leaf me alone

We’ve had a few days of glorious sunny weather in Eugene, and even I peeled myself from my computer and spent some time outdoors.  I’m still battling my ever-grossening pile of leaf litter from the city.  I had my first ever passive-aggressive discussion with a neighborhood suburban soccer mom type, who asked me what I was doing with the leaves.  My response of “killing my lawn” was clearly not welcome, but she decided to back down with a “oh. Thank you,” instead of challenging the obviously deranged homeowner holding a pitchfork.  American Gothic, indeed.

And here’s what I’m doing with the leaves, for those curious:

The quality isn’t great, but they’re just fine for areas that I want to keep covered from weeds, like around my beds and landscaping.  And I’m also hoping they’ll keep the roots warm of some of the more heat-loving plants.  The tomato bed in the middle of the picture was already mulched with elm leaves earlier in the season, but I’m covering the area around the bed to discourage our infernal root-running grass from encroaching into the bed.  I suppose I should just install a proper raised bed instead of a berm, but I rather like the half-moon shape of this bed.

Northwest summer in January is a particularly cruel event, as February is usually the month we get freezing temperatures and snow.  The daffodils are beginning to bud up, the hellebores are in full flower, and signs of growth are everywhere.  We all, thus, pray for the freeze not to do too much damage to all the tender bits when it comes.

soup glorious soup: new article in chow

I’m pleased to share with you my latest article for Eugene Weekly‘s Chow, a daring exposé of unusual local soups.  OK, that may be stretching it, but the article includes a recipe (of sorts) by Chef Gabriel Gil of Rabbit Bistro.  (See http://issuu.com/eugeneweekly/docs/chow-01-27-2011.) I love this glimpse into the mind of a master soup maker.  The recipe doesn’t provide a basic soup recipe; rather, it exposes his method for anyone who knows the basics of soupmaking and wants to refine and inspire their own technique.  I’m sure some will be unhappy about the lack of specifics, but there are so many basic soup recipes for those who have never forayed into this important part of cooking, I’d advise you to experiment with anything you find that appeals, then come back to Gil’s method.

The ingredients in the soup bowl above (image by Trask Bedortha of the Eugene Weekly) exemplify Gil’s creativity, and I’m sad we didn’t get the details in a caption.  But I can tell you now: turnip, pork, and licorice.  It’s a turnip purée with a porky broth, garnished with pieces of soft black licorice candy (!!), maybe pimentón pepper? and chervil?, and chicharrones.  The soup is infused with a hint of licorice that beautifully perks up the turnip, and as you’re musing on that, the pepper tingles your tongue.  Using real licorice, instead of aniseed or Pernod or licorice root, is the whimsical surprise, and it really worked.  And I’m not just saying this as a licorice lover.  Or a turnip soup lover.  Or a pork…well, you get the picture.

I’m only sad it’s gone.

Be sure to check out the fab article on the Food for Thought radio program with Boris Wiedenfeld and Ryan Dawe-Stotz.  I’m very glad Vanessa Salvia’s article on the Food Justice Conference made it in, as well.  I couldn’t write about it because of conflict of interest (although I’m not sure why a free event would conflict anyone), and am glad she did it food justice.

food events

There are so many great food events upcoming in the next month or so in our little burg.  I posted my lecture on Willy Wonka the other day, but here are a few more.  One is tonight!

  • Wednesday, Jan. 26, 7 p.m.
    “Food and Frenchness in Delicatessen” (lecture and film showing)
    Sophia Sapp (Graduate Student, Comparative Literature)
    115 Lawrence Hall, UO
  • Sunday, Jan. 30.
    If you like truffles or just want to check out gourmands in Eugene, you might enjoy the marketplace at the Oregon Truffle Festival.  All events but the Marketplace are sold out. It’s $15 to get in/$20 with a wine glass, and you’ll see demos and taste truffled products.
  • Thursday, Feb. 3, 4:00 p.m.
    “Pleasure Once Removed: Suffering, Violence, and Eating”
    Lisa Helke, Professor and Sponberg Chair of Ethics, Department of Philosophy, Gustavus Adolphus College, and Co-editor, Food, Culture, and Society: An International Journal of Interdisciplinary Research
    Browsing Room, Knight Library, UO
  • Feb. 19-21. University of Oregon Food Justice Conference.  This is a major  interdisciplinary academic conference on food politics, featuring both local and national issues and speakers.  There is also an art exhibition and a food fair.  I’ll be writing more about these events soon, but urge you now to browse the program and save the dates!

willy wonka film/lecture on 2/9/11

Interested in food and film? Join the Comparative Literature NOMAD mentorship program “What Sustains Us” lectures and film viewings, open to all.

Comparative Literature graduate student Sophie Sapp is speaking on Wednesday, 1/26, at 7 p.m. on Frenchness in Delicatessen, and I’ll be speaking in a couple of weeks on the notion of “pureness,” American individualism, and corporate responsibility in the 1971 cult film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the film will follow my lecture):

  • February 9, 7 p.m., 115 Lawrence Hall
  • A World of Pure Imagination: Willy Wonka and the American Food Industry”
  • Prof. Jennifer Burns Levin, Clark Honors College

These programs are part of the year-long “Sustenance” series co-sponsored by the Oregon Humanities Center.  Click the link for many more excellent public programs devoted to sustainability and other interpretations of sustenance.

neighborly eggs

My wonderful neighbor brought over a half-dozen eggs from her new chickens.  Retrogrouch has been on an egg jamboree lately, and he even convinces me to eat a protein breakfast about half the week now.  I’m still not very cooperative — some days I say, “honey, I just can’t face eggs this morning.”  But he mixes them with a vegetable, and they smell and look good.  This is a typical example, eggs à la mode de Bruxelles:

We go through, suddenly, a ton of eggs, and our usual egg source doesn’t have enough eggs because of the season, so we’ve been buying farm eggs wherever we can.  See the difference in the yolks compared to the pale yellow store eggs?*   So I was even more happy that my generous neighbor decided to come by.

I just have to say, too, that I live in the best neighborhood in Eugene.  Friendly Area REPRESENT.

There’s more stuff I have to write — good news in the local food scene, but I’m feeling kind of tapped out with writing lately. I’m sorry.  It’s the winter chill, I guess, plus my schedule, which isn’t as light as I’m making it seem (but still much easier than last fall).  One major milestone:  I did make more progress on my hateful pile of rotting leaves in the sunshine today; perhaps that will give me the impetus to stay inside and write tomorrow.

*If you want to check them out, visit the winter market at Hideaway Bakery — River Bend Farm has fresh eggs with beautiful, deep gold yolks.  I was talking to Dick there on Saturday, and he told me that someone once returned their eggs because they thought something was wrong with them!  Nope, that’s just the way eggs should look if the chickens are allowed to be chickens.

laughing stock field trip: cures for what ails ya

Open sesame!  You will soon enter a land where normal, everyday things turn into objects of wonder and delight!  We are moving into a land of both shadow and substance…the Fermentation Zone!

OK, it’s really just a farm.  But what a farm!  Laughing Stock farm, just south of Eugene, to be exact. They’ve supplied pork to some of the best restaurants on the West Coast for dozens of years, including Chez Panisse and Paley’s Place.  I had the most welcome opportunity to visit not only the piggies and chickchicks and remarkable line of almost a hundred myriad espaliered apple trees, but also the fermentation facilities that are being developed by owner Paul Atkinson and charcuterie force majeure Del Del Guercio.

The massive metal door at the top of my post is the cold smoker Del developed.  The picture above is the business end of the cold smoker.  One puts a couple of handfuls of wood chips in this little container, and the smoke that results is enough to fill the chamber.  I sampled some of the honey bacon trial this week, and even though Del feels it’s too smoky yet, I was deeply, immediately smitten.  In fact, I’m thinking about it now and how sad I am that I gobbled the rest of it down with eggs this morning.

This beauty is a work in progress.  It’s an old shipping container that will, when finished, be mostly buried in the hill to the left.  Inside the container, the walls are lined with fragrant cedar wood, and the humidity will keep curing meat at an even 70 degrees.  This, my friends, when you consider the quality of Paul’s whey-fed pork and Del’s curing powers, is a several-ton old metal, asphalt and hay insulated slice of heaven.

We also toured the brewery and cheese cave, namely, this converted semi truck.  Inside, the interior is outfitted with a full sink and refrigeration to accommodate the cheese Paul makes for his own use (which is wonderful, unsurprisingly — we tried a goat feta and a couple of smoked cheeses).  Del, who is an award-winning beer brewer, has his equipment set up — and I nosily noted a Pilsner recipe in a spiral-bound notebook — for his next batch.

We ended the tour with samples of Del’s chorizo and Italian fennel sausage, plus the cheeses, and chatted with the farm assistant who we had met earlier collecting eggs, and a beagle we had met in a barn along the way.  Could life get any better than this?

I was very happy to make the journey with, and acquaintance of, Josh Chamberlain of J-Tea. We met at the tea shop on Friendly Street.  Proof:

Del and Katie, Josh’s girlfriend and food writer, sampled a range of J-teas with me, each as unusual as it was delicious. It was a good reminder that I need to belly up to a tea bar every once in a while for serenity now.

And even though the teas were Chinese and not made on a farm in the South Eugene hills, Josh showed off several tea vessels made of bona fide Willamette Valley clay, the stuff that drives all of us gardeners crazy when we hack away at it to plant our tender seedlings.  The teapot above is 100% local clay.  The stuff cleans up nicely, don’t you think?

What a great morning.  Thanks, Del, Paul, Paul’s assistant whose name I can’t recall, Josh and Katie, for a wonderful trip.

fermentation nation

I managed to shoot a few photos at the Fun with Fermentation festival, held today at the W.O.W. Hall.  While folks did demos on fermentation techniques on the stage, a couple dozen vendors of fermented kraut, pickles, kimchi, bread, kombucha, beer, cider, and tea sampled their goodies as part of a fundraiser for the Willamette Valley Sustainable Foods Alliance.  I was enamored of these dee-lux kraut pounders, on sale for a pretty reasonable $25, since it’s hard to find anything else to do the job.

And check out these little cubes of pillowy quinoa tempeh.  Someone (edited to add: 8…9…Tempeh? See comments) has been experimenting with different grains, fermenting what is usually only soybeans into tempeh.  The crumbs in the middle of the photo are the remains of a pinto bean tempeh.  The quinoa tempeh cubes were also served deep-fried in coconut oil (far right).  I was pretty impressed by the texture and flavor.

Of the fermented products on display, the most common were kombucha and sauerkraut.  I’ve never really understood the kombucha craze, since it seems very expensive in the stores, but I liked the flavor of an elderberry kombucha at one of the booths — it was like a more nuanced, developed shrub (an old-fashioned drink of soda and vinegar).

Several vendors were on hand to show off their sauerkraut.  Honestly, I wasn’t super impressed by the canning techniques or flavored kraut.  Store-bought hippie-style kraut always seems to be dry and kind of dead or undeveloped tasting to me, and some products on hand were mushy, which usually means the kraut is aged to much or maybe boiled instead of low-temp pasteurized).  Aralia Alchemy, a small business that markets their krauts through Pickled Planet (but doesn’t seem to be on their website), offered by far the most unusual offerings.  I don’t know how I would eat a jar of Aralia kraut, since I usually cook mine, but if you like eating it raw, it would be a wonderful addition to your repertoire.  Jennifer McCoy, a certified herbalist and owner of Aralia Alchemy, told me she wanted to add spring nettles to her cabbage, and the experimentation began.  At the festival, she was sampling two kinds of nettle kraut, one with whole small dandelion heads, and another with aralia, a leaf that looks a bit like cooked collards in the kraut, but has an unusual flavor.  Jennifer said it was like ginger, but not any ginger I know.  Very worth a try, if you should find a way to get it.

Probably the best plain kraut at the festival was Good Food Easy’s kraut (and I enjoyed a delicious sample of radish kimchi, too).  And I hope we convinced another popular local vendor to sell their yummy 6-week-aged kraut, which they were sampling alongside their regular stuff (which is only aged a week, and is sweet instead of sour).

Downstairs, the beer was flowing.  I had never been to 16 Tons, the new bottle shop at 13th and High, so it was a pleasant surprise to try a few of the European and European-style beers.  I particularly liked a dry Belgian raspberry lambic (Oud Beersel Framboise) with a lovely color and true fruit taste, and a Czech-style Pilsner from McMinnville’s Heater AllenCarlton Cyderworks, another McMinnville outfit, sampled their ciders (above: the gentle Carry Nation, a well integrated blueberry-infused cider, and the English-style — drier and more tannic and almost as good as British cider.)

After all that hard work, I was very happy when I heard my friends had already put in the Devour brats-with-kraut order when I made my tipsy way upstairs.  We went outside in the rain, and, as much as we wanted an order of beignets, feasted our eyes instead on the red VW bus and Viva Vegetarian’s cool, forest green ex-postal jeep.

culinaria eugenius in l.a.: old school

I spent the long weekend in L. A. at a conference, which turned out to be delightful.  It’s a notoriously miserable annual affair, this gigantic conference, where everyone in my discipline who is interviewing for jobs (on either side of the table), seeking career advice, giving a talk, or just wanting to hear distinguished individuals rail on about the state of the field, come together in one, tense, ill-fitting suit-wearing weekend.

But I had a blast!  They used to hold the conference between Christmas and New Year’s, which would ruin both holidays, and always seem to hold it in places like Chicago or Boston to torture the Westcoasters.  This year, they switched the date to after Jan. 1, and held it in L.A.  Mood instantly improved.  For me, the conference was illumined not by L.A. neon or the cascading crystal light blankets that draped down over the J. W. Marriott lobby, but by all the friends and colleagues who were there.  I attended graduate school in Southern California, so many of my pals showed up for interviews, talks, and parties.

But we don’t care about interviews, talks, parties, or even friends here at Culinaria Eugenius, where we go to conferences to get our EAT on.

Exhibit A: street tacos.  A gigantic roast of pork al pastor in a taco truck caught my eye as I was headed home from a party.

As I watched the tacos being assembled, I noticed the women patting the tortillas between their hands, and saw the dough.  OMG, they were making fresh tortillas right there and then!  I gobbled down my tacos, wishing I had bought more. (Eugene note: this would be a great cart — concentrate on tacos only.  A few kinds of meat, maybe one bean option, fresh vegetables (radish slices, cilantro, pico de gallo), pickled peppers and salsa line the condiment bar.  Work with Plaza Latina for masa dough or use their fresh tortillas).

Even better, if that’s possible?  The french-dipped beef sandwich at Philippe The Original, near Union Station.  The “original” part means that Philippe invented the French Dip (with some argument from Cole’s, a recently renovated downtown classic).  The restaurant has been open for over 100 years, and they still throw sawdust on the floors and operate the candy counter.  The restaurant has been integrated into the neighborhood patois over the years, too.  The French original owner’s name is now pronounced, even by the new owners, as Filipe’s.  When I asked at the train station how to get there, all the women behind the desk corrected my pronunciation, then gave me their orders.  It’s that kind of place.

I love me some French Dip, always have.  And I had never made my pilgrimage to the birthplace of this humble sandwich.  Unlike the French Dip we know and love, the original french-dipped is made by dipping the insides of both halves of a sandwich roll into au jus, then placing the meat in between.  The meat gets juicy, the outside crust of the roll stays firm.  This is not for everyone, I know.  An admirer on Chowhound summed it up perfectly:  “If you like the soggy, squishy sort of salty tasteless denture-friendly texture of the french dip, then you’ll love Philippe’s. If you don’t, move on. Life’s too short.”

I’m a rather obsessive (as you know) food photographer, but even I sized up the sandwich and deemed it more appropriate for eating than photographing.  (But if you must see it, go here.)  Indeed, it looks downright unappetizing, unless you have the ineffable, effable, effanineffable, deep and inscrutable, singular love for the French Dip.  The side of coleslaw — spiceless, watery, limp — looked awful, too.  But I knew, just knew, that it would be sensational.

And it was.  The best cole slaw I’ve ever had.  I was so absorbed in the sandwich (and the perfect, vinegar-punchy, pure cole slaw) that I forgot to add Philippe’s famous mustard until my very last bite.

The picture at the very top of this post chronicles my experience.  Gone before I knew it.  Sigh.  And I wasn’t able to return to Philippe’s for the double-dipped, highly recommended by my enthusiastic colleagues.  The bun gets dipped twice, for even more squishy, soggy beef jus goodness.  Double sigh.  (Eugene note:  restaurants — You Can Do This.  Bland meat, white bun.  Gravy.  It’s so Eugene I can’t even stand it.  And yet, the French Dips I eat in this town are almost universally awful.  I’ve given up ordering them, in particular, at Cornucopia, because the jus is so salty it is inedible (coming from someone who likes salt, this is a serious red light, folks).)

We also made our way to Little Tokyo, where we snacked on mitarashi dango (rice cake dumplings with a sweet sauce, below, by the green tongs) that I spied through the window of a dorayaki (sweet bean pancake) operation.

There were still many New Year’s specialties in the grocery store, including these giant daikon.  The size brings good luck.  I pondered smuggling one home in my suitcase, but opted instead for needle thin dried squid “somen” for snacking; a faux-healthy, undoubtedly trendy, dried ramen product made with some magic green vegetable powder; seasoned wakame in a little paper boat; shiso and kabocha squash seeds; and mousepads printed with one of the Japanese alphabets for my nephews.

We had planned to go to one of the noodle houses, but as we walked by Suehiro Café, I was overwhelmingly awash with nostalgia for my Japanese home cooking past, and had to eat at this humble little diner that features Japanese comfort food. The diner has an awesome pegboard for specials that has, according to the owner, been in operation for 37 years.

Many of the menu items I had never seen on a menu before.  It was very difficult to choose, but we ended up getting my favorite tamago donburi, a big bowl of mixed tsukemono pickles, gyoza vegetable dumplings, and saba shioyaki, pictured below.  Saba is mackerel.  The oily, full-flavored fish is grilled on a bed of salt and served with a mound of grated daikon.  You squeeze the lemon and add a little soy to the radish, and it provides a nice contrast to the oily fish.  One of my absolute favorite Japanese dishes.  (Eugene note:  there’s no chance in hell we can do this here.  Sakura, the Japanese restaurant near campus with the weird vibe that closed in the fall used to have it as part of a Japanese breakfast, though.  I regret never having the chance to try it, as the breakfast was only available for a limited time — 2 hours at the most.  Oh well.  But if someone is enterprising and masochistic, they could try a Japanese breakfast cart.  I’d be there, but I might be the only one.)

After all that, though, I have to say that the nicest way to end the conference was to curl up in bed and chat with my roomie, an old friend, with a bottle of Oregon pinot noir.  See, I’m not ready to defect yet.

lemon pot roast lured him in

Craving sauerbrauten but not having planned ahead for a long marinade time (or really wanting the spices), I remembered an old recipe I clipped from the newspaper and served to my then new friend, Retrogrouch, fifteen years ago.  I’m sure I’ve made it in the years since, but I only recall that one time, the first time I made dinner for him.  The original recipe was, if I recall correctly, something the White House chef made for the Clintons.  Take that as you will.  It’s delicious; with a deep lemony flavor to the gravy, and as toothsome and homey as the best roast can be. I’ve made it easier and pumped up the lemon flavor a bit with zest.

We served the Painted Hills beef with a medley of roasted root vegetables from Open Oak Farm: turnip, parsnip, rutabaga, and ‘Oregon Homestead’ sweet meat squash.  I thought the squash worked best of all with its clean, sweet flavor that married well with the lemon.  What didn’t work so well was my old standby, gremolata, the parsley-lemon zest-garlic chopped garnish that usually brightens up a roast.  With all the lemon in the sauce, the gremolata just seemed harsh and over the top.  Do, however, sprinkle a little parsley on top of the meat before serving for color.  Roasts are notoriously hard to photograph — hope this looks appealing!

Don’t forget that roasts taste better the next day, if you can hold off that long.

Lemon Pot Roast

  • 3-4 lb. beef chuck roast
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon zest, chopped finely
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion or leeks
  • one garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 t. fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • handful of parsley, chopped, for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Heat vegetable oil and butter in a dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Brown the roast until it is a rich mahogany color, including the sides, if you can.  This should take about 10-15 minutes.

Add the lemon zest, juice, onion, garlic, and thyme with a few grindings of pepper and salt.  Place the lid on the dutch oven and let roast braise in the oven for 2 hours.  The liquid should increase as the roast cooks, but add a little water or room temperature white wine if you must to prevent scorching the pan.  The roast is ready when it is fork tender — that is, you’ll be able to pull it apart with a fork easily.

Remove the roast from the pot and let cool for 20 minutes or so, until it firms up enough to slice.  Adjust seasonings for gravy.  Remove fat from gravy using a flat spoon, gravy defatter, or other method.  To slice the roast: I usually slice thinly against the grain and slide the slices back in the gravy, then reheat when necessary.  You may also choose to let cool, then refrigerate the whole roast and gravy, scoop off the fat layer, and slice the roast when it’s cold.  Slicing is much easier when it’s cold.

Enjoy with roasted potatoes or winter squash.

ozoni: japanese new year soup

I try to make ozoni every year on New Year’s Day.  Japanese tradition dictates that this simple, mild soup is the first thing eaten in the new year.  I managed it for my first dinner!  The soup is one of several traditional foods in Japan cooked at home.  It’s one of those dishes made differently by every family.  One can use dashi for the stock (kelp and bonito) or chicken broth, which I did here.  The best traditional version I’ve seen on the net is reproduced in a youtube video.  (Sadly, the gimmick of the cooking show is a dog narrating.  I don’t find a dog next to my mise-en-place at all appetizing, personally.)  The only thing one needs to include is the sticky, gooey fresh rice cake (mochi) that turns up in Asian markets right before New Year’s day.

The recipe is easy enough, but a bit time consuming.  As I waited for a pot of hot water to boil for blanching, I cut up several round items (which represent lucky coins): the traditional fish cake (with the pink swirl), a small daikon radish piece, and a parsnip since a little rabbit hopped into my kitchen and stole the last carrot.  For good measure and a golden color, I thinly sliced a piece of sweetmeat squash, too.  I soaked some shirataki (Japanese yam noodles — more on this in a moment) and dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water.  Then I blanched each of the vegetables, plus the fish cake and some Japanese chrysanthemum leaves (shungiku; the traditional greens are called komatsuna, substitute spinach), each plunged into the boiling water for a minute or two, just until softened, then set aside.

The broth was simple — I used 4 cups of chicken broth I froze last week.  As it was heating up on the stove with a few strips of chicken breast poaching in the broth (used also for luck in combination with the greens), I arranged all the blanched vegetables and fish cake in medium-sized, flat soup bowls.  Then I carefully poured the broth on top, and added a tiny strip of lemon zest (traditionally a citrus called yuzu). You can read more about the traditions involving these ingredients in this edifying post by Just Hungry, a Japanese woman living abroad.

As I mentioned before, I used shirataki.  These aren’t traditional for ozoni, but because Retrogrouch isn’t eating rice, I gave him a yamnoodlified version.  Mine (left) had the traditional toasted rice cakes, a Kyoto-style round mochi that was available at Sunrise Market.  First, I toasted the rice cakes in my toaster oven until they were lightly golden on top and gooey in the middle, then I let them soften in the soup dish.

Be very careful with the mochi, as they soften, they get glutinous and even more gooey.  Every year, a couple of people die in Japan because they choke on a too-large bite of the stuff in their yearly soup.  Not a good way to start the new year!