my latest adventure: local food at riverbend hospital

The weekend in San Francisco was going to be a deserved, long-awaited break and time to reflect and plan out the summer and fall. I had a few fun food goodies to finish, like my over-researched soup dumpling article and a series of posts on my recent experiences cooking Sichuan food. I was going to stay in a posh hotel just blocks away from the SF Pride parade, so I could watch a little bit and then wander off for eats at the Ferry Building.

Instead, I got hit by a car leaving the airport terminal.  The weekend was spent in bed at an airport hotel because I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t concentrate on much because of the pain pills, not to mention all the arrangements that needed to be made for immediate surgery upon my return home.

And so you get a post on food at River Bend Hospital food, instead.

The good news is that our new, state-of-the-art hospital didn’t choose to go the way of many institutional facilities.  I often have a chance to chat with nutritionists at food conferences, and I’ve heard some horror stories about places that contract out ALL their food to frozen packaged food manufacturers so they don’t need to bother with operational kitchen facilities.

Instead of that, we have this:

Which is not horrible, given all the possible horrors, but could be improved. Overall, the food was tremendously salty and nearly everything was sweet.  I thought I had a pretty good sense of how sweet the American diet was, but the problem is astounding.  Even at a hospital, even after repeatedly and bluntly and slowly saying I DON’T LIKE SWEET THINGS and asking if each and every item was sweet when ordering, I was still offered muffins, pastries, pudding, fruit bowls, soda, juice, etc., AND mistakenly served french toast, sugary fruit yogurt, and juice.  You’ll notice even the turkey dinner has cranberry sauce.  I stayed for one night.  I would have been diabetic if I had stayed the week, no?

The only local food on the menu seemed to be Nancy’s plain yogurt, served in a bowl covered with Saran Wrap.  Even that has a sweetener in it!

I think we can do better than these small gestures for offerings.

There is some good news: the local chain Café Yumm has a presence at the hospital if you’re planning to visit and that type of food appeals.  I also managed to score a simple pasta salad from Cornucopia and a plain Greek yogurt at one of the kiosks.

But I sure am glad to be home.  I had a knee operation and it looks like I’ll be laid up and then in rehab for most of the summer.  Stay tuned for what are sure to be some odd times.  Never a dull moment here at Culinaria Eugenius!

kinoks: capturing oregon’s summer

I absolutely love the new short film project by local business and internationally renowned Archival Clothing.  And not just because I appear as a hand and bust model alongside the tandoori tub and the nefarious smoker of yesterday’s post.

The films are called Kinoks, after Dziga Vertov‘s Kino-Eye (or ‘kino-oki‘) filmmaking group, who produced some of the first cinéma vérité film montages.  They made films of Russian city life in the 1920s. The Archival Clothing team brings the technique to Oregon — they splice dozens of one-second clips from ordinary point-and-shoot camera video to make art, ordinary life like a string of pearls.

Interested in participating?  I am.  Send along links of your finished one-minute film to Archival Clothing via their Facebook page.

a pisgah sight of palestine, or the parable of the pig

Joyce’s Ulysses is layered with Biblical motifs, one of my favorite being the messianic hope of a new day.  (I bet you didn’t know someone wrote her Master’s thesis on this very topic, didya?)  There’s an ongoing theme of being thwarted at the last minute before arriving in paradise, like poor old Moses who led the Israelites all the way to the promised land of Palestine, only to die after spying it from atop Mt. Pisgah.

The moral of that story is the darkest hour is before the dawn.

The moral of this story is FIX YOUR DAMN EQUIPMENT, ACTION RENT-ALL, BEFORE RENTING IT OUT TO PEOPLE IN THE FOOD SERVICE INDUSTRY WHO ARE JONESIN’ FOR SOME PIG ON A SPECIAL DAY.

Our friends had 80 pounds of pig to smoke yesterday, and we had our own Pisgah sight of paradise.  They found the rotisserie broken and something weird about the heating innards.

They did their best, being experienced smokemen, and so we waited, and drank, and reveled, and waited, and watched, and hoped, and sniffed, and shivered, and waited, and drank, and waited, and drank some more, and our mouths watered, and we talked about the glorious moment in which we’d open the smoker and all god’s glory would come tumbling out and we would sup from the milkiest honeyed pig you might possibly see.  Buddha would jump the wall, the Imam would faint, and vegans everywhere would come gaily skipping up into the South Hills at the smell of the Pig Piper’s porcine perfume.

But alas, it was not to be. No pig that night.  Rumor has it that the pig was still cooking into the early hours of the morning.

Luckily, we had grill-roasted spicy green beans and tandoori chicken, rather ingeniously marinated in salmon-colored yogurt in a big beverage cooler.  I have to get myself one of those for brining turkeys.  I brought along some lacto-fermented hot sauce and pickled cherries for the pig.  Needless to say, these were NOT CONSUMED WITH SMOKY, STICKY, FALLING-OFF-THE-BONE PORCULESCENCE, ACTION RENT-ALL.

Nevertheless, I’m pleased to say we had a triple-grill weekend with many friends and meats, and new horizons of vegetable possibilities for the barbie, as well.  And if you missed our show full of great alternative grilling tips from Eugene restaurant chefs on last Sunday’s Food for Thought on KLCC radio show because you were struggling with your own smoker, it’s available in .mp3 here.

What did you end up grilling, Eugeniuses?

niblets: your dad is celebrating no more tuition bills edition

A triple threat celebration this weekend: Father’s Day, UO graduation, and Bloomsday.  I might be the only one celebrating the latter, but celebrate it I shall.  So what’s new and notable in Eugene?

  • Well, first of all, we’ve got a fabulous Father’s Day Food for Thought on KLCC show coming at you tomorrow (Sun., June 17) at noon.  Boris Wiedenfeld and I are hosting with special guest Sheree Walters of Cornbread Café fame. We’ll be discussing alternative ways to enjoy the thrill of the grill, including tips for vegan and other non-steak specialties offered by local celebrity chefs, too.  Please join in the discussion and share your own grilling escapades this weekend at Food for Thought on KLCC.
  • Not one but TWO dumpling carts have sprung up like mushrooms on the wild streets of downtown near Broadway and Willamette. Open late for the drinking crowd, both, alas, are fusion.  Hott Buns Baozi [sic] offers cheeseburger and “breakfast burrito” flavors, and Dump City Dumplings (an even more unfortunate name) offers flavors including meat balls marinara and pad thai. But that’s ok, we’ll take what we can get for now and hope they have good traditional offerings, too.  Let ‘em know we’re down for that if you stop by!  I sure will.
  • Sweet Cheeks Winery will be featuring Dump City as one of several vendors on their Food Cart Fridays this summer.  Check out the whole lineup on their website.
  • Red Agave has an important announcement: red and white sangrias are available with their outdoor seating.  Have a grilled shrimp skewer special and a few on this lovely weekend.
  • Or if you’re looking for a pick-me-up, sample J-Tea’s shaken, frothy Lemon Emerald Iced Tea, served on their patio.
  • Vero Espresso House will soon be serving wine and beer with small plates, too.  Join them for later evening hours and live music, starting in July.
  • Rye has a new menu, and that’s a good thing.  I want them to do well, and the food needs some fine-tuning to match the quality of the cocktails, especially the small plates.  You can’t go wrong with a Vancouver cocktail, by the way.  It’s like a gin Manhattan.
  • Word on the street is that Rennie’s Landing has the best Bloody Mary in town.  Not that you’d need one with family visiting. Just sayin’.

  • I am in need of a tall, cool one after helping out with demos at the Master Food Preserver jam and jelly class.  We made a dozen or so jelled delights using all manner of sweeteners and pectins to demonstrate the range of possibilities. And STRAWBERRY PIE, pictured above. Hope that convinces you to join us for the next classes in the series, check out the website for Basic Waterbath Canning in July and Pickling in August, plus tuna canning classes and more.
  • Jeff Eaton writes that the Garden of Eaton has started their end-of-planting-season sale:

Just thought I’d let you know that I’m putting all tomato, pepper, eggplant and tomatillo plants in 3-1/2″ pots on sale starting Saturday for just $1 per plant. This is a great opportunity to get you garden planted, if you have not already done so, or to try out some new varieties for a very affordable price.

I also have several hundred tomatoes that were potted up int  5-1/2″ pots a few weeks ago. These look great, and their more developed roots will give you headstart toward your first harvest. These plants are $4.00 each.  There are also discounts for larger purchases. Buy a full flat (18 plants) of 3-1/2″ plants for $15 or, if you buy five or more flats, you price will be $12 per flat. Flats of 8 5-1/2″ plants are $30, and five or more flats are $25 per flat.

I’m at 2650 Summer Lane (River Road north to Hunsaker; right to Summer; right again). Hours are noon to 6 PM every day. I’ll be wrapping up for the season in a couple of weeks, so don’t wait too long!

  • Gardeners may be watching their lackluster hot weather crops in dismay.  I know I am. Ross Penhallegon of OSU Extension says everything is slow and beans may need to be replanted.  Give it another go with bean starts at Eugene Backyard Farmer (5th and Washington), who announce:

We have magic beans available. Well, maybe not magic but they sure are growing fast and need to get into some gardens. Scarlet Runners for 2.49 and organic French Filet for 3.49. It is not to late to get most plants into the ground and we still have a good selection of peppers and tomatoes as well.

  • If you waited too long for Heidi Tunnell’s famous summer barn dinners on their property in Creswell like I did, though, you’re out of luck.  Completely sold out!

  • Luckily, I did have a chance to try the Mofongo special at Taco Belly (5th and High). It was a specialty from Puerto Rico and other Dominican locales. Pork belly mashed with ripe plantain to form a dumpling that was deep fried and sauced with a smoked tomato and chile puree, then topped with avocado and onion.  Fantastic.
  • Consider pickling your green strawberries.  I like the grassy flavor with a hint of strawberry aroma.  If we get several sunny days and the rain holds off, we may get some sweetness in the red ones…come on, sun!
  • Kandarian Wine Cellars and William Rose Wines, two boutique outfits operated with love by the winemakers at King Estate and Sweet Cheeks Winery, respectively, have some unbelievably good wines at terrific prices this spring.  You’ll see them at restaurants and specialty wine markets all over town, and you must try them if you see them.
  • Sweet Cheeks’ winemaker Mark Nicholl’s William Rose Wines are bold and buxom with Syrah as their foundation, including a dry, enchanting Merlot and Syrah rosé called Prohibition Rose, unlike anything else made in Oregon.  Both the reds, a Demon Bird blend and higher-end, smoother Syrah could snooze for a few more years in your cellar, or decant and drink now on a wild, dark night.  We love ‘em, Mark.

  • Jeff Kandarian’s lineup for his little personal corner of King Estate, where he oversees the massive production of the wines we know and love, is equally thrilling.  His 2010 sauvignon blancs are particularly good.  Made in the New Zealand style, with that almost phosphorescent green tinge and playful tropical fruit flavors zingy with acid, you’ll be able to find the Blue Eye in restaurants around town.  It received a 90 from Wine Spectator, so it can’t be bad, right?  Alas, there are only just a few cases of the deeper and richer (!) Croft Vineyards organic Sauv Blanc, and the world suffers.  RUN down to Provisions to grab a bottle of the two cases Ryan begged off Jeff.  The 2009 Anomaly Zinfandel, which is an anomaly because it’s being bottled in Oregon and it is bright with the freshest red & black berries off the vine, both of and unlike the darker Zinfandels of central California, is also fantastic.  And the full-bodied, smoked-meaty Pepper Mélange Syrah was one of the favorites of the tasting group I was hanging with, so be sure to get that if you can.  You can contact Jeff through his under-construction website, which he confesses he’s too busy to update.  I guess we can understand.  Just keep making wine, Jeff.
  • Save the date(s?) for Bite of Eugene 2012, the best little riverside summer festival in Eugene.  I’ll be emceeing the Iron Chef Eugene contest again.  The only problem is that my sources have provided conflicting information about whether it will be held on July 20 or July 21.  Give us the scoop, folks!  We’re waiting eagerly!
  • We’re also awaiting more information on the annual Carts-and-a-Cold-One and the One Field Meal fundraisers for Slow Food Eugene.  Open! Open!

And good god, there’s much more, but this post is reaching epic lengths.  A couple of years ago, I resisted a kind request to write an article about a Eugene Food Renaissance, because I was convinced we weren’t there yet and it would make us look ridiculous to assert we were.  Well, we’re there now.  It’s going to be a great summer.

happy as a clam

The intense, intensive week of reading historic cookbooks is over, and I’m tired but elated I had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful scholars in Cambridge.  A longer post is in the works, I promise, but for now, let’s just say I am as happy…

…as these guys.  Raw, steamed, fried, or whichever way you like us.

culinaria eugenius in cambridge: fruits of our labor

Yesterday, I learned how to be a Virginia house-wife.  Luckily, my guide book from 1824 focused more on preservation techniques and less on, well, everything else.  So I should be just fine.  I’m also now in possession of knowing what, exactly, an American suffragette cooked.  In two states, West Coast and East.

Yes, I’ve started the workshop on reading historic cookbooks at the wonderful Schlesinger Library in Cambridge. It’s a fascinating group of people — we’re representing places from Mumbai to San Diego, and there’s a healthy mix of academic types, professional and amateur chefs, and librarians.  I mentioned that I was working on an article on Modernist Cuisine in my introduction to the group, and someone on the other side of the table responded that she had recently sat on a panel with Nathan Myrhvold, and he had mentioned this-and-such about my topic.  Cool, huh?

We’re each responsible for five books, and each day we examine a new one in depth, focusing on a particular angle.  The first day was ingredients, and I think today is cooking techniques.  As you might imagine, it’s heaven for me.

(Forget Christ, there’s a miraculous pickle hanging from that fruit vine, yo!)

I had the extremely good fortune to visit two of the world’s best art museums this weekend, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner museums. At the former, I was particularly thrilled to see a large collection of food-related still lives.  They were all fantastic, each in their own way, but I loved the detail of these 18th-century overripe Spanish pears, just on the verge of browning from those little damaged pits the painter faithfully reproduced.  Or these 17th-century Dutch strawberries, which — forget the symbolism or technique! — make me miss home terribly:

The food here is excellent.  I’m staying in Central Square, which was faintly disparaged the other day by a local who didn’t know what she was missing.  Every restaurant has been a delight.  I had big, beautiful dosas at an Indian fast food joint, a pickled long bean and minced pork dish at a Thai restaurant that specializes in Sichuan food (!), a legume couscous, burnt caramel ice cream, grilled sardines and plump skate wing in brown butter.  I ate some of the juiciest soup dumplings ever in Chinatown, and nibbled on extremely high end sushi nearby that deserves its own post.

But now, I’m off to learn more about how to cook in 18th-century England!  Sometimes it’s the journeys of the mind that take one the farthest…

culinaria nightshade: tomatoes and peppers 2012

Hello from Cambridge, Mass!  I spied this strawberry and tomato-growing system in the Harvard Community Garden.  I’ll write more about this later, but for now, I just want to share that I’m spending a week at the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute, studying old cookbooks under the sage guidance of Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, culinary historian and honorary curator of the culinary collection at the library.  I can’t believe my good fortune, honestly.

I also can’t believe my good fortune in having Jeff’s Garden of Eaton back at home.  Jeff grows hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, and sells them out of his home off River Road every afternoon, and at farmers markets.  As wonderful as Territorial and Log House Plants are for providing sound, delicious varieties of the nightshade family (and you shouldn’t overlook the grafted tomatoes), Jeff has them soundly beat for variety.  Last year, for example, I grew Ethiopian ‘Berebere’ peppers and Sichuan ‘Facing Heaven’ peppers from his starts.  The commercial market wouldn’t support these niche peppers, but Jeff does.

If you’re interested, you can see the tomatoes and pepper varietals I grew from Jeff’s garden in 2011 (tomatoes and peppers) and the ones I grew from Territorial in 2010, plus comments about what others were growing.

Here’s what I managed to stick in the ground this year in the week I had back home.  Hope they make it! I finally broke my Hungarian pepper obsession this year and opted for many Central American varieties to make mole.  But my tomatoes leaned Russian.  Pinkos and reds, you see.

Tomatoes

  • Amish Paste x 3 (my go-to paste tomato; last year I had several 1-pounders)
  • Carol Chyko’s Big Paste (sounds promising as another meaty non-Roma paste)
  • Japanese Black Trifele
  • Rose de Berne (this is tragic — I snapped off the entire stem of this Swiss heirloom while transplanting and had to replace with Black Krim, thanks to a last minute run to MOC!)
  • Sungold
  • Jean’s Prize
  • Indigo Rose (the new, much-hyped purple tomato developed by Jim Myers at OSU)
  • Nyagous (Russian variety, black, cluster, crack-resistant)
  • Azoychka (3-inch, slightly flat orange-yellow tomatoes, another Russian variety)

Peppers

  • Padron x 2
  • Facing Heaven (my seed from London) x 3
  • Facing Heaven (company stock seed as comparison)
  • Piquillo Pimento
  • Esplette (Basque)
  • Chilhuacle Amarillo
  • Chilcostle
  • Serrano Tempiqueno
  • Mulato Isleno
  • Tennessee Cheese
  • Negro de Valle (like Vallero)
  • Berebere Brown