elijah, easter bunny both take a pass

Well, looks like neither Easter nor Passover will happen this year, and I’m fine with that.  I’ve become very blasé about holidays. This is hard to fathom, somehow, since I grew up in a family that hit every holiday hard. Easter, for example, was celebrated three times, maybe four times if you count dinner, in a row at different relatives’ houses.  We never did that doling out of holidays by relative thing that many families manage to do.

And since Retrogrouch and I don’t have kids and don’t have much interest in celebrating holidays with kids and all our friends are having kids, the gesture gets more hollow by the year.  Eh. No biggie.  I’d rather be out in the garden prepping food production this time of year anyway.  That seems more of an escape from bondage, more of a celebration of rebirth, than hostessing to me.  Praying with your feet, to paraphrase Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama.  I pray with my trowel.

But that doesn’t mean my thoughts aren’t filled with holiday swag when the holidays roll around.  In the grocery store, in particular, when one is bombarded with temptations.  I think about my grandmother, the one who doesn’t cook, who would spend weeks each year finding the best, coolest candy for Easter baskets for my sister and me.  I always keep my eye out, in her spirit, for weird and wondrous sugar bombs for my nephews, to send to them when I can. I rarely can time it like she did, but I have a more perverse sense of humor. Surely, my colleague who surprised me in line at Market of Choice while buying two IV bags of lurid red sugar blood at Halloween must have wondered what recipe I was dreaming up…

There was something very comforting in holidays, a temporal sureness.  That’s the pleasure of a middle class upbringing: heteronormative, reproductive time.  It’s hard to imagine there’s any other acceptable way when you grow up like that.  A part of me is sad I’ll never transubstantiate those particular joys or cyclical comfort, but my freedom to garden instead of cook, write instead of wash the seder plate, browse the Easter candy baskets instead of buying, means I won’t model the treacherous, complex groove of reproductive time for a little girl like me who would one day be sad.  This is not without its consequences, though.  The knowledge I have of the holidays — all the domestic rituals and rites — is thus rendered “heavy with useless experience,” to turn dear Adrienne Rich on her head.

I’ve never liked the Easter message, and my husband says he doesn’t like Passover anymore, because it celebrates vengeance.  “It would have been enough, dayenu,” he says. “But god needed more plagues, celebrated by drops of the blood of your enemy.”  He wants a holiday of moderation, where “it is enough.” As much as this concept horrifies me and I profoundly disagree in my middle class sureness, acknowledging the carnivalesque need for celebrations of life, where excess is sometimes very appropriate and wonderful and even blessed, I see his point. “The knife edge of fact.” The sacrificial lamb.

It’s just never enough.

fast food lunch

Tacos with arugula from my garden and Open Oak Farm purple barley and ‘Marfax Swedish Brown’ beans sauced in a rich deep mole poblano from Barcelona Sauces out of Bend, OR.  I love these beans.  They’re beautifully plump and round, and they hold their shape well for recipes like frijoles de olla or baked beans.

slugs, mollusks, and storms: culinaria eugenius in yachats

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It’s raining again, and I feel like this banana slug, who like us escaped the forest to head out to the beach over Spring Break.  You know things are bad when even the slugs abandon ship.

Unfortunately, neither of us had the sense to go to a warm beach.  Oh well. Yachats was lovely in the storm.  We stayed right on the beach and watched the furious waves.  I tried to spot whales, reportedly on their spring migration all along the central Oregon coast, but it was a fruitless endeavor in sheets of rain and whitecaps as far as the eye could sea.

The seagulls and I shared meals of mollusks — they ate mussels, and I ate panfried razor clams at The Drift-Inn, a great little place in Yachats that’s been around for decades as a dive bar but has been gentrified, to the delight of a packed house.  They play live music every night (not updated on the website, unfortunately): jaunty old-timey fiddle and guitar duo that night.  Very pleasant.  I sang along.  And the menu is endless, featuring all the expected seafood specialties one might need and more.  We started with a slightly sweet hunk of house-smoked salmon, served with grapes, hardboiled egg, red onion, Ritz crackers, and a dried-parsley rolled cream cheese ball.  I don’t even know when last I saw dried parsley, much less a cream cheese ball rolled in it, but I kind of dug it in a retro way.

We (Retrogrouch, not the seagulls, and I) also shared a cup of the not-very-smoked salmon chowder and a much better special, a delicious hedgehog mushroom soup with caramelized onions, presumably with local hedgehog mushrooms.  Retrogrouch had the crab-breaded halibut. Service was a bit haphazard, given the huge crowd on a terribly rainy night that I’d imagine was a surprise.  I kind of wish we had sat at the bar, a lovely old wood wraparound number lit by dozens of colored glass lamps.  One of these days I’m going to chronicle these old Western bars.  Really one of our regional treasures.

And I heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

We also ate at a much newer local spot, the Luna Sea Fish House, owned by a fisherman, Robert Anthony, whose boat and recent crab catches are captured on video that plays on one wall.  Much better than a football game, if you ask me.  This tiny place features Chinook salmon, albacore, and crab he brings in himself, other local fish and shellfish in season from the Oregon coast, and standards from further afield.  There’s a small fish counter that had clams, crab, and a few varieties of fish whose origins were noted on a chalk board.

As difficult as it was to avoid the fish and chips almost everyone was eating on that stormy day, I opted for some mild but tasty marinated mixed-fish tacos made from trim, served with guacamole and a vinegar fresh vegetable slaw, colorful as the buoys we saw lining a fence nearby, and seasoned fries.  Add your own hot sauce, any of several on the table.  Retrogrouch had a salad of decent lettuces (it is winter, after all) topped with delicious  Chinook salmon at an outrageously low price for fish that had been pulled out of the sea by the restaurant owner.  The slumgullion, a clam bay shrimp chowder with melty strands of white cheeses that oozed off the spoon with each bite, looked pretty darn good, too.

On our way home, we chanced into sushi in Florence, a meal that ended up being my meal of the week last week on Food for Thought. Friendly, casual, promising Aloha Sushi operates out of the kitchen at Riley’s Steakhouse, right on 101 just north of the 126 junction, and serves up the wild and often sauce-drenched fusion sushi rolls I don’t like but they take them to the level of high kitsch (the surf and turf roll I spied at another table was a particularly egregious example).  Ignore these and instead focus on the subtle Hawaiian touches Chef Christian Jakobsen (a Hawaiian by birth and training) brings to very fresh fish in the standards.  He’s young and exuberant, which accounts for some of the wild fusion impulses, but it’s clear that he has been schooled well at his chef-father’s well-known restaurant.  The sushi menu is vast, with every possible combination one can think up (including guava jelly).  Again, don’t be scared away — easy to ignore if you’re not into fusion rolls, and if you are, heaven help you, you can enjoy some fascinating possibilities.

We had the best, silky salmon belly sashimi I’ve had in a long time, draped over seaweed salad, followed quickly by the mixed fish poke (above), a colorful melange of raw fish and cephalopods, onion, green onion, sesame, and garlicky soy vinegar dressing.

And the cucumber and cabbage sunomono salad, on the menu as pickled vegetables, made even less Japanese and more Hawaiian by the inclusion of furikake, a crunchy topping of nori and sesame spices, was quite nice too.  Retrogrouch had a huge bowl of miso soup with cabbage and tofu, and I enjoyed a surprising roll of mackerel with seaweed salad and grated ginger, a combination I had never seen before…but it really worked.

One thing to keep in mind about Aloha Sushi is that Urbanspoon is not updated with its new location.  It is now in Riley’s Steakhouse at 1161 Highway 101, roughly across the street from its previous host, a small seafood shack that is a former gas station.  And I see why. So once again, here’s a link to their website. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a link to their menu on the site and hope they fix that soon.  (And more unsolicited advice: hold the mayo and rice, please, on the more classical preparations like the sashimi and poke.  We’re in it for the extremely fresh fish!  And replace the green tea immediately.  It’s wretched.)

I managed to jump out of the car to snap a shot of a patch of pretty skunk cabbage blooms, and we made it back to Eugene just as the road crews were putting up high water signs on Highway 126.  More branches had fallen in our yard.  What a mess of a spring.  Hope you’re staying warm and dry.

please, sir, i want some more: whole-grain morning gruel

Living with 100 lbs. less of a husband, and a newly minted marathoner yet (training for his first full one), causes some food clashes in a house formerly dominated by the taste principle of cooking.  Alas. But even with my weak willpower and distaste for nutritionism in American food rhetoric, I had to admit that my 20-year habit of eating a big white bagel in the morning was Not Good.  I would often start to crash and need a small snack around 10:30 a.m., and then turn into a raging bi…g white bagel if I didn’t have lunch by 1 p.m.  I had tried many times to change and found myself crashing even harder with cold cereal or oatmeal.  Adding cream cheese or butter to toast didn’t seem to help, either, and I found anything heavy and savory, like eggs, revolting in the morning.

I’ve really come around on the eggs issue, though, and after my strict debagelization training regime with Retrogrouch, I now usually can eat a fried egg with a piece of thin pumpernickel German toast in the morning, as long as it’s not first thing.

But he’s taken, lately, to making an overnight porridge with whole grains, not the chopped or rolled version you see in packaged grain porridge.  I took to calling it gruel as a joke because of its austerity, but it’s anything but thin and watery. [Edited to add: he has switched over to the crock pot, thank god.  It affects the texture and makes it slightly more gluey, but it’s still good.]

The gruel usually features oat groats that we get locally from Camas Country Mill.  He’s also done it with ryeberries from Open Oak Farm, also local, and occasionally with Open Oak’s wonderful purple barley, which we’ve been eating quite a bit of since he’s returned from his leave in Seattle.  What these grains share in common is that they are not processed at all but left whole and un-pearled or rolled, processes that break down the groat so it is more easily digestible, but removes some of the nutrients.

Retrogrouch makes his gruel even more healthy with the addition of flax meal, which may not be to everyone’s taste.  Whole grains lack the starchy quality of those that have been pre-digested.  I find flaxmeal tastes like mealy wheat germ, and the texture is difficult for me, but it does add some “stick to your ribs” quality that using whole grains lacks.  He also adds whole flax seeds and chia seeds, the latter currently trending in pop nutrition circles, which add crunch and a pleasant slipperiness.  He adds no sugar or salt, but I think it would benefit from a pinch of salt.

It’s critical to note that the gruel cooks very, very slowly for about 12 hours.  He claims it is better than the version he’s tried at half the time, because the grains finally break down and yield a creaminess (see above).  However, at 12 hours, I constantly worry about him burning the bottom of the pot.  So far there have been no casualties.

He likes to add frozen thawed blueberries and walnuts as a topping in the morning and eat gruel as a snack throughout the day.  I, being my own weak self, prefer cream and brandied apricots with a little vanilla powder, and can’t fathom eating it more than once every few days.  But surely there’s a happy medium.  And it’s really quite good.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you couldn’t go back to regular oatmeal (or god forbid a bagel) after trying it.

[ETA:  You can find oat groats in the bulk section of better supermarkets, including Market of Choice.  Retrogrouch also wants me to explain that he uses oat groats not merely because he likes the flavor, but they have more protein than other grains. Chia seeds add protein and fiber; chia and flax also are high in Omega-3 fatty acids]

Do you like this kind of information/post?  Let me know in the comments.  I don’t want to turn this into a health food blog, but if you like Retrogrouch’s very different approach, I’m happy to include more from him.

Whole-Grain Gruel

  • 1 cup oat groats (best from Camas Country Mill)
  • 4 tablespoons Chia Seed
  • 2 tablespoons flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons flax seed meal
  • 4.5 cups water

No need to presoak the grains.  Bring all ingredients to a boil, stirring frequently to incorporate the meal and to break up the chia seeds, which tend to clump. Lower temperature to the lowest setting (we use our gas stove’s simmer burner) and heat gently for 12 hours.  If you have an electric stove, you may want to use a crockpot instead.  Once you have the technique and your own stove’s capacity down, just stir every couple of hours, but you might want to be more vigilant to make sure nothing is burning on the bottom of the pan.  Be particularly careful in beginning of the cooking process because the flax meal goes to bottom and may stick.

For cooking in the crock pot, just add all ingredients and cook on high for the first couple of hours, stirring every hour or two to integrate the water that rises to the top and scrape the sides, which cook more rapidly. Turn to low for 3-4 more hours to finish cooking.  Won’t be hurt if it gently cooks overnight.

Makes about 4-5 cups of gruel.  Can be refrigerated for several days.

better than oregon wine: 2006 charles shaw california chardonnay

I’ve been saving this bottle of 2006 Charles Shaw California Chardonnay 2006 ($3) for a special occasion.  Finally, I had one last week.  Sadly, I don’t remember what it was.  In my early days in graduate school at U. C. Irvine, I bought this chardonnay because it tasted like sauvignon blanc and the bitter tears of academia.  A grad school party just wasn’t a party without a case of Charles Shaw.  It’s become richer over time, as have the tears.  A lovely deep yellow color due to the process of micturition.  The nose is pure oxygen and a hint of smog.  When you drink, drink fast, because the pure green apple on the palate fades quickly into sour grapes.  You’ll want to reserve this one for yourself.  Drink now or never.