Archives for posts with tag: spring produce

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

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

Photo of seed packets

Heirloom seed packets.

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

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

Tomato and tarragon seedlings

First seedlings

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

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

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

Hills and trees from Bay Fair platform.

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

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

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It is the last day of May. I have worked my last shift of the day and have time to reflect on the changes that May has brought. First of all, spring produce has crept into our diets, even in reduced circumstances: in May I have bought cherries, apricots, peaches, strawberries, and, last week, blueberries, bargain blueberries in a large Ziploc bag that I have consigned to the freezer for future pies, muffins and waffles. Last week the Berkeley Farmers’ Market had its first bunches of basil, although they were gone by the time I finished singing my two-and-a-half hour shift.

No matter: Mom bought a large basil plant at Trader Joe’s. It sits on our breakfast room table, soaking up sun from the bay window and producing large green leaves, large as the palm of my hand. Now, I know that the Italians prize small, tender basil leaves, but I will work with monster basil if that is what we’ve got — I just have to remove the veins and stems and tear it into small pieces. Last night I made my first pesto of the season, a hybrid of walnuts, garlic, olive oil, torn basil and feta cheese, pounded in a mortar and stuffed into slits in boneless skinless chicken breasts. I handled the stuffed breasts carefully with tongs, browned them in a skillet and set them in a broiler pan on a sheet of heavy-duty foil to bake in a 325 degree oven. While they baked, I made sourdough-buttermilk biscuits for strawberry shortcake, seasoned some whipping cream with sugar and vanilla, stir-fried some bok choy with garlic, steamed some fresh corn on the cob. This was my first attempt at stuffing chicken breasts and I had a little difficulty cutting even pockets of equal depth, but that did not affect the flavor.

Earlier in the week I cooked a pork loin, slathered with peach chutney and wrapped in filo. I adapted this from something I saw Rachel Ray do once with chutney and puff pastry. Puff pastry is easier to work with than filo (it’s thicker), but I did manage to get part of the pork loin wrapped in pastry. I rolled the pork loin in the chutney-smeared pastry on a piece of cheap foil — that’s how I learned my lesson about using the good stuff when I cooked the chicken breasts later.

But before I even got to rolling up the pork loin I had to solve another problem: my jar of Frog Hollow Peach Chutney had only a tablespoon or so left in it and I needed perhaps half a cup of chutney. After halfheartedly consulting some online recipes for a chutney that would use the frozen peaches that we had on hand, I realized I could just read the ingredients on the Frog Hollow jar and fake it, guessing about quantities. So I took about a pound of frozen peaches and chopped them into bite-sized pieces.  I threw them into a sauce pan with some minced fresh garlic, a seeded jalapeno, a goodly grating of frozen ginger root, some organic sugar and some cider vinegar. I discovered that Frog Hollow Farm uses dried cherries in their chutney — no wonder it is so good. Not having dried cherries, I substituted a handful of dried cranberries. I cooked the chutney until it was thick and had darkened in color, stirring in the last of the jarred chutney and adjusting for seasoning (I had to add sugar a few times). I only made enough for the pork recipe, but I was impressed enough with the results that I may make it again.

I am still singing in the BART station five mornings and five afternoons a week, with Saturday singing shifts at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market three weeks out of the month. My busking income is rising slightly, my public repertory of popular songs getting a little larger. Last week I received a hundred-dollar tip from a woman who had occasionally tipped me a dollar: she handed me a CD of her piano music and a small, pale blue envelope.

“Put it in your pocket.” she said. “It is a lot of money.”

As I finished out my shift, packed up my gear and walked to the bus stop I enjoyed speculating about what “a lot of money” might mean. I was pretty sure it would be at least twenty dollars and fantasized about it being a grant of several thousand, with which I could complete my second music CD (about half done).

A hundred dollars is a lot of money to earn busking in one shift. Earning one hundred per shift is not typical. Neither is earning the sixty-four cents I earned during another two-hour shift later in the week. I came home laughing: since I started doing this seven and a half months ago I had never earned less than a dollar in an hour or two. I count myself lucky when any shift produces “double digits.” aka ten dollars or above, and a day when both shifts bring in double-digits is worth celebrating (cheaply, of course). Costly coffees and restaurant meals are rare in my life these days, but I get to work without a boss, except the one in my head. In May, my daily average hovered around nineteen dollars. I am debt-free and have managed to parlay some of my earnings into a plane ticket to France next month, where I will spend two weeks working and studying with Natalie Goldberg in Villefavard. No Paris sojourn this time around because I have a big project in July: watch this space for details at the end of June.

Will I paint again? Will I even sketch? I don’t know. I would like to find another “Nature Sketch” book like the one I took to France last year. I do expect to resume the Riverdog Farm produce box in July 2013 after a nine-month hiatus.

Also in May, I had the opportunity to hear Michael Pollan speak and read from his new book, Cooked. I look forward to reading the book at some point and to owning it down the road. He read us a section on death and fermentation, cheeses that smelled like body odors and the back ends of cows — highly entertaining. Anyone who likes reading about food and culture will enjoy his books.

Thank you to all of you who are still reading The Kale Chronicles, coming to you once a month at this juncture sans illustrations and proper recipes. Tune in at the end of June for further adventures and a preview of a life-changing July event.