birthday pleasures

It’s my birthday, and not only am I pleased to announce I received a Serge Gainsbourg jazz compilation, circa 1958-64, but also — more of interest to you, certainly — that my very first article in the Chow! quarterly food supplement of the Eugene Weekly, our local alternative paper, appeared today!  You can read more about the Master Food Preserver funding crisis by clicking here:

You can learn more about Serge Gainsbourg here:

Or you can eat free, delicious Hermiston watermelon that you got out in Umatilla County at the great watermelon giveaway of 2008 (tomorrow).  Or read my article AND eat Hermiston watermelon AND listen to Serge Gainsbourg.  This birthday girl is very easy to please.

i really like your peaches fruit salad

It’s a fruit salad. It’s an aphrodisiac. Does summer get any better than this?

I invented this fruit salad after reading a chapter in Iwan Bloch’s Sex Life in England (1934) entitled “Curious Sexual Instruments.” Bloch was an old-school German sexologist — indeed, he is credited for being one of the founders of that branch of study — who wrote comprehensive books on large chunks of sexual life, including a biography of the Marquis de Sade and books on prostitution, erotic literature, and sexual odors.

In “Curious Sexual Instruments,” we find not only what you would expect, but also a few paragraphs on aphrodisiacs identified by experts. A certain M. Venette, author of De la Generation de l’Homme ou Tableau de l’Amour Conjugal, singles out foods such as egg whites, “sweet strong wine,” and milk. Another gentleman named Ryan adds these to the list: fish, turtles, oysters, crabs, lobsters, eggs, artichokes, truffles, mushrooms, celery, cocoa, onions, cinnamon, pepper, apricots, strawberries and peaches.

Bloch’s third source, the pornographic novel The Amatory Experience of a Surgeon (1881), is perhaps the least credible of the lot, but I believe everyone should try once what it recommends: making your move on the ladies with a cinnamon-dusted hand.

Or you could try this fruit salad instead. Capitalize on the local peaches coming into season, and the apricots in full swing.  It seems too decadent for breakfast to me, but you have your own morals.  You might perhaps decide to enjoy it after eating some of the other ingredients on the list: begin with raw oysters and chilled artichokes in a truffle mayonnaise, then tuck into a bouillabaisse of fish, shellfish, celery and onions, perhaps.

Whatever you do, save some room for dessert, because this is the best fruit salad I’ve ever tasted. If they don’t like your peaches after this concoction, heaven help you.

I Really Like Your Peaches Fruit Salad

Serves 2

  • 2 ripe peaches, cubed
  • 2 ripe apricots, cubed
  • strawberries in some form, either fresh (everbearing from your garden?) or frozen, chopped, or a scoop of homemade strawberry preserves or syrup
  • a few shakes of cinnamon
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • 2 T. “strong, sweet wine” such as Port or Madeira
  • 1 pint whipping cream

Mix together all ingredients but the whipping cream. Let macerate for at least 30 minutes. Adjust sweetening by adding a bit more Port, if necessary or pleasurable.

While fruit is macerating, whip cream until very stiff, even lumpy, and add a bit of sugar while whipping. An alternative is to use slightly sweetened ricotta or crème fraîche. Serve in individual bowls with a dollop of whipped cream on top and a drizzle of Port.

keeping cool with sour cherry and apricot soup

I should dedicate this, the second summer appetizer in my series of summer appetizers with obscure ingredients, to the folks at Hentze farm, where I bought the blushing, lovely apricots and the already-pitted sour cherries, submerged in their juice.  It made my life so easy, and easy livin’ is what summer is supposed to be about, right?

Sour cherries and apricots whisper Hungary to me.  My trip to Budapest in 2006 for a conference was one of the highlights of my life.  If my soul had a foreign home, it would be Hungary.  Of course, I’d soon die and have to be buried in a piano box because I would eat so much, but I’d die happy.  At one restaurant, I ordered sour cherry soup (meggy leves), thinking it would be a light starter.  Of course, being Hungary, it was thickened with sour cream and topped with whipped cream.  And every bite was delicious.

My version of the soup is lighter and appropriate for a July grilled meal.  The soup is still rich, but unless you want to serve it as a dessert (which you absolutely can), forgo the whipped cream and replace the sour cream with thinner, lighter crème fraîche.  Noris Dairy makes a delicious, slightly runny “sour cream” that is basically crème fraîche, so I use that.  You might try lightening up your sour cream with a bit of heavy cream if you can’t find crème fraîche.  If you can’t find that, you certainly won’t be able to find Hungarian apricot brandy, which is not imported much in the States, so substitute cherry brandy.  Or make your own apricot liqueur!

Using fresh sour cherries and apricots make this soup extraordinary.  It’s better to substitute fresh Bing or other cherries than to use frozen or canned sour cherries, since this is all about fresh summer produce.  I don’t bother peeling the apricots, but it might make the texture more elegant.

Sour Cherry Apricot Soup

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or dessert

2 cups pitted sour cherries
3 cups cherry juice
½ cup fruity red wine, such as Merlot
1 cup quartered fresh apricots
1 T. sugar
½ cup crème fraîche
1 T. powdered sugar
1 piece cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3-4 whole cloves
1 T. apricot brandy (Hungarian barack palinka) or cherry brandy

Pour juice and wine into pot, add cherries, apricots, and sugar.  Place spices in small cheesecloth bag and tie with kitchen twine.  Submerge in juice.

Simmer cherries and apricots just long enough to soften them up, about 5-10 minutes.

Mix crème fraîche and powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Remove soup from heat and remove spice bag.

Scoop out about half of the cherries and apricots and puree in the food processor, then return to soup pot.

Quickly whisk in crème fraîche until thoroughly mixed, and add brandy.

Pour into small serving bowls and chill for several hours before serving.

dining niblets

(1) Whoever invented the term “niblets” is a marketing genius or a wizard or something.

(2)  Sushi-ya.  Try Sushi-no.  It opened a short while ago in the space formerly known as Misako on Willamette at 8th.  Poor quality — poor quality — tuna, soggy, tasteless and mushy.  The snapper, which I should have known was bad (given it was offered as a special with lemon and ginger) was almost dangerous.  I did like the Hawaii roll, and speaking as someone who is disgusted by most American kitchen-sink-type sushi rolls, this is high praise.  They keep that one simple, with tuna, chives, and hot peppers.  Wormy little bean sprout salad as a free starter, no thanks.  The food took forever to arrive and was disappointing when it did.  Young white men manning the sushi station: never a good sign.  Probably the worst sushi I’ve had in a very long time.

But a serious, serious problem, and one I can’t believe no health inspector has noticed, is that the sushi is served on old wooden boards that were once food-grade, but now the varnish is peeling from the corners and the wood has cracked.  We ate from one with a big hairline crack down the middle, and another one that had two significant flaws in the wood — the knots and divots that create pretty patterns on your hardwood floors, but a health hazard when on service items in a commercial kitchen.  And one featuring SUSHI?  Ugh. Two wasabi-green thumbs down.  (No, the picture isn’t the board we ate on.  It’s a used BBQ cedar plank from our woodpile.  But evocative, no?)

(3)  And a delight, for balance.  The late-night Lebanese hummus plate at Café Soriah.  Simple, fresh sliced broiled lamb, seasoned with mint and sumac, atop a big mound of delicious, creamy hummus, with pretty green marinated olives and some hot pink pickled onions on the side.  Want.

(4)  And oh heck, more delight.  Ish.  The prosciutto and fresh arugula pizza at La Perla.  The restaurant itself could use some fine tuning, but the pizza oven rocks.  The first night we went was during the Olympic Trials, and we were seated on the south side of the pizzeria, which is acoustically flawed (I fear for good) and we could hear the other tables better than our own dinner companions.  The second time was much better, with fewer kids running around and more adult noise levels on the north side.   The service was less snotty Barbie doll high school girl with attitude, too.  (Jesus, give me a fuckin’ BREAK.)

Eschew the expensive, prepackaged desserts and the pedestrian salads, and get your pizza topped with a big handful of arugula leaves.  Do salad like the Italians do.  Well, pick off the bruised and yellowing arugula leaves (La Perla, shame on you), then do it like the Italians do.  The peppery, greeny, crunchy arugula is a perfect match, dare I say synergy, with the cheese and the salty prosciutto and the blackened bits on the pizza dough.  I’ve been looking for a pizza like this since my trip to Italy in 2002.  Yum.

(5)  The laab beef salad at Aiyara Café in Springfield (in a sad little strip mall at Harlow Road and Gateway).  Finally, a Thai restaurant in the area that doesn’t over-sugar its food, gah.  This is one of my favorite Thai dishes, featuring rare beef slices, mint, cilantro, onions and fresh lettuce, tomato and cucumbers in sour and spicy lime dressing texturized with roasted rice powder, and Aiyara makes it well.

(6)  From another car on the arugula train, Midtown Bistro‘s bacon, arugula and tomato sandwich with homemade mayo is really quite delicious.  Thick, chewy bacon, great bread, and a summer tomato —  ah, I’m drooling just thinking about it.  Take a hint from me and order a green salad on the side, though, to supplement the skimpy serving of arugula on the sandwich.  Or just tell them to add more.  I guess you could be less passive-aggressive.

(7)  Belly.  I haven’t been.  But a little bird told me very good things.

testing pressure canner gauges — the life you save could be your own

Hear ye, hear ye.  The Lane County Extension Family Food Education/Master Food Preserver volunteers are testing pressure canner gauges on two more dates at the Eugene office, 950 West 13th Avenue, next to the Fairgrounds. Bring in your canner lid (it’s ok to remove the little weight) between 10:45 and 12 noon on August 12, August 26, September 9, September 23, and October 14.  You may also drop it off a day or two earlier, if those times aren’t convenient, and pick it up after noon on the specified date. Please call the hotline (details on the right) for more information.

We test the gauges on a machine designated for that purpose at 6, 11, and 16 pounds of pressure.  Any gauge more than a pound off should be replaced.  There is no charge for the service, but donations to keep the MFP program alive past September are gratefully accepted.

By the way, it’s really worthwhile to talk to the volunteers while you’re dropping off or waiting for your gauge to be tested.  Yesterday, we found out that a local green bean enthusiast had been canning her beans for many years with salt pork.  The problem with this recipe (her grandma’s) is that you need a much longer time to can meat safely than you do with vegetables, and by the time the salt pork would be shelf-stable, the beans would be mush.  The individual in question had been putting her family at risk for botulism poisoning for years, including her elderly father.

Pené Ballini, a 16-year veteran volunteer, was working the testing machine and training me.  Why, she quizzed me, hadn’t her family died yet?

I had no idea, other than luck.

She reminded me that people used to cook beans to death, and since the woman was cooking for elderly people, she may very well have been boiling them for 10-15 minutes out of the jar.  Boiling vegetables for at least 10 minutes will kill botulism.  The problem arises with modern technology: people nuke their home-canned beans just for a minute or so to warm them up…

…and then they keel over.

I’m being flippant about this story, but it’s actually really important to know contemporary safety guidelines for canning.  A grandma killed her grandkids with canned green beans a few years ago in Oregon, and I listened to a gruesome tape about someone who survived botulism.  Let me just say that throat paralysis, nerve damage, surgery without anaesthetic, months in excruciating pain in the hospital and years in pain thereafter, losing one’s voice and hearing, etc., is not a pretty way to live.

Please — if you have any questions about older recipes or suspicious new ones — give the MFP hotline a call.

blogger craves tunafish, details at 11

On Sunday, it was hot and we were moping around the house, looking for entertainment.  When that failed, we turned to food.  I didn’t feel like cooking, and I especially didn’t feel like eating the salad greens, carrots or radishes populating the crisper.  And we didn’t want to go out, either.  So I did what any reasonable foodie would do: turned over her kitchen to the creative wiles of her husband.

Retrogrouch loves sandwiches.  I couldn’t care less about sandwiches.  Undaunted, he opened a can of tuna, drained off the juice carefully.

“Give this to deserving individuals,” he pronounced solemnly.  “Of your choosing.”

One deserving individual happened to be begging at my feet.  I put the bowl o’ juice on the floor.

He dumped the tuna in my food processor.  A healthy scoop of the dill relish I had made that morning joined the party.  A few fat blurbs of mayonnaise invited themselves, too.

I looked pained.  “You’re going to blend that?  How about some green onions,” I asked, “or some herbs or vinegar or tomatoes?”

Retrogrouch brushed off my anxieties.  “Nope,” he said, and hit pulse.

A few seconds later, we had a creamy, dilly tuna spread that we slathered liberally on toasted wheat bread.  I don’t really like sliced wheat bread, either.  But it was so damn good I am drooling over it and I want his tunafish for breakfast now and for every meal for the rest of my life.  So I’m going to make an effort to do sandwiches for dinner more often, or better yet, make him do them!  Yay!