harvest

Such an odd year. Picked the rest of the green tomatoes, finally, which will turn into salsa, and will make ajvar out of the ripe peppers. Cooking down apples into butter in the crock pot. Ethiopian berebere peppers, which have a fantastic flavor, and a bunch of Hungarian paprika and others gifted by Jeff Eaton, who wanted to share the remainder of his crop (thanks, Jeff!) are drying in the dehydrator along with another gift, a tub of newly fallen walnuts (thanks, Lara!). Still haven’t figured out what to do with all those cranberries, but that’s next.

If you’re interested in going nuts, the filbert crop is in and walnuts are coming. I took some shots of the harvest at Thistledown Farm the other day. They close a couple days after Halloween, so if you want your store of winter squash, potatoes, onions, or apples, head out there soon.  It’s a time to be amazed by the bounty of our valley.  Even in a crummy year, we manage to pull it off.

are you up to date on your ramen trends?

After I returned from a year in Japan in 1994, I used to have to go to San Francisco’s Japantown for ramen.  Sure, I could make it at home, and I often did.  One of the mainstays of my college years was Sapporo Ichiban ramen, original flavor, which was fine for the gourmet because it was about double the cost of the cup-o-noodles you could buy at Safeway.  I’d take my poison doctored with spices and topped by vegetables. My favorite? Diced okra, Brussels sprouts, and tofu.  Good times.

Sadly, the chewy noodles and traditional toppings ubiquitous in Japan were, unlike soba or udon, hard to find.

You can now buy ramen in all manner of places, including Toshi’s Ramen in Eugene, and in the high-concept izakaya in Portland, like Biwa.  I credit the popularity lately in no small part to Lucky Peach magazine, which tackled ramen for its first hipper-than-thou, swaggery, Bourdain-infused issue (next one out any day now, can’t wait).

But there’s providing delicious ramen to the American masses, and then there’s jumping the shark.

niblets: eventful edition

Since it took me nearly a month to post about my New York trip, and I’ve been battling continually rocky terrain with events, deadlines, harvest, and school matters ever since then, you may get a sense that I’m running slightly behind.  Fall is always rough for me, this year even more so.

But I’ve got a range of exciting news that I’ve been eager to share.

The first is the series of events related to this Sunday’s Mt. Pisgah Arboretum Mushroom Festival.  I’m particularly excited about Dr. Steve Trudell’s talk on “Why Mushrooms Matter” tonight, Friday, October 28th, 7 p.m., at the LCC Forum building, and all the mushroom specialties that will be served during Mushroom Madness week at local restaurants.  I tried Chef Mario Tucci’s chanterelle gnocchi on Wednesday at the Friendly Street Market café (Latitude Ten), pictured at the top of this post.  Wow.

The second is that I’m heading up an interdisciplinary faculty and grad student research group on food studies at the University of Oregon.  We meet monthly to discuss works in progress on their way to publication.  This is the only official venue for food studies at the university right now, but there has been talk of expanding these efforts in various directions, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.  Part of the group’s mission is to support and spread the news about visiting speakers who give public lectures on food.  I hope to extend these efforts via my blog, too.  Actually, they’ve been flying fast and furious, and I have had barely the time to publicize them at all, so I’m just going to say that I’ll try harder to wedge PR in.

Like this! I’m pleased to announce a reading and talk with wild foods expert Hank Shaw on November 14.  My group is bringing him out to campus for what promises to be a vivid discussion of his new book.

Book Reading and Discussion
Author Hank Shaw
Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast
Monday, November 14, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
282 Lillis Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene
Hank Shaw is a wild foods expert, hunter, angler, gardener and cook, based in Sacramento.  His exquisite and unusual wild foods blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (http://honest-food.net), has been twice nominated for a James Beard Award, and was awarded best blog from the International Association of Culinary Professionals organization in 2010 — two major achievements in food writing.  He is on tour for his already acclaimed new book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast (Rodale Books).  The book explores North America’s edible flora and fauna that explains how to track down everything from wild mushrooms to mackerel to pheasant, and create locally sourced meals that go far beyond the farmers market or campfire cuisine.

At a public reading for the University of Oregon and Eugene area community, Shaw will share his experiences in the field and in the kitchen, discussing not only his sophisticated recipes and innovative techniques for preparing wild food that grows and roams in the Pacific Northwest – camas bulbs, venison, and wild berries, to name just a few examples – but also the political, social, and environmental issues surrounding hunting and gathering in the twenty-first century.

The visit will take place on the evening of Monday, November 14, and will follow a VIP foraging walk and dinner at Marché restaurant over the weekend. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

More news soon.

There’s also a fantastic lecture series by food historian Dr. Ken Albala, hosted by the History Department at OSU.  He’s a major figure in food studies, and will be providing a three-part Horning lecture during the week of November 8 on food production, preparation, and consumption.  Click this link to open a .pdf poster.

PERSPECTIVES ON EATING FROM THE PAST:  GROW FOOD / COOK FOOD / SHARE FOOD

GROW FOOD
Tuesday / November 8, 4:00pm
Memorial Union / Room 109
COOK FOOD
Thursday / November 10, 4:00pm
Memorial Union / Room 109
SHARE FOOD
Friday / November 11, noon
Memorial Union / Room 109

A three-lecture series about the historical development of three crucial components of human nourishment and their disjuncture in the industrial era. Ken Albala will describe without romantic sentimentality the ways our food production system, our methods of food preparation and modes of consumption have changed over time to the detriment of human happiness, health and community. Creative suggestions will be made regarding ways we can recapture the positive aspects of past foodways without endangering food security or turning back the clock by abandoning the many valuable advances of the last century. History offers constructive examples of how we can better grow food, cook it and share it, if only we have the means to listen and learn from food writers of the past.

Ken Albala is Professor of History at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He is the author of many books on food including Eating Right in the Renaissance, Food in Early Modern Europe, Cooking in Europe 1250-1650, The Banquet: Dining in the Great Courts of Late Renaissance Europe, Beans: A History (winner of the 2008 International Association of Culinary Professionals Jane Grigson Award), and Pancake. He is currently researching a history of theological controversies surrounding fasting in the Reformation Era, and has co-authored a cookbook – The Lost Art of Real Cooking, the sequel of which is tentatively titled The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home.

Also next week is a public lecture on campus closer to home, one I’m proud to say is part of our “Food in the Field” Research Interest Group work-in-progress series:

Wednesday, November 2, 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Prof. Nick Camerlenghi, Art History
“Terroir and Regionalism in Gastronomy and Architecture”
EMU Fir Room, University of Oregon

Abstract:  Perhaps the most important reason that comparisons between gastronomy and architecture have rarely risen above mere analogy (think: McDonald’s and McMansions) is that gastronomy still has a limited foothold in academia by which to forge a common ground with other disciplines. Unfortunately, this trend speaks little of the innovations currently underway in gastronomy. A case in point is the recently founded University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy where all aspects of gastronomy—from earth to table and back to earth—are being treated in a scholarly fashion. This is a watershed moment that bodes well for future exchanges. This paper examines the notion of terroir—as recently re-elaborated in gastronomical thinking—in order to develop what promises to be a fruitful point of intersection between gastronomy and architecture.

And on a more personal note:

I have 20 lbs. of cranberries waiting for me in the cooler at Hentze Farm (thanks, folks!) that were ordered from one of the coastal tribes.  Got a frantic call from the MFP coordinator who said they were beginning to look a little neglected.  Sigh, I know the feeling.  Homemade cranberry juice and chutney to come!  Will hold off on the lecture for now.

taiwanese dim sum, yum yum: culinaria eugenius in seattle

I have never made it a secret that I am perfectly happy to be bossed around by someone who knows what they’re doing.  If I were in the culinary biz (and lucky to secure felicitous employment) I’d be an eternal sous chef.  That might be why I’m such a happy customer when it comes to a well-run house.

Imagine my surprise when, on my recent trip to Seattle, we landed in the good graces of a no-nonsense, helpful waitress at Chiang’s Gourmet in the Lake City neighborhood in NE Seattle (7845 Lake City Way N.E.). Our experience mirrors this humorous review, in which a white couple are initiated into the mysteries of Taiwanese-style dim sum.

In my case, I was rather more arrogant about it all.  (If you didn’t catch my latest appearance co-hosting KLCC’s “Food for Thought” radio program last Sunday, I talk about it here as my meal of the week).

When asked if we had had dim sum before, I said we had, but I couldn’t understand which items were which because the Chinese translations seemed a little unusual, with many more “buns” and “cakes” than usual.  Where was “har gow,” for example?  If there is one thing I know, it’s har gow.

She smiled at my ignorance and said that we were about to eat a kind of dim sum we had never had before: traditional Taiwanese dim sum.

Had we really just chanced upon a completely new cuisine for me?  We had been led to the restaurant by a recommendation, but in a very unusual moment for me, I hadn’t looked at any reviews or menus ahead of time.  And I was kind of grumpy that we hadn’t been able to eat at my favorite Sichuan restaurant due to scheduling.

So, basically, I had to trust someone…about food?

Yee-haw!!!!!!!!!!

Our waitress at Chiang’s Gourmet basically ordered for us, and we couldn’t be happier.  I just wish we could have eaten more.  Taiwanese food is something to which I have had little to no exposure, and it’s a varied and unusual combination of many regional Chinese specialties.  The diversity is actually a bit startling.  Oddly enough, my big Culinaria China book had only the sparsest mention of Taiwan.  I had to study this guide on popular food culture just to get a sense of what the island offers.

One of the main staples is pork, and there are indeed plenty of pan-fried wheat dough “cakes” that contain ground pork, like the flatbread we ordered, above, with minced, soured dried daikon.

When she brought out a pile of garlic flecked gai lan and the spicy, soupy dumplings pictured at the top here, I thought I was in heaven.

But when we received the above dish, I had no idea what to expect.  Glutinous purple rice steamed in plastic wrap was odd enough — and the interior, an odd mix of dried, shredded pork, a sweet powder, and the fried dough fritter usually served with congee?  And yet the combination worked: a strange mix of all the five flavors, plus an interplay of soft and crispy textures in each bite.

We finished our meal with hand-cut Shanghai-style noodles, shrimp and spinach, another house specialty.  I’m sad that I missed the pork and sesame topping served to the table next to us, but we couldn’t go wrong with a dish like the above.

And it gives us more reason to go back.

food networking: culinaria eugenius in new york city

I had been meaning to go to New York to catch a wholly different act, an exhibition of the life of Samuel Steward, one of Alfred Kinsey’s primary sources on gay life in the 1950s and the subject of part of my book on mid-century sexuality, so I thought I’d combine an important conference in my field being held in Buffalo and the exhibition all in one trip.

When I saw that the Food Network was hosting its annual Wine & Food Festival in one of the old Chelsea pier warehouses during the exact time I’d be there, I jumped at the chance to go to the Grand Tasting on Sunday.

I’ve also been researching modernist menus — the fascinating clash of cultures in Greenwich Village in the first couple decades of the twentieth century — and post-modernist menus, in particular the way mainstream American media views the 21st century consumer.  And what better way (if you can bear the high price) to contrast old and new American media than a Food Network event in the old meatpacking district? Above, that’s me standing on the old Cunard Lines dock (Pier 54) where the Carpathia docked with its unintended cargo, the Titanic survivors.  And the apples in a pile?  That’s the plan for Pier 57’s future.

No, the Big Apple didn’t do its apples justice.  I eschewed the pile of refrigerated container apples and the supermarket ‘Red Delicious’ apples in the FN display.  Red Delicious in fall, really?  I like to think one jumped ship out of embarrassment.

So while the Occupy Wall Streeters were assembling, I occupied the Grand Tasting, a benefit for local food organizations.  There’s always something a bit off about mixing philanthropy and feasts to me, but they are always a quick and easy way to survey the territory.

We received lime green bags with a baffling range of swag in it — everything from sour gummy candy to a regular-sized box of pasta to a pack of red chili flakes to a Nutella-like spread made from those Biscoff cookies Delta gives out on their flights.  And Nutella.  With wooden spoons and olive oil packets and concentrated chicken stock and a packet of electrolyte powder for good measure.  More Biscoff cookies were distributed at the Delta booth, which occupied the space from which I’m photographing above.

I’ll confess, I’m not really a Food Network fan.  I used to be. I could happily watch Molto Mario all day long.  In fact, in my early days of graduate school, I would use Mario as a study break.  He managed to be both patronizingly didactic and still entertaining– he’d drive home the same point over and over again: undercook the pasta; add it to the sauce; don’t drown it; save the pasta water; and spoke at such a fast clip you could never quite follow the Italian names of dishes or regional variations he was introducing.  It was a cooking show you actually needed to pay attention to.

And what a delight.  You were there to eat what he wanted to give you and listen to what he wanted to tell you.  If anything, you could take a bit of schadenfreude in knowing you were at least as smart as his guests, who perched over the counter and asked him questions (Mario, but what is puttanesca?  Mario, could you use any winter squash instead of summer squash? Mario, is it called bench flour because it’s made out of benches?)

Food Network, you’ve come a long way, baby.

There were two stages, something I discovered embarrassingly late, after going to see several celebrity chefs that mysteriously seemed not to show up.  But I did get to see everyone I came to see:  Masaharo Morimoto (O he of Iron Chef Japan fame!), who made a rather gruesome (and I am sure amazing) marinated raw crab dish that featured chopped up live crabs that quivered and shook their legs in their soy bath throughout the rest of the presentation (above)…


…and Anthony Bourdain, who had advertised that he was going to speak about being a sell-out.  The first sentence of his conversation with the Destinations Magazine editor was “I am a whore,” but instead of being tiresome about it, he was actually quite entertaining and managed to convince people otherwise.  He spoke about the growing political side of his TV show on the Travel Channel, and didn’t mince words about the sponsoring network of the festival.  (He gained points with me when he said Molto Mario was the best FN show ever.) He discussed the resistance of various regimes to filming people in their countries.  The Egyptian government, for example, steadfastedly refused to let Bourdain’s crew film regular Egyptians eating their daily breakfast of ful.  Hmmm, what media privileges one type of eating over another in the U.S.?  And why?  It’s something we might want to keep in mind when we think about a day like today, Food Day, in the U.S.

I also saw…

…a few people I didn’t want to see, like the Deen brothers, getting prompted by their mom in the first row, and Anne Burrell (above), whose picture says it all.  Seriously, can’t we just focus on good cooking?

That seemed to be the question of the day, and perhaps the focus of my research.  When one deals with any media (this blog included) one needs to be wary of the message of its creators and sponsors. Running through the world of food is a slight distaste for eaters — a distrust, a disdain.  Most cooking shows not-so-subtly play on class anxieties and the brouhaha related to the American diet, but couched in rhetoric that carefully masks the corporate sponsorships needed to fund cooking shows and magazine.  Not much we can do about the latter, I suppose, but it would be nice to not feel so dumbed down and manipulated into buying into every last trend.

Luckily, there was enough good food in the tasting that I didn’t feel completely annoyed by the media and the stand-offish servers (I’d be stand-offish too, if I had to prepare ten gazillion bites and explain them each time I served them).  I tried a couple of great wines, and there were unexpected surprises, like the Lucid absinthe booth, where the owner of the company kindly fixed me up a fresh glass.  The best bites of the festival for me were:

A delicious and simple gazpacho from Cordoba, served by Salinas restaurant.  It differs from the usual by the addition of jamón, hard-boiled egg, and almonds. Yum.  The leaf is Talde’s version of the Thai salad miang kum, in this case a shiso leaf that one wraps around a single peanut, a tiny chunk of lime, bacon tamarind caramel, candied chili, and dried shrimp.

Worst bite was a drink: cake vodka.  And not one but TWO vendors hawking it to the wedding market.  I can’t imagine anything more vile.

In the center aisle of the festival was a very popular set of booths offering bites made with processed food, like these cones of Campbell’s soup (tomato?) with what looks like grilled cheese sandwiches.  People ate it up, literally.

I was pleased and surprised to see oysters in one booth.  Here they were served ceviche-style with some plantain chips.  Indeed, there were quite a few delicious seafood dishes, including a pickled mackerel with a persimmon purée and celeriac salad from August Restaurant that I had to try several times, wonderful house-smoked salmon bites from a German place whose name escapes me, and Aureole’s ruby shrimp with a micro salad and coconut broth.

Also surprisingly, the West Coast obsession with variety meats and charcuterie wasn’t really represented well.  There was one booth (above) with pig face, and a few sausages here and there, and a completely non-distinct but high-concept pickle booth (whiskey sour pickles that tasted like regular pickles, for example).  Someone had a portable sous-vide, and braised short ribs and this-and-that sliders were popular.

But you know what I liked best in New York, in a city full of choices like this?

This.

Yep, a slice of cheese pizza, eaten after doing research in the morning at NYU on a blustery day at a run-of-the-mill pizzeria in Greenwich Village.  Even after eating as much as I could for several days AND missing out on Babbo down the street because it’s closed for lunch, that’s amore.  Thanks, New York!

those are pearls that were his eyes

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

It’s a weekend of catching up, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again, old friends!  So. Many. Awesome. Travel. Posts.  But appreciate, for now, the gorgeous rainbow trout my husband caught on a day trip on the McKenzie, before and after.  He was delicious, seasoned just as plain as can be with sea-change salt and olive oil, then grilled.