Archives for posts with tag: Sharyn Dimmick
Photo of ripe red watermelon in steel bowl.

The one that got away — part of the watermelon that rolled off the counter.

On Wednesday I received a small watermelon from my Riverdog Farm CSA. Grown eighty-some miles away in summer heat, the melon was sweet and pink — I know because five minutes after I set it on the counter I heard an odd thunk: it had rolled off the counter and split open when it hit the floor. There would be no saving this watermelon for later. I picked it up, washed it off and tasted it. Good. Then I set it aside for a few days as the temperature took a nosedive and the fog rolled in to stay — who wants to eat watermelon in fifty-degree weather?

Fortunately, I had a plan for some of this watermelon: when I bought my Nesco American Harvest dehydrator the booklet contained this sentence: “Cantaloupe and watermelon slices become candy-like when dried.” Candy-like. Hmm. Then Krista and Jess reported on their dried watermelon chips. I knew I had to try it when watermelon came along again.

I spent an hour in the kitchen this morning, cutting 1/2 inch thick slices of watermelon, removing the seeds and cutting the rind away. The easiest way to do this proved to be to cut a slice and then slice through the melon perpendicular to the rind to produce small batons or wedges and then to cut the rind away. After half an hour of this, I noticed that I was developing a neat pile of watermelon rind.

Now, I am one of those people that, if you give her a slice of watermelon, will eat deep into the rind. Watermelon rind reminds me of cucumber with no bitterness and no seeds. And yet, because Mom doesn’t can, I have never made watermelon rind pickles. I called her into the kitchen and asked, “Back in the day when you ate watermelon pickles, were they sweet or sour?”

“Not sweet enough,” she said.

“Sort of like bread and butter pickles?” I asked.

“Not as good,” she said.

She told me to look in the old Mowequa cookbook, but I headed upstairs to check my saved blogs file. Not too far into the seven hundred recipes I had saved was Natalie’s recipe for watermelon pickle. I have started to make it and will report on the results on Wednesday.

Painting depicts apple pie ingredients: flour, butter, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg.

Gravenstein Apple Pie 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn DImmick

Things to make right now: Gravenstein apples are in! Ann and I picked a big bowlful of them from a yard in Berkeley and Mom made our first Gravenstein apple pie of 2012. I cannot say enough good things about this pie so if you are lucky enough to live within range of Gravenstein apples, by all means, get some. Bernie at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market has them right now if you don’t want to forage for them, or if you need more. I also made zucchini-feta pancakes this week. This time I threw a little leftover pesto with the fresh herbs and feta — it’s a delicious variation. As I write this I have another peach and plum crisp in the oven, this time made with white and yellow peaches and little cherry plums from someone’s backyard tree. And two days ago I made this tomato tart, again with lemon cheese, but with brown mustard and shredded tarragon. And of course this is a good time for Deborah’s somewhat famous tomato platter or Greek salad, with tomatoes and cucumbers in the market and peppers beginning to come in.

Photo of watermelon candy, aka dried watermelon

Watermelon candy in the dehydrator.

The watermelon candy is small and sticky — it reminds me of dried tomatoes, only sweeter and pinker. I was catching up on my sleep today after nearly a month of periodic insomnia so I didn’t take the time to do a new painting. Instead I offer you photos of watermelon and watermelon candy.

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Original watercolor painting of tea service.

Rose Teapot. 5.75″ x 9″ Watercolor on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Recently I happened to read a recipe for sweet tea that raised my Irish hackles to a fare-thee-well. Those of you who know me well can raise your eyebrows and chuckle because you know what is coming. The rest of you might want to duck and cover for the duration of the tea rant unless you, too, are a fanatic about properly brewed tea. We’ll get to what that is in a moment.

What was it, you may ask, that occasioned this rant? On a perfectly lovely blog by a polite Canadian writer who makes beautiful cakes decorated with white roses, festoons her posts with poetry and takes professional photographs, I read a recipe for sweetened ice tea (aka “sweet tea”) that called for a pinch of baking soda. Baking soda! I started screaming. I even began my comment with Aieeee! Because, my friends, baking soda does not belong in iced tea: nothing belongs in iced tea but tea leaves steeped in boiling water (and then strained out), cold water and ice. Sugar is optional — I will get to that later.

Properly made tea is part of my cultural inheritance, the one thing that has survived generations in the United States (Well, we bake bread, too, so perhaps there are two things left). I have terrified my best friend by talking about the minimal requirements for a proper cup of tea, which are:

1) a tea kettle

2) a tea pot

3) boiling water — full, rolling boil, if you please, but started from cold water from the tap.

4) loose black tea leaves

and

5) a teaspoon with which to measure the tea leaves

This is how we begin. If you are not familiar with your tea pot (or have just acquired it to meet my requirements), measure cold tap water into your tea pot until it is nearly full, perhaps seven-eighths. Experienced tea drinkers may skip this step since you will already know how many proper cups of tea your teapot makes. Then pour the water, cupful by cupful into your cold tea kettle, counting as you go to see how many cups of tea your pot is meant to hold, allowing a little head room so that the brewed tea does not slop out of the spout when you lift the tea pot. Once you know how many cups of tea fit in your pot you can memorize the amount of water to put in your kettle. You need to add a little extra to allow for water loss from steam and to provide extra water for scalding the pot. If you don’t know what I am talking about, don’t worry: all will be revealed.

Put your cold kettle onto a hot burner at highest heat. While you wait for it to boil you may prepare a tea tray with a cup and saucer (extra points for fine china), or a mug if you must, along with anything you take in your tea. The classic accompaniments are lemon slices, a pitcher of milk, sugar lumps (kudos if you have sugar tongs), or loose sugar. Some people use honey and many people like to include an extra pitcher of hot water to dilute tea that gets too strong or warm up the pot — we will not be bothering with the water. If your tea tray is large enough and you are strong from consuming proper black tea all your life you may want to include acceptable tea snacks such as a plate of biscuits, scones, or buttered toast, crumpets or tea sandwiches.

Original pen, ink and acquarelle sketch shows glass teapot with peach and delphineums.

Glass teapot. 5″x 7″ Ink and acquarelle on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

When your kettle comes to a full rolling boil (large bubbles rolling across the surface of the water), you bring your tea pot alongside the kettle and pour a few inches of water into the pot. This is called “scalding the pot.” Cover the pot with its lid while you reach down the loose tea, properly stored in tin or glass canisters within easy reach. Before adding tea leaves to your tea pot, be sure to dump out the scalding water. In the interest of ecology I have been known to return this water to the kettle, but you can dump it into your dishpan or utility bowl if you’d rather, or pour it down the sink to clear the drain — don’t say I never give you any choices,  With your teaspoon, carefully measure one teaspoon of tea leaves for each cup of tea your tea pot holds. Some people add one additional teaspoon “for the pot.” We find that our tea is strong enough to walk on its own without this tradition. Pour boiling water over the tea leaves until the pot is nearly full and put the lid on pronto. Now you let it sit for awhile, otherwise known as steeping.

Now, what kind of tea should you use? I specified black tea because that is the tea I know best and it is actual tea made from tea plants. There are many kinds of black tea grown in different places in the world. There are pure teas of one type, such as “Ceylon” or “Assam” and there are tea blends, such as “English Breakfast” and “Irish Breakfast.” Assam happens to be my favorite. A certain species of mutants (surely it is part of their gene pool) like Earl Grey Tea. a black tea scented with oil of bergamot — to my ilk this tea tastes like tea cut with perfumed bath water, but I will not chastise them for their choice as long as they don’t serve it when I am coming over. There are other flavored black teas as well, featuring black currant or lemon. I say stick with the basics until you learn what you like: if you were born an American, you may never have had a proper cup of tea in your entire life.

If you have bought your tea leaves in a tin, the tin will likely include guidelines for how long to steep your tea. If you have bought it from a bulk bin or a jar at Country Cheese you will be on your own for the timing. We let our tea steep for about seven minutes before pouring the first cup. If it looks too light, we pour it back and let it steep some more.

Strictly speaking, what you are supposed to do is decant the steeped tea into another clean scalded pot once it reaches the intensity you want. Decanting your tea rids you of the leaves, making it impossible for your perfect tea to acquire bitterness from the sitting leaves. This is entirely proper, but we have a few lazy Philistine habits and one of them is not decanting our tea. During the steeping process, the tea leaves will sink to the bottom of the pot and during the sipping process any that got in there will sink to the bottom of your cup where you can avoid them or read your fortunes if you are good at that sort of thing. In any case, we generally drink our tea so fast and brew it so perfectly that it does not get bitter in the pot. All of us drink our tea with milk (never cream). My brother Bryan drinks his with milk and sugar. We put the tea in the cup before the additions so that we can check the tea’s color.

To make iced tea, all you do is make your largest pot of black tea as described above. After steeping, this time you decant it immediately into a serving pitcher and dilute it with cool water. If you are going to drink it immediately you will want to add ice — if not, it can now sit in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it — since you have decanted it, it cannot get bitter and you will not need to add any baking soda. Sheesh.

If you want sweet tea, I recommend making a pitcher of simple syrup. Take a saucepan and add equal amounts of sugar and water, 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water. Boil this, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Decant syrup into a nice pitcher and provide guests with spoons. Simple syrup combines with tea better than grainy, granulated sugar, which sinks to the bottom repeatedly, leaving your last swallow of tea much sweeter than your first. You will have to stir your tea a few times to diffuse the syrup evenly even so. Each guest can sweeten her tea to her liking and your mother can have hers unsweetened as she prefers.

Original watercolor painting shows long and short red dresses.

Red Dresses. 8 and 1/2″ by 12″. Watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

While you are practicing making proper tea or rejoicing in the fact that you already know how to make it, I will be putting on my red dress and my back-up singer hat to sing with Johnny Harper and the Hard Times Choir at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa. If you read this early enough in the morning, come on out and look for us at The Grand Coulee Stage at 12:50. We’ll be singing Woody Guthrie songs to celebrate his hundredth birthday.

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.

This is a hard time to leave the Bay Area: I took my first swim of 2012 in the Berkeley Marina two days ago. Cherries and apricots are here, with peaches coming soon. I’m going on vacation at the end of the week, traveling to France for a writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg and a few days in Paris. 
Meanwhile, it’s time for another guest post on The Kale Chronicles. Lisa Knighton, who taught us how to make Shrimp and Grits back in April, is back with one of her favorite cakes for you. Enjoy.
Original watercolor painting shows vanilla cake with caramel icing.

Caramel Cake. 8″ x 8″ Gouache on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Cake making stirs my earliest memories. My mother and my grandmother often allowed me to help, sat me up on the counter-top, wedged the large mixing bowl tight between my skinned knees, then said in a soft voice: “Here, hold the mixer steady.”

They instructed me to keep a close eye, watch as the beaters turned the softened butter and white sugar to a creamy, fluffy mixture.
“Listen, now,” Granny said. “This is the secret to a good cake: cream the butter and the sugar for a long time.”
“How long?” I would later ask, once I was living on my own and trying to make the perfect birthday cake.
“Oh, I don’t know how long,” Granny said. “When it looks light and fluffy, give it a taste. It’s ready for the next step when the sugar crystals aren’t crunchy anymore.”
I worry that cake baking is a dead art. I ask around to see if this is true.
Cindy, a cousin who teaches elementary school in Georgia, writes me to say: “Lisa, cake baking here is not a dead art.”  Her family’s favorite is a Cream Cheese Pound Cake. She tells me that she likes to try new recipes.

Glenda, another cousin, tells me that her favorite cake is: “A toss up between old fashioned Lemon Cheese Cake and Caramel Cake with really thin layers.”

Glenda’s mother, Aunt Anna often made freshly grated coconut cake for her daughter’s birthday. “I loved watching her crack that coconut and shred it,” Glenda says.
Pat, a friend from Birmingham, Alabama, bakes Toll House cakes, “Like the cookie, but a cake!” And Rita, who lives and works in Germany, tells me about a raspberry cake her son and husband enjoy.

Isaac, my twenty-one year old nephew, asks: “Will you to teach me to make a cake?”
I have him set up the stand mixer, take out all the ingredients. When we reach the first step, I lean in and say: “The secret to a good cake is in this step.” Isaac turns to me, and smiles. He’s heard this before. I’m glad to be passing along this cake making tradition.
When I bake a cake, I begin with white layers, sometimes called vanilla layers. For this recipe, I turn to Bevelyn Blair’s Everyday Cakes. My favorite is Layer Cake No. 1. As a matter of fact, when I open the cookbook, the pages automatically fall open to this recipe on page 97.
Hill Street Press, of Athens, Georgia, reissued this baker’s-necessity-of-a-book back in 1999. I do have many favorites from Blair’s book, including the German Chocolate Cake and the Brown Sugar Pound Cake. Forget the box mixes and get to work on a masterpiece from this book. You will not be disappointed. And hey, let me know how your cake turns out.
Layer Cake No. 1
2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk (2% or whole)
Bring all refrigerated ingredients to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 6 to 8 or more minutes (remember, this is the secret to a good cake: creaming the butter and sugar until the crystals of sugar are nearly dissolved). Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each egg. Mix together your sifted flour and other dry ingredients. Alternate adding small amounts of the flour mixture and the milk to make your batter. Add the vanilla. Mix well.
Pour batter into three or four greased and lightly floured cake pans. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until tests done. Cool, then assemble layers, covering each with caramel icing.
Betty Kea’s Caramel Icing
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
6 tablespoons half & half (or one small can of milk)
2 cups sifted powdered sugar (4x)
Bring butter and brown sugar to boil. Boil four minutes, stirring constantly. Add 6 tablespoons half & half, stirring; boil for two more minutes, stirring. Remove from heat and allow to cool for ten minutes. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
Blog Notes: Watch for another cake post on June 27th, “Let Them Eat Cake, Part II.” Thanks to the magic of WordPress I can post something while I am gone, without lifting a finger or breaking silence. I haven’t lost my seasonal focus, but I will not be cooking for the next couple of weeks. I will be eating and I will tell you all about that when I return in early July. I’ll just remind you that I own no mobile devices and will not be able to respond to comments while I am away, but I love reading your comments and I will answer you when I get home. Lisa may chime in on the cake comments, too.

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.

It is cherry season in California. For a few short weeks in May or June fresh cherries appear at the Farmers’ Market in Berkeley. First there are Brooks, then Burlats. Later there are Bing cherries. I eat them all. Mostly, I eat them fresh, for a snack. Lately I have been sneaking them into my morning cereal: my current favorite concoction involves 1/3 cup blue cornmeal cooked in 1 cup of milk with a bit of salt, a small handful of raw almonds pounded in a mortar, a handful of stoned cherries and a couple teaspoons of shredded coconut. This is also good with rolled oats — if you use oats, use 1/2 cup.

Do any of you have binders full of recipes that you have clipped from the food sections of local newspapers? Do you have a lot of recipes you haven’t actually cooked? Me, too. Sometimes I try one and toss it out with a “What were they thinking?” gesture. Sometimes I learn something. Sometimes I just store them, loosely organized by main ingredient, in a huge binder that takes two hands to lift off the shelf, but I know they are there waiting for “someday” when I’ll cook them.

Cherry Focaccia with Chocolate.

One such recipe was Ed Murrieta’s recipe for cherry focaccia. A Google search for the original publication date in the Contra Costa Times informed me that I have been saving this recipe since June 7, 2004. I saved it because it has an irresistible photo of a golden brown round focaccia, dimpled with cherries, cut into wedges, with a pile of fresh cherries in the center. It looks so pretty that I wanted to make it “someday.”

Well, folks, today was someday. I made a trip on the bus to the Farmers’ Market yesterday to buy more basil for more pesto and to buy cherries for this bread. Insert disclaimers here. One, I don’t generally like focaccia — it is too thick, too bland, with the wrong ratio of toppings to crust: I think of it as failed pizza. Two, I think chocolate-covered cherries are revolting. My Grandmother liked them: nasty, sickly cherries in too sweet milk chocolate. And cherry cordials, worse, if possible: bad chocolate filled with wet cherry filling that squirts you when you bite into it. Yuck. Three, my favorite cherry recipes involve sour cherries, either canned or dried, since fresh sour cherries are hard to come by in this part of the world. Four, I can’t stand anything cherry-flavored: cherry flavor reminds me of medicine. This includes cherry Starbursts (why, oh why?). The only exception I can think of is Royal Crown Sour Cherry candy — do they still make it anymore?

But this cherry focaccia was calling my name. First of all, it is a filled focaccia: you make two circles of dough. You put fresh, pitted cherries on top of the first circle, sprinkle it with chopped bittersweet chocolate, and put the second circle on top. Then you push more cherries into the top layer and sprinkle it with raw sugar before it goes into the oven. Plus, you need a starter to make this and I keep a jar of sourdough starter in my refrigerator at all times. I fed the starter yesterday and let it sit out on the counter while I went to the market and bought cherries.

I wanted to send you to Ed Murrieta for the original recipe, but when I Googled him the first thing I found was an article about how his entrepreneurial business had failed, leaving him to live on food stamps. Then I found some recipes including marijuana. Wherever he is now and whatever he is doing I wish him well and thank him for this gorgeous focaccia recipe. I could send you to the newspaper site, but they seem to want you to activate a free trial subscription to let you read the recipe. What can I do? I can rewrite the recipe — I did make a couple of changes.

Here’s the bad kitty confession. Murrieta’s recipe calls for bread flour. In my heyday when I had a regular job and regular paychecks I would have gone out and bought bread flour. I would have insisted on bread flour. Now I am not so proud or so picky: I use what we have on hand. I am an experienced baker and can handle sticky doughs and doughs behaving badly. So I will tell you that Ed Murrieta called for 2 and 3/4 cups of bread flour, plus additional flour on the board during the kneading and shaping phases. I winged it with unbleached flour and some whole wheat flour to give it a more rustic quality. I’ll show you.

Murrieta called for a starter made  of 1/2 tsp dry yeast, 2/3 cup of water and 1 cup of bread flour. You mix this up in a glass jar with a wooden spoon, cover it with cloth and let it ferment on the counter for at least twelve hours (and up to 36). I skipped this, and just added 2/3 cup of my sourdough starter to the dough. If you already have a starter, you are good to go. If you want an official sourdough starter recipe, go here.

Focaccia stuffed with fresh cherries and chocolate.

Cherry Focacccia. 8″ x 8″ gouache on paper. Sharyn DImmick.

Fresh Cherry Focaccia with Chocolate

Make the dough first. You can pit cherries and chop chocolate while the dough rises. You can even go to the store for cherries and chocolate while the dough rises if you don’t go on the once-every-forty-five-minutes bus.

Dissolve 1 and 1/2 tsp yeast in 1 cup warm water.

While the yeast proofs, stir together in a large bowl 2 and 3/4 cups bread flour, 3 Tbsp sugar and 1 tsp kosher salt. If you do not have bread flour and are intrepid, start with 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 3 and 1/4 cups unbleached flour (You will have to add more).

Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients. Add proofed yeast, 2/3 cup sourdough starter (or Ed’s starter, above), 1 cup lukewarm water and 3 Tbsp olive oil. Mix with wooden spoon until a light dough forms. If your dough is more of a batter than a dough, add flour 1/4 cup at a time.

Flour a bread board or other work surface and keep the flour handy! You might want to make sure your flour bin is at least half-full. Turn out the dough onto the board and attempt to knead it. If it sticks to the board badly, knead in more flour, dust more flour on the board, pry it up and try again. Eventually, you will work enough flour into the dough that it resembles roll dough and is smooth and uniform in appearance. If you are smart, you will oil the bowl before you put the dough back in it to rise. Cover the dough with a damp tea towel and let it rise until double — 1 and 1/2 to two hours.

Now, go away and amuse yourself or clean your counters and put away your ingredients except the flour — you are not done with that. Before the dough is risen you will need to pit 2 cups (one pound) of cherries and chop four ounces of chocolate. I used a 70% Lindt bar that had cherries and chili in it.

When your dough is risen, put it on your floured board and let it rest for five minutes. You can use this time to oil a pizza pan or baking sheet.

Divide dough into two equal portions. Ignore one while you flatten, dimple and pull the other into a ten inch circle. See pizza-pulling instructions here. (Murrieta rolls out his). Transfer first portion to oiled pan. Spread 3/4 of your cherries on it and top with chopped chocolate. Flatten, dimple and pull the second circle into shape and place it on top of cherry-chocolate filling. Pinch the edges to seal the dough. Then decorate the top with the rest of the cherries, pushing them cut-side down into the dough at attractive intervals. Let the dough rest for thirty minutes while you preheat your oven to 400 and do a round of clean-up. Just before you put the focaccia in the oven sprinkle it with raw sugar.

Close-up photo of Cherry Focaccia.

Cherry Focaccia Close-up. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

Bake for forty-five minutes or until top and bottom are browned to your liking. Murrieta says to let the focaccia cool and then cut it into wedges. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. I let it cool for approximately five minutes and then cut a small wedge, which I ate standing at the cutting board. Then I reached for the knife again, which was smeared with melted chocolate. I ate the second piece standing in front of the board. Then I cut a much smaller wedge. Then I stepped away from the cutting board, drank a glass of milk and made tea, which I took upstairs so that I did not stay in the kitchen eating focaccia.

It was that good. It was sort of like someone had taken my two favorite things, crusty bread and pie, and magicked them into a single entity. Crusty, gooey, chocolatey, not too sweet, with a fresh cherry taste on top.

Cherry season is short. If you like bread and pie, make this now. Now. And invite some friends over if you don’t want to stay in your kitchen eating the whole thing. You could just call it cherry Kryptonite.

Food notes. This recipe is perfect as is, once you get the flour right. But it is ripe for variations. Try other kinds of chocolate and other kinds of fruit: fresh figs? And then branch out and use almond paste or ricotta filling with cherries or peaches or blueberries. Yum.

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.

May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads. Although I have made pretty challah many times, I was tired this morning. I have recently undertaken a vigorous exercise program, involving walking up hills at the crack of dawn. Yesterday I followed that walk and subsequent breakfast with a walk through the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, and Andronico’s grocery store, came home to put away the groceries and construct a Caesar salad with kale (note to self: leave the kale out of Caesar salads — remember those tests asking “Which one does not belong?” Can you spell k-a-l-e? It was a noble effort).

Despite taking a day off of hill-walking, I dragged myself to the grocery store (on foot) because I needed milk to make challah, Mom had grossly underestimated our milk supply and I didn’t want to use canned milk or buttermilk sweetened with soda. When I got back to the kitchen the dishwasher was on the dry cycle and I unloaded that.

photo of misshapen loaf of Challah bread

Trolls’ Challah.

Only then could I begin the business of making challah: scalding milk and beating eggs, sifting flour, proofing yeast. I briefly considered embellishments: candied orange peel sounded good, but I have not yet candied my annual supply of citrus peel — the peels are sitting in the freezer, awaiting the day when I feel like doing it. I thought of making some kind of cinnamon glaze, but then I considered how tired I was and the kind of day I was having and decided to make plain old challah, the eggy, braided bread. I would use the recipe from our old Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook because I have used it before and was in no mood to mess around. Plain challah is the most versatile flavor: it can become French toast or bread pudding or croutons and will work for both sweet and savory sandwiches.

Rather than tell you what I did or what the cookbook says to do I will tell you a better way.

Film a saucepan with water.

Add 1 and 1/2 cups milk.

Set on medium heat until scalded (You’ll see small bubbles at the edges and a faint wrinkled skin on top of the milk).

Remove from heat.

In the measuring cup the milk has recently vacated mix 1/2 cup warm water and 4 and 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (2 packets). Whisk together with a fork.

Now measure 3 cups sifted unbleached flour into a large mixing bowl.

Add 1/2 cup whole wheat flour.

Add to cooling milk 1/4 cup butter (half a stick), 1/4 cup sugar and a teaspoon of kosher salt.

When the milk mixture is lukewarm, pour it into your bowl of flour and stir. Add the proofed yeast.

Beat 3 eggs until smooth in your much-used liquid measuring cup. Add to dough mixture.

Now begin adding more sifted flour, most likely about 3 cups plus.

painting shows misshapen loaf of Challah, eggs and butter.

Troll Challah. 8″ x 8″ Gouache on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

The Betty Crocker recipe calls for 7 to 7 and 1/2 cups total sifted flour. You have now used half of that. When I got to this stage I sifted the additional flour 1 cup at a time, adding it to the dough in quarter cup increments. Today, cold and overcast, the dough took a total of 6 and 3/4 cups flour, including the half cup of whole wheat. Although I sometimes knead light doughs by hand, I used my Kitchen Aid for the mixing and basic kneading because challah calls for a large amount of flour. When the dough was smooth and elastic and pulled away from the sides of the bowl I transferred it briefly to a lightly-floured board to rest while I buttered the mixing bowl, preheated the oven to warm and heated a damp linen towel for twenty seconds in the microwave. I gave the dough a couple of quick turns and deposited it in the buttered bowl, covered the dough, turned off the oven and set the bread to rise.

Then I gratefully escaped upstairs for an hour and lay on my bed reading my copy of The Sun, the only magazine I subscribe to. After an hour I rose reluctantly to check the dough which had risen enthusiastically and begun gluing itself to the tea towel.

Prying the dough strands away with my fingernails, I deflated the challah dough and set it for its second rise. I glanced at the clock to determine that it would probably be ready for braiding just as I was ready to eat lunch.

The thing about being tired when you are a scratch cook and stock mostly raw ingredients is that there are no quick and easy lunches unless you have previously made the components. We swing from fresh-prepared meals to meals from leftovers in a regular rotation. I grabbed the nearest carrot and a handful of fresh cherries and put on a kettle for tea. The quickest sandwich I could come up with was cashew butter on store-bought raisin bread toast. True to form the tea was steeping, the toast was toasted and I had just spread the cashew butter on the warm bread when the challah once again threatened to overflow its mixing bowl.

Mom had come down for tea.”I have to braid the challah right now,” I told her and watched as she proceeded to cover the bread board I needed with lettuce and mayo for a cottage cheese salad. She finished, wiped the board cursorily and shoved it back in. I no sooner dried it and gave it a light dusting of flour when she came back and said, “I just need to get in here one more time.”

“What do you need?” I asked.

“Paprika” she answered, reaching for it.

While my toast cooled, although I shoved it back in the toaster oven, I braided the challah into three strands, tucking the ends under. I thought the braid was too long, so I double the loaf back on itself, giving it a double-braided look in the center, re-tucking the ends. I slathered a baking sheet with butter and cranked up the oven to 425 while I rummaged in the freezer for sesame seeds. I found white poppy seeds first. Fine. That would do. As an afterthought, the freezer spit four or five packages onto the floor.

I beat my last egg in the same old measuring cup, brushed it on the challah, dropped some poppy seeds on top and put it in the waiting oven, escaping upstairs with my toast and cherries. Mom turned on a program about the Buddha while I drank my tea (irony of ironies) and thought about how un-Buddha-like it is to snap at my mother. As she poured tea for herself, the lid came off the tea pot and tea fell on her robe. She was not hurt.

I carried the tea tray back to the kitchen to check the challah, In its fervor the yeast had risen magnificently but unevenly, bursting out in bulges, stretching the dough at the braid seams. In short, this was challah fashioned by trolls — it wouldn’t win any beauty contests. (No disrespect to any trolls lurking about).

photo shows cut end of Challah loaf to show crumb and color.

Troll Challah — crumb shot.

After letting it cool, I cut the end from the monster challah. I brought my Mom the coveted end slice and took a slice for myself. The bread showed its trademark yellow crumb and brown shiny crust, releasing its lightly sweet flavor in the teeth and jaws of the local troll population.

Food notes: the half cup of whole wheat flour improves the nutritive value of the bread without altering the characteristic pale yellow interior. I could see the wheat specks like tiny freckles in the raw dough, but all trace of brown disappears in the baked bread. You can, of course, make whole wheat challah, instead, but you will have to adjust the amount of flour used and knead it for at least twenty minutes to achieve any lightness. If you want pretty challah, strive to make your dough strands relatively short and entirely even, braiding with care and symmetry, just as you would braid your prettiest daughter’s hair.

In other news, even trolls, churls and snapping daughters sometimes receive blogging award nominations. More on this on Wednesday…

“Spring green” is a common phrase and color name. The spring in California is rich with greens: before we get to the reds, blues and yellows of summer we have pea green, asparagus green, artichoke green. And in the farm box we have beet greens, Swiss chard, kale, green garlic, spring onions, lettuce,  bok choy and peas. It is little wonder I was drinking my greens recently, shoving some spinach into a smoothie to make way for new rounds of greens.

Painting shows calzones on pizza pan and ingredients.

Green Calzones. 8″ x 8″ Gouache on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

I have made pizza for many years and somehow never made the leap to calzones. The dough is the same, the famous Cheese Bread sourdough recipe made with a cupful of whole wheat flour. The technique for shaping calzones is the same: you begin with eight small disks instead of three larger ones and go through the dimpling and pulling process.

I might have gone another few years without making calzones, except that Betsy’s recipe for calzones caught my eye and lingered in my imagination. Betsy made hers with fresh kale. I made mine with leftover cooked chard. I followed Betsy’s guidelines for the cup of feta and the 1/4 cup of dry cheese, but I used pecorino Romano where she used Parmesan.

Most of you know the drill for sourdough by now: if you want sourdough pizza, bread, waffles or biscuits you have to make up a sourdough starter. You need to feed it occasionally, but if you use it once a week or more it doesn’t take much care and feeding. I fed my starter yesterday morning with a half cup of water and a half cup of unbleached flour, shook it a few times and left it out on the counter. Come afternoon I came back and made pizza dough with a half cup of starter, 2 and 1/4 cups flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour and a generous teaspoon of kosher salt. Read the gory details here.

This morning I took my pizza dough out of the fridge at eight. At 10:22 I removed its dish towel, formed the dough into eight small rounds, floured the damp towel and let the dough sit while I made filling. I also put my pizza stone in the oven and cranked the heat up to 450, deploying three racks: one for the pizza stone, two for the trays of calzones.

First step: dump cooked chard from frying pan into pizza dough bowl (Why do more dishes than you have to?). Heat same frying pan over medium heat while you slice the white of a small leek and the shoots of some green garlic, wipe 3/4 of a pound of mushrooms with a clean damp cloth and slice them. Add olive oil to the skillet and saute your leeks and garlic while you continue to slice mushrooms. Add leeks and garlic to chard. Saute mushrooms in two batches, adding oil as necessary. While you have the oil out, lightly oil two pizza pans. Add sauteed mushrooms to chard, leeks and garlic. Crumble 1 cup of feta into the vegetables. Use microplane to grate 1/4 cup dry cheese over top. Grate some nutmeg to taste and add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.

At this point, the faint-hearted or fanatically germ-phobic might give this mixture a stir, but I like to work with my hands, so I plunged my hands into the bowl and mixed. Then I washed and dried my hands before turning to the dough.

Using the dimpling and stretching techniques detailed in the pizza post I made my eight disks into eight five-inch circles, one at a time, so that I could fill and fold each calzone before making the next one. Again, I used my hands to scoop filling onto half of each calzone, but the fastidious may use a spoon and the precise may use a scoop or measuring cup, but you will need to use your hands to fold the crust over the filling and seal the edges.

Once your calzones are filled, folded and sealed, give each one slash with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. I use a stainless steel steak knife. If you keep a clean razor in your kitchen that will work, too.

I put one tray of calzones in while I filled the others. When the second batch was filled and folded I switched the first tray to a higher rack and started the second one on the middle rack. In ten minutes, I switched them again. We like things toasty and brown so the first tray was probably in the oven about thirty minutes. When I took the first tray out I turned off the oven and let the second tray finish cooking from the residual heat of the oven and the pizza stone.

By the way, I did not make the dough green. It is not St. Patrick’s Day. If you eat your spring greens you will see plenty of that color.

Food Notes: Betsy serves her calzones with marinara, which I’m sure is good. We ate ours plain to get maximum crust effects. Variations are legion: you can use any cheese you like, although the combination of a creamy one and a dry one produces a nice texture and flavor without a grease factor. If I could only have two cheeses for cooking they would be feta and Parmesan so Betsy’s choice worked for me, but you could use goat cheese and dry Jack or ricotta and Asiago. If you won’t eat or drink your greens, stick to mushrooms or pile in some meat. I badly wanted to add some roasted red peppers, but I didn’t want the mixture to be too wet, and I would have added sun-dried tomatoes if I hadn’t eaten them all by March. The same dough that makes crisp thin crust pizza transforms into a breadier dough you can hold in your hand when stuffed in this manner. Enjoy.

Blog Notes: Twice in the last week kind persons have nominated me for the Liebster Blog Award, an award for blogs with under 200 subscribers. While “The Kale Chronicles” fits that size, it has been previously nominated more than once. Because it can be difficult to establish how large or small a blog is, I will merely encourage you to visit the folks who nominated me, Peri’s Spice Ladle (Indian specialties) and artratcafe. (original art and occasional wonderfully illustrated posts of food descriptions from literature). I will further encourage you to visit Susartandfood. (I go for the stories).

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.