coming from the cheese and the barely sauteed shredded cabbage. The tablespoon of butter in the saute pan came through, too.

I followed the unfamiliar directions: divide the dough. Roll half of it into a 12″ x 12″ rectangle (Hey! I know what those look like from painting). Put half the filling across the bottom of the dough, making it about two inches wide and roll it up like a cigar, twice around with the dough. Mark off dough at around 3 and 1/2 inches (basically cut it into three equal parts). I did not fully understand the instructions for twisting the dough, but I managed to close one end of each piece, converting that to a knish base. Nor did I trim the excess dough as suggested: I just let it wrap part-way around and “glued” it with a finger dipped in water. There never was a Dimmick that did not like extra crust or extra dough.

I even made egg wash because I had seen the beautiful browning on Deb’s knishes and coveted it: in fact it was the browning and the cunning round shape with a little filling showing that made me want to make these knishes in the first place. Brushing things with egg wash is the kind of step I am often tempted to skip because then you have that lonely egg white sitting in the fridge and have to start thinking of what to do with it (it may go into the next batch of waffles or pancakes to make them extra light). I dutifully applied egg wash with a pastry brush.

I am pleased to say that the knishes came out beautifully. They looked something like Deb’s with their browned exterior and a little window of creamy potato peeking out of the tops. The crust was thin and crisp, the filling soft and warm and savory. I served them with some warmed applesauce and a pot of Irish breakfast tea, a warming lunch on a soft gray day.

Food notes: For detailed instructions, please read Deb’s second knish recipe on Smitten Kitchen. I used olive oil for the vegetable oil she calls for and it worked fine. I substituted 1 cup of finely shredded cabbage for the kale. I folded 1/4 cup diced Canadian bacon into the leeks when they were almost done cooking, stirred, and put the lid back on. When the leeks were done, I put the cabbage in with them and cooked the mixture for two minutes more. I saved the potato water from boiling the potatoes because my grandmother taught me to use that in yeast bread. If I had been thinking, I might have cooked extra potatoes and used them to make potato bread. Next time: if you are Irish, you cannot eat too many potatoes, or too much bread either. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!