Archives for posts with tag: seasonal cooking
Original watercolor self-portrait with produce and guitar. Sharyn Dimmick.

Self Portrait with Wanting Mind. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and acquarelle.

Recently, I have been reintroduced to wanting mind. You know, the voice in your head that says life would be glorious if the day were sunnier, if there were more space in the freezer, if he would call. Wanting mind is a tremendous source of suffering because when you are listening to its siren song that something different would be better you can miss the opportunities that surround you right now, at this moment. Wanting mind likes to whine about the small thing that it has focused on like a high-powered laser directed at a spot of brain cancer, but whereas the laser may do you good, wanting mind will not.

It does no good to whine about what you don’t have or what you wish you had, dreaming up imaginary improvements to the present moment. You can put those on the page or the easel: often I paint things to look better than they actually do: my favorite is inventing backgrounds so that I don’t have to paint the same walls and windows over and over — I create wallpaper, wooden counters, checkered floors never seen in my actual house. It is alright to imagine improvements that you can create, but it is better if they don’t depend upon the actions of others or require removal of reality: thirty years of wishing I did not have cerebral palsy did nothing to remove it; accepting that I have it has been much more helpful.

What could I find to want in the middle of glorious summer? The farmers markets are overflowing with peaches, corn, tomatoes, ripe strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. My beloved Gravenstein apples will come in in two or three weeks says the apple man. Frog Hollow Farm had a sale on “cosmetically challenged peaches” Saturday, three dollars a pound for organic gold, and I took home a big sack. Fresh green figs came in the Riverdog Farm box, along with tiny green beans, cucumbers, lettuce, the first orange cherry tomatoes, fresh basil. For breakfast this morning I could have peaches, ollalieberries, blueberries or all three.

So what am I complaining about? I’m not complaining, I’m making a point: humans can always find a way to wish something was different, whether it is the weather, the menu, the president. Corporations make it their business to supply us with everything we want, things we don’t want and things we hadn’t even thought of wanting. Do you want tomatoes in December? Someone will ship them across the world for you. They won’t taste good. They will vaguely resemble tomatoes. And then you will think  what you need is fresh basil to go with them. But you don’t. What you need to do is wait for summer to taste the ripe, heirloom tomatoes on Deborah’s platter or pick them with Claire out of her allotment in England. Whenever summer comes where you live there will eventually be tomatoes and that is the time to eat them.

Seasonal eating is a voice speaking against the utterances of wanting mind. Seasonal eating tells you to go out and buy the peaches now because they will never get any better than on this July day in California. You eat them for breakfast with polenta cooked in milk and vanilla extract, sometimes a sprinkle of almonds. Seasonal eating says “Buy all of the ripe fruit you can eat — it’s better for you than other things, anyway.” The key is “ripe fruit,” whatever is coming off the trees and bushes in your neighborhood right now. If you are handy at preserving, you can buy extra and save some to freeze or can to tide you over in the winter months of potatoes, carrots, winter squashes and hardy greens. I always dry tomatoes. I never dry enough to last until the next tomato season, but I keep at it.

Two nights ago I took six bags of citrus peels from the freezer (We did need freezer room) and began the laborious process of scraping pith from them with a steak knife and a teaspoon. My hours of work will be rewarded with long-keeping candied peel from the lemons, oranges, limes and grapefruit we ate in the long winter months: the candied peel will enhance Christmas pfefferneusse, flavor muffins, serve as sweet snacks when this year’s peaches and berries are long-gone. This morning I took the thrice-boiled peels and scraped the white pith from them, watching the thin-bladed knife slide under the loose pith, left hand reaching into the pot for a new peel, right hand wielding the blade. And I realized I was out of time, that the only objects in the world were the citrus peels, the knife, the motion, the smell drifting up from the cutting board, that I no longer knowed or cared what time it was. This is the opposite of wanting mind and the cure: become absorbed in something simple.

The best way to make friends with seasonal eating is to visit farmers’ markets. Go every week for awhile to become familiar with what is in season now. Choose your foods and plan your menus around what is available. Or you can look for a CSA box, a community-supported agriculture program, that serves your area. For a flat fee, you get a box of fresh-picked produce each week, helping you to eat what is at its best now (My CSA also gives us some preserved things, precious bags of dried tomatoes and peaches during the winter or early spring).

Gardeners and farmers know that many things taste their best right out of the ground, warmed by the sun, eaten before the natural sugars can turn to starch. Nutritional studies now tell us that organically grown fresh-picked produce has more vitamins, minerals and micronutrients than produce that has been trucked across continents or oceans in refrigerated containers. Biting into just-picked local produce can even quell the wanting mind for a few minutes, stop it dead as it thinks instead “This is marvelous.” Unfortunately, its next thought will be, “How can I get more?”

Eating seasonally keeps me experiencing the pleasures that can be had on any given day. In the fall I might enjoy mushrooms. Every winter I make butternut squash soup with ginger. In the warm days of midsummer and early autumn I cannot eat enough Greek salads, enjoying the convergence of cucumbers, bell peppers and tomatoes. The first big treat of spring is strawberry shortcake. And we are all happier when we reach for the pleasures that we can have: when it is too cold to swim, light a fire and curl up with a book, bake some biscuits, make some gumbo, or get out a big pot and those citrus peels And when he is busy doing whatever he is doing it is a good time to pick up the guitar, the pen, the saucepan, the cookbook, the paintbrush — even the vacuum cleaner — and just do the next thing. He’ll call in his own time and the moment is about what to do when you feel that longing tugging at your sleeve.

Food Notes: As a bonus for soaking, scraping and boiling all of those peels, I got, besides the candied peel and the moments of peace, a lovely citrus-flavored simple syrup for cake, iced tea, baklava?

Painting Note: This week and last I have been participating in a new do-it-yourself artist residency, the Caerus Artist Residency, started by my friend Suzanne Edminster and her friend Karina Nishi Marcus. For a peek at my current sketchbook (including a slide show), please visit the Caerus blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warning: this post may contain an embedded rant or two.

In the kitchen this morning, I have two large dry crusts of French bread, three eggs and several heads of baby romaine lettuce from the farm box. This late spring day appears to be one of the warm variety. I don’t know if these ingredients suggest anything to you: to me they suggest Caesar Salad.

My mama told me that Caesar Salad contains anchovies in the dressing. Cursory internet research suggests that Cesare Cardini used Worchestershire sauce rather than anchovies. I don’t even like anchovies, but I was taught to chop them finely and put them in the dressing for a Caesar Salad, so I do. I would not eat them on pizza. I would not snack on them out of the tin. I have never dared to make a pasta puttanesca because of the anchovies in it, but I keep anchovies in a jar of olive oil just so that I can make this salad when the mood strikes or when the ingredients are sitting around in the kitchen.

Furthermore, I do not care for any egg preparation that involves soft egg yolks — or hard egg yolks, for that matter. That leaves out poached eggs, fried eggs, eggs sunny side up, deviled eggs, hard-boiled eggs and Easter eggs. But I make an exception for Caesar Salad dressing, which calls for a coddled egg, cooked for one minute before you mix it with the other dressing ingredients.

Painting shows Caesar Salad and ingredients.

Caesar Salad. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

The salad that makes me set aside my food aversions is truly magical. You put in anchovies and barely cooked egg yolk, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, black pepper. You toss the dressing with croutons, Romaine leaves and freshly grated Parmesan cheese and you have a crunchy, green refreshing salad with adequate protein from fish, egg and cheese. There is no need to add shrimp or grilled chicken to this salad as many American restaurants do.

First, make garlic-infused olive oil. Heat some garlic cloves in olive oil and allow the garlic and oil to sit while you do other things. While you are at it, halve a raw clove of garlic and rub it onto your wooden salad bowl. If you like raw garlic, set aside a couple of cloves to squeeze into the salad, or pound them in a mortar or mince them with a knife. I actually like minced or pressed raw garlic better than the more subtle garlic oil.

Then make croutons. Chop your leftover French bread into cubes. We like to use stale sourdough. You can saute them in a little of your garlic oil, or you can toss them with some of it and bake them in your oven for a few minutes at 300 degrees. I usually bake my croutons. Sometimes I just bake sourdough bread without any oil: the croutons will absorb dressing from the salad anyway.

Then wash your romaine lettuce and dry it thoroughly in a dish towel or a salad spinner.Tear into bite-sized pieces unless you particularly enjoy the exercise of cutting lettuce with your fork. Place lettuce in your garlic-rubbed salad bowl.

Take two or three anchovies from a tin and mince them finely — no one wants a big bite of anchovy in this salad — we just want the flavor. Set them aside for now.

Grate some Parmesan cheese. 1/4 cup will do in a pinch, but you might want to use more to get the snow drift effect.

Halve one lemon and get ready to squeeze it.

Dress your lettuce with a small amount of garlic olive oil. Add minced garlic if using.

Now coddle an egg: boil it for one minute only. Remove it from the pot. Crack it right into your salad bowl and toss with the lettuce.

Add the minced anchovies and toss again.

Squeeze lemon directly onto the salad. Toss again.

Add croutons and grated Parmesan. Toss again.

Grind some fresh black pepper over the salad. Toss again.

Taste and adjust seasonings.

Food notes: If you can’t stand handling anchovies, you could try using anchovy paste in a tube. I have never used it. Please do coddle the egg and use it in the dressing: the slightly-cooked egg, anchovies and lemon are what creates the distinctive Caesar dressing. You cannot get the proper effect without the egg. You cannot get the proper effect without some form of anchovies — if you are afraid of them, try using a little less — start with one anchovy if you are squeamish and work your way up. You cannot skip the cheese either, or the croutons — if you do, you have not made a Caesar salad, but some other kind of romaine salad. You cannot make a vegan Caesar — don’t even try. If you are a vegan, find some other way to eat your romaine. You cannot make a kale Caesar either: by definition, Caesar salad is made of romaine lettuce. Got it? You have latitude with the garlic, the oil, and the croutons and the amount of anchovy you use. For the Parmesan, you need to get the good stuff and grate it yourself: this is not the time to use stale, pre-grated cheese or the stuff in the green can: when you are only using a few ingredients, they need to be the freshest and finest you can get. That chicken and shrimp? Save them for another entree or cook and serve them on the side, please. Once you try the real Caesar salad, you will love it or hate it, but at least you will know what it is, that you have tried Caesar salad and not one of the many abominations that blacken and borrow its name.

If you’ve made it through the rant, you may notice that I put no salt in the dressing: both anchovies and cheese pack a lot of salt and I don’t miss it. But I did say you could adjust seasonings: that is code for add lemon, salt, pepper, garlic or cheese to taste. Enjoy. And if you experience any revelations after making proper Caesar salad, please come back to testify in the Comments section.

photo depicts fresh lettuce in colander with Buddha looking on.

From the Winter Garden. Photo by Kuya Minogue.

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

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

photo of spinach growing in Creston, B.C.

Spinach in January. Photo by Kuya Minogue.

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

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

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

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

painting of picked mixed greens in colander, Buddha image.

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

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

 

 

Painting shows pear tart tatin and ingredients.

Pear Tart Tatin. 12″ x 12″ gouache. Sharyn Dimmick.

I had a music potluck to go to yesterday. I started thinking Friday night about what I would make: it came down to orange pound cake made with orange juice and zest, a repeat of the St. Patrick’s Day knishes sans Canadian bacon in deference to vegetarian singers, or a pear tart tatin. Those of you who read about our grocery finds a few posts ago will recall that I bought three pounds of Bosc pears. I have roasted pears to eat as dessert and I have included roasted pears in a few winter soups, but I had never before made a tart tatin. I was somewhat swayed by the thought that I had one pie crust waiting in the fridge. I was also swayed by the fact that I greatly prefer pie to cake and I love fruit desserts.

As it turned out, the pie crust in the fridge was a little too crumbly and a little too small and I ended up making a whole new batch: now we have old leftover crust and new leftover crust. Oh well: making and eating things with pie crust does not trouble us in this household.

While I used my Mom’s never-fail pie crust recipe for the tart tatin, I used the method and ingredients for the most part described in Chez Panisse Desserts, with one change, two additions and one error, which may have proved beneficial.

Alice Waters and Lindsey Sher give the ingredients as one 10-inch circle of pie dough or puff pastry, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, about 5 medium Bosc or Winter Neli pears and an optional tablespoon of rum, Cognac, brandy or Armagnac. I used salted butter, eight small Bosc pears, and rum. I added 1/2 Tbsp of vanilla extract and a sprinkling of ginger. Waters and Sher say to bake the tart at 400 degrees, which I would have done, except, despite reading the recipe, I had set my oven at 350.

If you don’t have pie crust on hand, you’ll have to make that first. You will find my Mom’s recipe here. If you make it, you will have three more crusts, or at least two and a half because Mom’s recipe makes four crusts (It is hard to make less with her recipe because it calls for a whole egg).

Once you have gotten your pie crust made, set it to chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the other ingredients. It’s up to you whether you want to peel and core pears first or make caramel first. At any rate, you will be peeling and coring pears. You can use halves or quarters in the tart. I used halves, which looked quite nice. I put the tablespoon of rum and the half-tablespoon of vanilla in the bowl with the peeled, halved pears.

I then got out a cast iron skillet and set it on medium heat. I added the butter and sugar to the skillet and stirred with a wooden spoon until the caramel turned light brown, at which time I removed the pan from the heat and continued to stir. The caramel continues to darken: you keep stirring it so that it turns evenly instead of darkening in any hot spots. Mine came out a lovely, reddish brown.

Place the pears in the caramel in a circle with the narrow ends pointing to the center. I had a small, pear-less circle in the center, which I filled by cutting the last pear into smaller pieces. I put my pears cut-side down, although Alice and Lindsey say to put the rounded side down. You are going to flip this dessert over after it is baked, so, whichever way you do it, it is going to come out the opposite. My brain does not like to think in reversals (it gets confused). Do what you like. When you have got your pears looking all pretty and symmetrical, you are going to put the pastry over the top. Before I did this, I poured the leftover vanilla-rum mixture over the pears and sprinkled them with perhaps 1 tsp powdered ginger. I folded the crust in quarters, then unfolded it over the fruit, tucking the edges down into the sides of the pan since this crust will end up being the tart base. I also, as instructed, pushed the dough gently into the pears — it forms a slight wave pattern, molding around the curves of the pears. Cut a few slits in the crust and transfer the tart to your hot (or not so hot) oven.

I checked my tart after 30 minutes — that’s when I discovered my temperature error: plenty of browned juices bubbled up, but the crust was not brown. I cranked the oven up to 400 and let the tart bake for another 20 minutes until the crust was properly browned. My error with the oven temperature may have caused deeper caramelization of the fruit, which I happen to like, and had no ill effects on the caramel or the crust, save needing extra time for browning.

When the crust has browned to your satisfaction, remove the tart from the oven and let it sit for a few minutes — the pan will be really hot. When you are ready for the next step, take a plate larger than your skillet, place the plate on top of the pan and carefully invert the skillet onto the plate. With any luck, your tart will come out whole. If a pear or two get left behind, just use a spoon to transfer them back to their place on the tart. If you have lost a bit of crust, you will have the pleasure of sampling the caramel-infused crust: the caramel layer transforms basic pie crust into a new delight.

Mom dug out the top of a popsicle mold, which we plopped in the center of the tart to hold the wrappings away from the fruit. I wrapped the tart in two layers of aluminum foil and carted it off on the bus in the rain to my friend Elaine’s house. The singers consumed every scrap of the tart. Toni had three pieces. Elaine, who does not like Bosc pears, had two. Elaine said she would like the tart made with stone fruit. I said I thought it might be delicious with fresh figs. We have to wait for those fruits, but some pears are in season now. I was pleased with how easy it was to make a dessert that had intimidated me (the caramel, the flipping, the careful arrangement of the fruit, would the crust withstand the weight of the tart and all of that caramel? Would it leak?). Trust me, friends — if I can do it, you can do it.

Food Notes: If you are afraid of pie crust, you can also make this with frozen puff pastry. I recommend, however, that you visit your nearest crust expert to overcome this fear. Most pie bakers would be glad to help you learn to make pie crust.

Painting depicts food items procured in weekly grocery shopping

The Groceries. 12″ x 12″ gouache. Sharyn Dimmick.

Last week I checked Riverdog Farm’s weekly online newsletter to see what vegetables we were going to get: tangerines, navel oranges, spring onions, cauliflower, carrots, dandelions. Dandelions! Oh, they didn’t! I read on to see that what they were really giving us was young leaves of chicory. The only thing I know about chicory is that you can make coffee substitute from it or add it to coffee for that New Orleans flavor. I Googled it. The coffee substitute is made from chicory roots. Shucks.

My mind goes back to salads we ate in Italy where they dug every bitter shoot out of the ground and dressed it in olive oil. But before I start whining in earnest I realize that a limited palette of ingredients is a test of cooking skill and creativity and that with a cabinet full of spices and a refrigerator containing milk, butter and cheeses I have more to work with than many people have had. What needs adjusting beyond the seasonings is my attitude.

This week I sufficiently adjusted my attitude to cook the chicory. I tasted it raw the day I got it: bitter. Before I cooked it I checked to see what will be in Wednesday’s box. The contents are not much different. For twenty dollars a week I am getting three pounds of fruit (oranges and tangerines) and six pounds of vegetables, including leeks, arugula, spinach, cauliflower, carrots and potatoes. That is the basic early spring produce palette here in Northern California.

This morning I went with my mother on her weekly shopping foray. This week we went to Food Maxx for canned cat food for our three cats and coffee beans for Mom. While we were there, we picked up two boxes of rolled oats, a bag of raisin bran, four boxes of whole wheat rotini, a jar of molasses, a box of Mexican chocolate, a small jar of Prego and a number ten can of hominy for posole. The food for humans in that came to $26.28 and we got a dime back for bringing our own canvas bags. Total: $26.18

We went on to Canned Foods Grocery Outlet, variously known to our friends as “Half Foods” and “Groc. Out” (before you turn up your nose, let me remind you that it was there I first found a bottle of Mosaic blood orange olive oil). There we picked up our dairy products for the week: half and half, buttermilk, sour cream and cheeses: jalapeno cheddar, a two-pound block of mozzarella for pizza-making, and a jar of marinated feta. We added in meat protein with a package of turkey sausage and one of Canadian bacon. Mom scored a 2 lb. bag of organic frozen green beans for $3.00 and a big bag of  fresh red potatoes for $2.00. I treated myself to a three-pound bag of Bosc pears from Washington State for $1.50 because the annual citrus glut is getting to me again — I will use the pears in desserts and soups and eat them as snacks. We bought a couple of cans of diced tomatoes for our winter-spring pantry, some flaked coconut and maple syrup for baking, a large package of English muffins and two different brands of commercial ginger snaps. Total for Canned Foods food: 44.83.

Adding up the food we purchased this week from all sources, I get $91.01. We will not shop again until next week and with all of this in the house we may not buy much next week beyond bread, milk and more cat food.

Now, we never start from a house empty of food. We keep a running pantry of baking supplies from butter and eggs to flour and cornmeal. We usually have walnuts and almonds and some dried fruit: right now we have dried peaches and apricots, sour cherries, raisins and home-dried apples and pears. When I get around to it, we will have home-candied citrus peels as well. We also stock rice, both brown and white, polenta and pasta. We make our own chicken stock, which we store in the freezer, and keep condiments such as mustard and red wine vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil. We try to replace all of these items during sales to keep our costs down.

The chicory? I cooked it for dinner, after trimming all of the stems. I pulled out all of the stops. First I boiled it for fifteen minutes. Then I poured off the water, hoping to have leached out some of the bitterness. I tasted it again: still bitter and not quite dull in color. I put in a little more water and cooked it for ten more minutes. Then I pulled out a skillet, heated some olive oil and sliced up half a sausage into half-coins. I browned those while I microwaved about a quarter cup of raisins in some water (This green is seriously bitter and needed the help from the dried grapes). I added the drained chicory and some pressed garlic, then the raisins and soaking water. Even with the raisins, oil, garlic, sausage and blanching the chicory remained bitter — not slightly bitter, but majorly bitter. It is the kind of thing that gives vegetables a bad name. We ate it alongside some bland Kabocha squash gnocchi in (not bland) gorgonzola sauce. My first attempt at winter squash gnocchi lacked lightness as I had to work in extra flour to handle the dough: if I revisit gnocchi more successfully I will post the recipe later. We were grateful to have the Mexican chocolate as an after dinner treat: I prepared that with a square of bittersweet chocolate, an extra tablespoon of cocoa powder and a dash of vanilla extract in each cup, perfect for the rainy March night.

P.S. Mom, trooper that she is, reheated and ate the remaining chicory for breakfast. She said it was better after sitting overnight. I said I would never complain about kale again, knowing we could get chicory instead. We both shuddered.

Painting shows lemon bars.

Lemon Bars. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Two of my mother’s favorite flavors are brown sugar and coconut: when she was a child she mixed up a big jar of coconut and brown sugar, planning to eat it. Not only did her mother punish her for “wasting food,” she also threw out the mixture. Now, I ask you, who wasted that particular food?

Anyway, I arrived home yesterday from several days in the foothills of Amador County. In my absence, Mom had made a pot pie and roasted a pork loin and some vegetables. As we ate the pot pie for lunch, Mom said, a little sadly, that there were no sweets except chocolate and that she might have to just eat oranges.

My Mom is a hard worker and she has a sweet tooth. Plus, she had been given some Meyer lemons by our next door neighbor. I offered to make something since it was blogging day. I had just seen a recipe for lemon bars from Sawsan at Chef in Disguise this morning, which had sent me running to my Alice Medrich Pure Dessert cookbook and my binder of recipes to compare ratios for lemon bar base ingredients. I like lemon bars and will eat anything that even looks like one, but Mom and I agree that the crust on lemon bars is often too thick, too rich and too sweet. I asked if there was pie crust left from the pot pie. Negative. That meant I would be starting from scratch. Mom asked if I would want to make a lemon pudding instead. I naturally thought she meant our favorite lemon pudding which has lemon filling trapped between two layers of a rich mixture of Wheaties, butter, coconut and brown sugar. And then I thought, “Why not combine them? What if I made a base of butter, brown sugar, crushed Wheaties, flour and coconut and then put lemon filling on top of that?”

Down to the kitchen I went, taking the Medrich cookbook with me: I would use her recipe as a guideline for my lemon filling because she likes a tart lemon bar. I dug out the recipe for lemon pudding from a file box in the cabinet and studied the crust ratios for three recipes. I decided I would use 1/3 cup butter, 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 1/3 cup crushed Wheaties and 1/3 cup flaked coconut, plus 1/4 cup brown sugar for the pastry base, which I combined with a pastry blender and baked for twenty minutes in a 350 degree oven. I then turned the oven down to 300.

I meant to use Medrich’s measurements for the lemon filling, but I couldn’t bear the thought of 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of white sugar, so I decided to use 1 scant cup instead. I was aiming for her 1/2 cup of lemon juice, but after I zested and squeezed five small Meyer lemons and one stray tangerine that some cat had batted under the sideboard (it resurfaced last week and had seen better days, looking a little battered), I had 1/3 cup juice plus a little and decided to go with that. I used 1 Tbsp of whole wheat pastry flour and 2 Tbsp of all-purpose flour, whisked that with the 1 cup sugar, whisked in three eggs, added the lemon juice and zest, and poured the result onto the hot crust.

I baked the bars at 300 for nearly half an hour until the filling no longer jiggled when I tapped the pan. I cooled the pan on a rack while I went to Berkeley to pick up my vegetables. It was a bad day for bus service: I returned three hours later, put the vegetables away and cut the first square from the pan. I cut it in half and brought half to Mom who was watching T.V. She approved of the strong lemon flavor, but wondered why there was no topping. I said that lemon bars usually don’t have a topping and if I had made crumb topping for the top it would have taken twice as much butter. She asked why I hadn’t dusted them with powdered sugar and I said I was afraid that they would be too sweet.

These lemon bars came out buttery and lemony with a delicious brown sugar and coconut crust. Despite the scant cup of sugar they were not too sweet. Many lemon bar recipes call for shortbread crusts that take an entire stick of butter: with 1/3 cup of butter, the flavor of butter comes through beautifully.

Food notes: To get a generous 1/3 cup of juice I used five small Meyer lemons and one small battered tangerine. If you use Eureka lemons, you may not need more than two. Meyer lemons are sweeter and less acidic than ordinary lemons, so you may need to increase the sugar to a generous cup and add a dusting of powdered sugar. If you have access to Meyer lemons, you can follow my measurements exactly, if that is your style. I was afraid to use all whole wheat pastry flour in the filling, but it worked fine in the crust. If you do not have Wheaties, you can substitute ground oatmeal (put rolled oats or quick oats in a blender for a few seconds), crushed wheatmeal biscuits, or a dry cereal of your choice.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
Henry David Thoreau

and if that means 15 kinds of citrus meals, so be it.
Suzanne Edminster at Saltworkstudio
http://saltworkstudio.wordpress.com
Ms. Edminster is my best friend and kindly sent me the Thoreau quote this afternoon for the blog. To me the quote and her comment capture the essence of seasonal cooking: things never taste fresher or more lovely than in their true season and we are wise to eat them then and let them pass for the rest of the year as the calendar and the fields move on to new delights. We may, like Greg Brown’s grandmother, put the summer in jars, if we have the skill, and be able to taste raspberries on our toast in February (to my mind preferable to any red velvet dessert). Or we may make do with frozen berries and store-bought jam and wait for each season to come round again. And while there are delightful days for seasonal cooks when we buy our favorite things at the market or get our favorites in our CSA there are also the days when we say, “Oh, God. Another bunch of kale. Another four pounds of tangerines. What am I going to do with ten leeks and four celery roots?” A cleverer person than I called this “vegetable triage.” Most of us seasonal cooks are dedicated to this way of eating and living and will eventually grumble and take up the challenge.
Painting depicts partial Shaker Lemon Pie in front of a Meyer lemon tree.

Meyer Lemon Pie. 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil, watercolor and gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

Debra of Three Well Beings wondered if I needed an assignment to get me going again on blogging about seasonal food. She asked if I had any more lemon recipes. Well, there is one lemon recipe I have been wanting to try ever since hearing about it: Shaker lemon pie, a pie of thinly-sliced lemons marinated in sugar overnight before being mixed with eggs, butter and flour and baked in a two-crust pie. You heard me right: two crusts. Every other lemon pie I make is a one-crust affair and even though I am temporarily out of unbleached flour I have pie crust in my refrigerator because we always make four crusts at a time. You can find my mother’s pie crust recipe here, if you need a recipe.

You can’t get any more local than going outside the front door to pick Meyer lemons off your own tree. Our tree is organic, too, meaning we give it very little: coffee grounds, tea leaves, water and a little copper now and then. Mom has been pruning it relentlessly to try to get it to bear its fruit high above the ground, hoping that snails all have fear of heights, so it is not the most prolific lemon tree on the block, but it had enough lemons for the pie (the recipe I used called for two, but that looked so pitiful in my glass bowl that I went out and picked a third to add to it).

I brought the lemons back inside, rinsed them and dried them. Before I even went to the kitchen or the yard I Googled a recommended recipe and tried to find out how to slice lemons “paper-thin.” No luck. Considering that recent tests put me in the first and fifteenth percentile for manual dexterity (that means either ninety-nine or eighty-five percent of people tested are more dextrous than I am), I recognized that thin rounds might be a problem. I have neither the patience nor the experience of Shaker women who have made this pie many times, although I share their desire to cook frugally.

First I tried a thin-bladed serrated knife. I worked slowly and held the lemon firmly. I even sliced off a slab on one side so that the lemon would sit flat on the cutting board. Try as I might I could not get those tissue-thin perfect slices. Next, I got out the mandoline. The mandoline sliced through the pith and tore the lemon flesh. Not good. Finally, I took up a sharp steak knife and slowly, carefully, tried to cut see-through slices. I got a few. The closer you get to the far end of a lemon, the harder it is to hold it steady. I need a lemon vice. The only thing I didn’t try was the meat slicer.

Because I was using whole lemons, minus only the seeds, I put in the entire two cups of sugar the recipe called for: lemon pith is bitter and I did not want a bitter pie: tart, yes, bitter, no. And I followed the recipe for filling that my friend Carol uses, purloined from the online version of Joy of Cooking because I had never made this pie before.

I put the lemons to marinate in a clear glass bowl in the refrigerator, placing a china plate on top to seal the bowl (I am one of those people who feels bad when I use plastic wrap and I love finding ways around it). Then yesterday we went out and bought the flour we needed to finish the pie during our weekly grocery-shopping rounds.

First I rolled out the bottom crust and put the oven on to preheat at 425. Then I whisked 4 large eggs in a mixing bowl and added 3 Tbsp flour. Why didn’t I whisk an egg slowly into the flour and avoid lumps? Because sometimes I don’t think, that’s why, but you can do it that way. Then I melted 1/4 cup unsalted butter in the microwave and had to let it cool. Why didn’t I melt the butter first before beating the eggs? See above answer. I don’t often use mise en place, although quite often I should.

Anyway, with a lot of whisking I got a fairly smooth mixture, then added the lemon-sugar mixture and whisked again. I poured it into my prepared pie shell and rolled out a top crust, pinched the edges together and put the pie into the oven. This is one of those stay in the kitchen (or use a timer) recipes because you need to turn the oven down to 350 after 25 minutes. It might be a good idea to turn it down a little sooner or start it at 400 — my crust browned awfully fast. The filling turned a jammy, deep golden color, reminiscent of the color of the ripe Meyer lemons themselves.

Madge, the pie critic, commented that it was a little bitter. She’s right — it has a slightly bitter edge like a mild marmalade does because you use the whole lemon. I don’t mind it. It has deep lemon flavor. And her comment did not stop her from having another piece at lunch today. If you need a pie that is all sweetness and light, this is not your pie, can’t be your pie. If you love all lemon desserts all the time, make it and see what you think.

painting shows a single red shoe.

One Red Shoe. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Okay, so what’s this about the red shoe? Not in the pie, silly. Cecilia of TheKitchensGarden kindly awarded me the Educational Shoe Award, given to blogs that teach, because I preach the gospel of seasonal cooking and because I chime in with helpful hints on other food blogs when I think something I say might be helpful. It came with a high-heeled red shoe. I am grateful to Cecilia for honoring me and my two cents worth: she lives on a farm, raising animals and bees and crops, preserving her own bounty and wishing us cheery good mornings from her Illinois homestead. She also writes and coaches us on how to take better photos. I am also grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to paint red shoes. Turns out I own and have owned several red shoes, but this is the first red shoe that came to mind, a little flat number because I can’t walk in high heels. I will pass on the award in a future post after I have had time to study some potential recipients and think on it.

Food notes: You need the sugar in this pie — all of it: you need it to transform the bitter pith. I can’t recommend experiments or substitutions because this is the first time I have made this pie, although I can confess to wondering if I could make it with thin-skinned Valencia oranges, or a mixture of oranges and lemons. The official recipe says “thin-skinned lemons” (Meyers are perfect). You need thin-skinned varieties because they have less pith.

painting depicts meal of bread, soup and salad for January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orange Cumin Bread

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

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

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

Into large bowl of stand mixer, measure

1/2 cup sugar (any kind will do)

4 Tbsp corn oil

1/4 cup cornmeal

1 cup whole wheat flour

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

1/2 cup warm water

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

Now add 4 cups unbleached flour and

1 scant Tbsp kosher salt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

painting shows loaf of Swedish bread

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While I was away for the weekend my Mom bought some oranges. I wrote about eating my first orange of the fall and winter in Taos, New Mexico in November, but these were the first oranges we have had in the house since spring. Suddenly oranges are calling to both of us. I planned to stir up a lunch of bread and soup to warm us up this cold day. Plenty of beets, turnips, carrots and half a head of cabbage dictated borscht, brought together with chicken broth from the freezer, the last few cherry tomatoes on the vines and a package of dried mushrooms (my sister-in-law likes Ukranian borscht with mushrooms in it).

When I asked Mom if she wanted Swedish rye or whole wheat bread to go with the soup, she said, “Swedish rye. We haven’t had that in a long time.” Indeed we haven’t — I only make it when I can get fresh oranges. Now, I know you can buy oranges any old day at the grocery store and that they come from Florida, Israel, Mexico, goodness knows where. Since I live in California, I eat and cook with California oranges in season and one of the first things I make when they come in in the winter is this sweet rye bread, flavored with orange juice and zest, anise seeds and raisins.

I learned to bake this from my childhood friend, Lori Johnson. I’ve tweaked it a bit over the years, substituting orange juice for some of the water in the original recipe. This makes wonderful toast and dynamite peanut butter sandwiches.

Into a large mixing bowl, measure

1 Tbsp shortening

1/3 cup molasses

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 scant Tbsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp anise seed

In the 1-cup liquid measuring cup that you used to measure the molasses, place 1/4 cup warm water and 1 package active dry yeast (2 and 1/4 tsp).

Beat yeast and water with a fork. Let yeast proof while you

Zest one orange into the mixing bowl.

Then cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice into a 2 cup measuring cup. Add water to reach 1 and 1/2 cups total liquid. Add this to mixing bowl.

Add 1 cup sifted unbleached flour.

Check temperature. If contents of mixing bowl is now lukewarm or cooler, add proofed yeast and stir.

Next add 2 cups rye flour and beat until smooth (I use a large wooden spoon). There will be flour clumps. That’s okay — you are beating to develop gluten in the rye flour and the lumps will vanish if you beat hard and long enough. The batter should turn glossy.

Stir in 1 cup raisins, a few at a time, incorporating each batch before adding more (Exposed raisins will burn in the oven’s heat).

Add 3 to 3 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour until you have a soft dough.

Let dough rest 10 minutes.

Knead dough until smooth — at least ten minutes. Form into ball. Grease your mixing bowl and place dough in it. Cover with a damp warm towel and put in a warm place to rise until double (I check it in about an hour: rye flour slows the rising time of bread). Punch it down. Let it rise again until double. Grease loaf pans, or round pans or baking sheets. Divide dough in half and shape into two standard loaves, round loaves or free-hand braids. Preheat oven to 375. Let rise again. If you wish, you may slash the tops of the loaves ten minutes before putting them into the oven.

Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until crust sounds hollow when thumped. For best texture, let the bread cool on a rack before cutting.

Food notes: If you must have an additional holiday touch, you might substitute dried cranberries for the raisins. I have not done this myself. Heidi of 101 Cookbooks has a link to some rye flour shortbread cookies on her recent sticky gingerbread post: I am thinking of making them with anise seed and orange zest to duplicate the flavors of this bread in cookie form.

All you candy-makers please visit again on Wednesday December 14 for another recipe by Susan Darm, featuring English toffee.