Archives for posts with tag: watercolor paintings

My heart is not with food blogging these days. I eat, of course. This morning I stirred up some sourdough waffles with a side of bacon and a bowl of fresh peaches to feed my guitar-player and my mother and myself. I made him coffee, too, which he drinks black. Our routine is that he drinks what anyone has left in the carafe when we first come down to the kitchen in the morning and then I make him some more as needed, before or after I make my own single cup of decaf. For lunch I just ate a slice of a tomato tart I made yesterday by cooking up cornmeal mush, spreading it in a tart pan and layering on sliced fresh tomatoes, fresh corn, arugula and two kinds of cheese. The tart was okay, but nowhere near as good as David Lebowitz’s tomato tart that I discovered last year. With that I had a piece of cocoa cake with salted caramel frosting that came home with me from yesterday’s music potluck. The cake is a dense, moist, not-too-sweet cake with a little cinnamon in the batter; the salted caramel icing you could eat with a spoon and not miss the cake.

When Johnny left here this morning at 10:30 I came back and lay on my bed under the top cover, listening to music, sometimes dozing. I am lucky to be able to spend my Sundays dozing since he and I are in the infamous sleep-deprived state of early love, when we can think of a million things to say to each other, a million songs to sing and, as the song says, “better things to do, maybe nothing to say,”* when we aren’t running our mouths. He, the poor man, has to work, has to function, will be up in front of a crowd singing at an Obama benefit this evening in Oakland. The adrenaline of performing will get him through. I’ll be there to cheer him on and to hang around at the show, but all I have to do is get my body on a bus or two and manage not to fall asleep while staring out the window or listening to what Johnny calls the “internal jukebox,” the songs that play in my head on a constant basis: when I hit the kitchen to make waffle batter this morning, my mind tossed up Tommy Thompson’s “Hot Buttered Rum”: “In the dead of winter when the silent snowbirds come/You’re my sweet maple sugar, honey, hot buttered rum.”

We are far from the dead of winter at the moment, but it is solidly fall in the Bay Area with leaves turning on the liquid ambar trees, with blue sky days and the light fading just after seven in the evening. Mornings and afternoons can be brief and warm when our trademark fog is not taking a holiday. Clothes are negotiations between long-sleeved cotton T-shirts and fleece vests, with an extra layer tucked into a backpack for turning weather: yesterday I shucked both my beret and my fleece vest by the time I walked the half-dozen plus blocks to a house on a  hidden lane in Bernal Heights in San Francisco. Johnny met me at the door and ushered me to a seat at the table where he sat with his red Telecaster and a small amp. We debuted a new song called “Clueless,” that I wrote about all of the missteps and misunderstandings of our courtship. We sang and played with old and new friends until 7 PM, at which time the falling light made people want to go home, get on the road.

Original watercolor painting shows vase of monardia, green figs.

Monardia and Green Figs. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Yesterday’s Farmers’ Market was a busy one, lots of awnings set up to shield the produce from the bright morning sun. I bought three baskets of green figs and half a dozen Frog Hollow peaches, the last of the year as Frog Hollow Farm moves on to pears and the seasons turn. I bought a bouquet of monardia, its herbal fragrance and red violet flowers lighting up a corner of my room and a spot on the dining room table. I will try to make something with figs before the week is out — I bought three baskets because if I buy one or two I just eat them out of hand for snacks — this way I’ll have some left to put in a salad or a dessert — I should trawl through my hundreds of saved food blogs to see what I might like to make, or, better, bring a small stack of cookbooks to my cozy bed and see what other cooks have done with fresh figs. I’m imagining a sweet and savory salad with fresh corn and arugula and roasted figs, but I will not make that salad this evening.

Sourdough Waffles (adapted from a basic waffle recipe in the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook)

Separate 2 eggs, whites in a small bowl, yolks in a large one.

Whip the egg whites first. Set aside. Don’t bother to change the beaters or wash them — never do extra work unless it is getting you something good like flavor or texture.

Measure 2 cups milk into bowl with egg yolks.

Add 1 cup sourdough starter.

Add 2 cups flour, 4 tsp baking powder, a little kosher salt, sugar to taste (I use less than 1/4 cup)

Add 1/2 cap of vanilla extract and a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Blend egg yolk-milk-starter-flour-sugar with your electric mixer, a whisk or a wooden spoon.

Add 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) soft butter. Beat until just incorporated.

Fold egg whites into the waffle batter. Leave it lumpy and irregular.

Preheat waffle iron. Use the time to warm plates, melt butter, heat syrup, cut up fresh fruit, set table.

Brush waffle iron with melted butter, especially if it is a non-stick waffle iron. Our waffle iron takes  one and half spoons of batter. Cook waffles according to your waffle iron’s instructions. Hold waffles in the oven or serve each one hot out of the iron with desired accompaniments. You can store leftover batter in the refrigerator for a few days, after which time you will have eaten it anyway.

Food Notes: Convert this to buttermilk sourdough waffles by using buttermilk or sour milk in place of sweet milk and adding 1 tsp baking soda.

Song Notes: * from Cheryl Wheeler’s “Miss You More Than I’m Mad.”

I still have a lot of pears in the house from my friend Margit’s tree, sitting in a brown bag in the back of the refrigerator so that they will stay as green as possible for as long as possible: my mother only eats pears when they crunch — I’ll eat them slightly softer than that, but I do not enjoy pears that have turned yellow (It’s that mushy texture).

Yesterday I pulled out the pears and found about five yellow ones, two large and three small. I had volunteered to make a dessert last evening — my mother has a sweet tooth and is eating soft foods until her current round of dental work is over. Plus, I had done something that made her uncomfortable and needed to work my way back into her good graces.

Original watercolor painting shows pear clafouti, dried cranberries, pears.

Pear Clafouti with Cranberries. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

What to make? I could roll out pie crust and make another pear tart tatin. But Johnny once said he wanted to elope with that when I served it at Ballad group, so it would be better to make that when he is around to enjoy it. Carly Sullivan had posted a recipe for clafouti that I had saved. I took a look at it again, and then adapted it for ingredients we had. Basically, I used white sugar instead of honey, milk and half and half instead of buttermilk, omitted the vanilla and added dried cranberries to the fruit layer, browned the butter and cooked the pears in it, throwing the sugar on top to caramelize, cooking it down until the mixture was fairly dry, giving the pears time to absorb butter, sugar, lemon, ginger and cranberry flavors. The cranberries made it pretty, too.

To make the clafouti I just made:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Select 2 large yellow pears (or 3 smaller ones). Core and slice them thinly, but do not peel them: the skins help hold the pear slices together.

Melt 2 Tbsp butter over medium heat in a skillet, allowing the butter to brown, but not burn, before adding the sliced pears.

Sprinkle about 1/4 cup sugar over the top and jerk the skillet a few times so that the sugar gets distributed among the pears.

Allow mixture to cook down until the pears have released their liquid and the liquids have reduced to a thin caramel.

Turn off heat.

Add the juice of half a lemon, a generous grating of fresh ginger (use your microplane and grate directly over the fruit), a small handful of dried cranberries.

Pour the fruit mixture into a tart pan or pie plate.

Now make the batter:

Crack 3 eggs and whisk them.

Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and whisk again.

Whisk in 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

Add 1/4 cup half and half and 3/4 cup milk*

Add vanilla extract (I poured it into the cap from the vanilla bottle and used about half a capful).

Whisk until just blended.

Pour batter over prepared fruit in pan.

Bake for thirty-five minutes. Serve warm or cold, cut in pie-like wedges.

* Our standard milk is 1%. If you have whole milk, like Celi, just use a cup of whole milk — I added the half and half to make the milk richer, but you can make it with any kind of milk you have, including soy milk, nut milk or coconut milk.

Food Notes: This made a easy, delicious dessert, creamy and custardy with crisp, buttery edges. Cooking the fruit first on the stove meant no watery flavors. This would make an excellent Thanksgiving dessert if you are not utter traditionalists like we are, having to have pumpkin pie with whipping cream, made from the recipe on the Libby’s can, slightly modified. (We also make fruit pie of some description, cherry or apple or blueberry or mixed berry, depending on what is around).

The Lauren Project: Lauren is back in Santa Fe, still cooking up your recipes. Please be patient: we will announce the prize winners by the end of this month.

Watercolor painting of bowls of polenta, tomato, Martin guitar in green chair.

Johnny’s Polenta. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Some of you know that I frequently eat polenta as a breakfast cereal during summer and early fall, cooking it in milk, stirring in a fresh peach or a handful of wild blackberries. Some of you know I have spent part of the summer flirting with a guitar player, wondering how much he liked me, being alternately elated and crushed as I went to play music at his house, attended band rehearsal, sang at a small festival in Santa Rosa, followed him up to another festival called Cur-Ville. You’ve seen me donning red dresses and trying to let go.

That phase has ended: the guitar player is mine now and, to prove it, spent the better part of the long weekend at my house. Mornings found us in the kitchen, brewing coffee, figuring out what to eat for breakfast. I cooked him eggs twice, scrambled with cheese and Gypsy peppers, served with sourdough toast. This morning I asked him what he ate for breakfast besides eggs. He mentioned a dish of polenta and various cheeses, topped with tomato and avocado.

We always have cornmeal, so I put on a pot of  salted water to boil and put out the cheese collection for Johnny to look at while I measured out a cup of cornmeal. He selected Red Leicester, a cheddar, and chopped it into small pieces.  I added some grated pecorino Romano. While the polenta was warm I added a chopped tomato. We tasted the polenta. He added a bit more cheese, I added a pinch of kosher salt and a healthy sprinkle of paprika and we had a beautiful golden breakfast, flecked with tomato red, Johnny’s gift to me and my gift to you.

After we ate, I did the dishes, dancing at the sink while Johnny sat in a green chair and played me Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.” Occasionally, I turned around to look at him to sync my back-up vocals to his lead. Dishes have never been this much fun — who knew? All you need is a guitar-player in your kitchen to play songs for you while you wash and rinse. But you can’t have mine — he’s taken. Sorry.

If you want to make Johnny’s Polenta, measure water and cornmeal in a four-to-one ratio (I used four cups of water to one cup of cornmeal, but you could use one cup of water to a quarter cup if you want only one serving).

Add a bit of salt to the water — not too much, since you are going to be adding cheese later.

Boil polenta and water mixture until it has thickened to your liking. Remove from heat and stir in

Chopped and grated cheeses to taste : I used about 3 ounces of cheddar and 1 ounce of pecorino Romano.

Add one large chopped tomato.

Add 1/2 tsp of either sweet or hot paprika, depending on your proclivities: this adds wonderful color as well as a subtle flavor.

Taste and season as necessary. You will have to provide your own soundtrack for dish-washing.

Food Notes: You can make this with cornmeal or polenta, or even grits — whatever cereal-like corn product that you have hanging around. Lauren, if you are listening, you could swap some permitted vegetable for the contraband tomato and eliminate the cheddar, substituting some cheese you like, such as the cumin cheese we ate in France.

The Lauren Project: Thanks from Lauren and from me to all who sent recipes to the Lauren Project. Lauren is out in California, cooking up test batches of recipes. She and I will confer soon and announce the prize winners in an upcoming blog post. Before we complete the winners’ post we will contact our winner to ask what prize he or she desires. Then we will contact the second place finisher, third-place contestant, etc. until all prizes are awarded. Those of you who did not win will still be eligible for free shipping on any Kale Chronicles’ painting purchased by midnight December 31st, 2012.

First of all, let me remind you that The Lauren Project recipe contest will close at midnight Pacific time on August 31st. There is still time to get your entries in and become eligible for a potholder, a painting, a music CD, a cookbook. We have received a lot of exciting entries — Lauren may be testing some of them as I write this.

This has not been a big cooking week for me: I had two days of jury duty, getting up early and packing lunches of peanut butter on raisin bread, or turkey and cheese on whole wheat, chopping up watermelon to fit into Tupperware containers, gulping my morning coffee at the bus stop after spilling half of it on my way down the hill. When I got home I would be famished for tea, having missed our traditional afternoon tea break. My teeth are fine now, but Mom has a temporary cap, bridging three front teeth, and is eating soft foods again. Mom made chicken and noodles. Mom and I made ranger cookies, throwing in a little peanut butter that did not meet our standards for eating in sandwiches. The weather flip-flopped, cold one day and hot the next. Today I made two breakfasts, one for me and one for a guest: I ate rye flakes cooked with granola in milk; he got scrambled eggs with cheese and Gypsy peppers and sourdough toast (We had two eggs left and a heel of sourdough — otherwise I would have eaten eggs, too). Then, before lunch I roasted and chopped things for Baingan Bharta, which we had for dinner with basmati rice and plain yogurt. Lunch was a toasted whole wheat tortilla with cheese and chile paste — I hardly need to tell you how to make that.

Original watercolor painting shows Muhammara and ingredients.

Muhammara. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

The fall food palate includes corn and tomatoes still, green beans and cucumbers. Eggplant is in, along with plenty of peppers, both hot and sweet types. Is it cheating to tell you about something I will surely cook soon? Let’s talk about Muhammara.

Muhammara is a Middle Eastern spread of roasted peppers and walnuts, thickened with bread and flavored with cumin, garlic and pomegranate molasses. I make it in the fall when peppers come in and I still have fresh walnuts. Muhammara is good with toasted pita bread, grilled lamb sandwiches, celery sticks. I’ll eat it by the spoonful and run my finger along the empty bowl.

I first ate Muhammara at Zatar restaurant in downtown Berkeley. Muhammara has a lovely red-orange color and an intriguing flavor from the molasses, essentially pomegranate juice boiled down into a thick sweet and tart syrup. I learned to make it myself from Epicurious.com, but I messed with it a little.

If you have a glut of red peppers in your kitchen, roast them in the oven, rubbed with a little olive oil. Slip the skins by putting them in a glass bowl covered with a dish towel, letting them steam in their own heat.

Otherwise, open

1 jar of roasted red peppers. Discard the liquid and put the peppers into your blender.

Add 1 slice of bread. (French bread is good for this  — don’t use rye or raisin bread).

Chop and toast 1/3 cup walnuts

Add walnuts to the blender with

juice of 1 lemon

2 tsp pomegranate molasses

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Mash 2 to 4 cloves of garlic with 1/2 tsp salt. Add to blender

Add enough olive oil to blend. The original recipe I found on Epicurious calls for a horrifying 3/4 cup. I would use 1/3 cup max, but suit yourself.

Whirl in blender until you have a thick red paste. Try to get it out of the blender before you actually start eating it!

Friday I called my friend Margit to ask her something or other and she said, “Oh. I forgot to tell you — the pears are ready for picking.” She has a backyard tree.

After lunch I walked down the hill, borrowed a tall kitchen step stool and began to pick pears. Most were green (good pears ripen off the tree), a few were yellow. I took a large bag home and revised my plans for making a large Gravenstein apple pie for my ballad group on Saturday, deciding instead to make a Pear Tart Tatin. This time around I added a jigger of dark rum to the pears after I cut them and sprinkled a few grains of crushed cardamom over the pears and caramel before I laid on the crust.

Original watercolor shows pain perdu with carmelized pears on plate.

Pain Perdu with Pears. 6″ x 6″ Watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

When the tart tatin was in the oven I noticed that I still had rum in the pie plate where the pears had been. You know I hate to waste things, so I went fishing for the yellowest pears I had, the ones that would not keep another day. I peeled them, cut away the cores and stems and any brown, mushy spots. I plunked them into the rum. After I finished flipping the tart tatin onto a plate I poured the pears and rum into the cast iron skillet and set it in the still warm oven. I hoped the pears would start to cook from the residual heat and perhaps soak up some caramel flavor from the pan.

This morning I wrote and read and listened to music for awhile before breakfast, perhaps a bit too long. I knew I wanted coffee and I knew I needed to cook the pears, but what would I do with them? I didn’t want to take the time to make a pot of oatmeal. Ah. Pain perdu, “lost bread,” aka French toast. Because I was only feeding myself I took 1 long slice of sourdough sandwich bread, cut it in half and toasted it in the toaster oven. While it toasted I beat 1 egg in a shallow pan, added about 1 and 1/2 Tbsp of sugar and a splash of vanilla. I put the bread into the egg mixture, turning it over once.

Meanwhile I set the cast iron skillet on low heat. I heated the pears, rum and leftover caramel for a few minutes, then pushed the pears to the side to continue cooking and added just a smidgeon of butter, perhaps a teaspoon to prevent the bread from sticking. I turned the heat up to medium and cooked the bread on both sides before removing it to a plate and spooning the pears and caramel on top of it.

Food Notes: This made a lovely breakfast as is, but I could imagine adding some ricotta, quark or yogurt for the contrasting flavor.

Other Notes: The Lauren Project is cooking right along. Several people have submitted recipes to the contest. Some people have sent us more than one. But those of you who have not submitted anything yet still have some time: the contest deadline is August 31, 2012, 12 midnight, Pacific Time. After that, Lauren will review (and perhaps test cook) some of the recipes and we will begin awarding prizes. In case you have forgotten, or are new to this contest, the prizes will consist of one red chile pot holder, one signed seasonal cookbook with paintings by Sharyn Dimmick, one copy of Sharyn’s music CD “Paris,” and one Kale Chronicles’ painting of your choice. One prize per person, please. When Lauren chooses her first winner I will contact that person to ask which prize they want and then we will move to the second winner and so on until we are out of prizes. All persons in the USA or Canada who submit recipes will be eligible for free shipping on any Kale Chronicles painting they purchase through the end of 2012.

I recently had some dental work done — after I lost my job a couple of years ago it didn’t seem too important to keep up visits to the dentist. I went last week. And I paid for it because Dr. Liu found a cracked tooth, a broken tooth and a cracked filling (but no tooth decay!). Last week he set to fixing all that. He adjusted a crown while he was at it. I have to go back to have the cracked tooth fixed after I get through with jury duty, which starts today. So, following on my anniversary post about The Lauren Project, I share with you some of the things I ate  — um, drank, since I could neither bite nor chew. It does give me empathy with those on restricted diets.

The first night following surgery I had a coffee milkshake, coffee ice cream whirled up in the blender with a little one percent milk. I was feeling pretty happy that I had an excuse to have one for dinner and even forbore to put Kahlua in it. By 9 PM I was hungry, however, and had to resort to a serving of coconut yogurt.

The next morning I was determined to eat something normal, so I cooked my usual breakfast of rolled oats in milk with a pinch of kosher salt, four walnuts and two teaspoonfuls of rhubarb compote (remember the rhubarb experiments?). I found even the amount of chewing required for oatmeal and walnuts to be unpleasant so I resolved to have liquid lunches and dinners for another day.

I got hungry again before 11:00 AM — I was up at 5:30 AM and had eaten at around 7:30 and had taken a little walk at 10:00. This time I set to work on a smoothie, consisting of a fresh mango and a container of strawberry yogurt with a pinch of crushed cardamom. Delicious, but after I had had a few sips I realized I was going to get tired of sweets fast.

What to do? I put aside the mango smoothie, rinsed the blender and decided it was time to try gazpacho.

This was kind of a big deal to me because have never liked tomato juice, Snappy-Tom, bloody Mary’s, or V-8 — can you say yuck? So I didn’t look up anybody’s recipe for gazpacho. We had cold soups when I was in France: my favorite one there incorporated melon, bacon and cream: it sounds gross, but it was really good.

Original watercolor painting shows tomatoes, cucumbers, gypsy peppers and lemon.

Greek Salad Vegetables, 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Anyway, then I thought of the delicious liquid that hangs out at the bottom of a bowl of Greek Salad. I decided my best shot at gazpacho was to make a Greek salad and liquify it. I proceeded to chop 2 heirloom tomatoes, 2/3 of a large, peeled Armenian cucumber, 2 Gypsy peppers (ranging from yellow through orange to red). I added 1 large pressed clove of garlic and a small handful of chopped, pitted Greek olives. Then I went out to front yard and picked the ripest Meyer lemon I could find on the tree.

I blended all that up. I tasted it cautiously, with the intention of adding feta cheese. But you know what? It didn’t need the cheese. It didn’t need oil or black pepper or salt or red pepper flakes or red wine vinegar. It didn’t need a single blessed thing. I encourage you to try it, even if you are afraid of all of those red, cold, tomato-based drinks, especially if you like Greek salad.

I had a glass of Greek gazpacho for lunch, followed by the rest of my strawberry-mango smoothie. I have another glass of gazpacho left for later, waiting for me in the refrigerator. And tonight I’ll probably indulge in another coffee shake — the only thing that would make it better would be if I had a stash of malted milk powder, but we haven’t seen it lately at Grocery Outlet.

What are your favorite things to eat when you have dental work? C’mon. ‘Fess up.

Original painting of roller coaster, park burrito in foreground.

Free-Form Roller Coaster with Burrito. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn DImmick.

Yesterday my best friend and I made an impromptu excursion to the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom amusement park in Vallejo. I have loved roller coasters since my introduction to them at Bay Fair mall at age four: as soon as the ride finished, I apparently looked at my mother, eyes shining, and said “Can we go again?” Better than a merry-go-round, better than a see-saw. My daredevil brother and I would ride anything that moved at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and I have fantasized about making a roller coaster tour of the United States (Shoulda done it when I was younger though — those wooden coasters really shake up the neck these days).

Anyway, just for the record, I rode the Roar (old, wooden, jolting and large), The Boomerang (modern, turns loops, goes forward and backwards), The Medusa (pure fun: classic slope-climbing, twisting, turning, presents illusions of imminent crashes into cross-beams) and Superman, the new coaster. Superman deserves a sentence of its own: its wheels run on the outside of narrow metal tracks, allowing for straight vertical drops, twisting, turning upside down, reversing direction — it does all that at a higher speed than the other coasters, the cars roaring into and off the loading platform. Suzanne joined me on the Roar and the Boomerang. We also road water rides, The Ark, and a 48-year-old elephant. Elephant rides are a lot less smooth than horseback rides because the elephant is so wide: you lurch with each step, listing to one side, feeling the elephant muscles sliding out from under you. I  also rode something called the Voodoo, some rocking, swinging, flipping, scary thing. Not too scary — I like these kinds of rides.

For a speed-loving, gravity-defying adult (The Ark operator broke into a chorus of “When I’m Sixty-Four” when Suzanne and I got into our seats, being the poor judge of age most twenty-somethings are), the challenge of amusement park outings is not the rides or lines, but the food. Six Flags parks have a policy forbidding “outside food.” You cannot even bring in a bottle of water. What this means is that you can stash a picnic lunch in your car all day, get your hand stamped and walk half a mile to retrieve it when you get hungry, or you can bring a twenty-dollar bill and take your chances with park food.

Suzanne did food reconnaissance between rides. She settled on a Panda Express meal of Kung Pao Chicken, Broccoli Beef and noodles — she said she was trying to calculate the most vegetables per meal. I have eaten Panda Express meals at airports and, if you choose carefully, you can get something tasty and a fair amount of vegetable matter, but it will have more sugar, salt and fat than I normally eat in a given day.

I opted for the chicken burrito at Machos Nachos, hoping that I could customize it. While I stood in the long line I noted that the “lime cilantro rice” was white rice with a few green shreds in it and that the cheese was some indeterminate, bland, pale blend. I made my plan, which was to ask for a grilled chicken burrito with pinto beans, shredded lettuce, sour cream and salsa, skipping the rice and cheese. I spied some chocolate milk as I reached the service counter and nabbed it, so as not to pay $3.79 for a bottle of water or to ingest any high fructose corn syrup (aka soft drinks).

The servers accommodated my requests cheerfully, pausing only to attempt to sell me a $14.99 refillable plastic drink cup. At the last minute, I spied some pickled jalapenos and asked that the server add some. That cost me an extra dollar, even though I had forgone the cheese and rice.  My lunch was served in a cardboard carton with a plastic cup of salsa. The burrito was cut in half and wrapped in foil.  Lunch set me back $15.15, for which I could easily get two super-sized burritos and a drink at any respectable taqueria.

How did it taste? It was fine, except for the fact that the grilled chicken was cold — that was a nasty shock: warm beans, cold grilled chicken. Is there some health regulation involved here? The chocolate milk (Berkeley Farms) was sweeter and less-chocolaty than I like, but it did not have corn syrup in it, for which I am grateful.

Let me just say that California is a major agricultural state — it used to provide one-fifth of the produce consumed in the United States when I was a child — and summer crops are in full swing. Suzanne and I saw a stand for fresh roasted corn, but we did not investigate it, having had enough carbs in our lunch already. It cannot be too hard to bring in fresh, seasonal tomatoes and cucumbers for salads, to make fresh fruit cups, to offer slices of watermelon to park visitors, but, of course, it is easier to open cans of nacho cheese sauce, flip pre-made burgers served with mustard and ketchup packets. It doesn’t seem to beyond the scope of food service to operate deep-fryers, producing onion rings and French fries, but God forbid that someone would have to slice lettuce and tomatoes.

Alright. So you don’t go for the food. But you do have to eat while you are there and my days of living on SnoCones, cotton candy and pink popcorn are long over. My favorite amusement park treat is soft serve ice cream made with dried milk or frozen yogurt, but I didn’t see any — it has been replaced by the reprehensible fake food called “Dippin’ Dots,” by Dove Bar stands, and by Coldstone Creamery outlets. I would be interested to hear how any of you other roller coaster aficionados handle amusement park meals — I ate a healthy oatmeal breakfast and said to myself, “It’s just one day.”

Original painting of many-leaved tree with roots.

The Lovely Blog Award. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Last week Shira of In Pursuit of More tagged me in a relay, charging me with writing about hope and John Clinock of artratcafe generously bestowed on me the one lovely blog award. I am honored by the kind intentions of my fellow bloggers and will do my best to live up to their trust.

A major tenet of the two forms of Buddhism I have practiced is the practice of letting go, letting go of outcomes, letting go of expectations, letting go of desires. This does not immediately sound like fun, does it? That’s because we want what we want, even if wanting it is causing our suffering. I am personally undertaking a course of consciously letting go these days because I find myself falling in love. First I fell in love with a city, a country, a way of life, when I went to France. Then I fell in love with my guitar again, starting to play daily after a hiatus of a year.  I fell in love with my room, starting to see ways that it could be improved. Every summer I fall in love with open water swimming when the days get warm enough to swim at the cove down in the Berkeley Marina. And, as you might have expected, I am somewhere on the continuum of falling in love with another person with all of that continuum’s abundant symptoms: sleeplessness, excitement, fear of the unknown. There is pleasure in falling in love and there is pain. There is fantasy and reality, hope and dread. I find that the easiest approach, although it is hard to put into practice, is to treat the entire experience as a practice, to work with whatever it brings to me in any given moment: if I am sleepless, get up and read or write. If I am inspired to write a love song, write a love song. If I am scared, feel the fear.

One aspect of treating life as a continuous practice is that there is no room for hope. Hope causes us to leap into the future, into some better world that is different from what we are experiencing right here, right now. When I am right here, I can respond to my fear or excitement as it occurs; when I am jumping into hope, I lose my opportunity in the present moment. My teacher is fond of saying “The love you want is no other place.” And, I, of course, am hoping that she is wrong, that there will be glorious love in a field of flowers some other day. But I know what she means: our only chance is this moment, what we find there now, where we find ourselves now. We can’t count on having another moment, better or worse.

What we can count on is that things will change: if I am sleepless for three weeks running, during week four I will fall into a deep sleep when the body needs it. The foods of the changing seasons that I highlight on The Kale Chronicles reveal this in a beautiful way: now there are Gravenstein apples and gypsy peppers, summer squash and tomatoes, cucumbers, green figs, the first grapes, blackberries, melons. Soon eggplants will come in and peaches will begin to fade away until next summer brings the new crop. I stir a couple of spoonfuls of apple crisp into my morning oatmeal and plan another round of zucchini-feta pancakes for lunch, topped with Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. Next month, perhaps next week, I will be eating something different. Food becomes more satisfying when you are not reaching for raspberries in December and tomatoes in February, when you eat what there is now, choosing your favorites, perhaps, but working with what you’ve got.

Love cannot resist reaching into the future, imagining scenarios, conjuring kisses out of the air. So let it. Just know that the fantasies, the daydreaming are a current and temporary state: mine them for their images and ideas, laugh at them and at yourself, an ingenue in a fifty-four year-old body. Watch as your mind tosses up Loggins and Messina songs (Where did they come from?). Sing them if you want — no one needs to know.

What do I hope for? I hope for the courage to face my life, the courage to be in whatever state I find myself in until that state changes. I hope for the courage to respond authentically to whatever I need to respond to. Today I thank Shira (who is in La Belle France) for encouraging me to meditate on hope and John who says lovely things about The Kale Chronicles. With my one-year blogging anniversary coming up fast (next Sunday) I tell you that I had some hopes for the blog: I hoped a few people would like my recipes. I hoped my writing would acquire a wider platform. I hoped a few people would buy my paintings and maybe even my music CDs. I hoped that I would find some writing students who want to do writing practice. Some of that has happened. But writing The Kale Chronicles has become much bigger than that because I have discovered an entire community of like-minded souls, people who care passionately about what they eat and where it comes from, but, beyond that, care about how they live their lives, treating each other with kindness and humor. I started a blog and found myself in a whole new community. I am made welcome here as I am made welcome in my communities of writers and singers and artists. And I will be calling on you soon with a special anniversary challenge, The Lauren Project — I know you will step up to the plate. There will be prizes and glory and the opportunity to help a lovely young woman find more joy in the kitchen.

Original watercolor painting shows ingredients for cucumber raita.

Cucumber Raita. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

In the meantime — back to the present — a simple raita recipe for cucumber season, courtesy of Padma, my Indian roommate in college, who taught me how to make it. The secret to good raita is no shortcuts — you must cut the cucumber into spears and de-seed it with a knife and then you must slice each spear into small bits with the knife — if you grate it, the cucumber turns watery. Raita is all about texture. So set aside an hour to make raita — you won’t be sorry.

Cucumber Raita

Peel 2 cucumbers (or use an Armenian cucumber, which requires no peeling). Slice each cucumber lengthwise into quarters, sixths or eighths, depending on its circumference. Remove all of the seeds. Slice the now seedless cucumber into small pieces and put in a steel or Pyrex bowl. Grate 1/2 of a fresh coconut into cucumbers. Add one bunch chopped cilantro.

Heat a small amount of peanut oil in a small skillet. When oil shimmers, add 1 tsp of mustard seeds and 1 dry red chile. Fry for a few seconds until mustard seeds pop and add chile, mustard seeds and oil to cucumber mixture to season it. Add plain yogurt and salt to taste, making it as creamy or as light as you like.

Food notes: You can, of course, make this with dessicated coconut — it’s just not as good as when you use fresh. Make sure your coconut is unsweetened — sugar in raita is gross. You can eat the raita as a salad, as a side dish with an Indian meal, or simply mixed with rice.

One Lovely Blog Award: I’m supposed to give you seven random facts about me. Here goes:

1) I’ve written two new songs in the last week, “Ingenue” and “The Werewolf.”

2) I like to eat pie for breakfast, although I usually eat oatmeal or polenta cooked with milk and sweetened with seasonal fruit.

3) My favorite color is kelly green. I also like lavender and blue, crimson, claret, raspberry, all balanced with plenty of black.

4) I am a Pisces, Sagittarius rising, Gemini moon, Venus in Aquarius.

5) Although I am a folk musician and will always be one, I have always (always?) had a fantasy of singing with a rock band.

6) If I could only eat one type of food for the rest of my life, it would be Indian food.

7) This bull needs a big meadow: don’t put me in a pigeonhole — I won’t fit.

Now I need to pass the award to fifteen of you. In no particular order

1) Celi at The Kitchen’s Garden — Celi writes about sustainable farming, a subject dear to my heart. Beyond that she is fun and knows how to tell a story.

2) Shira at In Pursuit of More has endeared herself to me by her generosity and her commitment to simplicity.

3) The Caerus blog, a brand new blog, showcases the artful thoughts of Suzanne Edminster, Karina Nishi Marcus and a growing cadre of guest artists. Look for it on Thursday mornings and go back to read the back archives.

4) The Literary Jukebox. I found this one this morning. Maria Popova posts a literary quote and a song everyday. Great for literate music junkies.

5) Debra at Breathe Lighter. Debra shares all aspects of her life in San Gabriel — recipes, photographs, pet stories, field trips, music, all accompanied by her enthusiasm for life.

6) John at artratcafe provides an art education by featuring the work of many diverse artists. He writes poems, too. Foodies will like his brilliant posts on food that combine illustrations, literary quotes and recipes with a certain je ne sais quoi.

7) John at From the Bartolini Kitchens writes an ongoing love letter to his Italian family and the foods of his culture. Want to make cheese or fresh pasta? See John.

8) Eva Taylor of Kitchen Inspirations  knows how to put it all together: the dress, the shoes, the place settings. Lately she has been experimenting with healthier, lighter versions of favorite foods, keeping to a low-carb diet.

9) Betsy of Bits and Breadcrumbs cooks food I want to eat — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

10) My writing pal Bob Chrisman has branched out and now writes a memoir-type blog called swqm60. Check it out.

11) Jane Robinson at Art Epicurean posts abstract paintings and encouragement for creative types.

12) My old friend Maura writes theonceandfutureemptynest about her life with husband, children, grandchildren, parents, dogs, running shoes, kayaks and literary ambition. A graceful writer, her thoughts will resonate with the sandwich generation.

13) I’ve already sent you to look at Deby Dixon’s photos on Deby Dixon Photography.  Have another look, please.

14) Can’t leave out my pal, Movita Beaucoup! This chick is funny. And an incredible baker when she leaves off the Crisco frosting. And someday she is going to buy a painting (but you could beat her to it and buy up all of the best ones first. Just saying…)

15) Your nominee. Please use the comments to tell us all about the blogs you love the most, the ones you open first everyday, among other things. We have free speech here.

Original painting shows cherry plums, plum cake, plum caramel.

Plum Cake. 9″ x 12″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Sometimes circumstances conspire to create an end. Today is my sister-in-law’s birthday and she is coming over to go out to lunch with my mother in Walnut Creek. Barbara likes plum cake. I had half a colander of fresh cherry plums on the counter and a jar of wild plum jam that I needed to use. I had just read David Lebovitz’s blogs on butterscotch sauce (which I am dying to make) and peach cobbler, plus a post on plum cake made with cornmeal from Two Peas and Their Pod. Barbara loves whipped cream. So what would I do? I would make the cornmeal-plum cake, adapting it a little to give it a more butterscotch-y flavor by substituting some evaporated cane juice for half a cup of the white sugar and I would use the jam to make some plum caramel to serve with the cake.

For the plum caramel, I followed a recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts, except, instead of cooking fresh plums, I just added plum jam (aka cooked plums) to the caramel base, cooked it for a few minutes and strained the results. You can make simple caramel by putting 1/2 cup of sugar in a saucepan with 2 Tbsp water and melting it over high heat, shaking the pan every now and then (do not stir). When it takes on a pale golden color, remove it from the heat and carefully add 1/4 cup water, not getting too close to the pan. You can stir now. If you are adding fruit puree to the caramel, add it now (this works with any berry or stone fruit), add it now and cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Strain out any solids or seeds that have slipped through, put your caramel in a clean jar in the fridge and you are good to go for later. Fruit caramel is less acidic and more complex than simple purees and is perhaps my favorite recipe I learned from this cookbook.

Now the cake. You can see the original here. Since cakes are not my favorite things I followed the recipe closely with just two substitutions (okay, three). First, I had medium eggs rather than large — they were organic and brown — so I threw in an extra one. Then, I had lots of cherry plums rather than the four or five large plums cited in the recipe. I already told you I put in 1/2 cup of evaporated cane juice for 1/2 cup of white sugar. Oops. Um. Four substitutions. I substituted a quarter cup of sour half and half for some of the buttermilk because, you know, we had it, and it is similar, but richer.

So, this is what you get when you put together all of those substitutions with the original recipe:

Barbara’s Birthday Plum Cake

Pit the cherry plums you are using (Or pit and chop larger plums into bite-sized pieces). Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350.

Measure 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour. After measuring sift it into a small mixing bowl.

Whisk into flour 1 tsp baking powder,

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup corn meal

Then soften 1 and 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (12 Tbsp)

Cream butter with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice until light and fluffy.

Add — one at a time — 4 medium eggs (or use three large), incorporating egg fully before next addition.

Measure 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 cup sour cream or sour half and half, plus 1/4 cup buttermilk, which is what I used).

Alternate flour mixture and buttermilk, in increments, starting and ending with flour.

Butter and flour a cake pan. I used a bundt pan because it looks festive.

Scrape half of the batter into the pan. Scatter plums over batter. Top with remaining batter.

Bake for fifty minutes. Test to see if it is done. In a bundt pan, my cake took one hour and five minutes to show some browning on the top and to pass the toothpick test.

Cool by hanging bundt pan on a glass bottle. This is fun. Trust me.

Serve with barely sweetened whipped cream and a pool or drizzle of plum caramel. If you are my sister-in-law, add more whipped cream. Enjoy.

Food Notes: Keeping to the art of substitution, you can use any sour thing for the buttermilk — yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, even sour milk. You can make the cake as originally suggested with all white sugar, or use all evaporated cane juice. You can probably use some other fruit for the plums, although the plums (with skins) provide a beautiful color and a nice tartness that plays well against the cake. The whipped cream provides yet another contrast (and besides, we like whipped cream when we are celebrating).

Watermelon pickle: I had a problem with the watermelon pickle — it wasn’t the recipe — it was me. so I’ll be trying it again with this week’s watermelon and report back on that later.

I have not been doing so well with the Daring Bakers’ challenges lately. I started the June challenge on the morning of the day I was leaving for France. Everything went wrong, from the lemon curd having gone missing to the cake rising unevenly and sticking to the barrier. I left the curd, the cake, and the white “chocolate plastique” in the refrigerator and fled to Europe. I did write about the cake, hoping to post the blog from Paris, but that proved impossible and by the time I got back I didn’t feel like posting the sad story anymore: the upshot was that my Mom assembled the cake and it tasted fine, but it did not look much like a checkerboard because the cake batter was yellowish and my flavors were lemon and coconut. C’est la vie.

Today I am finishing the July challenge on August 1st. Mea culpa. It has been a busy month with new things to do. Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers. Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged us to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

Original painting shows plate of two kinds of crackers, plus ingredients.

Crackers. 6″x 6″ Watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

I have a house guest at present who cannot eat gluten or cow’s milk-based dairy projects. Because the July challenge required us to make two kinds of crackers using two different methods I decided I would try to make gluten and dairy-free crackers for Ann, using the Seedy Crackers as a basic recipe and substituting a garbanzo and fava bean flour from Bob’s Red Mill for the cited wheat flour.

Often when I have tried to make gluten-free baked goods it has been difficult to get them to stick together. Gluten-free cooks buy xanthan gum or gluten-free baking mix to get around this problem, but I use what I have, so I just measured the garbanzo flour cup for cup as I would wheat flour, measured in the poppy and sesame seeds, added the salt. For oil I used a French olive oil that has been infused with hot red pepper. So far so good.

When I added the water, a texture problem appeared: the dough was not crumbly as I had feared — it was wet and sticky. Oops. I covered it with a tea towel and let it sit for fifteen minutes as advised. When it did not firm up, I added another 1/3 cup of garbanzo flour and poured at least half a cup of garbanzo flour onto my cutting board.

I was able to roll and cut the first batch, barely. The dough stuck to the rolling pin. For batches two and three I ended up just patting the dough as thinly as I could before cutting it with a fluted cutter.

The crackers began to smell sweet and I opened the oven. I baked three batches and let them cool. Ann said they smelled really good. Then she tasted one. She really likes them and asked for the recipe (below). I was unhappy that the dough was so wet and that I couldn’t roll them thinly and get them super crisp, but the flavor is fine.

After dispensing with cracker trial number one I went to the all-dairy, all-gluten, all-butter recipe for cheese crackers made in a log and sliced. Because my iconic cracker of addiction is the commercial Cheez-It, I modified the recipe to eliminate walnuts and rosemary, flavoring the crackers with cheddar cheese, Pecorino Romano, paprika and a little nutmeg instead. I shaped them into logs and rolled them up in wax paper to chill for at least an hour.

We could just call these things “heart-attack-on-a-plate” with their stick of butter and ten ounces of cheese and salt. I did sub in some whole wheat pastry flour, although I used mostly white flour as called for. They are utterly delicious, thin, crispy, buttery and cheesy.

Without further ado, the recipes I used:

Gluten-Free Seed Crackers

Whisk together:

2 and 1/3 cups garbanzo and fava bean flour (gluten-free)

1/3 cup sesame seeds

1/3 cup poppy seeds

1 scant tsp kosher salt

1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder.

Stir in 3 Tbsp olive oil*

Add about 3/4 cup water, slowly.

You will want to add the water slowly — in my experience, the dough was too wet, making it hard to roll and cut.

Rest dough for fifteen minutes, covered with a towel. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425.

Flour a board with another half cup of garbanzo flour or more. Take 1/3 of the dough. Either use a rolling pin (it will stick) or flatten the dough with your hands. Cut out with a biscuit cutter. Place on baking sheets and into oven.

The recipe I started from recommends baking them for seven minutes, flipping them over, giving them seven minutes more and then an extra five minutes. I did not do that. I did turn them and checked occasionally to see if they were done, mostly by the smell.

* I used an olive oil from France that has been infused with red peppers, but you can use any you like.

Fully-Leaded Cheese Crackers (All the butter, cheese and salt)

Soften 1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)

Grate 8 ounces of good quality Cheddar cheese, plus an ounce of Pecorino Romano

Combine butter and cheese in a bowl (I used my hands).

Add 1 cup unbleached flour, 3 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour, 1 scant tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp paprika and grated fresh nutmeg to taste.

Knead to combine and form into logs. Wrap logs in waxed paper and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 325.

Slice logs thinly and place slices on baking sheets (there is so much fat in here that I did not bother to grease them). Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes.