my reputation spreads far (harrisburg) and wide (one person)

After my shift slinging no-bake breakfast bars — the Food Pantry Project recipe of the month — at the Coburg food pantry, I hightailed it north to Detering’s Orchards in Harrisburg to feed my food-drying addiction.  While I was immersed in green beans, a friendly face smiled at me and said, “nice day for cherry picking!” and “you’re Eugenia from Culinaria Eugenius, aren’t you?”  She didn’t seem to be concealing a weapon, so I came clean, and discovered I was talking to Eat Local Eugene, another local food blogger, who had rushed over to the farm after work to pick cherries and found, well, me.  I was very sad I didn’t have time to follow suit, but my dehydrator — like a crack pipe or a mound of fries or dirty Serge Gainsbourg videos on the Internet — was waiting for me at home.  Not that I’d know anything about the Serge Gainsbourg videos.

But Eat Local Eugene made a good point:  it’s cherry picking time, and the time is now.  They have lovely Bings and Royal Annes at Detering’s, and the price for U-pick can’t be beat.  I was told that the pie cherries (the sour, ruby red ones) will be ready any day now, so please give them a call to see if they’re available before you go to the orchard.  I dried a bunch of fresh Bings and some frozen pie cherries, and they both turned out sweet and tart and lovely. Can’t wait to use them in salads and desserts…

And Eat Local Eugene, I’d love to see what you did with yours!

raspberry jamboree

Alone this week, I busied myself with a borrowed dehydrator, a bottle of wine, a flank steak, Ore-Ida frozen hash browns, tofu, crummy supermarket grape tomatoes, a pint of succulent local Bings, frozen blackberry puree, and a half-flat of Willamette raspberries. Honestly, I feel like I could desiccate anything.

But this is about raspberries, and the time of the year I simply love the best. I still think it’s miraculous that raspberries grow so well here, and they are beautiful and delicious and huge. My raspberries, razzleberried up in the first shot here, are coming along slowly, given that it’s only their second year, but my Meekers are amazing and my Newburghs, although a bit rougher-looking than the perfectly conical, tight-fleshed Meekers, are sweet and delicious. My Amity and Heritage raspberries, and my single black raspberry, a Munger, are taking their own sweet time. So I went out an bought some Willamettes, not nearly as nice as Meekers, but still much better than anything you can get in the supermarket.

So I set about trying to destroy them.

First, I dried a few pints, against the advice of the Preservation Wise Ones, who said that the quality doesn’t hold up. I thought they’d be good thrown in cereal. I still do, although the sweetness was largely sucked away and they turned very seedy, even the largest ones.

Next, I added a handful of raspberries to a jar full of Italian white wine vinegar, along with some Szechuan peppercorns and star anise. The mild sweetness of the raspberries seems to be working well with the floral heat of the peppercorns and the spicy undertone of the star anise. The vinegar needs to sit and steep for a couple weeks before using it. Making flavored vinegars is a forgiving, beginner-level activity that everyone should try! You should avoid containers with metal caps. Don’t worry too much about fresh herbs or fruits spoiling in the concoction– the vinegar is a great preservative — but aim for no more than a ratio of 1:3 fruit:vinegar.

I thought I’d use the vinegar with grilled chicken and fruits, and in a contemporary “shrub,” which is an old American summer refresher. Think perverse Lime Rickey.

Raspberry Shrub

1 T. raspberry vinegar, preferably homemade

1-2 T. sugar, or to taste

pint glass filled with ice

carbonated water or club soda

fresh mint to garnish

Mix together vinegar and sugar until dissolved. Add vinegar mixture to glass filled with ice, then top with carbonated water. Garnish with mint sprig. Drink shouldn’t be too sweet for maximum refreshment.

By the way, it’s not local, but if you can afford a bottle of St. George’s Aqua Perfecta Meeker raspberry eau-de-vie or raspberry liqueur, be sure to pick one up. And another one for me, kthxbai.

it’s time for another edition of blog hits

I’m still loving the bejeezus out of what search terms hit my blog. This edition has a farm theme:

  • will cats eat my chickens?
  • will chickens attack each other?
  • will chickens eat mice?
  • will my chickens attack cats?
  • will mice eat each other?

Sadly, I have no answers. The food chain is a cruel and mysterious thing.

And I still don’t have a recipe for “shake and bake meth,” nor do I plan to post one ever. But friends, you can get all your “how to cut an orange” tips from me, since that’s still my number one search query. Orange ya glad I didn’t say banana?

so hot

…and I’m not at all feeling sweet.  So what’s a little-bit-country, little-bit-harajuku girl to do?  Why, drink mugicha, of course!  Mugicha is roasted barley tea, consumed cold ‘n’ roasty in the hot Japanese summers.  All over Japan, from Tokyo 10-foot-square studios to Fukuoka Zen temples, when the cicadas drone their death song, the people drink ice-cold mugicha in sweaty glasses.  Since it’s just barley, there’s no problem with over-caffeination, and since there’s no sugar, you don’t even have to worry about cavities.  I suppose it might even be good for you. And I suppose you can roast your own barley and it would taste even better, but with heat like this, who wants to stand over a hot stove?

So I cheat, and buy a big bag of “suntea”-type packages of mugicha at Sunrise Market on 29th, and it couldn’t be easier to pop a package into a cold gallon of water and wait until the tea turns golden brown.  I usually keep a pitcher of mugicha in my refrigerator when it’s as hot as it is here in Eugene this week.  And for once in my life, I don’t envy my cats, who are doomed in their little furry bodies to drink only dull water.

farm day at sweetwater farm!

Before I left for the weekend trip, I had the great pleasure to visit my CSA farm, Sweetwater Farm east of Creswell.  Creswell is a short drive south of Eugene, a small town and rural community nestled in its own little valley.  Farmer John and Lynn welcomed us with home brew of the regular and root beer varieties, a potluck, pizzas made in their brick oven (which sadly, I missed due to tardiness), and an herbalist table with minted elixirs of red clover and nettles. Lynn and I took the Master Food Preserver training program together, and I’m volunteering to help the CSA folks out with questions about how to cook with the vegetables in the shares.

The big joy of the 20-acre farm, of course, was the tour provided by Farmer John.  As I said, I was late, so I was fortunate that he was willing to do one last tour, and I happily tagged along, listening to an articulate, passionate disquisition on soil additives, crop rotation, experimentation with chicken feed and greenhouse rows, and all manner of things.  He showed us the bakery in progress, the lumber kiln, and the dank and mysterious mushroom hut, where shiitakes and oyster mushrooms bloom like pale, fleshy flowers.

The fields, immaculately maintained, are grouped by plant type.  The brassicas have their own area, the twenty-odd types of potatoes (some of which are pictured above) grow in neat mounded rows next to a field bursting with hard red wheat (pictured with daisy).  But where were the Yukon Gold potatoes?  Why, in the shares, of course!

Rows of Asian greens fill out another field, and garlic has its own real estate.  Tomatoes and peppers and herbs — really most of the hot weather crops — grow carefully in greenhouses dotted around the property.  Cardoons — cardoons!! — line the long driveway up to the farmhouse.  They are pictured here, the things that look like artichokes.  I had never seen a growing cardoon.  Farmer John said that in Italy, they bend the stalks and cover them with soil to get the blanched white color.  There were strawberries, some small fig trees and the beginnings of a plum orchard, and god knows what else.  The man even has an entire row of wormwood (Artemesia absinthia) and has faced — it was rumored — the green fairy.

We got to see an old Ponderosa Pine in a lovely wooded meadow, a relic, said Farmer John, of what the whole valley used to look like centuries ago.  Hundreds of chickens wander around several large fenced areas, and you can see how happy they are by the size and quality of their eggs.

Sweetwater Farm has been in operation for 20 years, and doing natural or organic farming the entire time.  They used to supply produce to high-end restaurants, but now they just grow for the market and the CSA shares, to maximize freshness and variety.  The vegetables are beautiful, and the breadth of what’s available there is really unusual for a small farm in the Willamette Valley.  I was glad I had the opportunity to visit; thanks John and Lynn!

And one last shot:  I love living in Oregon. Yes, this would be purple mountains’ majesty above the fruited plain…of amber waves of grain.  You know you want it.

with this food i thee wed

Just returned from a sorely needed mini-vacation to the San Francisco Bay Area.  Retrogrouch was at a conference in Canada, so we had to celebrate our tenth anniversary when we returned.  And what better way to do it than by sharing a meal with friends?  Ah yes, sharing the meal we had catered for our wedding ten years ago, with the same wine.

La Méditerranée in Berkeley is still going strong, serving the same pomegranate chicken, fruited garbanzo pilaf, Middle Eastern dips and salads, dolmas and chicken filo fingers it did in 1998.  The 2006 Husch Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley was no 1995, alas, but it was still good enough to remind us of how delicious life can be together.

I decided to pick up the food when I was driving down College Avenue, and saw the restaurant.  Packed in airtight plastic containers, layered with icepacks, and carefully ensconced in the cooler I’ve started taking along with me everywhere I go in the car, it was just fine on the journey back home.  The restaurant didn’t bake the filo, so I just popped it in the oven to crisp up the top, and microwaved the other items that needed heat, and we were good to go.  May the next ten years be as easy as that.

strawberries fading fast and news from your hostess

See what happens when you go get your oil changed in Eugene?  Jam ensues.  Yeah, yeah, I couldn’t resist another flat of Bentons when I passed the fruit stand on West 11th, and this time I was not sucked in to pectin-free promises, so I made a light, lovely batch of low-sugar pectin strawberry jam with pinot gris syrup and Szechuan pepper.  I used Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recipe for Sweet Cheeks Pinot Gris Syrup, which is basically a bottle of wine reduced by half, then fortified with sugar.  The peachy, honeysuckly aromas of the Pinot Gris were then punched up when I macerated a couple of tablespoons of Szechuan peppercorns in a still-hot half-cup of the syrup. Szechuan pepper is such a beautifully floral scent, and it complements strawberries particularly well.  With the Pinot Gris syrup?  Oh la la.

If you’re thinking about preserving strawberries this year, you should get a move on, since this hot weather is wrapping up the season very quickly.   Next up:  blueberries!

And by the way, the reason I was getting an oil change is because I’m going on a little vacation over the weekend.  During that time, I’ll be writing up a post about a fun visit and tour of my CSA, Sweetwater Farm, in Creswell the other day.  Suffice it to say, I was very impressed by the farm and the sheer breadth of the projects Farmer John and Lynn are undertaking.  If you find my blog because you’re associated with the CSA, hi and welcome!

And to everyone else who has been reading the blog, thanks for stopping by!  I’ve noticed my hits have really increased in the last few weeks, and I’m frankly amazed that so many people are interested in my grumbling.  I’d love to know more about the people who are interested in my blog: are you Oregonians?  From Eugene?  Interested in recipes?  Techniques?  Local food politics?  Please don’t be shy to comment and say hello!