culinaria eugenius in seattle: salmon candy

Smoked fish at Whole Foods in Seattle — mindboggling! Top to bottom: chipotle smoked salmon; smoked lemon-pepper salmon nuggets and smoked Chilean sea bass; foursome of sockeye lox trim, smoked Yukon salmon candy, kippered salmon and smoked salmon collar; detail of smoked salmon collar.  And that’s just the packaged stuff!

Don’t forget, you can “alleviate poverty worldwide” by stuffing all of these into a bag made of plastic bottles from East Timor.  Ah, Whole Foods.

niblets: red carpet edition


Congratulations to Chef Brendan Mahaney of Belly for his James Beard Award nomination for Best Chef Northwest!  This award is one of the biggest honors in the culinary industry.  Images above are from my very first meal at Belly, dining al fresco with Retrogrouch in July 2008.  That beet-cabbage-parsley salad with a side of crème fraîche is still one of my favorite salads ever.

But an important omission, Mr. Beard & Associates: Chef Gabriel Gil of Rabbit Bistro, who was invited to the Beard House last year.  Boo.  You know what makes me excited, though?  Both Belly and Rabbit are moving to more spacious kitchens downtown, so the best is yet to come.  Watch out, Eugene.

Let’s not forget to congratulate fellow nominee Chef Matt Bennett of Albany’s Sybaris, here leading a round of applause for his staff at the Albany Carousel Dinner with Chef Brian Polcyn, and former Eugene bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Clyde Common in PDX for Outstanding Bar Program.

On the local front, see Chef Corey Wisun of Falling Sky Brewing in action, making cod over greens with pesto, on a relatively new and respectably produced segment, KVAL’s Tasty Tuesday.  I’m always horrified when I see food coverage on our local stations since it’s clear none of the reporters have ever been to a restaurant.  But Tony Gist seems to be clued in and articulate about food.  I hope they realize it and treat him well.

Marché’s own sous Chef Crystal Platt has been making local headlines among Those In The Know for her chicken croquettes served à la Buffalo, seasoned with hot sauce, Rogue Oregon Blue cheese, and served with a celery salad.  If you haven’t been to the pleasant new bar with the eponymous name, check it out.  Marché is serving breakfast now, too.

And speaking of new interpretations of Buffalo wings:

Yum yum, no?  Hot Mama’s Wings on 13th.  It’s really a cozy little place.  Clockwise from the top:  hot wings that taste a different than the normal Buffalo, glorious bleu cheese bacon, Thai peanut (a little gloopy for me), and sweet-hot raspberry chipotle.  (A p.s. from this perpetually grumpy correspondent to the perpetually grumpy server: a little hospitality makes everyone feel better.)

And last but not least in VIP news, spring is here.  Time to start thinking of tilling and starting seeds!  I suspect it’s going to be another distracted and travel-heavy summer for me, so no expansion planned, but will manage the usual.  If that’s not on your plate, consider a CSA this year.  You can meet potential farms and farmers at this Willamette Farm and Food Coalition event:

13th Annual – That’s My Farmer! Event
5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
First United Methodist Church
1376 Olive Street (Eugene)

$5-15 donation goes to subsidize CSA shares for low-income families

Hope to see you there!





happy paczki day 2012

You say Mardi Gras, I say Paczki Day…this temperance solider wants to call the whole thing off.

But with the sober reckoning of Lent ahead for Catholics, and the lean days of early spring and studying for finals and mounting pressure to eat fewer carbs and sugar, many believe on Fat Tuesday it’s ok just to unleash yourself and have a jelly donut or two or four.  Paczki are the heavier, often lard-fried, often prune-filled, Polish version, eaten on this here day in Polish-American communities across the country.

Go wild. There’s a reason this day is traditionally associated with carnival, and it is not merely the idea that folks needed to rid their pantries of fats and sweets before Lenten fasting.  Although/because our national ideology urges us to be deeply ambivalent about public shows of dark indulgence, and the threat of falling into decadent decline (see above) hangs over all our excesses, a day of carnival allows us a safe, delimited space in which to explore the possibilities of letting everything go.   Eat a donut, think about repression.  That’s my motto.

If you’re in Eugene, Holy Donuts! has made limited amounts of paczki for the holiday.  That’s theirs above from a few years ago.  They’ll be available in limited quantities at Perk Coffee on Willamette and 13th.  While you’re there, treat yourself to a cup of locally fire-roasted coffee from Caffé Pacori, the best coffee you’ll ever have.

Seattle?  Getcher paczki here.  Don’t know about Portland.  Let me know if you do.

Happy Paczki Day!

And for those of you interested in the continuing Paczki Day coverage by this pączek:

Culinaria Eugenius Packi Day posts: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.

land use and the urban farm

A fundamental part of my pedagogy at the Clark Honors College at University of Oregon is fostering networks for students:  between themselves, the greater university community, our Eugene community at large, and with worlds of possibilities.   For the lower-division Humanities sequence food and literature class, now in its third year, I try to include an interactive component that stresses some of our community networks.  As you might imagine, this is difficult given the short quarters and my mandate to teach food from the literary perspective, but we do manage to pull off something.

This year, we visited the Urban Farm on the outskirts of the university.  OK, just across the street. But in many ways, it’s a homesteading plot in the wilds of the Millrace, clustered with the arts facilities.  The wild, wild northwest.

This is my favorite picture from the day.  It’s my students listening to Urban Farm Director Harper Keeler of the Landscape Architecture Department.  He’s an active part of my food studies group and he’s been involved with the Urban Farm for a great deal of its ~30-year history.  Yes, we’ve been doing the farm-to-school schtick for about 30 years!

Harper teaches classes that incorporate sustainability readings and hands-on stewardship and food growing training.  He also regularly gives tours of the farm, and was kind enough to show us around. Here he’s pointing out the location of the old farmhouse that was on the property, which was once an orchard of fruit and nut trees (cherries, apples, pears, almonds, filberts, and at least one big English walnut).

What is the orchard now?  Behind Harper and the compost bins made of old pallets, there’s a giant parking lot available for student athletes only while using the Jacqua Center for their tutoring appointments.  A couple prized trees were saved after some negotiations, apparently.

To be fair, the entire lot wasn’t an orchard; part of it became a Coca Cola bottling plant, then the lot was used for storage and deliveries to the farm.  But now it’s just an empty parking lot.  A colleague who works nearby keeps a tally — once 13 cars were parked there!  Usually it has one or two cars in it (two there during my day at the farm).

Land use, and the evolution (degeneration, I suppose) of a plot of soil from an orchard to an unused parking lot is fascinating for the literature scholar, because a walk becomes a story.  Folks like Harper and his staff and students learn how to read the land like we read books.  With fluency in parking lots and greenhouses, we can raise our own consciousnesses and those of others.  I am proud to be part of the team that is making these connections start to happen.

OK, before I get off my soapbox, I just have to brag about my students.

See the woman in the blue coat?  She is holding a Victorian blancmange made in our very own Clark Honors College kitchen, formerly the location of the Home Economics Department at UO.  Yes, my students bring blancmanges to share with the class.  Can you beat that?

The lit, high-tech greenhouse is not on the farm, alas.  It’s the adjacent property, managed by one of the science programs, and allegedly the greenhouse is doing experiments with GMO crops.  The Urban Farm’s greenhouse, which helps grow food for low-income programs and the 80 students a term who learn on it, is the jerryrigged, salvaged and foraged plastic one in front (which was vandalized by some moron who slashed the side with a knife).  Anyone have a rich uncle?  Car wash to raise funds?  All we need is an empty lot…

The little contraption in the second photo above, around the back of the Urban Farm greenhouse, is a low-cost, low-fuel model developed by a student for use in developing countries.  I understand he’s off in Central America testing out field models right now.

Another greenhouse, and winter crops in the front part of the 1.5 acre farm.  We’re able to grow brassicas and various lettuces throughout the winter in the Willamette Valley, and the Urban Farm manages quite well, even with night-visiting nutria from the river tributary next to the farm.

The cabbages improve with frost, and I’ve found arugula almost completely loses its bitterness with all the rainfall.

A lesson I am trying to take to heart.

start spreading the news! two illustrious guests on food for thought today

Great show today on KLCC’s Food for Thought with yours truly and Ryan!  We’ll be discussing my recent trip to New York,  downtown revitalization with Brendan Mahaney of Belly, and the recent Oregon visit by author and former New York Times food columnist Molly O’Neill, who came to Eugene last month as part of her One Big Table project.

Listen in at noon to 1:00 on KLCC (89.7) and all its sister stations south of PortlandLivestreaming is here.  I’ll post a link to archives when they’re available.

ETA:  Fun show!  An .mp3 archive of today’s show is now available for downloading for free on the KLCC site.

buy girl scout cookies, support inclusiveness

Girl Scout cookies are available for purchase starting this weekend in Eugene outside of most of our major grocery stores, including Albertson’s, Safeway, Market of Choice, and Fred Meyer’s, and a number of other venues.  For the location closest to you, click here and enter your zip code.

Although not remotely healthy, there’s yet another reason to stock up this year.  You may be aware of the controversy last fall about a troop in Colorado that wouldn’t let a transgender girl named Bobby Montoya join, then reversed its decision after the case made the national news.  Well, one girl scout disagreed with that decision, and made a rather hateful video telling people to boycott cookies this year because of the Girl Scouts of America’s decision to support anyone who claims girlish affiliation and presents as a girl.  She felt it would be neither nurturing nor safe to have a transgender girl included with the other girls. You can read more about the controversy here or here.

I’m interested in this controversy not only because I’m interested in teaching tolerance of sexual and gender difference, but because I remember very vividly what it was like to have the Girl Scout experience ruined by intolerance about what a person chose to do with her body.

My mom, whose sash is the dark green one above, really loved being a part of these mother-daughter social organizations, and we were constantly involved in them while I was growing up.  She became the leader of my own Girl Scout troop and had a blast organizing activities and events.  I pretty much would rather have been reading or writing, but as you can see on my sash, the two lone badges for active citizenship and hospitality meant I had at least one lobbyist tea party with someone about something.

My mom was also considering at that time becoming a surrogate mother, which was all the rage and quite controversial at the time.  We even went to New York so she could be interviewed on the Good Morning America show about it. She felt that she loved motherhood so much that she wanted to give that experience to someone else, and because she was divorced, she probably wasn’t going to be able to have any more children herself.

Well, the mothers of the other girls in the troop saw the show, and decided my mother wasn’t a fit leader of young girls.  She was, after all, advocating conceiving a child out of wedlock, and she would be parading around pregnant without any husband to show for it.  They petitioned and forced her to resign.  She never went through with the surrogacy and wrote off the mothers as narrow-minded and basically forgave them.  We moved on to other activities and the matter was largely forgotten.

But I was pissed.  I’m still angry about it 30 years later.  It was one of the formative moments of my life, and it made me think for the first time that there were other ways of being a woman than a married, childbearing one.  I owe that epiphany to the Girl Scouts.

And it looks as if the Girl Scouts as an organization have come a long way since the 1980s.  Some individuals, however, apparently have not.  So I say support the organization and the girls who are different by buying as many cookies as possible this year.  And don’t forget to let the troop member know why you’re supporting the Girl Scouts.

Consider donating to the transgender girl’s troop through a webpage created by the organization TransYouth Family Allies.  Donations go to the Girl Scouts of Colorado operations or a new anti-bullying educational campaign.

Or just check out some of the historic badges earned by my mom by viewing images of Girl Scout badges through the decades here.

culinaria eugenius in new york: tell me what street compares with mott street

“Kitchen Allegory,” Jessica Jackson Hutchins (2010) and Sideboard, Jan Martense Scheck house (mid 18th c., New York), both at the Brooklyn Museum.

Some great panels at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference last week in New York.  I was really inspired by the folks browsing their way through hundreds of community cookbooks and entire runs of popular cooking magazines.  Having done archival research on newspapers myself, I know how grueling that kind of reading is.  I can’t imagine it would be easier with recipes involved.

Also saw what could happen if a researcher doesn’t put the time and effort into a holistic approach.  Downright dismayed by the lack of understanding of and interest in food culture west of the Hudson.  That’s long been a complaint of mine in New York culinary publishing, and you’ve probably heard me froth at the mouth about Cook’s Illustrated and the New York Times, in particular, treating California as if it’s a foreign land of exotic fruits in all senses of the word.  To say nothing of Oregon.  But at the conference, I saw this blindness in action at all levels of the industry, and it was sobering.  To ignore California is to ignore the way our country produces and distributes food.  And we all know what that means.

Possibly the most fascinating aspect of the conference was one we wouldn’t dream of managing at a literature conference (lest we litter the proceedings with litterateurs).  The mingling of historians and food writers in two streams directed at research and industry!  An intrepid voyager could take in the entire history of Jewish cookbooks in the West, for example, then learn how to profit from the latest cookbook app.  Or hear more about the dishes featured in Willa Cather’s fiction, then receive advice on writing culinary fiction appealing to New York’s elite publishing houses. Need an agent?  Fancy more information about 18th century French cooking?  Having trouble with timing your recipes?  Pondering the Chinese immigrant experience?  They had us covered.

I was a little cowed, I’ll admit, by the blogging presence and emerging industry represented at the conference. I know for sure I don’t want this blog to become a moneymaking enterprise.  Way too commercial for me.  I need a place to freely write, not a venue for generating ever more traffic because of my concept and brand.  My platform.  That’s the term they used.  But it was interesting to hear some of the possibilities for the field.

One of my favorite panels was on cookbooks as propaganda, led by Gastronomica editor Darra Goldstein.  The participants were constitutional legal scholar, John Finn (left, above), a literature professor, Megan Elias (middle), and a chef/sociologist, Krishnendu Ray (right).  I managed to snap a shot of Ray’s analysis of the visual rhetoric of cookbook covers.  He’s gesturing toward The French Laundry Cookbook in its chef’s whites, and discussing subtle ways in which the culinary elite represents itself in design, comparing it to representations of “ethnic” cooking as in the Indian cookbook in front of him.  Looking forward to reading more of his work on ethnography in the American restaurant.

And speaking of which, I was doing my own ethnography in the American restaurant when I wasn’t attending panels.   Yes, more Chinese food, more dumplings, more Sichuan.  If you’d like to take a look at a photo set of my trip to Chinatown or another of the food-related artwork I saw at the Brooklyn Museum, the albums are available to all on my Facebook page.

Hm, maybe dumplings could be my platform.  Mmmm, doughy, soup-filled platform.

culinaria eugenius in new york: day 3 of the cookbook conference

The conference has been illuminating, and I’m fascinated by the range of attendees — I’ve chatted with various curators and librarians and editors and authors, a 18th century meal re-enactor, urban restaurant researchers, a Southern tomato cookbook writer, a specialist in Abraham Lincoln’s cooking world,  a medieval historian, several recipe indexers, white paper writers, and a collector of old copper cookware.  Some panels are being live-broadcasted here. I hope they’re planning to archive these panels, as I’ve chosen mine based on an assumption I’ll be able to watch more later.

ETA:  Check out more details and a link to my photos of Chinatown and the Brooklyn Museum on this post.

Not interested in the conference? Come walk around outside with me and look in store windows.

American values.

Love for sale.

Old love, new love, every love but true love.

And a pastrami eggroll.  More on this soon.

say no to teriyaki, eugene

I absolutely do not understand, and indeed, sharply denounce, our civic enthusiasm for teriyaki.  An achingly sweet, slightly salty brown sludge that drowns meat in any vaguely Asian restaurant in town, be it Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, and undoubtedly Thai, Americanized teriyaki sauce is a trend that must be stopped.

No, stirfries are not assisted by teriyaki sauce.  Neither are hamburgers.  Or shrimp. Or anything — for the love of god — containing broccoli.

Whenever I visit an establishment that has any ties to the mysterious Orient, I studiously avoid anything that might be served in that orientalist shorthand. But sometimes, like last night, I am tricked.

Imagine my dismay when this order of bulgogi arrives at my table at Sushi Seoul.  I’m singling them out because they were once one of the best places in town to get Korean food cooked well and served with a decent number of kimchi/banchan dishes.  But no more.  Bulgogi is already sweet enough with its soy-sugar-sesame oil-garlic marinade. But doused with teriyaki it is like eating meat candy.

I wiped it off with a napkin, but it was too late.  Even worse, it was served with a jam-like chili sauce instead of the usual chunky, salty, miso-like soybean paste you’ll get in Korean restaurants that aren’t bent on Americanizing their food.  The cabbage below the meat (also a Eugene trick) was saturated and soggy.  Instead of what you’d get at any neighborhood Korean restaurant in a big city — freshly grilled, nicely charred barbecued meat wrapped in lettuce leaves with a tiny bit of salty miso, fresh garlic slivers, and a salad of green onions and romaine lettuce dressed with sesame oil — I had an unappetizing pile of limp, sugary rubber over sweet steamed cabbage and some vaguely Thai pepper jam to put in my lettuce leaves.


So here’s my plea to all Eugene Asian restaurants:  not all Americans like sweet flavors.  Stop serving teriyaki slop.  Reduce the sugar in ALL your recipes by at least half.  The growing health-conscious movement and high incidence of diabetes in our town make this an ethical choice. At the very least, serve teriyaki as they do it in Japan: as a thin glaze flavored with fresh ginger that colors and caramelizes on grilled meats.  Not a sauce.  Not glopped onto everything.  And a stronger salt and umami side than just a sweet, brown, curdled blandness.

We’ll get used to the new flavors, we promise you.  In fact, I will willingly and widely promote any traditional Asian restaurant that changes its American menu to one that is more authentic if it removes the sugary pap you’re currently serving.

And I’m hoping other people in Eugene will support this initiative by asking their favorite Asian restaurants to do the same.

Need more proof?

A Chowhounder found a recipe for commercial teriyaki sauce, evidently used in Seattle family restaurants:

Commercial/Institutional Recipe for Teriyaki Sauce

7 quarts Soy Sauce
9 quarts sugar (Measure with the same container you would measure liquid quarts with)
18 quarts water
3 three inch sections of ginger, peeled
3 heads garlic, peeled
3 heads lettuce
5 medium apples
2 stalks celery
1 bunch/bundle parsley
3 large white onions, peeled

A summary of the ensuing recipe: the sauce is made by grinding everything up in a blender, then boiling it down for two hours.  The author notes that “[t]here may well be variations like using a couple quarts of pineapple, pear, or apple juice as that is used in many restaurant teriyaki marinades (along with apple juice, black pepper, and light corn syrup).”  And I’ve seen additions like cornstarch, onion and garlic and ginger powder.

How does this translate for the consumer?  Well, there are eight quarts in two gallons, sixteen in four gallons.  So the sauce is a simple syrup of 1:0.8 ratio sugar to soy, cut with over double the amount of water.  The vegetables (and/or canned fruit juices and corn syrup surely used in Eugene to cut costs) mute or sweeten the flavor even more.   Adding onions and parsley and onions would somewhat replace the umami flavor that more soy sauce would add.  The lettuce would add body, plus it’s an excellent way to get rid of aging heads of iceberg.

Say no to commercial/institutional teriyaki.

And if you MUST eat teriyaki, make it at home instead.

Teriyaki Glaze for a Couple Pounds of Grilled Salmon

  • 1/4 cup each Japanese low-salt or light color (usukuchi) soy sauce, sake, water, and sugar. If you only have dark or regular or American soy sauce, add another 1/4 cup of water.
  • A small knob of fresh ginger, grated to make about a tablespoon.

On medium heat in a small saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil.  Watch it carefully. When sauce begins to reduce and thicken into a glaze, remove from heat.  When salmon is finished, remove from grill and brush on finished teriyaki sauce lightly just before serving.  Also good with grilled tofu.