learn to can this summer!

Interested in taking canning classes in Eugene this summer?  You’re in luck!  The OSU-Lane County Extension Master Food Preservers are offering many evening classes this year.  They’re miniature versions of our certification program — all hands-on and filled with tips for the novice and intermediate preserving enthusiast.  You’ll go home with a jar of product and a belly full of samples at the end of the evening.  The cost of $40 is dirt cheap for what you get — these classes are usually offered for upwards of $100 elsewhere.

I’m happy to say I’m leading the pickling class again this year on August 24.  The other classes are led by canners with decades of experience and a solid understanding of what beginners need to know (and what books — and god forbid, websites — won’t tell you).  I learn something every time I volunteer to help, and I can’t recommend these classes enough.  Here’s what’s being offered:

  • June 15: Jams & Jellies: Who can go wrong with berry jam? Make some yourself and take some home. Learn about various pectins, how to make low sugar & freezer jam, and jam or jelly without added pectin.
  • July 13: Drying & Freezing: Get the techniques for outstanding dried & frozen foods. No freezer burn here! Or dry some fruit & veggies. Who doesn’t love jerky, pizza leather or gummy worms?
  • July 27: Water Bath Canning: Learn the basics of canning: jar preparation, treatment of fruit, processing in a boiling water canner. Try out the most simple of canning techniques and take home a jar of fruit.
  • August 24: Pickling: From the ancient art of fermentation to quick pickles, learn pickling techniques and get hints about canning with vinegar. Sample vegetable & fruit pickles and take home your own jar.
  • September 14: Tomatoes & Salsa: All those tomatoes—what to do, what to do? Use them to make sauce, salsa or can them for winter use. You’ll enjoy those tomatoes all year: summer in a jar.
  • September 28: Pressure Canning: Afraid of a pressure canner? Don’t be! Learn to use it to safely preserve vegetables, beans and meats for your enjoyment & convenience. Makes opening a jar of beans a whole new experience.

You may download a flyer with the full schedule and more details in .pdf format.  Or, for registration and more information on the MFP website, including additional classes in cooking and canning tuna, click here.  If you’re interested in the jam class, please sign up right away so we can include you in buying supplies.

purple lettuce for moderns

Forget those Memorial Day burgers, the cool kids are all eating purple lettuce.  I saw more varieties than you might imagine at the farmers market this weekend.  I love the way the burgundy gives way to green innards in this butter lettuce at Lost Creek farm, where they also featured purple romaine hearts (first image) or Horton Road Organics (second).  But if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, try some oakleaf ‘malawi’ lettuce from Wintergreen Farm:

Or, if you swing both ways, consider Organic Redneck McKenzie River Farm’s speckled lettuce.

Any purple lettuce would be delightful served simply with tiny roasted red beets (above, peeled by my able assistant) and a vinaigrette made of homemade blackberry vinegar.  Hold back, if you can, on the goat cheese, creamy dressings, or bright vegetable additions, all of which would mute the naturally gorgeous color.

a tale of two detroit bakeries: polonia

Note: Part I of this post can be found at A Tale of Two Detroit Bakeries: Greektown.

Polonia describes the Polish diaspora, the people of Polish heritage living outside of Poland.  In Detroit, waves of Polish immigration swelled in the last decades of the nineteenth century with the promise of factory jobs and political stability. We can still see the infrastructure of the communities established then if we drive around the west side of the city and on the east side in Hamtramck, the still-bustling Polish-American neighborhood where you can get delicious pastries like these at the venerable New Palace Bakery:

Much of my family originally settled in the Michigan Ave-Junction area on the west side; it’s just north of the area now called Mexicantown. My grandmother went to school at St. Francis d’Assisi (above, with the Polish eagle) and my grandfather St. Hedwig (below), where they were later married.  This part of the city is rather bleak and shuttered, unlike Hamtramck, where there’s still a thriving community.

I discovered on the plane back home, flipping through June’s Food & Wine, that there is some gentrification happening along Michigan Avenue near these old churches — someone’s opened up a chic coffee shop and a barbecue restaurant.  I was patting myself on the back for having a photographic eye because they and I both took a picture of this building:

Unfortunately, THEY did not have a mom driving who does not share a keen appreciation for run-down buildings with letters painted on them, one who didn’t want to stop the car, forcing THEM to snap an action shot from a moving vehicle.  It was actually pretty funny, because she was concentrating on trying to find particular houses and understanding the layout of the neighborhood, while I was trying to take pictures of individual locations and cool grafitti and such.  So I keep yelling, slow down, Mom! Stop for just a second! WAIT! And she’s totally ready to just leave me on the street so she can drive around the block to see what’s there.

I did manage to get a few good shots in, including this one of the lot where my grandpa once owned a gas station, Michigan Ave. and Wesson:

Regardless of our divergent adventuring styles, we did agree on the need to eat Polish food.  We went happily over to the east side to check out Hamtramck, where we dined like Polish princesses on dill pickle soup, borscht, city chicken (cubes of pork shouder and chicken breaded and baked on skewers), fresh kielbasa (one of the highly underappreciated stars of the sausage world), pierogies, and potato pancakes.And I was reminded of the many years my grandma worked in a Polish bakery when we entered the New Palace Bakery that I mentioned above.  It’s a place where paczki (Polish donuts) are made daily, and the cooler bursts with trays of cookies and pastries and cakes, including a thin layer cakes called Seven Brothers and Seven Sisters.  I bought a donut and a loaf of seedless rye, my favorite bread in the world.  And I felt thankful for Polonia and the city that hosts it.

To see more baked goods, including paczki and chrusciki (angel wings), click the thumbnails in the gallery.

a tale of two detroit bakeries: greektown

I’m visiting my family in Michigan for a few days between work travel.  After a lunch of saganakispanakotiropita, and octopus salad in Greektown, we stopped by the Astoria Pastry Shop.  Greektown pretty much horrified me, as someone who hasn’t been in downtown Detroit for decades, but I’m trying not to be so sad about it.  It was one of the best memories of my high school days, going down to Greektown and the brand spankin’ new Trapper’s Alley for exotic Greek (and Ethiopian, my first!) food.

Now Trapper’s Alley is gone and Greektown is spillover for the first big casino.

We never went downtown while I was growing up.  My great-grandparents were the emigrant generation, and they all moved to the Polonia sections of Detroit once they landed on Ellis Island.  By the time my mom was growing up in the fifties, the family still had enough reason to travel down Woodward to the big department stores and to see relatives.  My mom remembers the city growing more derelict and dangerous over the years, and they finally stopped going.  When I was growing up in the seventies, it was just not a place to go.  We’d occasionally venture out to the Institute of Art or the Symphony or to see a ballet, but it was not a regular part of life.

Only when I discovered food did it become a part of my life again.

And now, with the casinos, as more middle-class suburban (read: white) people are returning to Detroit as a tourist destination to be drained of their income, Greektown is pretty much history.  There’s still an air of terror that surrounds the place, the fear that a white person will be immediately attacked once entering the city, but still they come.  And that’s a change. Some of the old restaurants and bakeries are there, and some even accept casino comps at cash value.  It’s like any gold rush town — new chain restaurants are moving in, and the place operates as if the casino has formed a parallel economy with its own transportation byways, currency, and value system that feels vaguely outside the law and yet firmly, urgently, within it.

Needless to say, there are many problems with this gold rush mentality, and I can’t argue the casinos haven’t raised millions of dollars for the site of one of the worst urban stories in the twentieth century. But it still makes me sad.  My mom is sad when she thinks of the deterioration of a city that was vibrant in her youth.  I’m sad about the holocaust and post-apocalyptic dystopia the city became and continues to become in my waning youth.  Detroit is more disturbing to me now than it ever was.

Yes, it’s mesmerizing and brutally raw, fascinating to see.  The decay screams out at you to become art — every single block is a photograph, every single conversation is a poem.  The waiter at our restaurant, an imposing dark man, said he’d lived downtown since the seventies.  “I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” he confessed.  “Of course, I have a CCW, but who doesn’t?  I have to keep an eye on my Harley.  Stay safe, ladies.”

Recording these impressions is almost impossible to resist.  But I think we (I) should try very very hard to press back against the impulses that find terrible beauty and remember the cost to humanity.  Not humanity in the big H Humanities sense, but humanity in the sense of people.  An old woman should have some better pleasure in life than being helped from her wheelchair to a slot machine in a toxic environment.  The city shouldn’t be primarily integrated in a holding cell.  Vending machines — if they should continue to exist — shouldn’t be stocked with cigarettes.  A waiter shouldn’t see packing a concealed weapon as a normal part of his day…

Ugh.  Have to stop.

You can still get a darn good meal in Greektown.  My mom had one of the best pieces of spanakotiropita (like spanakopita but with cheese) that I’ve ever tasted. The Astoria Pastry Shop, with its pressed copper ceiling and Greek pastries, was founded in the seventies, but it feels like an old place and worth your tourist dollars, and Greektown is a wonderful place to catch the People Mover around the downtown area for free views of the Detroit River and all the downtown buildings in their crumbling or renovating-renovated splendor.  The Astoria is a filo heaven, but if your proclivities swing cakeward, they’ve got you covered, too.  Click, click below to see some of the real sweetness of Detroit.  Next up: Polish bakery!

Note: Part II of this post can be found at A Tale of Two Detroit Bakeries: Polonia.

culinaria eugenius in indiana: mulberries and dumplings


Who snapped the most perfect picture when she was eating mulberries off a giant mulberry tree on the Indiana University campus and a lady with a black parasol in full Goth lace regalia strolled by? This girl.

And who found good Sichuan food in the middle of nowhere?  This girl. (At Lucky Express, a little hole-in-the-wall in Bloomington on 3rd.)

And who ate pickled herring at an Irish pub last night?  You guessed it.

Step it up, Eugene!

culinaria eugenius in indiana: pickled brains and medicinal plants

Nothing makes you feel more like potted meat than a good ol’ mental hospital.  I visited the Indiana Medical History Museum last week on the outskirts of Indianapolis, the grounds and history of the former — and notorious — Central State Hospital asylum.  The museum holds all the relics and settings of a restored, turn-of-the-century pathology department at a teaching facility on the grounds of the asylum.

The pathology department was remarkably efficient.  The corpse refrigerator, for example, is next to the autopsy room and the auditorium, where students could watch the bodies being dissected.  A small brick morgue was situated immediately next to the autopsy room, and above the autopsy room was the records room with its custom-build ledger table. 

The records room pictured above, where all notes were made about the autopsy, has a 19th-century intercom on the wall.  The pipe ran down to the room below and amplified the conversation taking place in the autopsy room about the bodies, so the doctor could transcribe the discoveries being made on the table.  (The beige machine in the autopsy room is a child’s iron lung from several decades later.) Up to 40% of the patients in the early 20th century suffered from syphilis, so several areas of the ledger allowed for notes on that disease.

Another notable feature of the records room is the garden that’s barely visible outside the window, surrounding the old morgue building.

The garden is interesting, not only because it was installed in 2003 and maintained by Marion County Master Gardeners, but because it raises some questions about how we think nostalgically about old treatments.

The grounds of the facility are expansive, and they used to house massive dormitories for male and female patients that were built in a staggered fashion called a Kirkbride plan to allow as much light as possible in the rooms.  Fresh air and light were considered a radical way of treating the mentally ill, and they were encouraged to be outside on the grounds as much as possible.

Unfortunately, this did not mean patients were allowed to roam in a medicinal herb garden, or even in the beautiful manicured gardens that once graced the facility. No, they were there to work.  As part of a regime of “moral therapy” that asserted that the middle-class value of hard work and industry would realign skewed minds, the more sentient patients were made to cultivate the land and work in the facilities of the asylum, including a cannery that produced an astonishing amount of food.  The Indiana Public Records Commission has a short essay on this common treatment at the Central State Hospital, including a picture of the canning facility:

To prove their commitment to the new middle class values, CSH physicians attempted to engender in their patients a certain discipline and value system that fostered an industrial work ethic. Healthier patients were required, not encouraged, to follow strict work schedules, that included producing garment piece work and other products that could be sold to outside factories. In the early twentieth century, CSH instituted an “occupational therapy” program that entailed patients working with hand/foot operated machines to create products for no compensation. A few decades later, CSH built a cannery for patients, indicating that the hospital’s full integration into the industrial world had been achieved. Importantly, the work therapy program served another equally imperative function: it provided additional moneys to supplement unreliable state funding that ebbed and flowed with the changing political tides.

Regulated work, however, was not enough. A “well-regulated” diet, a highly “regimented” morning and evening schedule, the reading of wholesome books from the hospital’s “selected library”, and the partaking in “mild and innocent amusements” were sure cures for mental illness and a sure way of inculcating white middle-class mores. In retrospect, the living conditions at CSH may seem overly oppressive and the motives of the physicians questionable, but this highly structured environment did offer solace to many patients, particularly in a period when few other cures existed.

In some respects, patients and medicinal plants were alike.  Both were judged by their visible characteristics according to old theories of medical science.  Plants were tested by the Doctrine of Signatures, a concept from the 17th century that asserted one could “read” a plant by its characteristics, shape, and color to determine how it might be used to heal someone.  Spotted leaves, for example, could indicate a plant could heal a rash or hives on the body. (Click on the thumbnails below to see how some of the individual plants in the Medicinal Healing Garden were read.)

But where this sounds almost charming with plants, its extensions into human science weren’t so terrific. This diagram from the museum’s photo stream shows how 19th-century doctors used the quack science of phrenology — reading someone’s skull for imperfections that indicated mental illness — to diagnose patients.

A picture of good health!  Must be all that wholesome canned food.  Or maybe not.  Unfortunately, phrenology was used to determine all kinds of race- and gender-biased “degeneracies” that ignored social factors and all kinds of contributing factors.

Ultimately, the CSH was a bit too focused on cool new science and not enough on adequate staffing and maintenance of its facilities, so it had become notorious for patient abuse and vermin-ridden kitchens by the 1920s, when it housed up to 3,000 patients.  It’s not a coincidence that the pathology building survived intact and the rest of the hospital buildings on the 100-acre plot fell into decline and were razed.  We still have hundreds of patients’ brains pickled in jars available for viewing in the pathology lab. I’ll spare you the pictures, but the vintage canning equipment is divine.

pickled mustard seeds and beet stem relish

Well, I made it to Indiana, and I’ll be here for a week or so, working on my book at the Kinsey Institute, before heading to a conference in Ohio and a visit with family.  Before I left, I made a great saag paneer dish with the rest of my collards and cilantro, which were bolting, and beet greens from the lovely beets we’ve been getting in the market.  Beets are wonderful because you can use all their parts — greens, stems, roots.

I mentioned the beet stem relish I made a few weeks ago (recipe below), but I wanted to discuss a nice bonus that comes from the pickling process: pickled mustard seeds.

Pickled mustard seeds are wonderful, and so easy.  I like to add them to any salad or salad dressing where I’d normally use sharp whole-grain mustard.  They add a delicious crunch. Because they’re preserved in vinegar, salt, and sugar, and are meant to be cold, fresh, and lively, they keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.  As they sit, they get stronger.  These are not meant for processing.  The flavor is sweet and sour.  Adjust sugar per your fancy.

Yellow mustard seeds (as opposed to the brown or black ones, which can be bitter in this preparation) are best.  They can be most cheaply purchased in bulk at a health food store or Indian market.

The brilliant salmon color of the ones above are due, of course, to the dark red beet stems. You could slip a sliced beet in your pickle to mimic the color if you like.

I’m including two recipes, one for the beet stem relish and one for plain pickled mustard seeds.  Enjoy!

Pickled Beet Stem Relish

Yield: 2 pints.

  • 3 cups finely chopped young beet stems
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onion or red onion
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pickling salt
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp fennel or dill seed
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard seed

Trim the leaves off the beet stems.  Rub the stems under running water to remove all traces of mud.  Finely chop the stems — this is important, as they will be tough and stringy in larger pieces or batons.  Chop the onions and carrots in similar pieces.

Wash and sterilize two pint jars (I pour boiling water into the newly washed jars, or you can take jars immediately out of the dishwasher.)  Combine vinegar, water, sugar, salt and spices in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt.

Scoop out spices from the brine and add to warm jars.  Add raw vegetables to jars, pressing down gently so they are packed generously but not too tightly.  Pour boiling brine in jars up to about an inch from the top.  Cover with plastic lids or metal lids protected by a layer of plastic wrap (so the lids won’t corrode).  Let sit on counter until cool, then refrigerate for at least a few hours before eating.  Pickles will keep with excellent quality for about a week.

Pickled Mustard Seeds

Yield: 1/2 pint.

  • 1 cup white wine vinegar, or any homemade vinegar (no need to worry about acid levels here, since it’s a refrigerator pickle, not a processed one). Consider berry or cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pickling salt
  • 2/3 cup yellow mustard seed
  • one slice of raw red beet for color (optional)

Wash and sterilize one pint jar (I pour boiling water into the newly washed jars, or you can take jars immediately out of the dishwasher.)  Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt.  Remove beet slice.  Let cool and store overnight in refrigerator.  Keeps in refrigerator for weeks.

Quick Beet Raita

Raita is a cooling Indian condiment made from yogurt and spices and the occasional vegetable like cucumbers, carrots, or, as I discovered, beets!  I used about a 1/4 cup of beet stem pickle for 2 cups of plain, full fat Greek yogurt, then folded in a few shakes of cumin, coriander, and white pepper.  Salt to taste, then add a 1/2 cup of sliced or chopped roasted beets and a handful of chopped cilantro.

i’m in the milk and the milk’s in me

I started writing a post about the remarkable In the Night Kitchen a few years ago.  It sat in the draft queue and languished while I finished my dissertation.  I had grand plans to make a milk cake.  But since I’m just not that interested in baking in the day kitchen — and the book was far more complex than I had remembered — it sat.

Until today, when we mourn the death of Maurice Sendak and the long afterlife of his rebellious, courageous, playful and inquisitive little heroes.

I had got stuck on what I found offensive in In the Night Kitchen, the big flaw in the children’s book as I saw it.

No, it was not the innocently naked body of Mickey that made censors gnash their teeth when the book was released and still causes the book to be banned in some localities.  It’s just that I couldn’t justify the cry to God smack in the middle of the book.  Just as Mickey tumbles down into the milk bottle, he cries:

I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me!  God bless milk and God bless me!

And there, suddenly, God makes his entrance.  My question as an atheist and a truth-seeker is, suddenly, this.  How would one explain to a child this unnecessary turn to this new character at the moment of truth, a child unfamiliar with the concept of God?

I realized that Sendak’s writing often pulls a stunt like this that keeps his characters from meaning any one thing or appealing to any one child or parent.  Often naughty and unrepentant, the boys and alligators and monsters and all too occasional girls yell at authority figures and refuse to be cowed by anyone, even if they were clearly in the wrong.  A lion needs to do more than merely eat Pierre, for example, to get him to care.  Only regurgitation, a rebirth from the pit of lion stomach hell, can convert him to returning the love of his (what we’d now call co-dependent) doting parents.

Eating functions as a constant in Sendak’s mythology.  Kids demand certain foods and make it for others.  It’s a crux of power, an essential currency for love and autonomy.

In an interview with Terry Gross, Sendak relates one particular story that illustrates this power nicely:

Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.

He loved it so much he ate it.  It’s almost like a joke without a punchline or a terrible truth for someone unconvinced by digestion or perhaps a Catholic:  How do you keep a Wild Thing forever?  Eat it.

Likewise, in their chaotic imaginary worlds, Sendak’s boys ascend to power and threaten the forces against them by denying them food or telling them they’ll be eaten up.  One might think, if one were to stop there, that Sendak thought it was a dog-eat-dog world, where boys needed to either consume or be consumed.

The beginning of In the Night Kitchen illumines the dark side of consumption, where boys may lose their selfhood and morph into food.  When Mickey awakes to the thump in the night kitchen, he crossly hollers out to see who is there.  Hearing no response, he tumbles out of his clothes and through the floor, and falls splat into the batter for a “morning cake” being prepared by three chefs.  He declares:

I’m not the milk and the milk’s not me!  I’m Mickey!

To Terry Gross, Sendak commented that the chefs and baking ovens were suggestive of the crematoria of the Holocaust, a nightmare kitchen, and that might explain the creepy, automaton triplet chefs with Hitler mustaches who don’t seem to notice Mickey’s hollering or presence in their cake, as they sing out for milk:

Milk in the batter!  Milk in the batter!  We bake cake and nothing’s a-matter!

If the chefs are Nazi exterminators, the “morning cake” easily transmutes into “mourning cake,” the night kitchen the long night of diaspora and the blind eye of discrimination.

But then there’s the cry to God, at the moment of Mickey’s triumph.  Having fashioned an airplane out of some bread dough, he flies up and over a giant milk bottle (tiresomely likened to a phallus by the idiot critics of Mickey’s nudity) and tumbles into the milk with a pot in his hand, chanting that troublesome mantra:

I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me!  God bless milk and God bless me!

Instead of taking himself and the milk away from the night kitchen, escaping, he becomes something edible, and it’s the very thing he took pains to distance himself from earlier.  Now he is immersed in the milk, both inside and outside, and moreover, it’s all blessed and sharable, even with the creatures that want to destroy him.

That’s something beyond allowing a child to identify with triumphant Mickey, the one immersed in the nightmare of history, the one who refuses to become a cake and challenges any scary, unjust, or immovable institution the chefs represent.

Throughout the book, we can’t help but think of Mickey’s outside and inside, his body and the consumption that he undertakes and delivers.  Yes, the book teems with sensuality — not the weird timid pedophilic touch feared by the censors, but sensuality in the non-sexual realm of tactility and texture.  It’s about bodies and what your senses can experience.  The boy falls out of his clothes and into liquids of various sorts that morph and change and engulf him in tastes and smells and feelings as he ventures off into the unfamiliar.

Sendak’s books often do that.  My favorite of his little verses, “Chicken Soup with Rice,” puts the soup in the mouths of children but also turns the children into birds stirring soup in their nests, and then into vessels containing the soup.  We are made out of the same elements as the water, air, land — everything organic.

And because of that, we can change into whatever we like, eat and be eaten, turn ourselves upside-down or inside-out.  We can become and unbecome our enemies and foodstuffs, in the most elemental and visceral ways recognizing our difference and our commonality.  It’s blessed to transform. I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me.

And up, and up.