gone fishin’ (and thank you)

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Red Rocks marine reserve south of Port Orford

I guess I’ve put it off long enough. My house is being sold, my cookbooks are in boxes, my black raspberries are picked for the last time, my pickle jars are washed, and my heart is struggling with goodbyes. I’m leaving you, Eugene.

I decided a couple years ago that it was time to take the hard next step in my journey to becoming a full-time writer.

But where should I base myself, thought I, and how should I do it?

Trying to answer that took me many different places. If you’ve never been hit by the thunderbolts of fate that crumble your life — divorce from a 20-year relationship, losing your job and home you loved, suffering disability from a serious car accident — you may not understand this.  Rebuilding becomes a Choose Your Own Adventure.

Do you settle into the old patterns, especially if they are good?

Though it’s not perfect, I mused, I liked my life in academia. I teach amazing classes and am surrounded by some pretty fantastic people. Until the landslide happened, I had an extremely active research and conference travel schedule, and I was on track with my book. I pretty much stopped the academic publishing when I was laid up the first summer of the disaster with a broken leg, since Academia is an abusive, narcissistic lover that needs attention and a masochistic attachment that I just wasn’t able to devote to it. (Edited to add, since I am masochistic enough: let the record state that I did finish several articles, one on the history of how libraries handled sexual material, which was published in a groundbreaking (in the world of Porn Studies, that is) collection by Duke University Press; a review essay for Gastronomica I hilariously tried and failed to edit after my emergency surgery (thanks a zillion to Darra Goldstein for her patience); and another essay on years of research on a singular and important unknown gay writer, Samuel Steward, on the way from (probably) Ohio University Press.  I just add this because I was criticized for not publishing enough while I was convalescing after the surgery, but no one bothered to ask why…or what I was publishing.  That’s how horrible Academia is.)

But as I convalesced, I started freelancing more and more, and really loved it.  Since I write and research and publish all the time, I figured, I could easily switch back tracks and start publishing even more pieces valued by the Academy…if I had to.  And my personal life would improve, I thought.  I had had a partner with a similar background and values to mine, and we remained friendly after our separation, so I wasn’t wholly embittered by men. I absolutely loved my garden and little cottage. I could easily see getting another professor job, preferably on the tenure track, and another man with a similar background and having a perfectly good life.  A better life. Lessons learned, personal growth, blah blah blah, etc.

But there was another option that whispered to me, then grew increasingly louder and more adamant.

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Velella velella, Florence

Or do you to ride the wave of that sea change and let the prevailing winds blow you into some new harbor? I mean, you might wash up on a beach like driftwood or a dead sea lion or velella velella, but you might actually make a difference and be even happier.

So instead of wallowing in grief or being angry at the people who took away my life (though there WAS a lot of that), I ultimately decided to let karma take its course and not to mourn the life that was taken from me.  To let the current transport me somewhere else. We really don’t have a choice anyway, I concluded, and I’m kind of lazy, so I might as well choose to go along for whatever ride the universe was planning for me.

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Newport Aquarium

Annoyingly, I didn’t get any clear signs from the universe that it actually had a plan. For a lady who is not in the least bit spontaneous and pretty much lives a few years down the line, I found this absolutely unpleasant. Rude, in fact. I was ready to move on but the universe wasn’t ready to move me. So I ignored the growing frustrations with my seeming non-action from friends and family, and choked back my own rage at failing every single day to come up with a plan, and I continued patiently casting about for possibilities. (If this sounds at all vain and accusatory, I apologize, but I was FAR MORE sick of my inaction than you were, I promise. Inaction took up all my time and energy and the light of my life for years, and it was a miserable BFF.)

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Albacore and chips at Luna Sea, Yachats
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Salal at Cape Blanco

For a long time, I thought I’d live in a small building on a farm near Portland so I could continue my writing and research on agricultural changes in the Willamette Valley, but start hanging with Portland people. I briefly flirted with moving to Scandinavia and researching the idea of “north” à la Glenn Gould, but with more food…hopefully with the save haven of a study abroad program. I had almost convinced myself that I was moving to Haarlem, a small town on the coast near Amsterdam, to study Dutch still lifes, and I toy with the idea of moving to Germany or Ireland. I briefly considered moving back to my hometown of Detroit to engage myself with urban farming. I mulled over Yachats, Tillamook, Scio, Manzanita, Clatskanie, Gaston. All of these lives would have been fun and rewarding.

But Port Orford was the only one that reached out to me with a yes, and said, “not only will I welcome you, but you have no idea how strange and wonderful I am, Jennifer Burns Bright, and I’m going work with you to make your life, and hopefully the lives of others, better!”

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I was sold. I like a guy with a can-do attitude.

Port Orford is a tiny, sleepy town on the Southern Oregon coast.  It is one of the most fascinating places I’ve been in decades of traveling all over Oregon and the world. I cannot wait to share it with you.

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The port in Port Orford from Battle Rock beach.

I discovered the town almost by accident a few months ago. As many of you know, I’ve been doing more travel writing and have done quite a few pieces on the Central and Oregon coast, but it had been many years since I ventured southward, and then, only to Bandon. So I suggested to my editor that I go check out some of the more southern towns to see what was going on, and asked friends where they stayed down there. Someone (Brendan at Belly, so blame him) suggested I stay in the cabins at Cape Blanco, so I did. I fell in love immediately with the place, and when I discovered they had some of the most beautiful and diverse beaches I’ve seen anywhere, I started looking into some of the connections I might make with writing about Oregon seafood, long an interest of mine.

Well, it turns out that the town can help me learn.  There’s the Port Orford Sustainable Seafood alliance, where fishermen are bringing local seafood and raising awareness about marine issues through a coalition of partners affiliated with an amazing non-profit, the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team, who work on marine research and advocacy.  I did a couple of brief interviews of the folks there, and realized how little I – as a food writer and lover of seafood and the Oregon coast – actually knew about the coast.  Like this:

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What does it mean to catch a belt fish wild?  How is it caught?  And by whom?  And does “Product of China” mean a fish caught in China?  And how does it end up in Atlanta, where this picture was taken?  I can’t answer these questions, and I think they should be answered.

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Mouth of the Sixes River, Cape Blanco

I’ve always loved the coast, but this will give me the ability to really understand what it’s like to live and make a living on the coast in uncertain times.   The town is situated 60 miles north of the California border and 27 miles south of Bandon in the so-called State of Jefferson on a wild and remote coast, but for a travel and food writer it is a good place to learn about the relationships between states and the federal government and the industrial pressures on food systems and conservation in both California and Oregon.   My goal is to eventually specialize in coastal writing writ large, integrating environmental and commercial interests in managing the marine life and waterways that are so crucial to our country and planet.

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Fish sculpture made from found ocean debris, Washed Ashore Project, Bandon
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Rogue brewpub in Astoria

Early reviews of my decision are in. Inevitably, I’ll hear three things: “Oh, that’s my favorite beach town in Oregon!” and “Why in the heck would you move there?” and “Are you sure you can live in such a small town?” And I answer “Mine, too” and “see below” and “nope, but I won’t know ‘til I try it.”

And the rest of the story is yet to be written.

I’ll still be teaching Food Studies courses at UO next year in the Departments of Comparative Literature and Humanities Program to fund the start up of this project, so it’s not a complete break. (Yes, the commute will be difficult but I’ll be fine.)  I’m also managing the culinary events for the Mt. Pisgah Mushroom Festival this year, as I have mentioned and will mention again and again, so you’ll be hearing from me about that.

But other than one more post to announce my new website, where I’ll be chronicling the continuing adventures of a big small town girl in an even smaller town, I’m drawing the curtains closed on this small blog.

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Judging Iron Chef Eugene 2015 with emcee Chef Clive and fellow judge Jeff Gardner, who makes delicious local pasta
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Forcing my COLT 305: New Farmers Movement cultural studies class students to do manual labor at the UO Urban Farm.

Culinaria Eugenius was the vehicle by which I learned about this town I love and its people. Almost 930 posts later, I can safely say it’s been worth it.  Eugene has changed so much, and I am so honored to have been part of the group that helped spread the word about innovations in our food system: agricultural advances and great strides ahead in our restaurant culture. There are Facebook groups and local food magazines and a much better networking system that connects local food to people who want to eat it.  I know Eugene will keep doing wonderful work and others will write all about it and I will be reading.

So it’s not really a goodbye, since Eugene is such a huge part of me (plus, I need to come here to buy weird groceries). It’s just a new adventure, and one I hope to share with you.

iron chef eugene finals 2015!

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For those of you wondering about the Iron Chef Eugene 2015 competition, check out my post about the battle in Heat 2 here and see my photo album on Facebook.  Chefs Mark and Tiffany from Party Downtown won Heat 2, and move on to the Final Heat with Chefs Brendan and Mikey of Belly.

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For more information and tickets for the Final Heat on July 6, please click here.

I took the following text from the program listed on Brown Paper tickets. (Note: Things may change!  I understand, for example, that our former Iron Chef Oregon Jeff Strom won’t be available to cook the menu, but the meal we had that the LCC students prepared was wonderful, so I don’t think you’ll be missing out too much.)

For the Final Heat, Guests will enjoy a four course meal (see menu below), prepared by students from Lane’s Culinary program along side of Chef Adam and Chef Tim Hill, paired with wine from Oregon Wine Lab, while they watch Mark & Tiffany from Party Downtown vs. Brendan & Mikey from Belly. Due to the nature of the event, dietary restrictions cannot be accommodated.

PROGRAM
5:00pm – Social hour with Chefs!  Come meet and mingle.
5:30pm  Salad & Rules of Iron Chef Eugene
6:00pm  Iron Chef begins!
6:00pm  Main Entrée
6:45pm – Dessert
7:00pm  Chefs submit plates to judges and one per table
7:30pm  Results from judges & Announce Winner/Awards
7:45pm  Congratulate and say Hello to our Chefs!
8:00pm  Event Ends – Thank you for coming!

MENU
Appetizers
Seared Tuna with Sweet Soy on a Rice Crisp
Candied Tomato with Smoked Willamette Valley Gouda

Salad
Grilled Local Early Summer Green Beans, Israeli Feta, and Tomatoes with Whole Grain Mustard and Bacon Vinaigrette

Entree
Tandoori Spiced Poussin with Cumin/Honey Glaze and Purple Potato Samosa

Dessert
Chambord and Pistachio Chocolate Terrine with Pistachio Brittle

the skies are falling! ethiopian food in eugene!

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If you haven’t heard about the new Ethiopian take-out in Eugene, you’re already missing out!

Addis Ethiopian Cuisine has got to be one of the most celebrated new eateries in modern times, given how long we’ve begged the forces of the universe for an Ethiopian establishment in town.  As some of my students would say, “throughout history, mankind has yearned for an Ethiopian restaurant in Eugene.”

And thank our lucky stars, it is quite good.  The image above is of a vegetarian sampler of two different kinds of dried legumes (kik and misir wot), a cabbage and potato stew called atakilt wot, and two meat dishes, the Ethiopian famous doro wot with a chicken drumstick and hardboiled egg, and a smoky beef stew special whose name I don’t recall. If the drumstick looks more like a bone, well, someone may have eaten it before she could take a picture.

See the full menu here and check out their Facebook page for the weekly special.

Right now, it’s just a take-out joint with a pickup spot a bit out of the way, near J. Scott Cellars and the other tasting rooms out in the industrial part of West Eugene. They are trying it out, so it’s important to give them as much support as you can.  They only take orders ahead of time, so call (541) 833-0049 or send them a Facebook message (I did the latter, and there was a quick response).

Note: pickups are only on Saturday evening, and you must order before Saturday morning each week. There is no seating currently, so take-out only.

When you arrive, you’ll see the sign and smell the delicious stews.  The team, headed up by Chef Meklit Fikre and her brother Eskinder, is friendly.  They really want you to like their food.  They use Camas Country mill teff flour for their injera (slightly spongy fermented flatbread), and other local ingredients, and it’s so nice to see the quality of meat and flours reflected in their dishes.

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Since I’m such a huge fan of Ethiopian food, I also asked if they might sell me some extra injera, which they did happily.  I’m thrilled.  I’ve been going up to Portland for years!  Injera freezes well if you cut the large flatbread into quarters and roll up each piece.  I usually place three quarters per Ziploc quart baggie and microwave until soft again before eating with stew.

Thank you for being here, Addis!

iron chef eugene 2015: allez cuisine!

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WHO WON HEAT 2?  See my post here

Iron Chef Eugene is one of my favorite events, as longtime readers of this blog know.  I’ve had the privilege of serving as judge and/or emcee multiple times in its short, sweet history.   Our best chefs get to play with dishes and engage in friendly competition with their colleagues, and the winner gets to go on to Portland for Iron Chef PDX.  It’s like our locavore version of a sport state finals.  We’ve done very well at the state level in the past, in fact, with Chefs Gabriel Gil and Jeff Strom coming home victorious (Jeff twice!).

This year, the competition has shifted management into the able hands of Prof. Lisa Benson Aherin and her team in the hospitality and culinary schools at Lane Community College.  She and her right-hand woman, Shelly Kane of Moxie Events, have created a dining extravaganza for guests and judges alike.

Another cool thing about this year’s Iron Chef Eugene is that it is done in three heats on three different days.  The first heat already happened.  Read on and you will see what’s to come.  I’ll be judging Heat 2, coming up on Tuesday, June 16, alongside Chefs Karl Zenk of Marché and Heidi Tunnell of Heidi Tunnell Catering, who won Iron Chef Eugene a few years ago but couldn’t compete in Iron Chef PDX because she was NINE MONTHS PREGNANT at the time (she totally would have smashed the competition otherwise).

For $75, guests will enjoy a multi-course meal prepared and served by LCC culinary students and paired with some of the best wines in Eugene from William Rose Wines.  The winemaker, Mark Nicholl, also of Oregon Wine Lab, and the inimitable Chef Clive of LCC will emcee the competition for your entertainment and edification.  Proceeds help support the LCC culinary program.

While you eat, this is what will be unfolding:  “Each chef will have an identical kitchen, tools and pantry. Each chef will have sixty minutes to plan, prepare and plate a delectable entrée for the judges. Each chef will have no idea what the “secret ingredients” are until they are unveiled at the beginning of the competition for all to see. The secret ingredients must be used in preparing the dish. The chefs will race the clock and each other to create a masterpiece on stage in front of the audience, commentators and judges.  Our emcees for the competition will interview the chefs and judges while the food flies with the action in front of guests. Oregon grown and raised specialties will be featured in identical pantries the chefs will have available for their use during the competition. At the end of the sixty minute competition, the chefs will present their creations to each judge.”

If you’re interested in signing up for a seat at Heat 2 (or the final), don’t hesitate.  Tickets are going fast!  Each heat is ticketed separately. Due to the nature of the event, dietary restrictions cannot be accommodated.  For tickets, please click this link.  If you have any questions, please click this link and ask the organizers on the event page.  Comments on this blog may not be seen by organizers.

~~~~ ALLEZ CUISINE! ~~~~~

The Competition

  • May 31 – 1st Heat.  Guests enjoyed a four-course meal paired with wine from Oregon Wine Lab, prepared by students from Lane’s Culinary program along side of Chef Adam and Chef Tim Hill. Chefs Mikey & Brendan from Belly and Taro & Patrick from Mame competed in an OREGON LAMB BATTLE, and Belly reigned supreme!  Mikey and Brendan will go on to the final.
  • June 16 – 2nd Heat.  Guests will enjoy a four-course meal, prepared by students from Lane’s Culinary program along side of Chef Adam and Chef Tim Hill, paired with wine from Oregon Wine Lab, while they watch Chefs Mark & Tiffany from Party Downtown vs. Ryk & Dunkin from WildCraft Cider Works.
  • July 6 – Final.  Chefs Mikey and Brendan of Belly will battle the winner of Heat 2. Guests will enjoy a four-course meal prepared by students from Lane’s Culinary program alongside a celebrity, Iron Chef Oregon winner Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro! The meals will be paired with wines from Oregon Wine Lab.

native foods meet contemporary plates, dinner on sunday

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I had a chance to chat about the menu of the upcoming Oregon Native Foods Collaboration Dinner with one of our best Eugene chefs, Tiffany Norton of Party Downtown, over a glass of nettle champagne made by a local wildcrafter.  Tiffany and the team at PDT are collaborating with Chef Crystal Platt, formerly of Marché and now at large, to create new cuisine inspired by native ingredients and techniques.  The menu’s still in development, but think pemmican, acorn flour, huckleberries…Tiffany was even spotted in the wilds digging camas bulbs!

Of all the wonderful dinners I’ve shared with both of these ladies, I can tell you this one is not to be missed.  They both really understand flavor layering, and their experiments make you think and rethink old techniques and ingredients.  The meal will be a big one, 9 courses + 9 pairings of wines and cocktails by Kirsten Hansen of Rt. 5.  $100/ person. Sunday, May 17th @ 6pm. Reservation only; please call ASAP. Call 541-345-8228 or email downtown@partyeugene.com.

our own little taste of bavaria at reality kitchen

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Have you been to Reality Kitchen (645 River Road in the former Wild Plum Pies space) yet?  Chef Jim Evangelista’s brainchild, the café provides training and experience for developmentally disabled adults, who help the bakers create some unusual breads, fantastic pastries, and even chocolates.  The cases groan with a range of sweet and savory well-crafted croissants every morning, and whatever strikes the team’s fancy, like marionberry bread pudding, carrot cake, and cherry turnovers.  You can also order up breakfasts and lunches of sandwiches and soups…all at budget prices for the quality.

But the real standout is a special order item — huge, soft, Bavarian-style pretzels.  They’re just as good as anything I had in Germany, and I ate *a lot* of pretzels in Germany.

Since they don’t keep well, you need to order ahead of time, so give them a call at (541) 337-1323 and order at least 3. You won’t regret it.  $3 a pretzel.

food symposium and a few spots left in my writing workshop on saturday!

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The fourth annual CSWS Northwest Women Writers Symposium will be held May 7-9, 2015, and if you’re interested in food (which I assume you are, given your choice of reading material) and free talks, you’ll be happy to know we’re welcoming back to Eugene the enchanting keynote author, Diana Abu-Jaber.  She’ll be presenting and empanelled with urban farmer extraordinaire Novella Carpenter and Sista Vegan Project’s founder Dr. Breeze Harper.  My students and I have just finished reading Carpenter’s Farm City in my New Farmer’s Movement class (COLT 305), so I’m excited to chat with her at a public conversation on May 8 at 1 p.m. and see slides of the farm and all her work.  For more details about the many events of the Symposium, click the link above.

I’d also like to encourage you to snap up the last few slots for the free, open to all, writing workshops being offered through the Symposium.  Two are still open, including mine, and both seek to diversify food writing by using very different approaches. I’d love to have you join us, especially if your own perspective is lacking in today’s food media.  Descriptions below.  Workshops take place on May 9, from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. at the downtown Eugene Public Library at 10th and Olive (100 W. 10th St.). To reserve a slot, call the Eugene Public Library ASAP at 541-682-5450 (Press 2).

1)  “Food beyond Foodie: Strengthening and Diversifying Food Writing for Publishing,” taught by Prof. Jennifer Burns Bright, columnist at Eugene Magazine and sole proprietor of the award-winning blog, Culinaria Eugenius. She moonlights as a travel and food writer while teaching literature and food studies at the University of Oregon, writing about anything from Dutch pickles for NPR to Russian dumplings for AAA’s Via magazine.

Workshop Description: Blogs and magazine writing tend to present food as conservative, traditional, and overly sweet. We will explore techniques to make your own individuality heard in its grumpy, queer, unsavory, messy, aged, or just plain weird glory. We’ll seek to strengthen your critical voice, define your own taste, and attract audiences with more diverse lives or particular interests, all the while taking inspiration from unconventional food writers who broke the mold. Please bring a piece you’re working on or ideas for a story.

2) “Narrating Racial [In]Justice Through Critical Food Writing,” taught by Dr. Breeze Harper. Breeze Harper edited the anthology Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak On Food, Identity, Health, and Society and is the author of the social justice novel Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (2014). Her blog is The Sistah Vegan Project. Workshop Description: In this workshop, participants will use food writing to explore their own personal experiences with racial injustice as well as anti-racism activism. The workshop is an outlet for those who love critical food writing/reading and have experienced the frustration and pain of being survivors of racism and/or are anti-racist activists.

Image is a mural outside the Port Orford Co-op.  A supermarket in Oregon.  I love this artist’s unique imagination.  I smile every single time I see it.  Leeks in the waves!  Watermelons washing ashore!  What peaches and what penumbras!