i get knocked down / but i get up again, or, flower power!

I’m pretty excited to see the daffodils, in full bloom on their spindly stalks when snow hit, springing back after being blanketed for days.  Cheery little faces!  I need to learn something from their attitude.  Even dirt-flecked and ragged, they hold their heads up high.

The flowering quince, probably my favorite plant on the property and also in full bloom, survived without a single broken branch.

I was most worried about the haskap berry bushes, since they’re my earliest crop and were already starting to form berries on several of the plants.  But they seem fine.  I guess when you grow in Siberia, you can handle a little wet snow.

And here we have Oregon’s finest rhubarb, miracle tarragon and horseradish.  Got snow?  No problem!  I’m also amazed to see cilantro (two varieties) and all my other herbs flourishing.  Strawberries, asparagus, peas, flowering broccoli (two varieties) and arugula are doing just fine, thanks.  The single asparagus stalk nub bit it, though, and I’m cautiously optimistic about all my raspberries.

I’m always happy to see my old friend lovage return in the early spring.  I made some potstickers with it the other day that I will post soon.  And my wispy frisée with seeds from Switzerland is doing great.  The trouble with tribbles.

And of course, best of all, is the eerily deathless kale. I particularly like this picture, as it looks as if it’s as large as one of the piles of brush from downed branches and limbs in my yard.  It’s the ‘Red Russian’ cultivar discussed in a recent Washington Post article on kale, where they argued that the flat-leaved B. napus varieties were hardier than the fall B. oleracea kales like lacinato.  I guess I tested that hypothesis!  Not a single scratch.


one of the best appetizers i’ve ever had: rabbit bistro

And there may even be a couple left, not sure.  Every Friday, Chef Gabriel Gil posts an appetizer and entree special on the Rabbit Bistro Facebook page.  They’re always fascinating, often mysterious, and sometimes challenging.  Separate the boys from the men, that’s what I say.  If you want to try it, relax your inhibitions a bit (might I suggest a cocktail special first?) and trust him.  I know this is contrary to the Eugene Way and the increasingly loathsome American practice of dietary eliminations and inspecting menus for their clinical traits.  So don’t go if you’re worried your needs won’t be met or you use “protein” to describe what you’re ordering for dinner.

But if you want to delight your tastebuds and widen your horizons…

How about a toothsome, cured and smoked venison carpaccio with the texture and flavor of pastrami sashimi?  It was brilliant, BRILLIANT, served with miner’s lettuce, slices of roasted rutabaga and perfect pickled tart apple, malt mayo (just a skosh too much), and iced milk that kept it cold and melted its milkiness down the mountain of cured protein, er, deer.

The picture, of course, doesn’t do it justice.  I rarely take pictures at Rabbit because the lighting doesn’t encourage it (and I’m the first to acknowledge it’s an awful habit, not to be encouraged at all), but I just had to share this one.  I wanted to lick the plate, pick it up and lick it.

We’re going to have Gabriel on Food for Thought on KLCC next Sunday, April 1, at noon, when I next co-host, so we can talk more about the culinary Renaissance in Eugene and what the Rabbit brings to the scene.  We’ll talk about ketchup, the Rabbit’s move downtown, and all manner of and creative possibilities for the future.  Tune in!  This Sunday (tomorrow), I hear that the delightful folks from Indie Pop will be there.


freak snowstorm in eugene: march madness

Three downed power lines in my yard and more branches than I can count from our huge, beautiful elm tree.  No lasting damage and the power’s on now after a day and a half (thanks EWEB!), but there are still a few broken branches that are yet to fall.  The biggest branch that fell from overhead landed right between two rows in the garden, and didn’t hurt a single collard leaf. Downright polite, no?

Hope everything’s ok at your place!

tonic for the soul: eugene’s own indie pop and the perfect gin & tonic

With full confidence this endless wet winter will end, it is time to discuss gin and tonic, summer’s hot celebrity romance.

I spent a pleasant afternoon with the popsters behind Eugene’s premier soda outfit, Indie Pop.  We set out to  make blood orange-kumquat tonic water in Hummingbird Wholesale’s Stellaria building, where they are renting space in the new commercial kitchen and warehouse.  The tonic water will eventually be installed in situ at Izakaya Meiji, so watch out for it!  They’re working on some finicky equipment this week.

The day of my visit, a slightly strange but complimentary article on the team came out in the Register-Guard.  (If you want to know less about what consumer trend analysts say and more about, say, Indie Pop’s flavors, skip that and go here.)  We chatted about the fantastic photo of bartenders Richard Geil and Melanie Mikell and investor Ben Fogelson dressed as spies on the run as they whipped up an experimental batch of tarragon-meyer lemon soda.  Not bad!  And I am very much looking forward to a review of the suggested adult beverage that evoked the Russian-ness of tarkhun, a day-glo tarragon soda.  Ben made off with the batch.  I hope at least one Green Russian was made.

And then we got to the business of tonic!  That day’s seasonal fruit addition was blood orange and kumquat.  Indie Pop design guru Mike Smith chopped.

Richard juiced and expressed the oil from the peels by mashing them into a maceration with hot water before adding honey, a secret ingredient, and powdered cinchona bark.  Cinchona is the source of quinine, the unique bitterness that makes tonic water tonicky and allowed British colonizing powers to acquire sunny days all over its Empire.

It’s also a difficult ingredient to use in its natural state, as it doesn’t seem to vary with steeping so you can’t adjust the bitterness, and it tends to leave a trace of cinnamon-tinged woodiness to the preparation.  I found the citrus really helped marry the flavors.  The acidic sweetness of the blood orange, made just a bit more tart by the secret ingredient, and a batch of not-quite-ripe kumquats provided the zing.

Once the flavors macerated, we strained out the solids and carbonated.  That’s it!  Simple and wonderful.

Richard has been making tonic syrup and sodas since his days working behind the bar at Bel Ami with Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who originally developed a recipe using grapefruit and kumquat, if I remember correctly.  Grapefruit, lemon, and lime make for a tart and delicious combination.  Richard and Mel have done some experimentation with unexpected additions to the tonic, like lavender, which Richard said was hard to pin down but interesting when it worked, and lemongrass.  Would Buddha’s hand or yuzu be too mild?  That’s what I’d like to see.

So.  Check ’em out.  As I mentioned before, Indie Pop will soon have its very own tap at Izakaya Meiji.  Indie Pop also provides tonic water to Belly (below) and occasionally makes up batches of tonic syrup at Rabbit Bistro.  You can find their sodas in these places, as well, and at PartyCart, which always seems to have the cool experimental flavors like hops-honey or candy-apple or my favorite, rhubarb.

That ain’t no margarita, señorita.

If you’re interested in making your own gin and tonics at home, there really isn’t a better drink to include in your repertoire.  And as I learned recently in Taipei, the only cocktail to order in a suspicious bar is the gin and tonic, since it’s so hard to mess it up.  That doesn’t mean it can’t be made better, though.

Exhibit A: you can geek out about the perfect temperature and ice-hooch ratio chez drink blogger extraordinaire, Kaiser Penguin.

Exhibit B:  Scott Butler, the newly engaged bartender at Rabbit (congratulations, Scott!), suggests just a tiny splash of the Italian aperitivo Cocchi Americano to embitter a natural tonic water like Indie Pop’s (or Q or Fever Tree, if you ask me).  Those of us who are used to the paint thinner known as Schweppes tonic water might need a bit more oomph.  Call it a North and South Gin Tonic, or something.  But it’s good.

The rest of you might just want to chill out and just listen to my advice about….

The Perfect Gin & Tonic

  • 2 oz. Plymouth gin, chilled
  • 3 oz. tonic water, chilled and fresh if from can
  • 3-4 ice cubes made of tonic water
  • lemon slice

The night before, make tonic water ice cubes in a tray with large cubes.  Tonic water cubes are a brilliant way to prevent the drink from being diluted with water on a hot day.  Still, you want the ice to be as cold as possible.

In a lowball glass (yes, I know highball glasses are more accurate, but I like the low ones), add the following quickly: your ice, then the gin, then the tonic water.  Stir gently just to blend without destroying the fizz.  Garnish with lemon slice.

My Gin & Tonic

In any size glass as long as it is large, add large ice cubes about 2/3 the way up the glass.  Pour in gin until it looks like it might be too much.  Pour in tonic to cover the ice cubes, probably too much but you’re worried that you added too much gin.  Take a chopstick and push down on the ice rapidly, like a plunger, to approximate mixing (you may also use your finger to plunge). Drink some off the top because that method is a one-way ticket to Spillsville.  Add a drop of Fee’s lemon bitters because you forgot to buy lemons again.  Plunge once more.  Enjoy.

oxtail and colcannon: luck o’ the irish

Edited to add:  Want to hear me discuss this dish on the radio?  Listen in to today’s Food for Thought on KLCC program by downloading the archived show here.

Warning: gruesome tail image below. Vegetarians avert your eyes.  No, really.  I’m not joking.

I’ve been doing so little cooking lately that I consider my kitchen time sacred.  I miss playing with my food.  Our freezer is still 3/4 full of the 1/4 grass-fed cow we bought from a local farmer last fall, thanks to my crushing schedule and my husband’s sudden decision not to eat much meat anymore after the order was made.

St. Patrick’s Day seemed like the perfect time to change all that.  I had a package of oxtails, so thought I’d make a traditional Irish oxtail braise.  Oxtails used to be a cheap cut of meat — a leftover part for the poor.  But now that the wealthy have figured out that it’s rich and delicious, you see it on chi-chi restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic.

What better time to experiment with a wild green colcannon that wild foods expert Hank Shaw posted on his blog the other day? Colcannon is fancy mashed potatoes, usually made with spring onions and kale or cabbage, that the Irish serve with a pat of melty butter.  Hank brilliantly realized this humble side dish would be enhanced with wild greens like cow parsnip or nettles.

As for me, I used the wild onions that spring up in the grass in March in Oregon, and some arugula that had gone feral in my garden.

If I were to change anything in his recipe, I’d blanch the greens first before sauteing them in butter alone, and I’d emphasize strongly that they should be chopped very finely.  No one wants a tough tongue of limp arugula in their mashed potatoes.  And I know from personal experience.

As for the oxtail, well, it’s a good thing I’m not squeamish, because they included the whole damn tail, not just the lovely meaty chunks up higher toward the business end.  (One more chance to avert your eyes)

Holy snakes, St. Pat!  And not cutting through the thing…that was just cruel.  So into the soup bone bag in my freezer the wiggler went, and the meaty part became my braise.

When making any kind of tough, collagen-rich meat braise, you really don’t need a recipe, since they’re all basically the same.  You can’t really mess up as long as you go low and slow.  Preheat the oven to 300, then cut the meat in chunks, salt and pepper it, then sear it on all sides in vegetable oil or lard (I often save bacon fat for this task), then place it in a dutch oven. While the searing pan is still hot, sweat down chopped onions, carrots, celery and parsley, then add it to the meat in the dutch oven.  Lacking a carrot and celery, I used parsnips, rutabagas, and cutting celery instead this time.)  Add liquid and a bay leaf almost to cover the meat.  I often use half red wine and half chicken stock, but beef stock is better.  Cook for several hours, or until the meat falls off the bone. During cooking, taste for salt and pepper.

When it’s ready, remove it from the stock.  You have a couple of choices, based on time.  You can strain the juices and put them in the freezer until the fat rises to the top and you can remove it.  You can scoop the fat off the top with a spoon and then strain.  But either way, you’ll want to return the juices to the pan and cook them down and taste for seasoning.  As I do this, I whisk a couple of teaspoons of flour into the reducing sauce to thicken it and add a bit more red wine to brighten up the flavors, but that’s not necessary.  All you need to do is have a lovely, concentrated sauce to go with your braise.

And that’s it!

It’s even better the next day.  I suggest turning the leftover colcannon into colcannon latkes. As James Joyce would say, contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality!

niblets: wearing o’ the green edition

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Plant at least one potato for good luck, tradition tells us.  Then again, tradition tells us it doesn’t snow in March.  Forecast for Monday: low 42 degrees, snow showers.  That doesn’t even make SENSE.  Sheesh.

So I will ignore it, just as I ignored hail hailing on my head on my way to class at least eight days a week this term.

For there are springy things a-springing, and great news for us.

Springfield, for example, has a building — with the help of the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO) nonprofit organization — for a new indoor, year-round farmers market. Housed in a former church at 4th and A Street, the future market recently hosted an open house to show plans for Sprout!.  The celebration was fun, with music and raffle drawings.  The gentleman above in the hat presided, and there was a visit from Samba Ja and free nibbles from a range of eateries.  The place was packed.

Sprout! will have two anchor café spaces and seventeen indoor stalls to expand and augment the existing outdoor farmers market.  The indoor stalls will be about 10×6′, and will be placed along the windows and down the nave and transcepts, as pictured here:

“It seems small,” groused one attendee while looking at the plans.

“That’s because it is small,” replied the patient man from the architecture team.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.  The place is big enough for a commercial kitchen and event space, plus the outdoor area for food carts and market vendors.  And we need to keep in mind that the winter markets usually don’t host as many vendors as the summer ones do.

All in all, I’m thrilled this space is being made possible as a reuse and recycle for Springfield.  NEDCO is really doing fantastic work.  I do hope the ‘!’ falls off the Sprout!, though.  People are going to find that exhausting and gimmicky.  You can follow the progress of Sprout! and the Springfield farmers market on their Facebook page.

And it’s wild greens season.  If you are tired of the little western bittercress popping its seeds in your eye, eat it!  Perfectly edible. Or you can pick some stinging nettles or buy them already de-stung at one of our local markets.

For more ideas about how to prepare more green things, like stinging nettles, wild onions, and dandelions, listen to Food for Thought on KLCC tomorrow, Sunday, March 18, at noon. Join me and Ryan at noon, with special guests Heather Arndt Anderson of the fantastic food blog Voodoo & Sauce, Ben Jacobsen of Portland’s first local salt company, Jacobsen Salt Co., and our very own Izakaya Meiji‘s Quinn Brown.