happy paczki day 2015

IMG_1281New Palace Bakery, Hamtramck

With the demise of my favorite website for Pączki Day, which consisted of polka music and a single pączek with red and white light emanating from it that squawked /PUNCH-key/ every time you clicked on it, I’m sorry to say the day is a bit glummer.  I celebrated the past 7 years by punching that key dozens of times every Pączki Day morning, and celebrated it by sharing with you.  There’s this song, a joyful romp down the main street of Hamtramck, the Polish neighborhood in Detroit, but it just fails to compare.  And since I teach on Tuesdays, I can’t even spend the day in mourning by making pączki with my newfound zest for yeasted doughs.  Oh well.  All good things must come to an end.  Buy a donut, Eugene, and poke it for me.  Pączki! Pączki! Pączki!

she’s just bitter: broccoli raab with blood orange

DSC00457

Spring is here, and with it my mineral longing, my complex bitter plant craving. It’s the only time of the year I like salads because I can populate them with dark and tender baby leaves that burst with vitality.  And I gorge myself on raab and the similarly budding fresh new tops of flowering brassicas like kale, brussels sprouts, and collards.

I was turned on to charred broccoli by Chef Jeff Strom at Koho Bistro and then my friend Karen as we noshed while waiting for our bread to bake in her ovens.  The char adds something special.  It accentuates the bitter undertones and crisps up the little buds up top.  If you can manage to pull off perfectly cooking the broccoli until crisp-tender but not sulfuric, chocolate brown but not thoroughly blackened, you’re good to go.

I use broccoli raab, or rapini, or flowering broccoli in this recipe.  If all you have is the regular stuff, just slice it longways very thinly, so it will cook relatively quickly, instead of breaking it into little florets.

The blood orange juice adds a tiny bit of sweetness, as blood orange is really not the most flavorful of citrus, but the zest is absolutely wonderful and crucial for the recipe to work.  More bitterness, more brightness, sunshine in February.

Charred Broccoli Raab with Blood Orange

  • one decent-sized bunch of raab or broccoli
  • a tablespoon or two of olive oil
  • finishing salt to taste (something with large flakes like Falksalt or grains like Jacobsen or Maldon)
  • one small blood orange

Preheat broiler to high.  Rinse vegetables if necessary.

If using raab, separate stalks and trim any tough stems.  Leave the little leaves, as they char nicely.  If not using raab, slice broccoli thinly lengthwise.

Toss with the olive oil and finishing salt in a mixing bowl, then arrange on a foil-covered cookie sheet.

Broil until there are spots of dark char all over the raab, especially crisping up the tips.  This may take from 3-7 minutes.  The raab should be crisp tender.

Zest the blood orange and juice one half of the orange, reserving the other half for garnish or another use.

Remove from broiler and add the orange juice to the raab, then sprinkle on the zest.  Toss to combine, making sure the zest is evenly distributed, and serve as a side with creamy savory dishes, like potatoes au gratin, or pork chops.

in which i am dead inside: my favorite food writer

IMG_7627

It used to be that all food writers wrote the same. When somebody tells me that their favourite food writer is M.F.K. Fisher, I’m like, ‘OK, you’re dead inside.’ That kind of writing is so stultifying. It’s like being stuck on a bus next to somebody’s grandmother for five hours.

Josh Ozersky, interviewed in GQ, 2013

Fisher’s autobiographical The Gastronomical Me (1943) includes the one of my favorite personal essays in the entire world, a tale of Fisher’s first oyster in 1924 that’s so cold and awkward and strange and familiar to those of us who have shivered in the New Yorker unhappy WASP narrative forever and ever and ever so much it’s like a family diamond or that first icy sip of a martini in a posh bar, and yet it’s warm and messy, oozy around the edges, going bad. It turns out, instead, to be about a dark, passionate, illicit underbelly of life that’s nearly Joycean in scope, one that the reader and narrator just get a glimpse of and then it’s gone again. I teach it to college freshmen from time to time and they never get it because they read skimmingly and trippingly, if at all.

So I as the professor, vicariously through these youngsters, get that pleasure again and again: what is happening here? Did we miss something? What are these hot glances and melting touches and tears and intemperate bravado – all hot, hot feelings in this piece that’s supposed to be about chilled shellfish, passed on a tray by servants in white gloves? It’s the pleasure of reading.

You miss that? You see Fisher as stultifying, dead inside, stuck on an Elderhostel tour. You miss that icy crust between what’s cold and what’s hot, what’s old and what’s new, what’s acceptable and what’s deviant.

You see it? You see the difference between Fisher and every single other food writer in her genre, her brilliance and subtlety, a critique of a society and class and feminine sexuality and the very circles in which Ozersky undoubtedly moves. It’s not about food at all.

Another example from the same work, though I could easily choose another.

In “To Feed Such Hunger,” Fisher explores the rifts in polite society even more oddly than in the oyster tale. Here, the narrative plays out a scene bristling with European cultural and political relationships in 1930, embodied in a foreign couple who end up in the same French boardinghouse as the American narrator. He German, she Czech, they fill the air with “moist Germanic hissings” and a host of displeasurable metaphors in “a strange kind of love affair” that involves food in an exquisitely subtle form of masochism.

Even the dullest critic will understand the personified animosity between the French and the Germans, the American’s awkward meddling among the European nations, but there’s more for the careful reader. Much more. Fisher mentions Klorr’s devotion to Uranism, a term she says she had to look up (and thereby suggests the reader should, too), and ends the piece in a litter of peeled grapes, champagne, and cake with a trembling Mademoiselle Nankova suffering a feverish episode of sur-excitation sexuelle.

This is most certainly not the same old food writing in the American mid-century. Not then, not now.  I can’t think of a single food writer who even barely grazes issues like this, much less one who writes of them well.  I am baffled by Ozersky’s “[T]hat kind of writing,” because it sure ain’t a genre I’m reading, and I teach this stuff.  I suspect “that” might mean ladywriting, and that, oh god for the last time already, is missing the entire point.

And speaking of favorite food writers, my favorite food writer who is still alive and kicking is the subject of a new, promising film on food in Los Angeles called City of Gold. Yes, that would be without question the Los Angeles Times‘ maestro of all that is edible, Jonathan Gold, who once, upon hearing I was looking for new texts to teach, sat me down for three hours and told me about every single worthwhile food writer ever, including, of course, la belle Fisher.

[This was originally published in a slightly different form at story.jml.is, a writing blog operated by none other than my friend, the force of nature, Jonas Luster, where I’ve been experimenting less frequently than I would like with new work.]

hang on, baby, 2015 is going to be a wild ride

IMG_9727

Happy New Year 2015!

What a wonderful gift the new year brings.  It kicks 2014, by most accounts a most miserable, stingy, and violent abuser of a year, out the door.  Let’s celebrate!

There are big things in store for me in 2015, and I’m thrilled to announce I’m making plans to become a better writer and photographer.

As you may know, I’ve been struggling with personal loss and injury for the past few years, and my life hasn’t been terrific.  My divorce and shift in teaching position at the university and the realities of this small town have made it so I can no longer live the life I had.  Nor do I really want it any more.

What I do want, I realized, is to live more fully and richly in the skin I feel most comfortable in, as a food and travel writer, so I can continue to bring stories of the north to all of you and discover more friends and colleagues in an even wider audience.

So I’m off to do it.  I’ll be leaving Eugene this summer and relocating closer to the city life that can feed my need to tell these stories. This means I’m losing my home, which is almost unspeakably difficult as one deeply in love with this place.

It also makes the continuation of my cherished issue, Culinaria Eugenius, an impossibility in its current form.  Culinaria Eugenius is the story of a place, and Eugene is the small hearth upon which I will no longer be able to warm my stories.   It’s rather scary, but I am confident that all my years with you have provided me a strong and everlasting flame that will fuel me wherever I go.  I’ve been writing this award-winning local food blog for almost seven years, nearly 1000 posts.  In its virtual pages, I have documented the dramatic change in the Eugene food scene and offered countless original recipes and stories about our local food shed.  It’s been a transformative experience, and I’m deeply thankful to all my readers who have joined me.

There’s still plenty of time before I make the final transition, so I hope you’ll continue to read my work.  You may know I maintain a Facebook feed for CE, which is far more active than the blog, and that I write a quarterly column for Eugene Magazine called “Eat, Drink, Think” (featuring local farmers and my favorite recipes using seasonal produce) and some features that appear there.  I’ve written in the past for other places, including NPR’s The Salt, Acres USA, and Gastronomica, as well as our two local newspapers.   I’ll still be teaching as an adjunct professor at the University of Oregon and other places, and will keep you informed about cooking classes and demos.

I’ve been writing more and more travel stories, interviews with cool Oregonians, and the latest in Northwest tastes for AAA’s Via magazine, work I really love and want to undertake in greater quantity.  I am working on a cookbook for single people, a food history book, and a number of articles that will be announced as soon as they find a home.  I’m also proud to say I’ll be interviewing Novella Carpenter and moderating a panel on Diana Abu-Jaber’s food writing at the CSWS Northwest Women Writers Symposium this spring.

To raise funds for the move and upcoming travel research, I’d love to hear from you if you have paid freelance needs for food features (writing or photography) or book reviews or judging gigs, and I’d be deeply appreciative if you could pass my name along to folks who might be interested in someone with this experience.  I am not only a writer and budding photographer, I’m an accomplished public speaker for both academic events and cooking demos, and an event organizer.  I have served as a panelist, panel moderator, interviewer, and judge at myriad venues, including for international book awards, our local Iron Chef competition, and academic panels in the U.S. and abroad. I’ve interviewed some of our brightest culinary lights on an NPR-affiliated food radio show (as a co-host for the late, much lamented Food for Thought on KLCC) and at live events, and have curatorial experience working with 600 years of rare books related to food history. The best email address is wellsuited at gmail dot com, and I’m happy to provide a full CV upon request.

May 2015 treat all of you, of us!, with the dignity and respect it should, and grant you the gift of good eating and great companionship.  Happy adventuring!

 

christmas cheez-its

IMG_0485

Instead of cookies, I made Christmas cheez-its, powered by Crossroads Farm’s pasilla, esplette, and Hungarian cherry pepper powders.  They were a hit.  I may never bake cookies again.  Especially good served with smoked whitefish dip.  So my present to you is the recipe. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Cheese Crackers

Yield: 2-3 dozen, depending on how thick

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into slices when cold
  • 2 cups white wheat flour or wheat/rye combo
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces extra sharp cheddar, or a cheddar/stronger cheese mix like aged gouda
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • Smoked paprika or esplette or pasilla powder and sesame seeds for topping

Cut butter into pieces and let sit on counter to soften.  Grate cheese. Add an ice cube to a bowl of water to chill.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor bowl; pulse to combine. Add the butter and cheese and pulse until mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Add 2 tablespoons water and pulse until the dough falls away from the sides of the bowl and can be formed into a crumbly ball, adding a little more water if necessary.

Divide the dough in two, forming it into a disk if you plan to roll it out, or a log if you’re lazy like me and just want to slice it.  Chill for 1 hour to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325° F. Either roll the dough out or slice your log into pieces 1/8-inch thick (no more!).  You may need to let it warm up first on the counter a bit if you chilled overnight for easier rolling. You are aiming for thin, crisp crackers, so take care to make thickness even and consistent.

For Cheez-It-like bits, cut into 3/4-inch-wide squares and poke a hole in the center of each square with a skewer.

Place crackers on parchment-lined baking sheets and brush with egg white, then dust with paprika or the like and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake until the dough is not shiny/raw and barely golden on the bottom, about 20-22 minutes. Store completely cooled crackers in an airtight container.

*Note: I forgot to brush with egg white, so the toppings slid off for the photo.  Follow me at your peril!

 

 

restaurants open for christmas in eugene 2014

IMG_5711

Looking for a roundup of restaurants open on Christmas?  I’m so thankful that Eugene Cascades and Coast continues to gather up a partial list of some eateries open Christmas and Christmas Eve 2014.  This year, I noticed more Florence and Junction City places on the list, and fewer places listed for Christmas.  Please note that these restaurants are also open on Christmas, among others:

  • Kung Fu Bistro
  • Sizzle Pie
  • Izakaya Meiji
  • SweetWaters on the River
  • House of Chen
  • Sixth Street Grill
  • Empire Buffet
  • Rennie’s
  • Centennial Steak House (Springfield)

If you’re looking to volunteer or have a low-cost meal, see this useful handout from 2012. Some info will have changed, but it’s a good start.

 

10 great pacific northwest cookbooks, plus extras

IMG_6522

I’ve done some thinking on Oregon and greater Northwest cookbooks and other food books after receiving such interest in the cookbooks section of my annual holiday food gifts post.  I thought I’d share them for you, my dear last-minute gifters.  These are books that are not just local, but actually provide singular and excellent recipes and/or comprehensive techniques (not the case with the still-in-print for its baffling popularity, A Taste of Oregon cookbook).

If you can’t get your hands on The Oregonian from 1942 or some of our earliest and most rare cookbooks from the 19th and early 20th century — like the Web-Foot Cook Book (1885), A Portland Girl at the Chafing Dish (1890), or the Washington Women’s suffrage fundraising cookbook (1909) — and you can’t make a visit to the UO Knight Library Special Collections, might I suggest:

  • Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast is a comprehensive system from the esteemed Portland (and former Eugenius) baker/restaurateur.  It provides the intermediate-and-above home baker with techniques to make various starters and big, beautiful loaves.
  • The Paley Place Cookbook by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley is one of the classics of PNW regional cooking.  As I wrote in a review in 2009 for Eugene Weekly, “The gorgeous photos and high quality paper make the coffee table-sized [book] a visual treat. […] Some fabulous dishes that can be recreated by the creative home cook, like lamb shoulder on hay and lavender, are just the beginning. I found myself marking so many pages: homemade cranberry juice, ricotta cheese, summer corncob stock for light soups … wow. A section called “Hazelnuts Make Everything Taste Better” and portraits of wild salmon fishermen and mushroom foraging stamp this book as a PNW classic. Some very complex dishes, such as the elk shoulder, are interspersed with simpler preparations, like a mint and fava bean pappardelle or a side of peas and carrots with bacon.”
  • The Grand Central Baking Book, from the same review: “I had to wrestle it out of my editor’s floury fingers. She was muttering something about gingerbread, so I thought quick and baked up some delectable oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and a rosemary bread pudding before she could renew her strength and overtake me. This one’s a delight. Piper Davis, the co-owner of Portland’s celebrated Grand Central Baking Company, has partnered with pastry chef Ellen Jackson in a beautifully produced collection of breads, cakes and sweet and savory projects, all outlined with clear instructions and images on beautiful paper.”
  • James Beard’s tome, American Cookery, is not exactly a PNW cookbook, but it includes recipes distilled from years of writing a column in The Oregonian.  One might likewise check out The Oregonian Cookbook, which has a full chapter on Beard’s recipes, plus another good chapter on recipes by local chefs.
  • Beard’s good friend Helen Evans Brown’s West Coast Cook Book, is the best cookbook from the 1950s I’ve seen and perhaps the only truly regional/locavore one from ’round these parts written in that era, full of historical sources and then-contemporary recipes from up and down the left coast.  She’s witty and has a good palate, too.
  • Scio, Oregon-based Linda Ziedrich’s twin preservation cookbooks, The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Preserves and The Joy of Pickling, are undoubtedly the two books I turn to most often for preserving local produce.  Everything from rosehips to peas to prunes, with most techniques based on her Master Food Preserver training, are covered in the books.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda for the Register-Guard a few years ago.
  • Modernist Cuisine at Home, by a massive team led by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, will delight the science/molecular gastronomists in your home.  This isn’t really my style of cooking, but everyone who enjoys it seems to be thrilled by this giant handbook.  It’s a less giant and more home-oriented version of the 6-volume monster version for the professional cook, which I have perused and written about and exhibited and pondered at length, so I can predict with some authority that the little brother is likely beautiful and precise and gel-dust-sous vide-foamy.

And here are two more for your consideration, not cookbooks but still excellent for the PNW food and bev lover:

  • Lisa Morrison’s Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest came to my attention after taking her class on beer glasses in Astoria, and I did a tiny interview with her for AAA’s Via magazine.  She’s part owner of Portland’s Belmont Station, and knows the PNW beer scene better than almost anyone.  The book provides breweries, beer lists, and pub crawls.
  • The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe, a seed steward, agricultural activist, and Harvard-trained scientist whose vegetable lines are grown by local Willamette Valley farmers to great acclaim.  The book sets out a plan for improving your garden’s health and heartiness by cultivating the most nutrient-enriched foods, like squash (Carol’s own breed of ‘Oregon Homestead’ sweet meat squash, which I wrote about in Eugene Magazine this fall), beans, potatoes, corn, and reaping the best from small livestock, like her heritage Ancona ducks.

And these were the cookbooks I mentioned earlier, just for completion’s sake:

  • Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book, one of the only cocktail books out there to offer a solid, technique-based guide for the home bartender.  Expect to understand principles and classics, not fancy trends.
  •  Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle chef Renee Erickson, whose restaurants — modern, chic, vibrant, briny — embody perhaps the epitome of contemporary PNW cuisine.
  • Not a cookbook, quite, but Heather Arndt Anderson’s new book about the food history of our fair City of Roses to the north, Portland: A Food Biography, promises to be filled with fun facts and even some descriptive recipes.  Her Tumblr page is fascinating and reflects her research acumen; be sure to click through to buy the book directly from her or the publisher. It also has a chapter on vintage Portland and Oregon cookbooks.
  • Anthony Boutard’s Beautiful Corn, the best treatment I’ve seen on the science and culinary merit of corn from a mellifluous farmer/writer in the tradition of Wendell Berry.
  • Beans, Grains, Nuts and Seeds: Further Adventures in Eating Close to Home by my fellow Eugene locavore, Elin England, whose second book concentrates on the local Renaissance of staple crops we’ve been experiencing.

Disclaimer:  Apart from the two books I reviewed for EW, I didn’t get any of these books for free, dang it.  Doing it wrong, as usual.  But the pleasure in the purchase is all mine.