save lane extension — vote!

Dear Local Readers,

You’ve heard me go on at considerable length about my volunteer work with Lane County Extension, a branch of the Oregon State University Extension system.

Without the passage of the bond measure on the Lane County ballot that was mailed out today, Extension’s future is jeopardy.

In the past few decades, the service has weathered fiscal crises on the local, state, and federal levels.  It has managed to stay alive and continue to offer a hotline and walk-in service for local farmers and gardeners; year-round garden and food preservation classes; a food safety and preservation hotline each summer and fall, 4-H services for children; and a host of activities educating and sharing with local farmers, foresters, neighborhoods, businesses, and non-profit organizations.

And these services are necessary at a time of growing self-sufficiency and interest in local cooking and gardening.  Folks that you rely on for your organic vegetables at our weekly farmer’s market and horticultural knowledge at places like Down to Earth and Coastal Farm & Ranch are often educated by Extension programs — and rely on the service continuing for questions and referrals.  It serves low-income people in programs like the food pantry education demos.  It serves seniors in homemaker training groups.  It serves middle-class people who grow food and raise chickens in their backyard.  It serves suburban mothers, rural kids, academics, truck drivers, lawyers, bakers, and homeless people.

Extension serves as a sturdy hub in the network that makes up the Willamette Valley food shed. We respond to questions that are local to our area.  This is a service that is not available anywhere else: not online, not in books, not in magazines.  I say this as someone who is very internet-savvy and specializes in culinary literature and history.  When I discovered Extension in Lane County a few years ago, I realized that we had an unbelievably rare resource right here in Eugene: a place where knowledge about local food and horticulture is centralized.  It offers the community a place to exchange information and organize programming.

If Extension in Lane County were to disappear, a vast store of irreplaceable local knowledge and organized outreach would go with it.  It would be foolhardy in good times to squander this resource.  In challenging economic times, however, when people are growing their own food and cooking locally now more than ever, allowing Extension to dissolve without allowing the public to voice its support would be irresponsible.

Lane County Extension has been serving the community since 1914, and now serves about 65,000 residents.  It is so interwoven into the fabric of our local systems that service the food and horticulture needs of our community, it would be nearly impossible for any new organization to fill these shoes. It’s much more cost-efficient to keep the organization alive at a reduced level than to realize, a couple of years down the road, that we really did need and value the services it provided.

Nonsense about these services being better provided elsewhere  has been circulating by a group described in this week’s Eugene Weekly article on Extension.  I’m frankly disappointed that the writer didn’t investigate the issues at stake more deeply, but perhaps it is indicative that no alternative plan is reported.  I have been unable to find any information on viable “better solutions” than Extension, other than vague gestures about how non-profit organizations could be models for private fundraising.  Um, no.  I heard two Extension staff members discussing the 15-hour days they’ve been working because of personnel and other funding reductions.  Who would build and maintain the fundraising infrastructure?  Even though there is a big volunteer base (650 committed souls), an organization can’t depend on volunteers to conduct sophisticated capital and operations campaigns.  (Oregon State University responds to more of the claims and misinformation being spread by the opposition here.)

Please join me in saving Lane Extension. The Register-Guard has endorsed the bond measure, and we hope the Eugene Weekly will, as well, in its voter guide next week.

For those of you who have never used an Extension service, I challenge you to see for yourself if it’s worthwhile.

Next week, call the Master Gardener hotline (541-682-4247) during opening hours for free, research-based, local advice about a plant you bought at the market.  Sign up for a $5 Kitchen Quickies class on savory pies, nuts, pasta-making, summer sausage, or sauerkraut.  Drop by the office during opening hours (M-Th 10-5:00 with 1-2:00 closed for lunch) to have a weed identified.  Check out the evolving local garden calendar or events at Lane County Extension on Facebook and learn when to plant and what pests to look out for in Lane County.

For those of you who have benefitted from the services, please consider donating to the Save Lane Extension political action committee.  You are invited to attend the second Taste of the Vine wine tasting party at a great winery, Pfeiffer Vineyards.

Pfeiffer has delicious, unusual wines, including a spry viognier and a fantastic pinot gris.  The two pinot noirs are wonderful, and the merlot has the faintest hint of smoky bacon.  If it’s like the event I attended a few weeks ago, you’ll come away from the event with a complementary Riedel Oregon pinot noir glass, too.  I won’t go so far as saying you’ll be able to ‘evaluate wine like the pros,’ as the poster says, but you will have a great time with warm, charming people who will teach you the basics in tasting red and white wine.

If you are unable to attend the event and would like to donate, the Save Lane Extension political action committee is looking for any donations for advertisements and other campaign-related costs.  Now is the time to donate to let others know about Extension.  Please see more information about donating here.

Thank you for your support.

A proud Lane County Extension volunteer,

Jennifer Levin, Sole Proprietor and Editorial Muscle, Culinaria Eugenius

spring vegetable supper menu

I think I’ve turned a corner on my academic work.  It’s taken me nine months of struggle to finish up loose ends left dangling from my dissertation exile, publish a couple of articles, invent a few new classes for the job I started immediately after finishing the Ph.D., start new work for conferences and grant proposals, make travel plans, plus a host of other teaching and administrative stuff that’s par for the course.  But I’ve done it.

I don’t want to say I’m out of the woods, but I feel that for the first time in a few years, my schedule is manageable and not subject to change at the drop of a hat, and I’m very, very much looking forward to having a little breathing room to do my research and well, you know, live.

Witness:  I dusted a lamp yesterday and felt infused with pleasure.  Because I actually had 2 minutes to dust a lamp and nothing but the immediacy of lamp-dusting on my mind.  The zen of dusting lamps.  Lame, huh?

Spring and summer are going to be quite busy here at Raccoon Tree Acres, but I only have a few deadlines.  The work I did this winter on proposals, conferences, and teaching my research subject makes them easier to meet, too.  I’ll be going to Maryland to visit the archive of a cantankerous modernist, London to read the papers of a sexologist, Prague to talk about dirty James Joyce, and Zurich to expound upon the literary fruits we know and love.  (Do I dare to eat a peach?  Why yes, I do.)  And we’ll have time to visit family and friends, too, in between.  We haven’t seen most of our family in years, so these are much-anticipated events.

I’m planning to blog the delights of food in all these places, of course.  But for now, I’m quite pleased at my lamp-dusting-local self and the drunken glee of Eugene on the sunny days in spring.  Our farmer’s market is glorious right now.  Our organic farms make the most of the plants they grow and sell the thinnings of their rows.  For the spring vegetable supper below, I bought new potatoes, big fat bunches of the sprouting tips of crucifers (kale, brussells sprouts, broccoli), tiny carrots and French radishes, turnips the size of a quarter, and the biggest bag of deep red rhubarb ever.

I’ll fess up to erring on the side of too much butter, cheese, and cream for the gratin and butter-braised vegetables.  No one complained, though.  The gratin was assembled by blanching the brussells sprout greens and boiling the potatoes, then layering both in a Pyrex dish with nutmeg, pepper, and a handful of chopped sprouting onions, leeks, and garlic that I had culled from my allium bed that afternoon.  Cream in which thyme and savory had been soaking was poured over the top, then a fontina-like Italian cheese whose name I can’t recall was grated over the whole shebang.

For the chimichurri marinade for a gorgeous piece of chinook salmon, I used the tender fronds of my caraway plant, fennel fronds, thyme, savory, lovage, celery, onion, lemon, and olive oil.  We grilled the fish on alder planks, so it was a lovely combination of fresh green and live smoke.

And the rhubarb?  Well, that was a no brainer.  I used some of my homemade granola to fancy up a crumble topping, and tossed the fat pieces with a bit of vanilla sugar and Clear gel food starch to control the juice.

I’m still full.

Spring Vegetable Supper

Fresh from the Market

To Start

Mt. Chanterelle Fern’s Edge Dairy goat cheese
Dolores’ Pickled Prunes

Rabbit Food

Green salad with nasturtium blossoms, French breakfast radishes, and young carrots with homemade lemon chive vinaigrette


Spring herb chimichurri salmon, grilled on alder planks

From the Kitchen
New potato, Brussells sprouting greens, and culled spring onion gratin
Butter-braised baby turnips and carrots with arugula flowers

From the Vine
Sweet Cheeks Rosy Cheeks
Pfeiffer Pinot Gris
Clos du Bois Pinot Noir

Sweets of Spring
Rhubarb homemade granola crumble
Noris Dairy whipped cream

osu extension master gardener annual plant sale

The Master Gardener Plant Sale will be held TODAY at the OSU Extension Service, Lane County, 950 W 13th Avenue, Eugene (in front of the fairgrounds).  Yes, today: Saturday, April 24, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Come early for best selection.

There will not only be great plants and book and bake sales, but also some deliciously whimsical garden art and a silent auction featuring gifts and services from local businesses.  Last year, I won a Friendly Street Market gift certificate, but I secretly coveted the sacro-cranial massage won by one of my friends.  Don’t miss it.

All proceeds will go to support the Master Gardener program in Lane County…and you know we need the funding!

tiptoe through the tulips salad — when winter just won’t give up

The tulips were finally in their glory last weekend, but the rain did its best to wipe them off the face of the earth.  I find early spring in Eugene kind of depressing.  April is the cruellest month and all that.  The combination of wanting to be outside and the damp chill always get to me.  I can’t get warm.  I need sun.  The dirt beckons!

Kind of creepy so stated, no?

Ah, what better to pitchfork you out of the funk than a brilliantly colored, flavor burst salad that does perfectly well with storage apples and the rest of fall’s sauerkraut?

This magenta-red sauerkraut, apple, and carrot slaw is of Polish origin.  I don’t think I’d make it with store-bought sauerkraut.  But if you find yourself with a big jar of homemade stuff, or better yet, several jars of homemade stuff taking up half of your refrigerator because you couldn’t resist the beautiful cabbages you saw for just pennies a pound last fall…go for it! (And if you’re interested in learning how to make sauerkraut, take a $5 OSU Extension Master Food Preserver Kitchen Quickies class on exactly that topic on May 13!  More information in the box to the right.)

The proportions are approximate.  If you like more carrot or apple, adjust accordingly.

The bright colors of the carrots and sauerkraut will stay true and won’t bleed, so feel confident that you can prepare this ahead of time.  Serve in a glass bowl, so everyone can dig the color.  Vegans will love the blend of pro-biotics, raw vegetables, and a hint of sweetness that suggests the faintest sin.  Others may very well enjoy it with grilled sausages.

Polish Sauerkraut-Apple-Carrot Slaw

Serves 6-8 as side salad

  • 1 quart red sauerkraut
  • 2 firm, tart apples (granny smith work well)
  • 2-3 medium carrots
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/2 t. caraway seed

Grate the apples and carrots in a food processor.

Rinse the sauerkraut if necessary to eliminate some of the salt.  Drain sauerkraut well.

Chop the sauerkraut and add to large bowl.  Add apple and carrot.  Dress salad with olive oil, sugar, and caraway, to taste.

Allow salad to sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving.

dining niblets: so you think you’re special edition

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Dining Niblets column on the ol’ blog.  I’ve been hearing tidbits of news but haven’t had a chance to flip ’em over into the omelette of my made-to-order prose.  That’s all about to change in 3…2…1…

Drumrongthai, a new Thai food cart perched on a triangle of pavement at 6th and Blair, somewhat awkwardly across the street from Chao Pra Ya, is opening today (ETA: or did it? I went by around 2:30, and the place was closed).  There goes the neighborhood!  I drove by yesterday to see operations on the finishing touches, and the cart is adorable, all colorful and whatnot.  You can bet I’ll check it out.  More Asian food in Eugene!!

Speaking of which, I spent most of the week stuffed with Korean pancakes that owner June Jang of Café Ari Rang made especially for me when I told her my husband loved the things.  We had a seafood-green onion pancake, simple fried fish pancakes, and some excellent mung bean-hot green pepper-fiddlehead fern-onion pancakes.  They’re not on the menu, but perhaps, just maybe, quite possibly, we could convince her to put just one — like a kimchi pancake or a green onion pancake — on the menu in the future?  Please?!  She did tell me that there will be some spring specials coming soon.

And also coming soon…a semi-permanent block of food carts at Kesey Plaza.  All you Voodoo Donut lovers rejoice — something to cut the sugar!  Unless things have changed, Field to Table/The Nosh Pit and others will be opening up some more delicious street food options as of May 15.  A small voice whispered “Cuban” to me, but I cannot confirm or deny what kinds of food might be occupying the space.

Benedetti’s Meat Market in Springfield offered an irresistible special on their Facebook page yesterday: a “five dollar footlong” made of trimmings of tenderloin from a special order.  It was the best non-Philly cheese steak I’ve ever had, stuffed with meat, melting provolone, and aïoli slathered on a fresh roll from…um…one of our amazing local bakeries whose name I don’t know.  Also special: Facebook discounts on their grass-fed ground beef.  Yet another reason to keep up with your social networking!

I spent an amusing evening at Pfeiffer Vineyards a couple of weeks ago for a fundraising event for Save Lane Co. Extension.  The wine, available only at the winery, is quite interesting.  I’m not a wine connoisseur by any means, but I do know that small, quirky wineries tend to make wines that develop and mutate in sometimes fantastic ways that make them seem wholly unlike their varietal cousins.  Their viognier is strange and seductive, with a nose of (of all things!) banana.  I couldn’t resist and bought some of their lovely pinot gris (pear all over the place, with melon) on the spot.  The pinot noir is more of an investment, but it’s also very, very good.  Was even more amused to see the Eugene liquorish ‘zine Boozeweek is back, and includes a review of Pfeiffer…was nice to read just a few days after I visited!  Ah, memories.

Let’s wine for just a moment longer.  The 2009 Sweet Cheeks riesling is shaping up quite nicely.  We had some as part of the Spring Winemakers dinner last night at the winery.  I was disappointed not to have the tasting notes supplied by the winemaker himself, but he had arrived back in town from Australia that day and was feeling justifiably exhausted.  I’m a big fan of Sweet Cheeks riesling in general, but this vintage seems especially good.  The dinner, which featured Anderson Ranch lamb, tiny duck confit wonton cups, Rogue Creamery blue cheese mousse-stuffed peppers, and a perfectly prepared havarti-potato gratin, was very well done.  Their chef is great, and I’m so glad she’s offered her services to the winery for these dinners.  I’d been looking forward to the event for weeks, and they didn’t disappoint.

And on the other side of the dining spectrum: french fries at Humble Beagle.  We eat there regularly, but I usually opt for something other than the burger and fries, so I hadn’t tried them.  And lo, i did, and they were good.  Very good.  Thinly cut with a mandoline or similar blade that makes perfect, thin, matchstick-y batons, the fries are topped with just a bit of European-style coarse salt, parsley, and raw garlic.  I think their fryer is a bit too hot, so the fries tend to be a bit browner and not quite mealy inside as I like, but there is a certain pleasure in a slighly underdone fry to remember the potato it once was.  Burger and brew special on Mondays: $9.  Eugenia Bob says check it out.

And a couple of ehs, just for those of you who love to hate my “opinionated” ranting.  Eh: Hop Valley Brewery in Springfield by Gateway mall.  Beer is a bit bland and the space feels very commercial.  I liked it that there was an excellent ratio of burly manly men to, well, me.  (This is a service announcement for single ladies.)

Eh: the service at Perugino.  We really don’t need the attitude, thanks.  Love the music, though.  Probably the best in Eugene.  Right tunes, right volume.

Eh: another vegan, another burger joint.  This time both.  The pictures look fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but I’m so tired of the burger joints, and we’re full up on vegan joints.  So…eh.

Get out there and garden, Eugene!

everything’s coming up rose geraniums!

A by-product of any rhubarb cooked over the stove is the shocking pink syrup I wrote about last year. Here’s my new batch, making friends with two kinds of pickled plums and some pickled ginger in my refrigerator.  Hullo there!

The problem is that most of the rhubarb that flourishes here in the Willamette Valley is the green-stalked Victoria rhubarb (below).  When mixed with June strawberries, there’s no problem with color, but bright green rhubarb pie or crumble seems a little, well, less festive.

So if you can, grab up or pick hefty red rhubarb stalks when you see them.  I bought mine at Groundworks Organics at the farmer’s market last week, and made some syrup with vanilla sugar we made at our OSU Extension Master Food Preservers ‘Gifts in a Jar’ class last winter.  Just before pouring the sweet and sour concoction into a jar to cool, I swished a few rose geranium leaves in the syrup for an unusual flavor.

My problem is that I can’t stop eating my rose geranium-vanilla rhubarb syrup on ice cream.  I want to use it for crisp gin cocktails with a garnish of rose geranium flower.  Or maybe to spice up a fresh strawberry fruit salad.  Or maybe to drizzle over some sour cherry claufoutis.  Will it last, though?

Tune in next week, same bat time, same bat channel.

Now’s the bat time, by the way, to start shopping for scented geraniums.  I fell in love with the classic variety ‘Attar of Rose’ last year, but all my geraniums — peppermint, lemon balm, cinnamon, rose — died in the freeze.  The geranium lady at the market told me she lost most of hers, as well.  Even ones that were 10 years old.  A shame.

Rose geraniums make a wonderful simple syrup on their own, without rhubarb.  I seem to recall I made a simple syrup last year with local Pinot Gris and rose geranium.  If you can bring out complementary flavors in your chosen wine with the rose, all the better.  Other ideas?  You might try submerging a few leaves in a quart of sugar to make rose-scented sugar for baking, or even make a pound cake with the leaves imprinted on the top of the cake.

We’re pretty sure that my friend’s Greek grandma floated whole leaves on top of her summer jelly. I wonder if you could substitute rose geranium for roses in other kinds of jams, as well.  I guess I’ll have the entire summer to find out!

rhubarb crumbling with desire

See, I would post something about this scrumptious rhubarb crumble,

the very first of the entire season,

or maybe even  the rhubarb-vanilla-rose geranium (not so) simple syrup

that I made for spring cocktails,

but who in the world would blog while there’s still crumble left?

oscar the grouchy potato

I’ve had a slacker galvanized garbage can hanging out in my shed since I moved in, so I thought I would put it to work this year.  Drilling drainage holes in the bottom was a tiny challenge, but my wonderful neighbor had the right tool for the job, as usual, and Retrogrouch took care of the pickles-for-drill bit exchange.

Potatoes grow in all kinds of media, so I planted ‘Desiree’ seed potatoes atop about 6 inches of high-quality compost with a cup or so of low-nitrogen organic fertilizer, then topped them with another 3-4 inches of compost.  As the potatoes grow, I’ll add more, covering the stems all the way up to the leaves so little potato babies can form and grow along the stem.  In the fall, after undoubtedly pulling off a few new potatoes from time to time, I’ll dump out the compost and reuse it on the flower beds, and the crop of potatoes will be right there and ready for curing.

I also planted some ‘Red Gold’ potatoes in a smaller container, a recycled plastic nursery tub.  The thought is that I’ll be able to move around the containers if I decide they need more sun or shade.  I really like the idea of freeing up another part of my beds, as well.   We’ll see what happens!

Peas and alliums and strawberries and artichokes are growing nicely.  I’m going to hope for another break in the rain so I can get in my lettuce.  Not sure why so many people are buying tomato plants this early, but I’m hoping they all have greenhouses.  I did succumb to the charms of two new ‘Attar of Rose’ scented geraniums to replace the ones I lost in the freeze; I already used one leaf in my freshly made rhubarb simple syrup.  And thus, spring begins!

polish easter soup for the intrepid

My grandma’s Easter soup is one of the only things I like about Easter.  The recycler in me loves the very concept of this soup, described most scornfully by a hater here.  (To whom I say: you should have had my great-grandma’s potato-ketchup soup if you want to thumb your nose at poverty cooking, yo.) Polish Easter Soup, also called zhurek or white borsch, utilizes the broth made by cooking the Easter kielbasa, leftover ham and sausage, a few dried mushrooms, leftover hardboiled eggs, whey that was probably hanging around as a by-product of Farmer cheese-making (there’s your answer, Polish Easter Soup-hater!), and the leftover liquid from a rye sourdough starter.  The soup is thickened with sour cream blended with a bit of flour.

11014841_10152828734278230_7563633823902217549_nMy grandma’s recipe

I’ve always liked it in its simplest form, but this year I tried to bump up the flavor with Sweet Briar Farms spicy beer sausage (since I couldn’t find natural kielbasa), Russian fingerling potatoes, and fresh maitake mushrooms sauteed with bacon and the aforementioned beer sausage.  I used a Guatemalan crema for the sour cream, and added some Tule Lake fresh horseradish and a splash of vinegar to balance the flavors.  The hardboiled egg garnish was greenified by some garden chives, and each bowl of soup contained a dollop of additional horseradish.

But if this doesn’t sound like your thing, I hope you hunted up some raw, fresh Easter Egg radishes as beautiful as these.

saturday farmer’s market opens, foodies go wild!

Welcome back farmers, we love you!  I was the only tourist with a camera I saw walking around, but no one seemed to mind.  A wild spring day, smiling washed-out winter faces.  We’re all Vitamin D deprived and hungry for green.  The colors were almost unbearably bright, almost toy-like, in the bright spring vegetables pyramidded up under the new white awnings.

Rocking a locally-made Archival Clothing tote bag, I sent a strong message that no vegetable was a match for me. I snapped up a bag of new carrots, some purple flowering kale, and young green and red mustard green fronds from Lost Creek Farm (the farm that suffered the freak hailstorm in June last year — they must have been pretty anxious this week), Russian fingerling potatoes, a big bag of salad mix, dried Fellenberg (Italian) prunes from Raynblest, beer sausages and some maitake mushrooms to make my Easter soup.

Corey, the owner of Field to Table and The Nosh Pit (the innovative world street food cart on 8th and Olive that features a different cuisine each week), was serving up Jamaican-inspired chicken hash with egg and nettle pesto.  Even though I was mesmerized by the dark yellow farm-fresh egg yolk, I snapped a shot of Corey (r) and his cook in front of their sign.  Lookin’ good, guys!

I was also really happy to see my fellow OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers at a booth, as well.  I had worked with Tim (l) on the hotline before, and we talked about the upcoming bond measure to Save Extension campaign for a few minutes.  It softened them up enough to allow me to take a picture.  Take one for the team, I said, and obligingly, they did.

Must have been the dazzle of my weird, lip-less smile.  (Hey, if I embarrassed them, I might as well embarrass myself.)

Some of the other delicious offerings included roasted vegetables and garlic from Canby Asparagus Farm, all manner of greens from Lost Creek Farm…

‘Easter Egg’ radishes and Russian kale from Hay Bales, Russian fingerling potatoes and leeks from Groundworks Organics (I think)…

and snow pea starts from the pepper lady.

I was so glad to see all of you, human and vegetable alike!