niblet ideas for new year’s eve

As we did the rest of the holidays in this dread year 2011, we’ll be celebrating its good riddance quietly, with a few friends.  If you are in need of inspiration, however, consider the links that make up my fantasy NYE party:

  • Blini made with local buckwheat flour, with a simple topping of caviar and crème fraîche.
  • Deep-fried braised octopus exactly like the one at Izakaya Meiji, dusted with salt and Sichuan pepper.
  • Tiny kale, pecorino, and anchovy crostini (extra garlic, please).
  • Pickled salmon, using a fattier Pacific (vs. Atlantic) salmon like king, and served with the onions in a big jar.
  • Ruby red shredded raw beet and carrot salad (I’d add an apple).
  • Warm, simple lentil salad served with either ham or salmon and red sauerkraut.
  • Cracked crab done with Ryan’s method of very hot roasting after pouring a vinaigrette over the meat (I’d use champagne vinaigrette with just a tiny bit of shallots).
  • Mont-blanc chestnut squiggles with mounds of whipped cream (or perhaps more elegantly served, comme ça).
  • Supremed oranges macerated in Grand Marnier, or even better, Lapsang Souchong-smoky orange Qi liqueur.
  • Gougères or Stilton walnut crackers with glasses of port.

culinaria eugenius in taiwan: preserving traditions

Part V of a photo essay of my trip to Taiwan.  See Part IV on paparazzi in the night market here, Part I on crabs here, Part II on fish/seafood here, and Part III on fruit here.

As a certified Master Food Preserver, I was quite interested in master food preserving in Taiwan.  I already posted about our trip to the Agrioz Candied Fruit Factory.  But all manner of foods were preserved.  I was most surprised to see the varied traditional uses of preserved meat, including indigenous salted pork products.  Sausages are often made with unusual ingredients like fermented black bean soy sauce, tuna, glutinous rice, and rice wine.

At traditional and wonderful Nanmen Market, the Jinhua ham, smoked over sugarcane, hung at several market stalls behind sausages hanging overhead.  Below ground, there was an entire area for pickled vegetables, about the size and shape of a cheese cooler-counter in a good deli.

It almost pains me now to look at the gorgeous, fresh whole heads of cabbage and greens pickled in various stages of funk. It would take me a year to eat through the varieties at this single stall alone.

We mustn’t forget (to kill that gnawing appetite of mine) the tubs of duck and pork blood cubes the size of tofu loaves next to the pickled vegetables.  I won’t post the picture, as a courtesy to my more delicate readers.

But even odder preserved meats were offered at newer places, including canned roast beef in a supermarket and finely shredded “floss” beef jerky-coated bread loaves at a fancy bakery in Taipei 101.

To each his own tastes, no?

We visited, as I’ve explained before, a splendid teppanyaki restaurant Shen Yen Teppanyaki restaurant in the township of Loudong in Yi-lan Province.  You can see that the restaurant looks rather humble from afar, crouching under the green roof on a river that floods the rice paddies and plains around it.

But as we approached the front door, we were greeted by the jars of fermenting apples in juice, which apparently are turning into vinegar.  I captured a few more shots of the fermentation process for apples and, I believe, dates.  Perhaps these liquids were used to make the drinking vinegar we sipped at the start of the meal, or even the wonderful homemade liqueur at the end.

Also just outside the restaurant, crocks of thick, rich soy sauce made with little fish burbled away.  The chef allowed us to try several kinds of his own soy, without question the best soy sauce I’ve ever tasted.  I tried to find premium soy sauce to take home, without success.  Next time.

In Loudong, we also visited a farmers’ cooperative.  The city slickers in our group were less patient with the tour, but I love these kinds of places, as they provide small producers a way to provide their goods en masse and house the beating heart of an agrarian community.  Could have done without the requisite introductory DVD presentation, but I still regret not buying the green onion paste, a specialty of the region, offered at the cooperative.

Oddly, we didn’t taste green onions or almost any fresh produce, with the exception of a pomelo that I spied in the office area stacked along with the wall with dozens of its brothers. Instead, we made our own tofu and drank a range of bottled soy milk products.

We also visited a small production facility that was making 1,000-year or lime eggs, a preserved duck egg that ferments in its shell in a tub of solution for over a month.  When it emerges, two studious workers tap each shell for quality control and the eggs are sorted by size (below).

What emerges when open is a multi-hued, beautiful, and strange creature, a jellied egg in a range of greens and reds.  The interior holds a slightly sticky black yolk.  The crystalline formation on one end of the egg indicates it is of the best quality.  The 1,000-year eggs are eaten with the morning congee rice porridge.

Other delicious preserved products included the fresh passionfruit jam we ate at breakfast each morning and the variety of Japanese and Chinese breakfast pickles that attended rice and congee.

Ah, yes, and we drank fermented beverages.  The Taiwanese aren’t big alcohol drinkers, but they’ve managed to make quite decent beer and whisky.  Aged in Kentucky oak barrels but named after an indigenous tribe and bottled in small glass versions of Taipei 101, delicious Kavalan whisky, redolent of tropical fruit and vanilla, was sipped.  The stuff is sadly unavailable in the U.S., another purchase I regret not making.

I can buy, luckily, oolong tea, which is grown in the mountains south of Taipei.  We visited a demonstration tea garden ringed by camellias and kumquats, and tasted the famous Iron Goddess of Mercy (tie-guan-in) oolong grown in the region (below).

I only wish we had had more time to explore Taiwanese tea culture.  We didn’t have a chance to visit any traditional tea houses or try tea cuisine.  Luckily, we’ve got J-Tea in Eugene (and a new, expanded website with online ordering, ooh!).  I consulted with Josh, the owner, who lived and studied tea in Taiwan for many years, about the trip.  I’m glad I can stop by the shop for a little bit of Taiwanese culture when the urge hits.

And last but not least, we ate (or some of us ate) the Taiwanese national snack, stinky tofu.

Fetishized in the media as the enemy of foreigners, stinky tofu has the texture of a well-wrung sponge and the flavor of a slightly mildewy sponge.  Does that make it bad?  Well, no. I actually liked the fried stinky tofu surrounding the soup.  It was served with a quick-pickled cabbage and salty umami sauce.  The soup, strongly scented with stinky tofu from the big pieces swimming in it, however, was not my favorite.  I heard from a friend that there are more deeply stinky, creamier versions that mimic good, strong cheese.  I wish we could have tried that!

two new year’s eve menus

Many Eugene restaurants are open for New Year’s Eve, and several have special menus.  I’m posting (with slight edits for formatting) two special New Year’s Eve menus that have appeared on Facebook, one from Red Agave and one from Osteria Sfizio.  Do call for reservations, especially if you’re planning to go to the opera and need early seating at Red Agave.

What else is cooking for New Year’s Eve, Eugene?

Red Agave New Year’s Eve Menu

Four-course menu with a glass of bubbly for $55 per person, three servings: 5-5:30 p.m., 7-7:30 p.m., 9-9:30 p.m. Reservations 541-683-2206.

appetizer course

Oriol Rossell, Cava Rose Brut, Penedes, Spain: a fantastic, delicately fruited sparkling wine

Crab Salpicon & Mushroom Ragout Sopes: dungeness crab salsa & fresh mushroom ragout in corn masa baskets with ancho oil
(vegetarian option: mushroom ragout sopes only)

soup course

Truffled Sunchoke Soup: a rich, root-based soup with smoked paprika & shaved black truffles

salad course

Yacon Salad: a crisp, bright Peruvian root, diced & tossed with mixed greens, candied hazelnuts, iberico ham & a chimayo chile vinaigrette

entrée course

(choice of the following)

Pan-Seared Ahi served with a habanero-nopale salsa, pineapple-guajillo pepper sauce & green rice

Braised Short-Ribs with bordelaise sauce, sautéed greens, truffled polenta cake & cilantro oil

Corn Masa Crepes (vegetarian option) filled with winter squash, wild mushrooms, cypress grove goat cheese & truffled polenta & served with baby greens

Osteria Sfizio’s New Year’s Eve Menu

Chef’s Tasting menu, $75 per person plus optional wine pairing, $35 per person. Three seatings: 5-5:30 p.m., 7:30-8 p.m., 9:30-10 p.m. Reservations (541) 302-3000.





Treviosol Prosecco NV -$10



Vietti Arneis Roero 2012 -$12



Corsini Barolo Bussia 2007 -$14



Maculan Dindarello 2009 -$8

it’s all downhill from here

Close to 900 hits on my blog yesterday from people looking for restaurants open in Eugene on Christmas.  Any thoughts, local entrepreneurs and/or businesses who were open and didn’t update your websites?

I am almost hesitant to admit I found Christmas a bit much this year.  But what I found at Safeway, above, took the cake.


culinaria eugenius in taiwan: paparazzi

Part IV of a photo essay of my trip to Taiwan.  See Part I on crabs here, Part II on fish/seafood here, and Part III on fruit here.

We got off the bus at the Ningxia Night Market and I saw the cameras.  Oh, someone famous must be here, thought I, as we headed toward them, we’ll be able to get a closer look.

And a closer look we got, indeed.

Yes, so close that we were surrounded in this little market in an old area of Taipei.  We were  followed down the narrow alley through the most remarkable, clean little food stalls I had ever seen.  The camera spotlights were kind of handy for taking my own shots, but I got in trouble for trying to stop and ask questions, or, even worse, wandering off to explore a particular stall.  This is why food writers do not make good TV stars.

For some reason, the Taiwanese specialty called stinky tofu, a slightly fermented tofu cake either fried or served in large pieces in a soup at the market, was just about the only thing the very young, very green reporters were interested in.

Yum — and here I am eating stinky tofu and showing the world I use my left hand as a scoop for food that falls out of my mouth when I’m stuffing my face.  In fact, this might be the least flattering photo of me ever:

Or is this?

The reason for the paparazzi?  No, not me.  Our trip was made possible by the Taiwanese Government Information Office, at the request of rather dashing Minister Philip Yang, above.  Yang holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from UVA, and he has devoted his career to public relations and raising awareness of the deep well of Taiwanese culture.  Not too shabby!  He invited us to Taiwan to promote the government’s new international website for Taiwanese foodCheck it out in a Chinese video of the press conference.

And here we are, eating bottarga, or mullet roe, with host and food critic Mr. Wu and Minister Yang (photo courtesy of the latter’s Facebook page).

In a realm where such sites are usually horrible, the Taiwanese food site really quite good and nothing else matches it for breadth or depth in English.  I wasn’t joking when I said it was a real service to the world at the press conference.

But the problem with being the guest of a public relations mastermind is that the man sure does like media.

Wondering what I’m taking a picture of at the night market?  Well, as dashing as Minister Yang was, I couldn’t help but be more interested in a GIANT FRIED BALL OF EVERYTHING.

Yes, that giant fried ball of everything.  In the earlier photo, Minister Yang was pointing out all the ingredients in the ball, which seems to be made of vegetable fried rice, six oysters/shrimp depending on your choice, a raw egg, and god knows what else, all wrapped up in dough and deep fried. (Photos of me courtesy of what appears to be a news photo outlet on the Internet.)

I was a bit more vivacious and less thunderstruck at the next stall, a Taiwanese spring roll vendor whose stall has been at the market since 1951.  The sweet old lady making the spring rolls was positively unflappable.

I had to squeeze between the lady and the cameras, as such:

Time to make the spring rolls!  Photo of me (and a great one, thanks!) is courtesy of Saúl Cepeda, my TV star partner in crime.

A  bit more like a burrito than a spring roll as we know them, but still tasty.

For much of the week, we were documented during meals.  Saúl and I started messing around with the cameras to break the tediousness of being constantly filmed. In fact, some of my favorite shots are with the paparazzi.

Here I am being carefully considered by a young man who took his art seriously, if invasively, outside the highly recommended Shin Yeh seafood restaurant.  I was entranced by the tanks of dozens of different fish and shellfish.  He was entranced by me.

Alas, parting is such sweet sorrow.

The experience, I have to admit, really does make one understand why famous people turn into divas and smash cameras and such. Here are a few of my favorite shots of others.  Saúl poses for Culinaria Eugenius as the poster boy of steamed shrimp, Jean Louis comments on everything he has eaten, and Egami-san makes tofu for Taiwanese media at a farmers’ co-operative in Yi-lan province.

And I even managed a half-smile out of John at Din Tai Fung in Taipei 101.  I like to think my success was due to my charmingly constant shutter-clicking during lunch, which made him feel quite at home.

Jean-Louis, who took the bullet on the photo opp behind John, will appear somewhere holding Din Tai Fung dumplings.  Sadly, it will not be at my doorstep.  I can’t even look at my photos of the truffle-pork xiao long bao dumplings without wanting to hijack a plane to Taipei.

See?  Ack.  Drool. Now that’s much more interesting than a picture of me taking a picture or eating stinky tofu.  Worth every click and bright light and interview.

OK.  What next?  I have so much more to say about Taiwan.  A preservation post is in the works.  And somewhere out there in the ethernet is an amusing interview of me, Saúl, and Minister Yang talking about food while we voluptuously (“more please, Jennifer, show how delicious it is!”) eat some amazing prawns.  But I think after that I’m going to hold off until the future allows me to say more.  After all, I do have other matters to discuss that are closer to home.  Until then, dear readers!  May you eat well and look pretty on camera as you eat.

local presents for the boozy

One of the things I hated most about being relatively attractive in my 20s was that it was impossible to sit and get lost in my thoughts in public. It always really, really bothered random men — became a veritable challenge — to see how fast they could interrupt my reverie.  Does this kind of thing still happen to young women?  I wouldn’t know.  But I’m guessing yes.

So that famous quote by Luis Bunuel about English gin and reverie in bars (I’ll refrain) was always well out of my reach, by virtue of accident of birth.  There was no way I’d be left unmolested to stimulate a reverie in a bar, English gin or no English gin. Feminism, young ladies, is being able to drink unmolested like a crotchety old surrealist filmmaker in a dark bar.

Nowadays, thankfully, I am only interrupted in my reveries in the aisles at Safeway (HELLO, MA’AM, ARE YOU FINDING EVERYTHING YOU NEED!?). Conclusion: less shopping at Safeway, more time alone in dark bars.  Make up for lost time.

And that’s my Christmas message to you, dear amateur mixologist.

If you’re looking to be lost in reverie or revel with young women, provocative men, Safeway clerks, or old surrealist filmmakers on a bender — or someone you love may appreciate the opportunity — two Oregon craft spirits should be at the top of your list.

Krogstad Aquavit is absolutely the perfect gift for a holiday party.  Drink it cold and neat. It’s distinguished from its fellow aquavits, always tinged with caraway, by the addition of star anise.  It’s a marvelous combination that evokes baking, Scandanavian snow, and tall young blond men in reindeer sweaters.  Delicious.  Made in Portland by House Spirits, so you know it’s good, and under 30 bucks a bottle.

But if you really want to impress, Calisaya, a relatively new girl on the scene, should be seized immediately.  Local distiller and bon vivant Andrea Loreto has perfected his formula, and now produces it in Eugene.  Like the bigger, gingerbreadier, jammier, and more complex Italian Antica Formula, Calisaya is a digestif in the tradition of Italian sipping bitters.  The difference is the base of cinchona bark, the same stuff that gives us quinine.  Calisaya has a cleaner, woodier profile, but is just as smooth and balanced as Antica.  It doesn’t hit you upside the head like Fernet Branca or remind you of 19th century health spas like Becherovka.  It’s worth every penny of the $45ish you’ll spend on it.

Both can be had at Big Y liquors on 6th.  They only have a couple bottles left of each.

Krogstad aquavit has found its way into some wonderful cocktails, my favorite of which is Jeffrey Morganthaler’s Norwegian Wood, which he served me long long ago while it was still in the development phase at our late lamented Bel Ami.  (Bel Ami, I might add, was the first bar I felt truly comfortable sitting in by myself.  Thanks, Jeff.)  There’s also the Viking Quest, also served by Jeff at Clyde Common, but a creation of Beaker and Flask’s Tim Davey.  It also adds a brilliant note to homemade gravlax.

Calisaya can be used as any Italian herbal bitter — with tonic, soda, on the rocks, etc.  If you’d like to try it, Marché’s Le Bar serves a Calisaya cocktail with (I think) just a few drops of bitters and maybe an orange peel (ugh, failure of memory clearly means I need to go again for research purposes.).  But it’s worth experimenting with cocktails.  Loreto provides a few on his website, the best of which is the Calisaya Negroni, which has both Antica and Calisaya, and the added bonus of being created by local bartender Justin Wafer, formerly of Eugene’s Belly and now of Tasty ‘n’ Sons in PDX (congratulations, Justin!).  Another Negroni interpretation, an all-local “Oregroni” most generously provided by the folks at, will be perfect for locavore drinkers on your Christmas list.

You will be directed to the original sources for these recipes by clicking the titles, if you want to make sure I haven’t changed anything.

Viking Quest

Recipe by Tim Davey.

  • 1 oz. Krogstad Aquavit
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1 oz. Barolo Chinato

In a pint mixing glass add all ingredients then ice. Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange disc after expressing the orange oil over drink.

Norwegian Wood

Recipe by Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

  • 1 oz. (Krogstad) Aquavit
  • 1 oz. (Laird & Co.) Applejack
  • 3/4 oz. Sweet Vermouth (Cinzano Rosso)
  • 1/4 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a large twist of lemon peel and serve.

Calisaya Negroni

Recipe by Justin Wafer.

  • 1 oz. Calisaya Liqueur
  • 1 oz. Antica Formula sweet vermouth
  • 1 oz. gin

Stir, strain into cocktail glass and flame orange zest over the drink.

The Oregroni

Recipe by the Boozeniks.

  • 1 oz. Ransom Old Tom Gin
  • 1 oz. Calisaya Liqueur
  • 1 oz. Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir for 30 seconds; pour into a chilled cocktail glass.

Garnish with an orange or lemon peel that has been rubbed around glass rim and squeezed over the cocktail. Do not neglect this, or the cocktail will seem a bit too one-note without the oil from the citrus.

While component-wise the Oregroni is similar to a Negroni, it is far drier and lighter. Plan any accompanying snacks to be lighter and saltier and with a bias toward seafood, rather than what you might serve with a Negroni.