orange

Nice things in my life lately are orange.

Prawns beriberi with butter and the Ethiopian hot pepper blend, beriberi powder.

Fresh apricot-colored oca, a South American starch, at Berkeley Bowl.

More jam, but this I made in Oakland with my friends from their very own loquat tree.

One of my favorite dishes at the Iron Chef Eugene competition, a rearranged arroz con pollo by Mike Meyer of Red Agave, with sauce swath inspired by dahlias brought by his daughter.

A Holy Donuts! pineapple-apricot upside down cake delivered to my door.  Note to self: lend cookbooks to bakers!  My neighbors came over to help me devour it.

 

on the eugene restaurant scene

It’s been a few days now since the Iron Chef Eugene 2011 competition, and I’ve been thinking of the restaurant scene in Eugene in general. It has really improved since I’ve been here, and for that I’m thankful, but it still has a long way to go.  It seems that the Bite of Eugene was a big hit this  year, both with the crowd and the vendors, and I’m still floaty-happy with what I saw and ate, especially the dishes in the competition.  I’m still planning to write out my thoughts on the competition, but first I have to rant about restaurants I *don’t* like.

Folks who have taken my Changes to Culinaria Eugenius poll so far have overwhelmingly indicated their desire to have me write more restaurant reviews (but I must add that “keep the CE mix it is now” is a close second, thanks!).

I don’t like writing restaurant reviews for several reasons.  I will certainly share when I find a restaurant or dish I like, but I’m not out for comprehensive coverage. First, we don’t have many good restaurants here, so my reviews would be overwhelmingly negative.  Second, to write a good restaurant review takes a great deal of time and effort.  One needs to visit the place on several occasions to do the review justice. I don’t, frankly, have the stomach (or budget) for that if the restaurant cuts corners with commercial produce and meats, and charges as if it doesn’t.  I also understand that we live in a small town, and small business owners can easily be ruined by bad press, and who wants that kind of bad karma?

Plus, many people are perfectly fine with family-owned, family-oriented restaurants — or expense account restaurants, for that matter — that cater to a quintessential “American” palate.  You can read their reviews on Yelp or Urbanspoon.

I’m not willing to apologize for elitist tastes, since you can eat like I do in many cities in very non-elitist places, but I’m very willing to acknowledge that my tastes are unusual.  We’re pushed to like certain kinds of food and many people don’t want to push back.  That’s fine for diabetes them.  And it would seem that many restaurateurs and chefs in Eugene don’t travel much and don’t explore different kinds of cooking, so we don’t even have a chance to broaden out our tastes in town.  Worse yet, the ethnic food in town is mostly sweetened up to American tastes so the places can stay in business.  Every Asian joint in town has to serve teriyaki to survive.  Ugh.  That’s a big downside to living here: the lack of diversity.

Robert Appelbaum posits that a restaurant is a unique place in society — it’s both public and private, individualized and generalized.  And the clash of expectations when something is private and individualized versus public and generalized offers perspective on why folks might react so strongly to dining in Eugene.  I’ve seen and heard of people actually becoming angry when confronted by a dish that isn’t familiar to them (and thus not the private, individualized experience THEY are seeking.  I use the term ‘confronted’ because that’s what people seem to feel is happening.  It’s as if any experience that doesn’t mimic one they have had at another restaurant (or, perhaps, at home) is an actual challenge to their way of life.

There seems to be a spectrum on which customers might be placed.  On one end, there are those who are seeking a familiar experience, and on the other, those who are looking to try new things that take one far out of one’s comfort zone. Every once in a while, someone will write to me and ask for a restaurant recommendation.  If they say, “I’m interested in a healthy lifestyle and we usually eat chicken breast and grilled veggies and salad at home,” I know they’re looking for the familiar.  Someone who says (often rudely) to a server, “I don’t even know that that is!” “Everyone likes hamburgers!” or “Where do they think up these things?” is also probably seeking the familiar.  These types of diners just want nourishment and not a challenge (to their eyes, tastebuds, or social milieu) while eating.  And that’s just fine, I suppose, as long as I don’t have to eat their food.

But I — we — do.  There is a very serious down side to exclusively eating familiarly, and you can see it in our growing problems with Big Ag.  Standardization means less variety.  You want a tomato that looks like a round, perfectly red tomato?  One that fits on your burger?  And all you eat is burgers, and therefore all you want to buy is that perfectly round red tomato?  Then the market will give you that and only that.

My blog is more for the person for whom “make it new” appeals, and I hope that Eugene’s dining scene continues to improve in providing for those customers.

For now, however, if you’re interested in change and culinary diversity, go forth, young people!  Stop settling for sugary meals.  Explore small, excellent, family-owned restaurants in Portland.  Better yet, go to Woodburn and try some of the Mexican places there.  There’s great, non-teriyakified Chinese food in Seattle.  At the very least, go up to lunch at Gathering Together Farm in Philomath, where they serve Frank Morton’s healthy farm-bred lettuce hybrids selected for flavor, not storage capacity.  You’ll never eat commercial mesclun again.

But, if you want to know what I’d say if I were willing to write more restaurant reviews, I’d come down hard on my least favorite kinds of menus:

  1. big chain restaurants: salty, low quality meats, vaguely Asian sweet sauces, steamed vegetables, overpriced frozen seafood, achingly sweet cocktails and desserts featuring ice cream and chocolate, and mesclun salads;
  2. sandwich shops: sandwiches made of subpar cold cuts and big, dusty, sweetened wheat bread (or the alternative, tortilla “wraps,” ugh), sweet mayonnaise, and mesclun salads;
  3. hippie joints: bowls of goop, including some kind of soy product and vegetables, then drowned in a too-sweet sauce, and mesclun salads;
  4. “comfort food” places: see #1, plus an obsession with bland, white foods.  For me, comfort isn’t bland, and it certainly is not macaroni ‘n’ cheese or mesclun salads; and
  5. mesclun salads.

That encompasses about 75% of Eugene dining.  Another 20 percent is BBQ places (all with sweet sauces) and fast food (burgers and pizza).  Honestly, I’d rather eat at a fast food place where I can get dill pickles on my burger and fries without ketchup than at a place that non-consensually coats me in sugar.  Even the vegetables at these places are at best, uninteresting, and at worse, befouled with sugar.

And I just hate mesclun.  It’s the new fast food — standardized, bred for longevity, not taste, and dull.  Look at your salad.  There are several greens in there.  Why do they all taste the same?

When I go to a restaurant, I look for the dishes that have the best balance in flavors.  If anything, I tilt toward vinegar.  Strong flavors are better than bland ones.  Pickles, sour sauces, garlic, tomato, chili, sesame, lemon, mustard. I’m not a huge fan of organ meats, but I’ll take something with the slight bitterness of liver, say, than a dish that presents as five kinds of sweetness.

That’s me.  What about you?

Photos from top to bottom: dessert wines at King Estates Food Justice Conference dinner; lunch at Montana food conference; Iron Chef Eugene 2011 Heidi Tunnell’s chicken-under-a-brick and Chef Mike Meyer’s almond cake with chicken liver mousse; Tunnell’s grilled radishes.

oregon mfp food safety hotline 2011 open for season!

Canning for the first time?  Wondering if Grandma’s pickle recipe is safe?

Call 1-800-354-7319!

The annual Oregon MFP Food Safety Hotline is now open through mid-October each week from M-Th 9-4 p.m.  We welcome all calls from Oregon with questions about food preservation and safety.

This is the first year the hotline has been located in Douglas County, after many years in the now-defunct Lane County Extension office.  Believe it or not, certified Lane County volunteers are making the trip down to Roseburg on a regular basis to train and staff the hotline this summer.  Didn’t I tell you these ladies were dedicated volunteers?  Headed up by our beloved Donna Crosiar (above), who has forgotten more about preservation than I’ll ever know, the hotline is still in good hands.

By the way, if you want research-based preservation recipes, we have them up on our Lane Extension website.  Hard to find a link (and negotiate that site in general), so I’m linking them here.

iron chef eugene 2011: chef heidi tunnell!

After a day-long battle, Iron Chef Eugene 2011 has been crowned.  We congratulate Chef Heidi Tunnell of Creswell’s Heidi Tunnell Catering Company on reigning supreme!  Her win was all the more impressive, given she’s 38 weeks pregnant.  Chef Tunnell will go on to battle at Iron Chef Oregon at The Bite of Oregon festival, which will take place at Waterfront Park in Portland on August 12-14.  Just about the time she plans to give birth.  Will that slow her down?  We think not!

Check out my behind-the-scenes (or rather, front-of-the-scenes) photo set of the three rounds of competition.  Even as the emcee, I couldn’t resist taking a few snaps.

You’ll see all four chef contestants and their sous chefs at work: Chef Tunnell, Chef Mike Meyer of Red Agave, Chef Shane Tracey of Nib Modern Eatery, and Chef Max Schwartz of Agate Alley Laboratory.  The theme ingredients were: Battle 1 (Tunnell/Meyer) – Our Family Farms’ pasture raised chicken; Battle 2 (Tracey-Schwartz) – raspberries and Huerto de la Familia’s blackcap raspberries; and Championship Battle (Tunnell-Schwartz) – Oregon dungeness crab.

I was so impressed by the competitive spirit this year — the dishes that came out of the outdoor kitchen were impressive.  And even though the chefs were intense and focused, they were also kind and generous toward one another when we had technical difficulties.  The camaraderie on stage was very much felt and appreciated.

I’ll write a post about my favorite moments of the Bite of Eugene festival later, but right now I need to get ready to talk about the competition on KLCC’s Food for Thought radio show.  Listen to me, the new Iron Chef Eugene, and judges Ray Walsh of Capitello Wines, Jeff Kandarian of King Estate, Boris Wiedenfeld, and Ryan Stotz dish on the experience — noon – 1 p.m. today on 89.7. [Edited to add: listen to the archived version of the program here. Heidi and I tune in around about a third of the way through the hour.]

iron chef story in register-guard!

My story on the Iron Chef competition appeared in the Register-Guard today.  See the lovely photo of all four chef-competitors here, and be ready to support your favorite chef.  Any bets on who will win?  Eugene Eats is conducting a Facebook poll, and they’ve asked twitterers to twitter the event.

See you at the festival!

(P.S. For those of you interested in the pressure canning gauge testing, I’ve amended the information a bit.  See previous post.)

 

niblets: get ’em while they’re hot edition

Thanks to all of you who took the poll about what you’d like to see on Culinaria Eugenius.  Still plenty of time to take it!  Here’s a plate of niblets that should please most everyone.

Tuna Classes in August

One of our best classes — learn how to can tuna with our Fish Canning Expert Master Food Preserver Dale Dow.  We’ll be canning sustainable albacore tuna off the boats fishing the Oregon coast, some of the best fish on earth. Nine (count ’em, NINE!) small classes: August 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13, 22 & 24. Register and choose a date NOW. These are hands-on, 5 hour classes, limited to 6 participants each. Learn to use your pressure canner and take home 24 one-half pints of tuna.  $25 plus cost of tuna (at about $2.50 per jar for 24 jars); bring your own new canning jars. Call 541-344-4885 for more information ASAP and/or download registration form here.

Indian Sampler, July 30

Michael Scott, whom I know via the Friendly Neighborhood Farmers Network, hosts the Cheap Thrills Supper club.  This month is foods of India, and the menu is based on the sadya of the Kerala region, but ranges to all areas of India.  July 30.  $35 gets you a mostly vegetarian meal, sitar music, and a slide show of a trip to India.  The menu looks fantastic. Several spaces left; hurry to reserve them for what promises to be a fantastic evening.

Raspberries

It’s time to pick your own and buy one of our local miracles — raspberries.  For jamming, look for these cultivars, which have a more complex flavor/acidity profile: Meekers (my favorite), Tulameens and Cascade Delights (supposedly better than Meekers), and Willamettes (the ubiquitous WV commercial raspberry and the large ones you see on bigger farms and in clamshells at markets).  Wait a few days for the sun to sweeten them up again.  Pick your own at a number of local farms, including Riverbrook Farm, a pocket farm on Beacon off River Road.  Please comment with your favorite U-pick farms.

Local Chickens

Another of my favorite local farms, Sweetwater Farm in Creswell, is now selling roasting chickens and stewing hens!  I visited the plucking and cleaning operation last month out at the farm, and want to do a longer post on humane chicken slaughter, but thought it unfair not to let folks know now about the birds.  I made a delicious roast chicken with one of them, and a big pot of silky broth with some chicken feet I managed to forage from the farm. :) Roasters are $4 a pound, really a fair price for pasture-raised, no soy feed birds.  An order form is on their website.

Sour Power

It’s also time to pick and buy those rarest of cherries, the evanescent ruby red pie cherry (my brandied cherries in process, above).  Coming into its already short season during this freak rain, we are assured of a tiny crop.  Get them now.  Hentze Farm is one place (where you can thankfully buy them pitted), and I think River Bend Farm has some u-pick.  Any others?

Under Pressure? Gauge Testing July 21

Master Food Preserver Patty Driscoll will be available at the Extension Service office on Thursday, July 21 July 28 between 11:30 and 1:30 to test pressure gauges [Edited to add: You may drop off your lids on July 21, but she has a meeting during that time, so plan to drop off/pick up later that day]. Be safe. Test your gauge yearly. $5. Office is located at 783 Grant, Eugene and there is parking.  Bring your lid only.

Genesis Juice

Speaking of fresh juice and pressure canning, I had the opportunity a month or so ago to check out the new dawning of the old Eugene hippie raw juice purveyors, the Genesis Juice Co-Op, which was effectively shut down after federal laws changed standards for processing juice a number of years ago. The same green folks who own Toby’s Tofu Paté bought them out, and they’re putting out environmentally sensitive, organic, fresh juices at Genesis Juice.

I got to meet Toby, of tofu fame, and Sheldon, the CEO, of Toby’s Family Foods.  We watched the crew in the processing room sorting apples and checked out the pressurizer machine.  It’s a sleek, efficient operation — trading off tofu/salad dressing days and juice days.  Very nice people, too.I had a chance to try their products (the standard disclaimer applies, since they were free on my visit/tour) and liked them very much, though most are a bit too sweet for me as someone finds most juice too sweet.  But for those with sweeter palates, they’ll be a delight!

Two items of note: (1) the fruit stays fresh and raw-tasting via a non-thermal, high-pressure pasteurization method, where the juice undergoes pressurization in a huge tank instead of being subjected to cooking to kill beasties, making a significant difference in the taste; and (2) the organic produce and HPP makes flavor variations quite apparent in different batches of the juice.  I tasted one strawberry lemonade that was much tarter, for example, than the previous week’s tasting at an event.   The apple juice is the closest to fresh apple cider that I’ve tasted in a commercial product, and the ginger lemonade has a nice, fresh ginger kick.  Also try the Herbal Tonic, which is quite refreshing.  You can get a coupon for a free bottle on their website.

Gyro Cart [and We Hope Tunisian Food Before Too Long]

Excellent cucumber salad with a tiny dice, mint, and olives nestle up alongside a lamb-beef gyro at this improbably located new food cart, 4 Gyros.  You’ll be greeted by a poster of a smiling woman urging you to eat GYROS and by an incredibly sweet guy: Tunisian-American and former UO Arabic instructor Mohamed Jemmali.  Right now, the cart’s at 6th and Chambers, but I can’t imagine he’ll stay there long (like, hmm, maybe a week?).  Food is quite good and a welcome addition to the food cart and local dining scene. Give him your business.

But how can we convince Mohamed to make Tunisian couscous and stews?  I asked; he said it would be too hard in the cart.  I say nonsense — sounds like a campaign to me! Let him know we can handle more authentic Middle Eastern food in Eugene, and it’s up to him to do it.  Once a week?  Once a month? Please!

Late Lamented Tim’s Dill Pickle Chips Back in Town

And I don’t know for how long, since the internet has failed to even confirm the product exists.  But I ate almost an entire bag, so I can assure you they do (did).  This is the only shelf product I’ve written to a manufacturer about after being dumped for low sales, begging for its return.  They’re like salt and vinegar chips, but with dill.  At Capella’s Market now.  Don’t wait.

Tom Cruise, Move Over

And I have to end this with a neighborhood delight, Josh Chamberlain from J-Tea literally shaking his moneymaker.

He’s been serving up Taiwanese-style frothed iced oolong this summer.  I sampled one this spring, and it’s very fun to watch.  As soon as it actually TURNS summer, I can’t wait to have him shake me another tall, frothy cool one.

when CE talks, people listen (yikes!)

PLEASE TAKE THE POLL AT THE END OF THE POST! :)

I’ve heard feedback from local businesses that sometimes a recommendation on Culinaria Eugenius can lead to customers requesting that particular item.  Awesome!  But if that’s the case and you don’t like a recommendation, don’t let me go unchallenged.  I’d love to hear back from you, positive and negative, about things you try on CE.  I may disagree with you, but I’d like to hear your perspective.  Leave a comment, send me an email at wellsuited at gmail dotcom, or post on my Facebook page.

Do check out my Facebook page, either way, because I post little tidbits frequently over there.

I’ve got the Facebook page currently set up like a regular profile, but am thinking about switching it over to my unused fan page (where, frankly, I’d have less flexibility, so meh) where you can “like” CE and not have to “friend” CE. I rarely ever look at the CE “friends” page, so if you’re hesitant to make that connection, don’t worry too much about your privacy.  But I certainly understand.  Feedback on this?  I might even make a Google Plus page.

As it stands, CE is a rather uneven spread of recipes, local food news, and travel essays.  I’d really like to feature local food worker interviews in the future, and write more about literary food, but these things take more time.  So what is most important to you, the reader?

I’m also pondering a redesign of the site while I still have time to ponder such things — nothing too jarring, just a way to access more posts more easily, and provide more content.  Stay tuned.