slivovitz time

This is going to be one of many drive-by posts this month.  Octobers are always the cruelest month, forget April.  After seeing Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s slivovitz recipe in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist. 

Slivovitz is the elixir of Eastern Europe.  It’s usually a clear, distilled liquor made from the prune-plum that are flooding our Willamette Valley markets right now, but her version is more of a liqueur: sweet, soft, and plummy with just a bit of spice.  Who cares about authenticity — it sounds marvelous. So I made some and I put up a quick batch of prune-plum jam flavored with Hungarian Zwack herbal liqueur with the rest of the plums. 

It’s a great year for these dark, dense plums.  Try our local variety, ‘Brooks,’ which is sweeter and has more flesh than the Italian ‘Fellenbergs’. 

I also found some greengage plums at the market this weekend, but they were overripe, so won’t be exactly the flavor I was looking for.  Nevertheless, they turned into a perfectly decent greengage-vanilla jam that tastes like the most delightful vegan caramel (with a little salt on top for good measure).

fermentation projects

I’m experimenting with various vegetable ferments, including a zucchini “cornichon” with tarragon, chowchow with green tomatoes, slivovitz, and this lovely, mild(er) highlighter-yellow wax pepper sauce.

The unusual smell of the wax peppers reminds me of my childhood, when my father used to grow and pickle these, and tell us how they would burn us to cinders if we dared to eat them.  They are really quite mild, as far as hot peppers go.  But eat them I would not, especially after they were used under my fingernails as a deterrent to biting said fingernails.  Ah, Dad, I still bite my fingernails. Though now I eat banana peppers, too.  I’ve doubled my resolve.  Unstoppable.  Funny how that works.

happy start of school!

Have a great term!  And if you are the lucky possessor of a UO food services meal card, check out the new Global Scholars Hall dining room.  We had our Honors College orientation in the new dorm last week, and ate lunch with all the incoming freshmen.  I was pretty impressed — it’s the only place on campus where you can get bahn mi, arancini, freshly made sushi, and Cuban sandwiches, not to mention “think fruit,” which I hope makes one think about the rhetoric of desire deployed in the signage, or who gets to eat what food, where, and why.

Aaaaaand, I’m thrilled that we’ll be interviewing UO Central Kitchen head chef Doug Lang on this Sunday’s Food for Thought.  He’ll be joining food historian Dr. Kyri Claflin, of Boston University’s Gastronomy Program, who will be discussing her new edited collection of essays on writing food history with a global approach, as our special guests on the Back to School edition of the show.  Listen to Food for Thought on KLCC on Sunday at noon (PST) on 89.7FM in Eugene, or its sister stations in Oregon, or live on the web.

feast portland part deux: 15 minutes of fame

My earlier post on Feast Portland is here.  You can view the entire photo set on my Facebook page, open to both friends and foes.

I can’t tell if it was the pain in my leg, my ever increasing crankiness, an academic underbelly, or just the speed dating format of the Whole Foods Speaker Series at Feast Portland, but I wanted more “craft, connection, and community,” as fellow superredhead Portland Monthly food editor Karen Brooks styled it.  I don’t know what I was expecting, a food geekout?  Technical bits?  A conversation among the participants?  More access for the actual community (this would have been a great free event in a very pricey weekend)?  I guess I was expecting to be charmed.  Or thrilled.  Or spoonfed something.

Speaking of which, the Whole Food nibbles were ok, with an unfortunate exception of “Rouge River” cheese, which makes this Detroit native shudder, and the Gerding Theater venue was really lovely, with reclaimed wood, cathedral ceilings, and LEED-certified whathaveyou.

The program was led by Portland Monthly Editor-in-Chief Randy Gragg, and broken sort of ineffectively into two halves of Local and Global, and punctuated by short films by wacky Boaz Frankel and chill guitar-strumming from Tom, a guy who served also as timekeeper.  The speakers were limited to less than 15 minutes, with no Q&A, disappointing.

The first half of the program was highlit by Brooks and her mini hobo-bag of Oregon treats to demonstrate three C marketing points of what makes Portland a good food city.  The talk was rather beautifully delivered and thoughtful; I found myself in a swoon over the little square of David Briggs’ brown butter chocolate and the slice of purple carrot from the volcanic soil of Joseph, OR’s Prairie Creek Farm.  (The third item in the bag, a coffee bean, did not cause a swoon, but I wouldn’t have said no to a cannele.)  Anthony Boutard of Gaston, OR (below, first photo), my favorite “farmer-philosopher,” spoke next on corn and other trials and tribulations of growing on the 45th parallel (“Oh, I’d like to grow that!  Bang. Dead.”).  And Sean Brock, Executive Chef of McCrady’s Restaurant and Husk in Charleston, SC, had some interesting moments in a casual conversation with Features Editor of Gilt Taste, Francis Lam (above).  I wanted to hear more about his breakdown of the class structure (high SC gold rice, low cowpea) in a bowl of hoppin’ john.  They dropped the ball not providing a slide of his heirloom seeds tattoo, though.  I’d rather see 10 shots of that than one more slide of a bean.

Then things took a turn for the snarky in the global half.  I read Lucky Peach like everyone else, but I kind of chafe at the machismo and fuckery of it all (here’s where I start getting old and crusty, sorry).  I thought Editor Chris Ying (third photo above) was shooting fish in a barrel when he took on the quasi-anonymous critics of “the moist brown center of it all,” Yelp (fourth photo).  Also, Jonathan Gold had already done it at the UO School of Journalism, when, last year?  It was funny and snarky, and usually I’m into that, but eh.  I did like hearing that the upcoming issue of LP is about Chinatown in fantasy and reality.

And again, the cynicism and hard sparkly edge (and footwear) of Gabrielle Hamilton (second photo) would have usually appealed, but I just wasn’t feeling it, especially in the interview by Adam Rapoport, a more comfortable interviewer than Lam but too corporate and conciliatory. (Lam’s own talk turned into a confessional/ethnic studies lecture that ended with a weird semi-accusatory appeal to Americans that their culture included authentic Asian food.  Yes, I’d like to tell that to anyone operating a Chinese restaurant in Eugene.) Hamilton rightly pointed out the limitations of “eating local” (traumatic experience with too much eggplant in a late Italian summer) and preaching the food gospel bill of goods (against the myth that “if you just eat a family dinner all together at the table, then all your f’d up problems will go away”).

The only thing I want to mention about the talk from Whole Foods’ co-CEO, Walter Robb, is that I found the slide of a Whole Foods going into Detroit amid criticism kind of unsettling.  Good luck with that, seriously.  Try the Rogue River cheese.

See?  I’ve still got the snark.  It was just an off day for me.

Anyway, with such a bad attitude and a scowl in my heart, I couldn’t handle the meet-n-greet afterward, so instead limped over to Powell’s, where I scored a used James Beard’s American Cookery and a new Steinbeck East of Eden, and mused mightily over small soufflé cups and a top-o-the-line Rösle food mill at Sur La Table*.  Then I fled to Beaverton, where I gorged myself on Taste of Sichuan*, the newish sister restaurant to Bamboo Garden in Bellevue.  Highly recommended!  (*Just send checks or a food mill and/or tendon salad for product placement to Culinaria Eugenius, Inc.  Thanks.)

feast portland: made in oregon

Part II of my festival report is here.

Sometimes, as maudlin as it sounds, I just burst with pride to live in this singular, difficult, bountiful, skinflinty, illogical, impossibly beautiful place. It’s often wrong; it fucks up at the last minute; it’s lazy.  But it’s also alive and growing and unstoppable.

Exhibit A: Feast Portland, a food festival happening right now all over town.  I’m up here overnight, recording bits and pieces for a short spot for Food for Thought on KLCC, and was more worried than I let on about my ability to get around on my own, but I seem to be managing ok with just a bit of pain and swelling, totally par for the course.  I managed to get mini-chats in with a handful of purveyors, some old friends of the show and some new voices.  We’ll see if the audio is clean enough to work.

Regardless of the buzz, I was really happy at the vibe.  The pretentious level was way down, and I felt really comfortable chatting with almost everyone (except for the too obvious wealthy Bayareans peering around a bit self-consciously, keeping themselves in protective knots — what happened to you, San Francisco?).

And the food responded in kind.  Some of it was meant to be silly and fun, like Boke Bowl’s rice clump crawdad poutine or Salt and Straw’s weirdly delicious cendol (grass-green rice flour noodles and red clumps in a bag of coconut milk, topped with palm sugar ice cream, below) or Unbound Pickles’ peas and carrots pickles or East Side King in Austin’s beef tongue handrolls, but there were some seriously delicious treats, like the crab-layered-in-various texture bites from Paulée in Dundee, top photo, and the Southern-style grilled curry mussels from Nahm in Bangkok, above, or Sybaris’ trompe l’oeil pickled mussels nestled in a cracker shell with sea(weed)foam and wild ginger.

Still, I was unreasonably disappointed by the Night Market, just because I knew it wouldn’t be like the one I went to in Taipei and, sure enough, it wasn’t.  But the lack of grit and grime and news cameras was probably a good thing, I guess. I was happy to see Portland kind of over the offal thing, or at least it’s no longer the sole focus of an entire city.  Umamimissimo dishes are next: you’re killing my taste buds!

As opposed to the similar New York food and wine festival that I attended last fall, most everything at Feast Portland was not only brimming with energy and staffed by actual chefs, it was made from local stuff.  We have hand- (well, bucket-) harvested salt, olive oil, lamb, wine, fruit, goat and cow milk cheeses, beef, honey, berries, chicken, crab, shrimp, tuna, beans — and some of the best examples of each of these things in the world — all within 200 miles or so of where we live.  Hops were hanging like a thatched roof from the ceiling of one tent, and pears stuffed another booth that featured pear tattoos (for we in Oregon know diversification of one’s portfolio is a good thing).  Another table, Grand Central Bakery, featured whole wheat flour from our beloved Camas Country Mill in their pies.  It’s truly astounding.  My eye followed the landscape of the vendors across Oregon, knowing where this company got this, and that baker got that, and I think I understand terroir for the first time.

Made in Oregon?

So I had to take a few pictures of the bites at the Grand Tasting and the Night Market.  More are posted on my Facebook page here, available for public viewing.

By the way, if you’re interested in Eugene food events, please do “friend” Culinaria Eugenius on Facebook, since I find I’m sharing many more stories of local interest there than I do here, just because it’s easier.

Tomorrow, it’s the speaker series, which I’m very much looking forward to attending.  Probably no more pictures, but we’ll see!

just ducky

Duck, duck, larb!  I spent a couple of days spattered in duck fat, playing with gorgeous, fresh, delicious ducks from former Eugenians Boondockers Farm, now located outside of Portland. I had offered to do a bit of recipe testing for Hank Shaw, the wild foods expert that visited us at the University of Oregon about a year ago.  He’s coming out with a new cookbook for duck and geese, much to the delight of us all. You can read more about it at his award-winning blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.

Just to give you an idea of what he’s pondering, I made a very simple duck tagine with chestnuts, and the aforementioned duck larb, which is a Lao/northern Thai herb and meat salad.  Thank goodness he eschewed the traditional duck blood and raw meat in the larb!  Instead, I sliced the meat at medium (seared the big, meaty Saxony ducks a bit too long, but the smaller, more flavorful Ancona breasts were perfectly medium rare).

It was the first time I had broken down a duck, and it’s been a few years since I’ve disassembled a chicken, even, so it was kind of cool to do it.  Bodies fill me with awe;  there’s no better sense of how muscles and bones work together than by feeling your way down the contours of a spine, along a strip of fat, across and around a joint.  You can get a sense of how beings move, and how humans are connected with other species. For me, it’s a powerful experience to work with meat.

And if anyone ever tells you cooking is just domestic drudge labor, hit them on the head with an anatomy book.

Anyway, the ducks were fantastic, and I’m so thrilled I now have carcasses for duck stock and a mound of duck fat to render down and use all winter long.  Boondockers grow two very rare species of heritage species ducks, Ancona and Saxony.  Ancona are smaller, and have wonderfully rich flavor.  Saxony are big and meaty, with clean, moist, ducky flesh.  You can buy slaughtered and vacpacked roasting birds or ducklings to raise your own.  The Ancona, especially, as an endangered species would be a terrific addition to your backyard flock.  They also sell duck and chicken eggs, occasionally duck fat, Delaware chickens, and heirloom seeds.  And they raise Great Pyranees dogs, too!

Farmers Rachel and Evan are both fierce, eloquent advocates of farming and conservation, two of the best examples of the young farmer movement I’ve seen.  I met them a couple of years ago, before their landlord raised the rent and effectively made them leave our area, and they supply restaurants all along the Willamette Valley with their products.  They really want to keep their Eugene ties, so please do let them know if you’re interested in a Eugene delivery, and they should be able to work something out.  You must check out their blog at the very least, or visit their gorgeous new farm in Beavercreek.  They are offering farm tours on September 23 and 30.  Let them know you’re coming!

Hank’s cookbook should be out some time next year with Ten Speed Press.  Anyone who’s a fan of his previous cookbook, Hunt Gather Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, knows we’re in for a treat.  Stay tuned and good luck, Hank!

i eat paste

First grade was difficult for me.  I was a year ahead and shy.  I vaguely remember being bored in class and learning cursive by looking at the letters above the blackboard.  There was a great deal of time for daydreaming.  I remember walking the few blocks to school, something that I am sure doesn’t happen anymore, and being taunted by boys en route.  I remember being called on to read aloud, something I hated then and I hate now.  And I remember the girl who sat in front of me and ate crayons, pencil wood, pencil lead, erasers, rubber cement, glue, and paste.  A girl who made it all worthwhile.

I eat paste now, too, but not the kind that sticks construction paper (which she also ate) to wooden popsicle sticks (yes).  Just plain tomato paste.  Inspired by a tomato conserva recipe on Food 52 from Marisa of Food in Jars (whom I am sure never ate rubber cement), I thought I’d take a chance this year and make a more concentrated sauce that I could use in place of purchased paste to thicken and enhance stews and roasts this winter.  I find I use tomato paste far more than I use watery peeled, canned tomatoes altered by lemon juice.

My recipe is far more basic than hers, and may yield even less paste, but it’s a very easy solution to too many paste tomatoes.  I cut them in half, salt them, and place them carefully next to one another, cut side up, in as many rimmed baking pans as will fit in my oven.  I turn it on at 200 degrees and leave it until the tomatoes are shrunken but aren’t leathery yet, which means 7 or so hours, just right for overnight.  Then I place them all in a big bowl with a slosh of red wine, and grind down the pulp in a food mill, separating out the skins and seeds.  (And the grinding will take you some time, so be patient and grind in small batches until you can’t get any more pulp out, then grind some more.)

The paste will be less thick than the commercial stuff, but much thicker than commercial tomato sauce.  If you use premium paste tomatoes, it will taste wonderfully fresh.  I freeze the stuff in ice cube trays.

Interested in more ways to preserve your tomato bounty?  See more ideas from Food in Jars, including her famous tomato jam recipe.  And stay tuned for a few more ideas about green tomatoes from yours truly!