Archives for posts with tag: pen and ink sketches
Manzanita. Ink and watercolor. 8" by 12". Sharyn Dimmick.

Manzanita. Ink and watercolor. 8″ by 12″. Sharyn Dimmick.

I am obsessed with the garden. Johnny has taken to calling me “Farm Girl” (I have never lived on a farm although I had great uncles and grandparents who farmed). Since I last wrote I have planted both Teddy Bear Sunflowers and Mexican sunflowers, plus the blue sweet peas. The first sunflower leaves are just breaking through the soil and the sweet peas are what I call “invisible plants” — that means “I know they are there even if you can’t see them. Please water them, honey.”

The monstrous Sun Gold tomato plant is gargantuan now and full of blossoms and small green tomatoes: I do not know when they will begin to turn orange, but the heat wave we are having now might help them along. Soon they will have sibling tomato plants, which are hardening off in the garden as I write. I planted Amish paste tomato seeds and Principe Borghese seeds, but I did not label them, so I will not be able to tell the plants apart until they fruit. The leaves, however, are different colors, so I can be assured I have two different kinds.

So far I have been unable to produce peppers or Russian tarragon from seed in three tries and one of my varieties of basil failed to germinate. When the  basil plants get bigger I’ll be able to tell which one I have and I will plant some more somewhere. I will also plant more lettuce in the shade of other plants.

The scarlet runner beans have begun to climb up their improvised tepee, but nothing is in flower yet except the tomato plant. The butternut squash have their first real leaves. The cabbages are much larger, beginning to crowd one another, but there is no sign of heads forming. I have not grown cabbage before.

One of these days I will have an herb-planting day and put in dill, oregano and chives. I will also add some green beans to fill in the gaps in the bean rows. I want to plant more and more, but I am watering by hand and it already takes almost an hour to get around the garden with my tea kettles and milk bottles.

MK's Breakfast Strata. 12" x 12" gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

MK’s Breakfast Strata. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

When I am not in the garden (I don’t sleep there!) or fussing over seedlings I still busk, cook, sketch, etc. I recently left the plants to Johnny’s care and some fortuitously-timed rain and went for a long weekend in the lower elevations of the Sierra Nevada. The event was called Ballads on the Mountain, hosted by a friend who likes to call herself “Mary Kingsley.” Twelve women assembled to sing traditional ballads from the Francis James Child collection and to eat up a storm. Kingsley’s red kitchen produced meal after meal. One of my favorites was new to me: breakfast strata, a savory concoction of eggs, cheese, sourdough bread cubes, meat and vegetables. We had a wonderful one with chicken apple sausage and mushrooms, which I’m going to share with you here and then cook for Johnny when the weather cools off again. I don’t have any problem with eating this dish for lunch, brunch or supper either, believing in breakfast served all day.

Mary Kingsley’s Breakfast Strata (adapted)

12 slices dry sourdough bread, cubed

8 eggs, beaten

3 cups shredded cheese

2 cups sliced mushrooms

12 oz sliced chicken apple sausage

3 Tbsp prepared mustard

1/2 tsp salt (optional)

1/4 tsp cayenne

olive oil for greasing pan

Toast your bread cubes in a 250 oven until dry and perhaps a little golden in spots. While the bread toasts you can saute your mushrooms. Set aside bread, then bump your oven up to 325. Lightly oil or butter a 3 quart rectangular baking dish. Place half of bread cubes in baking dish. Top with half of the mushrooms and half of the cheese. Top with half the sliced sausage. Repeat layers of bread, mushrooms, cheese and sausage.

Whisk cayenne, mustard and salt into beaten eggs. Pour eggs over other ingredients. Press down with the back of a wooden spoon to make sure all bread gets moistened.

Bake uncovered for 50 to 60 minutes until puffed and set. Enjoy.

Food notes: The recipe MK sent me included variations, one with sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus. When I saw this, I immediately wanted to incorporate sun-dried tomatoes into my own strata. I would also like it with peppers. MK actually made one with mushrooms and leftover broccoli for a vegetarian. The original recipe also calls for 3 cups of milk, which MK eliminated. Since I didn’t miss it, I have eliminated it, too. If you add it, you’ll probably get a more custardy texture, rather than the firm, dry, one that I enjoyed, with crunch from the bread crumbs.

Painting notes: When I wasn’t eating, sleeping, or singing, I was staring out the window at a manzanita. Hence the painting. The other painting attempts to capture the strata and some of the many reds in MK’s kitchen.

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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.

Villefavard Roses, 5"x7" watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Villefavard Roses, 5″x7″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

If I do not know it from my zen and Vipassana meditation, I should know it from my habit of seasonal eating: things change all the time and not always in ways that we expect — too much rain or sun disrupts crop production, or bees mysteriously die off and the crops are lightly pollinated. I had hoped to announce a big change today, one that would affect my life every single day, but the timetable for that has been changed. I am not trying to be mysterious or withholding, promising to tell you something and then not telling you, but since the planned change involved other people I am not at liberty to speak about what was going to happen, but has not. Plans are not going according to schedule and the schedule is not going according to plan.

Yesterday I sang at the Farmers’ Market in Berkeley. It was a bright, hot day and some new crops were in. I saw fresh apples! Pink Ladies and Pink Pearls. Blueberries and blackberries and strawberries are still abundant. Suncrest peaches and apricots and now Santa Rosa plums fill the bins at Frog Hollow Farm’s stand. I drank tomato juice and two bottles of water as I stood and sang. When I was done I ate a cup of caramel ice cream,  and a raw Thai salad cone from the vegan stand. I wanted to buy peaches or maybe blackberries, but I needed to hurry to catch a bus and contented myself with picking up a basket of Sun gold cherry tomatoes and a pound and a half of fresh green beans: perhaps I will make a pasta of them or a pasta salad for the Fourth of July potluck and barbecue that I always go to.

Justine's Kitchen. 5" x 7" Ink and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Justine’s Kitchen. 5″ x 7″ Ink and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

In other news, I have been asked to assist Natalie Goldberg at her December retreat in Taos, New Mexico. This is a great honor, and the first time I have served at a long retreat. Many of my old writing pals are slated to be there. So, having just returned from France, I need to start saving air fare for New Mexico. I went back to “the day job” on Friday, singing in the BART station for tips.

France. This year it rained a lot, so I didn’t have as much chance to paint, sketch or swim as I did last year. Nevertheless, I have chosen images from my French sketchbook to illustrate this post. I hope you enjoy them.

Original ink and acquarelle sketch shows peach on plate with knife and fork.

Peach with Knife and Fork. 5″ x 7″ Ink and Acquarelle. Sharyn Dimmick. Detail of larger work.

Actually, I’m not going to talk about cake in this post, despite the title. I am going to talk about eating like a French person and how I lost weight and built muscle mass on a diet which included croissants, hot chocolate, espresso, wine and plenty of bread and cheese.

Some of you may remember when I came back from an earlier meditation retreat suggesting that you try to chew each bite thirty times to help you slow down and pay attention to the tastes and textures of what you were eating, to be present for your meal and to improve your digestion. Well, the French have another method for making meals slower and more enjoyable: some of it is in the meal service and much of it resides in the use of the knife and fork.

I am an American. I grew up in a culture where we eat with our fingers and turn even pieces of meat into unrecognizable finger foods (Chicken McNuggets, anyone?). Fourth of July aka Independence Day just passed: how many of you ate fried chicken, barbecued ribs, corn on the cob with your fingers? Raise those sticky hands and now wipe them on your napkins. But the list goes on. Who eats fruit by picking it up and taking a bite, perhaps over the sink, if it is juicy? How do you eat pizza, French fries, hamburgers?

Original watercolor painting shows old wooden door in stone wall, with green plant.

The Farm at Villefavard. 5″ x 7″ Acquarelle on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

At Villefavard, the first thing that appeared at dinner was a cold soup in a narrow glass (My favorite incorporated bacon, melon and cream). Sometimes there was a platter of prosciutto. Lunches began with plates of roasted vegetables, sliced tomatoes or salads and we had food shortages for a few days when the first twenty people through the line thought that that was all they were going to get and filled their plates while those of us further back in the line watched the last roasted peppers, the last tiny green beans, disappear, and saw that we would be eating shredded carrots again. We wrote notes to our teacher and to the administrative team, asking that people be more mindful and moderate in their consumption so that others could eat. I wrote notes.

The problem was a cultural one. Les Américains, not used to eating in courses, assumed that the first food out was all they were going to get and they needed to store up calories for the winter. Our hostess, Justine, spoke to us by the third night. She told us that the French eat in courses, that the chef would put out starters and salads and that later he would bring out the main course, then a cheese course and, finally, dessert. Natalie encouraged us all to try eating the French way — to serve ourselves limited amounts of the first course, go back to our tables, eat that, and then bring our plates back for meat or fish, paella or French lasagna. Meals began to look less like eminent food shortages once everyone realized that there would be more food, but there would not be more salad or crudites after the first service.

I conducted a further experiment beyond eating in courses: I decided that I would carve my food with my knife and fork the way the French did. This led to amusing incidents when we were served roast chicken and I was presented with a piece including a bit of breast, a leg portion and a wing. Only my kitchen skills at disjointing chickens saved me — I knew there was a joint and that I could cut through it to tease the bones apart. Even so, that meal took me a long time to eat, using a knife to remove meat from bones. Because the French method caused me to eat more slowly I had time to fully taste the food I loosed from the carcass and time to notice when I was full. As I cut pears and peaches with a knife and fork, cutting small pieces of goat cheese to eat in between slices of fruit, I remembered that my Irish grandmother always cut apples into slices for me and that apples tasted better that way (We ate the slices with our fingers though in my Grandmother’s kitchen).

St. Paul Pizza: tomatoes, mozzarella, oregano, chorizo, egg.

St. Paul Pizza. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

A week of eating this way was enough to convince me that it was beneficial. I still ate clafouti, cheese, fruit tart, but I no longer picked them up and absentmindedly stuffed them into my mouth. When I moved on to Paris the next week, I felt more comfortable with my knife skills and did not feel self-conscious eating pommes frites with a knife and fork. I ate pizza with a knife and fork in the Marais and I enjoyed it more than I would have had I picked it up. Many times, after making my way through an apertif and salad I had no room for further food. Other times I ate three courses and coffee. I did revert to outdoor picnics of bread, cheese, fruit and olives sans knife and fork, but only because airline regulations prohibit travel with a handy Swiss Army knife (I do not like to buy things I already own one of).

Eating French-style allowed me to eat a croissant and a hot chocolate for breakfast each morning. I stayed a few blocks away from the Eric Kayser bakery on the Rue de Bac. Each morning I put on my only pair of pretty shoes, walked to the boulangerie after it opened at seven, sat at a small square table facing a window and ordered my chocolate chaud and un croissant. Un croissant, not deux or trois. Eric Kayser’s croissants are light with an airy interior, stretched strands of yeast dough with the freshest, sweetest butter flavor. The crust shatters slightly, but does not produce a plate full of crumbs. The chocolate is rich and dark, served with optional sugar, which I never added or missed. I looked forward to my petite dejeuner and was sorry to leave Eric Kayser behind when I moved to the Bastille for my last two nights, but I found one other bakery with fabulous croissants by noticing a man carrying a small sack of bakery goods on a Sunday when many boulangeries are closed.

I came back from Paris trimmer and more fit, despite all of the wine, cheese and patisserie. Of course, I walked everywhere, often several hours a day, but that is another story.

P.S. Writing Practice Classes in the San Francisco Bay Area: I am contemplating teaching one of my rare writing practice classes this summer. If you would like to learn writing practice as developed by Natalie Goldberg (set forth in Writing Down the Bones, Wild Mind and many other books), please contact me.

Ink and watercolor sketch of Paris hotel.

L’Hotel du Quai Voltaire, Paris, France. Ink and watercolor. 5″ x 7″ Sharyn Dimmick.

Dear Readers,

I know I promised you a second cake post from France. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned (and I will tell that story later). For now, I offer you a few images from my trip, with captions. Don’t worry — I have plenty to show and tell. I will be back on my regular schedule soon, once I can get to a farmers’ market, pick up my CSA box and get back into the swing of summer in the Bay Area. Today I went to my favorite annual party, a Fourth of July bash where we grill food, swim, chat, sing and have a giant potluck all afternoon. I’ll report on that, too (Mom parboiled a huge slab of pork ribs yesterday afternoon).

In the meantime, La Belle France in images from my camera and sketchbook.

Villefavard Roses. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

Photo shows vase of roses, apricots, basket.

In the kitchen at Villefavard. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

“My” room at Villefavard.

Striped Cups. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

Librairie. Limoges, France. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

Picnic lunch displayed on a graffitied park bench in Limoges.

Dejeuner impromptu. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

Ornamental drain cover, France.

French drain. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick

Portrait of impromptu band, La Souterraine, France.

Band photo by Lisa X.

Photo shows window display of hand-painted shoes in the Marais.

Painted Shoes. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick

Photo shows display of silver tableware from a Paris antique shop.

Antique shop, Rue de St. Paul, Paris. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

 

Glassware and candles in Paris shop window.

Shop window, Rue de Bac, Paris. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

 

Pen and ink sketch of window and view from Room 409, Hotel Baudelaire Bastille, Paris, France. 5″ x 7″ Sharyn Dimmick