Archives for posts with tag: watercolor paintings

So, you know I’ve been on a “Work With What You Got” kick for October at The Kale Chronicles. You know that I have been eating rye flakes, rolled oats and granola cooked with dried apples and milk, and then with Tropical Traditions Coconut Oil and peanut butter: when we ran out of peanut butter I substituted cashew butter and somehow breakfast keeps rolling along. So does dinner: Mom bought some black cod at Trader Joe’s on Wednesday and with Johnny coming over for dinner on Friday night (Yay!) I prepared the fish by baking it in a foil packet (similar to the baked salmon I made here) with roasted red bell peppers and kalamata olives from jars, fresh basil from the basil plant on the breakfast room table and a squeeze of Meyer lemon from our front yard tree. I made another round of my version of Shira’s Brussels sprout salad with toasted hazelnuts and dried cranberries, put some red potatoes in the oven to bake with the fish and spent some time in the kitchen with my mother concocting a family favorite dessert, a baked lemon pudding.

Original watercolor painting shows baked lemon pudding and ingredients.

Lemon Pudding. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil on Paper, Sharyn Dimmick.

The lemon pudding began, as things often do at our house, with substitutions: the classic recipe, culled from an index card in one of my mother’s recipe files calls for Wheaties (“Breakfast of Champions”) cereal in the topping. Mom’s search of our high storage cupboards revealed that the orange boxes she thought contained Wheaties were in fact Bran Flakes. Oh. She decided to combine Bran Flakes and Corn Flakes to approximate the missing Wheaties.

I went out to the yard to gather lemons from the tree, bringing in four of the ripest ones I could reach. I asked Mom about quantity. She said, “The recipe calls for the juice of two lemons, but these are bland — maybe add an extra one.”

I zested and juiced three lemons, squeezing each half through my hand. This resulted in just a quarter-cup of juice.

“That’s only a quarter-cup,” I said.

“Maybe do the other one,” she replied.

I juiced the fourth lemon, but did not zest it, mainly because I had absentmindedly cut it in half to squeeze instead of picking up the microplane. Life is imperfect and I one of its imperfect creatures.

I reminded Mom that the topping for this pudding is usually tooth-ache-ingly sweet. I was working on the lemon filling while she worked on the topping and we agreed to scant the sugar in our respective parts. She reduced the brown sugar in the recipe that doubles for crust and topping and I scanted the 3/4 cup white sugar in the filling. The result of the combined sugar reduction was a more delicious pudding than usual, which we ate with the leftover sweetened mascarpone from last week’s strawberry shortcake. I present to you the modified recipe with additional observations in the Food Notes.

Homey Lemon Pudding

For lemon filling:

Juice and zest 2 ordinary Eureka lemons or 4 Meyer lemons. Set aside.

Place in saucepan:

Scant 3/4 cup sugar

2 Tbsp flour

1/8 tsp kosher salt

Stir in gradually:

1 cup very hot water

Bring sugar-flour-water mixture to boil over direct heat, stirring constantly for ten minutes.

Remove from heat.

Beat 2 eggs until smooth.

Temper the eggs by drizzling a little of the liquid into the eggs and whisking with a fork. Drizzle a little more liquid and whisk again. Repeat two or three more times until the eggs are perceptively warm before adding the eggs to the filling and whisking to combine. Tempering the eggs prevents having bits of cooked eggs in your lemon filling.

Add reserved lemon juice and zest to filling and stir to combine. Let filling cool while you make the topping (which also serves as the pudding’s base). At this time, also preheat your oven to 325.

In a mixing bowl combine:

1 cup flour

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda

a pinch of salt (unless using salted butter)

Cut in 1/3 cup shortening (Mom uses part margarine and part unsalted butter)

Add:

3/4 cup lightly crushed Corn Flakes

3/4 cup lightly crushed Bran Flakes (OR 1 cup Wheaties*)

1/2 cup shredded coconut

Press 2/3 of brown sugar mixture into the bottom of a square pan.

Pour cooled lemon filling over topping

Top with remaining 1/3 topping.

Bake for 40 minutes.

Serve with barely sweetened whipped cream (creme chantilly) or sweetened whipped mascarpone. If you use Cool Whip or whipped nonfat dried milk I don’t want to hear about it, although I am not in your kitchens to supervise what you do.

Food Notes: If you have Wheaties on hand you only need a cup of them: they are thicker and crunchier than the other cereals we substituted here. On the other hand, the recipe was formulated for “old Wheaties,” which had less sugar than the current product, so substituting Corn Flakes and Bran Flakes may more closely resemble the original recipe. Bran Flakes on their own lack the necessary crunch, which is why Mom opted to mix them with Corn Flakes here. If you use salted butter in the topping you can skip the pinch of salt — it will provide all of the salt you need. Mom uses commercial sweetened shredded coconut — you can use unsweetened if you like: the topping ingredients provide plenty of sugar! We like tart lemon fillings — if you like yours sweeter either don’t scant the sugar in the filling or use one fewer lemon than we did.

Johnny and I liked the pudding so much that we had another square apiece after breakfasting on scrambled eggs with roasted peppers and cheddar cheese and sourdough toast on Saturday morning…

Back when I wrote my tagline, local ingredients, transformation and creativity, I couldn’t see how transformative and creative life was going to get: what I knew was that I was committed to the practice of eating foods in their seasons and that I was nearly incapable of following a recipe without making some change based on making it healthier or using ingredients we had in the house. When I started The Kale Chronicles I had lost my day job but I could draw unemployment compensation for awhile and had some savings. I put my energy into nurturing the blog, hoping I might sell a few paintings and find a few writing students as my writing gained wider exposure.

Fast forward to 2012. I made a trip to France and acquired a guitar-player, coincidentally the love of my life. I took care of my teeth, which needed a few small repairs, and suddenly I was without funds — without savings, without much in my checking accounts, with retirement funds that it is too early to touch.

Now it is October, 2012. I dubbed it “Work With What You Got” month on The Kale Chronicles. Halfway through the month, I have not starved. Saturday the 13th I was down to $2.75 in my wallet, but I picked up $40.00 by having a garage sale on Sunday, Mom sprang for two tomatoes from the Farmers’ Market on Saturday and half a pound of shelled walnuts and we are, indeed, cooking with things we have in the house. Two tomatoes plus some lettuce and bread, some sliced dill pickles, mustard (for me), mayo (for Mom) and some turkey bacon gave us turkey BLTs for lunch. Mom cooked wheat berries for breakfast. Mixing them with dried cranberries, a tablespoon each of coconut oil and peanut butter plus a cup of milk gave me a filling breakfast.

After which I went to play music in the downtown Berkeley BART station this morning, trying my hand at the old trade called busking. Yes, that silver-haired woman singing with a beat-up Harmony guitar was me. I left my house at dawn to secure a good spot for the day and I sang for two hours, garnering five dollars above and beyond my bus fare, plus one $1.75 BART ticket. The first person I saw come down the escalator threw me some change, which felt like good luck to me.

Five dollars a day net may not be much, but if I make that everyday it will add up to a hundred and fifty a month. Besides, it was fun: I can honestly say I liked it better than any day job that I have ever had. I felt comfortable playing for two hours, except when I needed to stop and drink water. I felt grateful to anyone who threw change my way and to the three people who placed single dollar bills in my guitar case. One woman inquired about a CD, took the time to pick it up and turn it over in her hand and to ask me the price. I have ideas for things to play later (I’d love to learn the “Java Jive” and “One More Cup of Coffee for the Road” to take advantage of my position near the Peet’s kiosk) and I am sure I am going to learn more everyday.

Original painting shows shaved Brussels sprouts salad and ingredients.

Brussels Sprouts Salad. 8″ x 10″ gouache and watercolor pencil on canvas. Sharyn Dimmick.

All this is to say why I didn’t get a blog post out on Sunday as usual — I was busy earning money, just as I was busy this morning. Before I got so enterprising I did cook something new though, a shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette, inspired by Shira’s recipe on In Pursuit of More.

I was dubious about eating raw Brussels sprouts and thought I might blanch them instead, but I gamely tasted a tiny raw shaving. It was okay, actually, a bit stronger than raw cabbage. So I shaved fifteen Brussels sprouts (Trader Joe’s sells big stalks of them for three dollars apiece), added a quarter cup of  dried cranberries, forgot to use nuts (Shira used toasted pecans) and started concocting dressing.

I’m always appalled by large quantities of oil and I like my salad dressings sharp and tart, so I started with Shira’s 1/4 cup of apple cider (from the pantry, remember?) and 1/4 cup of cider vinegar, but I couldn’t bring myself to use 1/2 cup of olive oil. Instead I used 1/4 cup, plus about 2 Tbsp brown mustard and perhaps 1 tsp of honey. I ground some black pepper over the sprouts and cranberries, poured some dressing on and dug in.

I liked this salad so much that, having made it at lunch time, I was back eating it at dinner, having added 1/4 cup of shelled, toasted hazelnuts. The nuts may have made it even better, playing off the deep fall flavors of apple and mustard and greens. The dressing makes way more than you will need for a single salad and I have at least a cup of it waiting in the refrigerator to see what else I will eat it on: I plan to try making this salad with regular cabbage, shredded finely, while the dried cranberry supply holds out. Shira likes the dressing on cooked sweet potatoes, which sounds good to me, although we are currently a sweet-potato-less household.

Meanwhile, I have started experimenting with the coconut oil that Tropical Traditions so kindly sent me. First I put a tablespoon in a cup of hot cocoa, as suggested in one of their recipes, and then I tried adding a tablespoon of it to my oat-rye-granola cereal cooked in milk. I added a tablespoon of natural peanut butter, too, hoping to capture the elusive flavor of the coconut and peanut candy the Chick-O-Stick. I found that adding just one teaspoon of raw sugar brought the flavors together beautifully and that the coconut oil and peanut butter combo give my morning cereal some serious lasting ability — about four hours worth of activity later I finally got hungry again.

To continue with the theme, Work With What You’ve Got for October 2012 I thought I would inventory the pantry for ingredients, specifically two cupboards of the pantry: our cooler and the cabinet below it. A cooler, in case some of you don’t know, is a cabinet that shares an outside wall with the house in which some of the wall has been replaced with screens that let outside air into the cabinet. This means you can keep condiments such as oil, honey, peanut butter, mustard and ketchup in the cooler instead of storing them in your refrigerator. We also use our cooler to store unopened jars of pickles, jams, pumpkin, evaporated milk, salsa, as well as opened vinegars and salad dressings.

What I found:

1)  several jars of jam and jelly: black currant (3), tayberry(1), orange marmalade (1), apple jelly (3) ginger (1) sherry wine jelly (1)

2)  marinated artichokes and artichoke tapenade

3)  roasted red peppers (2)

4)  canned pumpkin (3)

5)  cashew butter, peanut butter and Nutella

6)  molasses, honey, lemon honey, dark and light Karo syrup, maple syrup

7)  Bakers’ unsweetened chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, chocolate chips

8)  dill pickles (3), sweet gherkins (1), capers (6)

9)  canned chicken (2)

10) red lentils, lentil soup mix

11) tomato juice, diced tomatoes, roasted tomato salsa, Prego pasta sauce (4)

12) salad dressings (4), vinegars (black, plum, rice, blackberry balsamic, red wine)

13) peach chutney, Worchestershire sauce (3), mustard (4)

14) shitake mushrooms, teriyaki sauce, teriyaki noodle mix, tamari, hoisin sauce, sesame oil

15) instant coffee, liquid espresso concentrate

16) Kitchen Bouquet

17) Campbell’s Cream of Chicken (3) and Cream of Mushroom (2) soups

18) minced onions (dried).

19) maraschino cherries, glaceed cherries, sour cherries (2), dates, mincemeat

In the cupboard below the cooler we have

20) garlic (3 heads, plus), onions (6), red potatoes (lots)

What this list of ingredients suggests to me is glazed meats and glazed fruit tarts to use up all of the apple jellies , salad dressings (as marinades), marmalade and mustard. Also Chinese food ( tamari, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, black vinegar). We also have the makings for cherry and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving here. I did not go through the cupboard where we keep pasta, rice and beans, the baking cabinet, or the jars on top of the fridge which hold rice, tea and dried chiles or the freezer, which holds fruit, meat, butter, cooked food.

Original watercolor painting shows four cooked dishes: cereal, soup, polenta and pie.

Four Dishes. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

What I actually ate yesterday is this: my new Work With What You’ve Got breakfast is a mixture of rye flakes, rolled oats and granola, cooked in milk with home-dried apples and commercial dried cranberries and pistachios. I still have a large jar of dried apples from windfall Gravensteins I foraged in Berkeley. We still have apples on our tree, too. The cranberries and pistachios came from Canned Foods Grocery Outlet two visits ago , as did the rye flakes. I made the granola some time ago. We are running low on rolled oats, which is why I went to rye with the last three-quarters cup of oats mixed in — the granola is oat-based, too, and cooks up well.

For lunch, I ate leftover chicken-vegetable soup that Mom made, with a whole wheat tortilla and a little bit of cheddar cheese, two cups of black tea with milk and the last homemade brownie (Mom baked while I was away for the weekend).

For dinner, I took the last of the Riverdog Farm beet greens and turnip greens that had been languishing in the fridge, trimmed them and chopped them and cooked them in polenta. I threw in the salty cotija cheese that my sister-in-law had brought us and added some pecorino Romano and a pinch of red pepper flakes — it was a good way to eat plenty of greens for dinner without feeling like I had to eat them plain. I’ll eat the rest of the green polenta for lunch or for dinner tonight since no one else cared for it.

Today I will be taking the last butternut squash from last year and turning it into butternut squash soup, roasting it in the oven while Mom makes lasagna. She said something about making a pie from the last of our current pie crust, too. Bryan only likes apple, pumpkin and coconut cream — maybe cherry — I’ll ask — maybe we can have a cherry pie (There are lots more cans of cherries in the garage).

Food notes: Breakfast cereal: most cereals can be cooked and will mix well — I’ve eaten combinations of wheat, oats, corn and rye as well as eating each one as a separate cereal. Cooking the cereal in milk adds protein for staying power and assures you of getting calcium in your diet for your bones. Cooking cereal with dried fruits adds sweetness without adding table sugar (unless you are using pre-sweetened dried cranberries!). Nuts also add protein and good fat.

Polenta: Polenta is versatile. You can eat it plain. You can stir cheese into it or tomatoes or peppers or greens or all four. You can eat it sliced and topped with marinara and cheese. You can eat it as a breakfast cereal with vanilla extract, milk and fresh or frozen fruit (see my polenta with peaches and Johnny’s polenta, a savory variation). Cornmeal or grits will do for polenta in a pinch — you’ll just get a slightly different texture.

What would you eat if you were eating out of your stored food right now? What have you got on hand?

A few days ago my Mom came home with a package of bacon from Safeway at fifty percent off and we proceeded to make our second round of BLTs for the summer. I fried the bacon and sliced up tomatoes. Before I was done I asked, “Do you want me to pour the grease into the grease can, or save it?”

She said, “Oh. I want the grease.”

I got out a clean glass jar and decanted as much of the bacon fat as I could into it.

Bacon grease is a dividing line in our household. Mom likes it in waffles. She likes to fry potatoes in it, too. But her favorite thing is to put it in cornbread. And I say, “Blecch.” I do not want to eat bacon grease at all. Bacon, yes. Bacon grease, no.

Just the thought makes me launch into opinions about cornbread. A few months ago Lisa Knighton, my pal from Georgia, who brought you shrimp and grits and caramel cake, mentioned that she had made cornbread for our mutual friend Ann, who follows a gluten-free diet. She mentioned using fresh corn and chipotle peppers in the cornbread.

I wrote back to say, “I don’t like things in my cornbread.”

Original painting shows cornbread variations and ingredients.

Cornbread. 8″ x 10″ Gouache and watercolor pencil on canvas board. Sharyn Dimmick.

What I mean is, I don’t want cornbread to contain fresh corn, or onions, or peppers. I don’t want it to contain cheese. I want it to be a plain, cornmeal-flavored food with a smooth texture. I like it kind of cakey and a little sweet — even a lot sweet: I’ve made it with maple syrup. I’ve made it with butternut squash puree to give it a deep golden color and a different kind of sweetness. But, just like I don’t want cookie crumbs in my ice cream I don’t want foreign textures in my cornbread.

Mom calls what I like “corn cake.” She likes sour cornbread. It can’t get too sour for her: she’ll load it up with buttermilk and bacon grease, lots of cornmeal, little flour. She puts in 1/4 teaspoon of sugar — I don’t know why she bothers. Her cornbread is flatter than mine, more dense. She taught me to heat the grease (or butter or butter and oil) in the pan in the oven before pouring in the cornmeal batter: this step gets you crisp crust on the bottom and Mom is a crisp crust person: she wants the pie crust to shatter against your teeth, the croissants to fall into shards of pastry, the cookies to be thin and crisp. I like all of that crispness. I will eat her sour cornbread, but I have to eat it with jam or honey on it and I prefer the lighter, sweeter version that I make, made with all butter or with butter and corn oil, with or without buttermilk, with sugar. I also like spoon bread, a cornmeal pudding made with eggs and milk, egg whites folded in at the end, almost a corn souffle. With sugar in it.

If you want to make cornbread my way, start with a ten-inch cast iron skillet. Preheat the oven to 450.

Melt 3 Tbsp butter or  a mixture of butter and corn oil in the skillet on the stove. Turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl measure 1/2 cup flour, 1 Tbsp baking powder , 1 tsp soda, 2 Tbsp sugar and 1 tsp salt into a bowl and whisk them together. Add 1 cup cornmeal and whisk again.

Measure 1 cup buttermilk, plus 2 Tbsp, into a small bowl. Beat 1 egg into the buttermilk.

Put the butter/oil in the skillet in the oven to heat up.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold until just combined (no flour pockets).  Then remove the hot skillet from the oven and carefully scrape the batter into the hot buttered skillet. This step produces a brown, crisp crust on the cornbread. Return skillet to hot oven and bake for about 20 minutes until the top has a few brown spots.

Cornbread is best eaten hot, but it can be nuked the next day for a few seconds in the microwave if there is any left — there probably won’t be.

Food notes: my cornbread recipe responds will to adaptations. You can use sour milk for the buttermilk. You can try using yogurt instead. You can eliminate the soda and make it with (regular) sweet milk. To make it cakier, try reducing the cornmeal by 1/4 cup and using unbleached flour instead: if you remove much more cornmeal than that it won’t be cornbread anymore. You could also add another egg to make it lighter, or an extra egg white if you have one hanging around. For a browner flavor, use brown sugar instead of white. You can use any kind of shortening or fat: I like the flavor of butter and corn oil amps the corn flavor slightly. In short, work with what you got.

And from Lisa:

My grandmother Eunice once told me about baking cornbread atop the car engine. As newlyweds she and my grandfather Oscar traveled often to Clearwater, Florida where she worked for the Studebakers as a cook and he set up cabanas and prepared beach-side barbecues.
“Now, Lisa,” she said settling into a seat at her kitchen table, “when your Big Daddy and I got hungry, he would pull the car off the road and I’d take out the picnic basket. I’d mix up some water with cornmeal, make little pones in the palm of my hand, then set them in a small pan. Daddy would raise the hood of the car and put the pan on top of the hot engine. Shortly, we’d have cornbread.”
Water and cornmeal, that’s all she used for making her roadway fast-food.
Now, unlike my grandmother and Sharyn, I like to put little bits of extra goodies in my cornbread. There’s whole kernel corn and chopped chipotle chili pepper. Or sauteed onions and garlic. Or leftover pimentos from making pimento cheese. And even sugar or honey, although this is not traditionally acceptable in some Southern households.
In making cornbread, which my yankee-born husband Mark loves, I usually begin with a recipe of Margaret Lupo’s and taken from her famous restaurant: Mary Mac’s Tea Room.
Mary Mac’s, located for all these many years on Ponce de Leon Ave in Mid-town Atlanta, brings a basket of cornbread muffins and biscuits to the table as soon as you are given a menu. The restaurant is known to attract celebrities and dignitaries from the world-over. Even the Dalai Lama has eaten there. I can’t know for sure, but I bet he loved the cornbread.
I’ve taken Mary Mac’s basic recipe and tweaked it to make it gluten-free, too. Good cornbread to me is a bit rustic and crunchy, so I use at least one cup of medium grind cornmeal. If you prefer a smoother or softer bread, use fine ground cornmeal only.
The Spicy Mexican Cornbread recipe here is great with just about anything.
First thing, pre-heat your oven to 500 degrees.
Beat 3 eggs well, then place them in an extra-large mixing bowl and add 3 cups buttermilk.
To the milk and eggs, add 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, 4 tablespoons grapeseed oil or olive oil. Mix well.
Next, add 2 cups fine cornmeal, 1 cup medium grind cornmeal, 1/2 cup almond meal, 1/2 cup brown rice flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda.
For the goodies, what I call the real reason for making this cornbread, I like to add 1 1/2 cups whole kernel white corn and one medium-sized chipotle pepper cut into small bits.
If you are using canned corn, drain it first. My preference is to keep a large bag of corn in the freezer, using what I need. If you don’t have a whole pepper, use 1 heaping tablespoon of dried chipotle pepper.
Just mix all the ingredients with a light touch. You want to form a thick, soupy batter. Let the batter rest for ten minutes or so. Pour into two well-greased pans. Yes, this is enough batter to make 12 cornbread muffins and a 10 inch cast-iron skillet full, or 24 muffins, or two ten-inch skillets of bread.
Bake the muffins for 16- 18 minutes; bake the skillets for 20 -23 minutes.
When you pull the bread from the oven go ahead and eat it right then. What we don’t eat I freeze and Mark and I eat later on.
If you are interested in making other Southern dishes, buy your own copy of Margaret Lupo’s Southern Cooking from Mary Mac’s Tea Room: www.amazon.com/Southern-Cooking-Mary-Macs-Room/dp/0877972575
 
I recommend Bob’s Red Mill meals and flours, most likely found at your local grocery. If you want to dip into the Southern regions and get some meal from a few of our local mills, try a bag:
From Athens, Georgia there is Red Mule: www.redmulegrits.us/index.html
From Columbia, Alabama there is Hall’s Milling Company. Their telephone number is: (334) 696-2286
Lisa Knighton

Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. Due to my precarious income (ask any self-employed artist about this) I have decided to suspend my Riverdog Farm vegetable box subscription for the month of October. I had some medical and dental expenses in the last few months and need to retrench financially. Zen teaches me that things change all the time: sometimes life or love or money expands, sometimes it contracts: you all know that I recently won the love sweepstakes big time. Now it is time to pay more attention to income and spending.

What that means is that on The Kale Chronicles October will be the month of Work With What You Got, cooking what is in the fridge, what is in the freezer, what is in the pantry, what is in the garage. The seasonal element will continue since I will be utilizing lemons and apples from our trees and I can never resist foraging when I see edible fruit on the streets of Berkeley and Kensington. I will supplement judiciously with items from the Berkeley Farmers’ Market and write about the cooking decisions I make. I do have an exotic ingredient on hand because Tropical Traditions kindly sent me a quart of coconut oil, which I have yet to try. Many of us in this country have far more than we need and I will be mining the surplus that lurks in our household, jams, liquors, pastas, etc. When it occurs to me I will suggest variations on each recipe to make it easier for you to adapt my recipes to what is in your fridge, freezer and pantry.

October will not be Austerity Month, however, because October is the month of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, a glorious weekend of good live music and a full range of food booths. This is my favorite music festival of the year: I sit on a blanket in the sun, sketching, drinking coffee, eating crawfish etouffee or gyros or an ice cream sandwich, listening to Guy Clark and Emmylou Harris and Kevin Welch and Kieran Kane. This year I will have the added pleasure of sharing the event with Johnny, my new love thing. And before we even get there, Johnny and I will be traveling up to Sebastopol where he will play at Suzanne Edminster’s reception for her Dionysia painting show.

So where shall we begin with Work With What You Got?

Original watercolor painting shows pita bread, tzatziki, baba ghanoush and muhammara.

Indian Summer Mezze. Gouache on paper. 12″ x 12″. Sharyn Dimmick.

Well, what we got is hot weather, weather in which the only things that make me happy are going down to the Marina to swim in open water and drinking Coke floats. I need to get a dinner on the table that we can eat while watching the Presidential debate and I don’t want to be using the oven or stove much today. I have an abundance of cucumbers, eggplants and peppers from last week’s vegetable box, but no tomatoes or kalamata olives — that means we won’t be having Greek salad, my go-to hot weather meal. I decide that we will have spreads based on roasted vegetables, spreads that we can eat at room temperature.

I start by roasting eggplant for baba ghanoush in a 400 degree oven (Yes, I’m using the oven, but it is 6:30 in the morning. When the eggplant is done, I pop in several red Jimmy Nardello peppers and an orange bell pepper to roast for muhammara. I leave all of the vegetables to sweat in a glass bowl covered with foil. Then I think of tzatziki: I pull all of the cucumbers from the vegetable drawer. peel and seed them and put them in a bowl to chill. I grab the yogurt, spoon some out, set it in a colander over a bowl to drain and get nice and thick. While I’m at it I put on a full kettle of water to make some orange spice black tea for iced tea later. The oven use is over by 7:30 AM.

Then I start hunting for a pita bread recipe, finding a simple one in Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook. I adapt it to use sourdough starter rather than active dry yeast: it can rise all day while I swim and write. The slow rise will allow me to bake it when I return from the Marina and assemble the spreads.

Sourdough Pita Bread (adapted for sourdough starter from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook)

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup sourdough starter, 1 cup room temperature water and a dash of honey.

Stir with a wooden spoon and let stand for five minutes.

Add 1 cup whole wheat flour, 2 cups unbleached flour, a drizzle of honey and a bit of kosher salt.

Stir together and then knead for at least ten minutes until the dough passes the windowpane test.

Oil bowl. Return dough to bowl. Cover with damp cloth and set to rise. You can leave it alone for six to eight hours now.

When you want to bake it, preheat oven to 475. While oven heats, divide dough evenly into six to eight balls and cover balls with a dish towel. Let stand for fifteen minutes. Then roll each ball into a 1/2-inch-thick disk and place breads on ungreased baking sheets. Bake breads on lowest oven rack for about ten minutes. Stack warm breads in a basket covered with a towel. Serve with dips or spreads of your choice or stuff for sandwiches.

The baba ghanoush and muhammara share a Middle Eastern palate. I will need lemon juice, garlic, tahini, pomegranate molasses, a slice or two of white bread for the muhammara. I will pick the lemons from the tree in the front yard. I have the other things in the refrigerator or pantry. Baba ghanoush is a blend-to-your-own taste puree of roasted eggplant, tahini, lemon juice, fresh garlic and (optional) olive oil. I like mine heavy on the lemon and garlic, light on the tahini, no oil added.

Food Notes: You need a few exotic ingredients for today’s menu, tahini and pomegranate molasses. You can attempt to make pomegranate molasses if you have a supply of pomegranate juice. If you neither have it, make it, nor buy it, you could eat the roasted vegetables cold as is, or put them in a marinade or salad of your choice. Tzatziki is pretty basic, mainly yogurt and seeded cucumber. Making your own pita is fun if you don’t have store-bought around the house, and it is especially nice to eat it warm right out of the oven. As I mentioned last week, I have run out of walnuts (I’ll buy some when the new crop comes in), so I will be using pistachios in tonight’s muhammara. You can make pita without sourdough — just use proofed dry yeast instead.

Song Notes: Fortuitously, Johnny Harper has a song called “Work With What You Got.” Listen for the verse about the gumbo cooks. Click on the song’s name: that will get you to Johnny’s Cur-Ville page. Look for the song there (it’s the third one, but you might want to listen to the others too).

It is definitely fall: shorter days, cooler nights, a brisk crispness in the air. Last night there were drifting wisps of fog and a big moon, but the air was balmy as I walked my two miles home from the closest bus stop. I got up early this morning — it doesn’t matter how late I get to sleep, I will wake in the morning when the light changes — wrote for half an hour and checked emails. Then I got back under a big pile of autumn covers, talked to Johnny on the phone for awhile.

Original watercolor painting shows gingerbread waffle and ingredients.

Gingerbread Waffle. 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil and gouache on paper. Sharyn Dimmick

When I got up the second time, it was time to make breakfast and the first thing I thought of was gingerbread waffles. Fall flavors have been creeping into our menus — we had our first pumpkin pie of the season and a butternut squash waits on the counter for me to make my signature squash soup with ginger and thyme. I keep a big binder of clipped recipes and turned to the waffle section, taking out the plastic-enclosed recipe.

I often don’t include anything extra in news clippings, saving space and just keeping the recipe, but at the bottom of the column in tiny type this clipping says “Adapted from ‘Waffles from Morning to Midnight’ by Dorie Greenspan.” I present to you an adaptation of an adaptation: I couldn’t make this recipe without taking the chance to throw in half a cup of my neglected sourdough starter and without incorporating a quarter cup of whole wheat flour for depth, texture and health benefits — surely there despite the half stick of melted butter, three-quarters cup of brown sugar and the maple syrup I drizzled on top. I also doubled the eggs.

Sourdough Gingerbread Waffles.

Measure into a large bowl:

1/2 cup sourdough starter

1/4 cup molasses

1 cup buttermilk

Separate four large eggs, putting the whites into a small mixing bowl and adding the yoiks to the buttermilk-molasses-starter mixture.

Melt 1/2 stick butter (I used salted and omitted salt in the recipe. If you use unsalted you may want to add 1/4 tsp kosher salt to your dry ingredients)

Beat the egg whites until stiff.

Then beat the molasses mixture just until combined.

Into a separate bowl, measure and whisk together:

1 and 3/4 cups unbleached flour

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 Tbsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1 Tbsp ground ginger

3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Fold dry ingredients into molasses mixture until just blended.

Add melted butter and stir until combined

Fold in egg whites — batter should be streaky, not uniform in color.

Preheat waffle iron and prepare toppings: I melted some butter, sliced some peaches and heated some maple syrup. Tomorrow I will probably serve them with blackberries, fresh peaches and figs. Cook waffles according to the directions for your waffle maker.

Food notes: if you don’t have sourdough starter, omit it and increase buttermilk to 1 and 1/2 cups. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use yogurt instead, or use regular sweet milk and eliminate the baking soda in the recipe. Or you can use 1/4 tsp of lemon juice or vinegar to sour your milk and proceed with the recipe as written. If you have whole wheat pastry flour you can substitute 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour for 1 cup of unbleached flour: in that case, eliminate the regular whole wheat flour and use 1 cup of unbleached and 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour. Serve waffles with whatever floats your boat: bacon, pears and blueberries (a la local restaurant La Note), fruit syrup, jam, cinnamon sugar, pecans and whipped cream.

Peace sign with cookie border, containing salmon, zucchini and lentils.

Peace Sign. 6″ x 6″ Watercolor Pencil on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Dear Friends,

Lauren and I promised we would announce the winners of The Lauren Project recipe contest in September. Without further ado, your winners are:

First Prize: To Babu Srinivasan for his salmon with turmeric

Second Prize: To Lynn for zucchini roasted with shallots.

Third Prize: To Suzanne for her lentil potage.

Honorable Mention to Will for his astounding cookies. Lauren will be sending him one of her chili pepper oven mitts.

At this writing, Babu has chosen the cookbook as his prize, Lynn has chosen a Paris CD and we have not heard from Suzanne yet.

Lauren says:

top three in order:
babu’s salmon
lynn’s zucchini
suzanne’s lentils
honorable mention:
will’s cookies
everything has been delicious, but these were not only delicious, they were deliciously easy to make and had only a few ingredients all of which i regularly have on hand. there are still a few i haven’t made yet mostly because i found them intimidating, but i plan to keep working through the list and get to the more complicated dishes when i have more time. thank you so much for doing this. i am so happy to have at least five dishes i will be adding to my regular food rotation

Sharyn says: Thank you to everyone who participated in the recipe contest. We appreciate everyone’s attempts to follow Lauren’s dietary guidelines. I know she has cooked several dishes from the recipes submitted and posted photos of them on Facebook. We are happy to be awarding the first prizes in the history of “The Kale Chronicles.”

Please remember that even if you did not win you will be eligible for free shipping of any Kale Chronicles’ painting should you choose to purchase one or more before midnight December 31st. In addition, if you purchase a painting before October 15th, I will take ten percent off the purchase price and if you purchase a painting before November 1st I will take five percent off the purchase price. These are the lowest prices ever offered for my paintings so take advantage of them while you can. You can also buy your own copy of my Paris CD, using this link: http://cdbaby.com/cd/SharynDimmick I appreciate each and every sale: they help me survive as an independent artist and also help fund new work (I have a second CD in progress).

To look at the winning recipes and other submissions, please visit The Lauren Project page. Please feel free to submit additional recipes for Lauren there any time: there is no deadline on generosity.

Friday morning I was invited to a Hobbits’ second breakfast in Piedmont. I saw no reason not to go. Second breakfasts work for me because I get up before dawn most days and can eat my first breakfast before 6:00 AM — by 11:00 I might be a little hungry, by noon I have to eat again. Plus, I love breakfast food: eggs, waffles, pancakes, bacon, cinnamon rolls, leftover pie, home fries, fresh fruit.

Original ink and watercolor painting shows people around breakfast table.

Second Breakfast at Vicki’s. 12″ x 12″ ink and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Unlike most of the events I go to this breakfast was not billed as a potluck, but I asked Vicki if she wanted me to bring something and she said I could if I wanted to. I had been eying a recipe for Brown Sugar Pecan Pear Muffins and had actually printed it out. This morning I took it into the kitchen with me. I peeled and chopped six small pears and then I started messing around: I saw the two large peaches on the counter that needed to be eaten and thought, “Why not put them in with the pears?”

The original recipe calls for a cup of canola oil. I do not like canola oil and I do not like recipes that call for a cup of oil either (a cup of butter is different, somehow, and I use a cup of vegetable shortening in my pie crust, which is probably worse for you, but a cup of oil produces an oily texture in quick breads). I substituted a cup of plain yogurt, raising the protein content of the muffins.

Then I looked at the 3 cups of all-purpose flour. Um. Too gummy and too white for me. I am out of whole wheat pastry flour, but I need to healthy this up a bit, especially since I am going to indulge in the entire cup of brown sugar it the recipe calls for. So, I used a cup and a half of unbleached flour, a half cup of regular whole wheat flour and a cup of rolled oats.

After that I followed the recipe as written, except I don’t use non-stick cooking spray, so I slathered the muffin tins with Crisco, and I didn’t have any pecans so I substituted pistachios.

Here is the modified recipe:
Peach-Pear-Pistachio Muffins with Brown Sugar
Preheat oven to 350.

Grease 2 12-cup muffin tins.

Peel and dice 6 small pears or four large ones.

Dice two large peaches and combine with pears

Shell 1 cup pistachios and add to fruit.

Beat 2 large eggs with 1 cup of plain yogurt, 1 cup packed brown sugar and 1 cup of oats (quick or rolled oats are fine, instant not), plus 1 tsp vanilla.

Measure 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus 1/2 cup whole wheat flour.

Add 2 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp baking powder to flour mixture, along with a touch of salt. Add 1 and 1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp cardamom.

Fold liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. Fold in fruit and nuts.

Spoon muffin batter into greased muffin cups

Bake for 25-30 minutes, depending on how dark you like your muffins to be.

Makes 2 dozen muffins.

Food Notes: These muffins are sweeter than my standard multi-grain muffins, but they are not so sweet that they make your teeth hurt. They make a nice treat on cooler mornings and evenings. When the cardamom hits the liquids it sends up a glorious aroma — it’s worth making them once for that alone. If pears and peaches are long gone in your neck of the woods, try using apples and fresh figs, or use dried fruit that has been soaked in a little rum or juice to re-hydrate.

I took half of these muffins to the Hobbits’ Second Breakfast, a delightful affair where we ate bacon, sauteed mushrooms, shirred eggs made in muffin tins, toast, butter, lemon curd, artisan jams, pumpkin bread and pots of black tea, with chamomile for those that don’t indulge. The table was all set with matching place settings, flowers from someone’s garden, thick, white woven napkins. We spent the meal largely discussing singing and cooking — what’s not to like?

I am still working my way through the pears from my friend Margit’s tree. Because we picked them green and I stored them in the back of our refrigerator in a paper bag they have been holding up nicely.

Original watercolor shows salad of pears, arugula, cranberries, feta, pistachios.

Pear-Arugula Salad. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Two nights ago I wanted a light dinner. I had some arugula I needed to use. I had pears. I decided to make a salad. I washed and spun the arugula in the salad spinner. Then I went out to pick a ripe Meyer lemon from our tree. Returning to the cutting board, I squeezed both halves of the lemon into the bowl and then cored and sliced three greenish pears lengthwise, leaving the skins on. I tossed the pears with the lemon juice to prevent browning. Then I added a small splash of olive oil and tossed the arugula and pears again. Next I shelled some pistachios and grabbed a handful of dried cranberries.

I was thinking of shaving Parmesan or Pecorino Romano into the salad, but feta won out: I crumbled a small block of feta over the greens, fruit and nuts, then tasted to adjust seasoning. The only thing it needed was a bit of honey to bring out the sweetness. I drizzled a little on top and tossed the salad again.

This is a wonderful salad for the first few days of fall weather when it is sometimes warm enough to eat a salad for lunch or dinner. I served it again last night as a side salad with a dinner of turkey chili, cornbread and Gravenstein apple pie. The second time I made it I used roasted pistachio oil instead of olive oil. By the time I cooked and ate I didn’t have enough time to finish my painting, which is why this post is a day later than usual.

If you should live somewhere where pears and arugula are available in late November, this would make a lovely Thanksgiving Day salad. If not, make it and eat it while pears and arugula are to be had.

“Some of the time, not all the time” says the Dylan song “Hanging Out the Clothes.” That’s how I feel about cooking. Sometimes I love thinking about cooking, perusing cookbooks, thinking about flavors. Sometimes I am inspired by a particular ingredient from the Farmers’ Market down in Berkeley or a glut of foraged blackberries. Sometimes I just want to put the closest thing in my mouth and be done with it.

Original watercolor painting shows Greek-style salmon and ingredients.

Greek Salmon. 12″ x 12″ gouache on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

There is a special pleasure in cooking for someone when you want to please them. Our most recent foray to Canned Foods Grocery Outlet fetched us some wild caught salmon from Washington State. Standing over the freezer case, eying the fish, I ask Mom, “Does Bryan eat salmon?”

“I think so,” she says. “Does Johnny eat salmon?”

It is rare for Mom to bring up Johnny in conversation. He’s only been over to the house in the past three weeks: although I’ve known him much longer than that, he never had reason to come up here before last month.

“I don’t know,”I said. “I’ll ask him when I see him.” In the meantime we bought the salmon filet, enough to feed at least four people.

Johnny and I schedule our visits in advance. We live a good distance away from one another and public transit schedules are not conducive to spontaneous trips to see one another, so, instead of dropping in on each other all of the time we schedule visits and try to spend a significant amount of time together when we get together.

We bought the salmon on Tuesday and Johnny was coming over on Thursday night. When he told me he liked salmon, I made a dinner plan: I would make the pear tart tatin that he once wanted to elope with (He’s mine, pear tart!), microwave some fresh green beans, bake some red potatoes and cook the salmon in foil topped with seasonal vegetables: cherry tomatoes, orange bell peppers, kalamata olives, basil, a little feta — basically a Greek salad without cucumber thrown on top of the fish. Everything except the green beans could cook in the same oven and, with a little prep work I could have an easy dinner that was festive and delicious.

In the morning I made pie crust for the tart and put it to chill. In the afternoon I took the salmon out to thaw, laid it on foil on baking sheet and oiled the skin-side with a little olive oil. Then I went to work on the pears, peeling, coring, slicing, putting them to soak in a little dark rum, sprinkling ground cardamom over them. I made the caramel in a cast iron skillet, arranged the pears on top, rolled out the top crust. I preheated the oven, adding a handful of potatoes on the side. Then I snapped beans and cut up half a basket of red cherry tomatoes, and a large orange bell pepper. I tore up a few basil leaves, plucked a handful of pitted olives from a jar, diced a small cube of feta and I was ready to go, scattering all that on top of the salmon. The minute Johnny arrived I put the tart and the salmon in the hot oven and told him we had a half hour to ourselves before I had to mess with food again.

I can’t remember what we did for that half hour. He might. He set table for me in the dining room because the breakfast room was a mess and I did not want to excavate the table. I had him test the fish a few times because I don’t cook salmon often. All told, we cooked the fish for perhaps 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Brother Bryan arrived home just as it came out and we all sat down to eat.

Johnny and I liked the salmon so much that I scrambled the leftovers for breakfast with eggs and we ate them with the last slices of the pear tart tatin — have to get rid of that stuff quickly since Johnny has threatened to run off with it.