which came first, the rectangular chicken or the square egg?

Act 1

Our heroine, having left early to have the oil changed, has forgotten to eat breakfast.  She is picking up sugar, flour, and hose fittings at a Chain Superstore when she realizes she’s is starting to feel a bit faint.

Clerk at Chain Superstore Deli Counter: Hi, would you like some breakfast?

Our Heroine, Eugenia: Yes, I forgot to eat this morning…

Clerk: What would you like?

Eugenia: Um…are those square things supposed to represent eggs?

Clerk: Yes, those are eggs.

Eugenia: And that breaded rectangle next to the hash browns is…chicken?

Clerk: No, those are stuffed hash browns. Stuffed with sausage and cheese.

Eugenia: Whoa.  Hmm, I guess one of those egg squares on a biscuit…and…those are sausages, right?

Clerk: Right.

Eugenia: OK, two of those.

Clerk: Would you like some coffee?

Eugenia: Does it come in a triangle?

Clerk: Excuse me?

Act 2

Our heroine is rolling up the long drive to Hentze’s farm.  Chickens are scratching to the right.  As she drives up, one breaks from the pack and crosses in front of her.

Eugenia [hit by an epiphany, yells out the window]:  Why did you cross the road…to get run over?

Act 3

Eating green bean frittata, Eugenia watches mobilized chicken force (thanks to her wonderful neighbors!) scratch up slugs in her lilac bed.

Eugenia: I was going to tell you that I am eating your people…

Agnes and Betty: […]

Eugenia: But then I realized that my breakfast rather looked like what you are eating…

Agnes and Betty: […]

Eugenia:  Suspended in juvenile forms of you…

Agnes and Betty: […]

Eugenia: And started to feel pretty grossed out…

Agnes and Bettty: […]

Eugenia:  So you win this round, chickens.  You win this round.

Agnes and Betty: […]

summer canning class series — only forty bucks!

Behold the breakfast my husband made me on this, the holiest of all days, last day of classes in spring term.  And it’s sunny!  I think I speak for everyone — faculty, students and staff alike — when I say HALLELUJAH!  Can I get an amen in here?

So, as I eat my Sweet Briar farms breakfast sausage, sauteed brussels sprouts, scrambled eggs with scallions, and blueberry yogurt parfait, let’s start some serious summer food planning.

Have you signed up for your canning basics summer demo course series through the Master Food Preserver Alliance?  It’s a very low cost set of four classes covering everything to get you started: jams, pickles, waterbath canning (tomatoes), and pressure canning.  Fifteen dollars a class, or even better, $40 for the series.  These classes are meant to demystify the process with demos, and they aren’t comprehensive, but it’s a great way to start canning safely and meet the MFPs in your neighborhood.  Plus you’ll get plenty of samples and tips.

Summer Canning Class Series

Featuring demos by certified volunteers with the OSU Extension – Lane County Master Food Preserver Program.

  • JAMS AND JELLIES: June 17, 6-8:30 p.m. Cost $15.
    Community of Christ Church, 1485 Gilham Rd., Eugene.
  • PICKLING: July 22, 6-8:30 p.m. Cost $15.
    Community of Christ Church, 1485 Gilham Rd., Eugene.
  • WATERBATH (Tomatoes and Salsa): August 26, 6-8:30 p.m. Cost $15.
    Community of Christ Church, 1485 Gilham Rd., Eugene.
  • PRESSURE CANNING (Meat): September 23; 6-8:30 p.m. Cost $15.
    St. John the Divine Church, 2537 Game Farm Rd., Springfield.
  • Summer Series (all four summer classes). Cost $40.

I’m leading the pickling class in July.  Any requests?  I think we’ll discuss cucumber pickles, canning fermented pickles, and quick pickles, and do a demo on dilly beans.

Register for the series or a single class on the OSU Ext. Lane County MFP website here.

There will also be classes on canning tuna, demos at Down to Earth and other places, and more classes as we’re able to schedule them.









the exchange of two baked goods, a morality tale

On the day I baked M. F. K. Fisher’s War Cake (below) to fortify my culinary literature students working on their final papers, a former student stopped by my office to give me a lovely loaf of cinnamon raisin bread.  Better to receive than give, in this case! I turned it in to a simple bread pudding with cream and walnuts (above).

Fisher’s War Cake is a coffee cake-style sweet loaf with raisins cut into pieces to resemble currants.  She adapted it slightly from popular World War I ration-friendly cakes that she had eaten in her childhood.  I found one almost identical recipe in Amelia Doddridge’s propagandistic cookbook, Liberty Recipes (1918).  The name of the cake in that book — Eggless, Milkless, Butterless Cake — kinda gives you the idea of the studied joylessness with which Doddridge crafts her recipes.  The first step, boiling shortening and sugar together with the raisins and spices, softens the fruit.

Even renamed the slightly less bleak War Cake, this is not Fisher’s finest moment.  Without any binding agent, the cake crumbled to bits when I tried to cut it.  Luckily, I teach kids forced to eat dorm food, so they didn’t mind eating the crumbs.  I substituted currants for the raisins and used local whole wheat flour for a bit more flavor, but held off as hard as I could and didn’t add nuts or butter, even though I was sorely tempted.  And I felt pretty bad that the class before mine had a giant box of Safeway donuts for their last week treat.  War, huh, yeah.

What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

But back to that raisin loaf.  My plan was to serve the pudding with some homemade crème fraiche and brandied apricots, but I realized I must have drunk myself into forgetful oblivion with the last of the apricots when I was on that bender a few weeks ago.  The crème fraiche stubbornly refused to set up during the day, too, so we ate the pudding with slightly sour cream and some rather deliciously fizzy and/or possibly poisonous apricot-brandied cherries.

The crème fraiche, by the way, had set up beautifully by the time I woke up this morning, and it was amazing with leftovers.  I strongly recommend making your own.

neighborly eggs

My wonderful neighbor brought over a half-dozen eggs from her new chickens.  Retrogrouch has been on an egg jamboree lately, and he even convinces me to eat a protein breakfast about half the week now.  I’m still not very cooperative — some days I say, “honey, I just can’t face eggs this morning.”  But he mixes them with a vegetable, and they smell and look good.  This is a typical example, eggs à la mode de Bruxelles:

We go through, suddenly, a ton of eggs, and our usual egg source doesn’t have enough eggs because of the season, so we’ve been buying farm eggs wherever we can.  See the difference in the yolks compared to the pale yellow store eggs?*   So I was even more happy that my generous neighbor decided to come by.

I just have to say, too, that I live in the best neighborhood in Eugene.  Friendly Area REPRESENT.

There’s more stuff I have to write — good news in the local food scene, but I’m feeling kind of tapped out with writing lately. I’m sorry.  It’s the winter chill, I guess, plus my schedule, which isn’t as light as I’m making it seem (but still much easier than last fall).  One major milestone:  I did make more progress on my hateful pile of rotting leaves in the sunshine today; perhaps that will give me the impetus to stay inside and write tomorrow.

*If you want to check them out, visit the winter market at Hideaway Bakery — River Bend Farm has fresh eggs with beautiful, deep gold yolks.  I was talking to Dick there on Saturday, and he told me that someone once returned their eggs because they thought something was wrong with them!  Nope, that’s just the way eggs should look if the chickens are allowed to be chickens.

cranburied: juice of the gods

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I was the delighted recipient of 20 lbs. of freshly harvested Oregon cranberries this year.  At a dollar a pound, plus a few bucks for gas, how could I resist?

But cranberries are nothing but ill-timed for the academic.  I am plumb out of energy at the end of the term.  This is the first year in many we won’t be having a big Thanksgiving party, and my husband’s new diet means he won’t be wanting his favorite stuffing and mashed potatoes, so the chances of me making a Thanksgivingish dinner for us are slim.  Yes, a lean year chez Levin.

This means my old standby, punchy cranberry sauce, a long-cooked version treasured by me, myself, and I, may not make it to the table this year.

Going into my crazy cranberry glut, I had figured on that.  I planned to turn most of the little darlings into dried cranberries for year-round use in salads and sweets.   Which I did, making a holy mess in the process.  They stubbornly refused to dehydrate and I stubbornly refused to cut each of them in half, so we battled for several days until some were sort of dry, then I boiled me up some simple syrup (a 1.5:1 ratio of sugar:water) and plunged the Rebels in to meet their sweet maker.  I had received the advice from someone who had achieved “perfect Craisins” from this method, but whomever she was, she forgot to tell me that it also made sticky, drippy, half-smushed berries that had to be pried off the drying mats not once but twice.  And I am almost positive she hadn’t battled with 10 lbs. of cranberries when achieving such perfection.  My stove looked like something alive had exploded all over it.  Something syrupy and gluey and alive.  Bah.

And you can see from the above picture that my judgment was seriously off when I decided to make cranberry juice out of another 4 lbs. of berries.  It would be a tight squeeze, I had thought, but I could make a double recipe of kissel, a Russian cranberry juice inspired by that made by Vitaly Paley’s grandma, in my biggest stockpot. I was so taken by the lovely image of kissel in a crystal pitcher nestled among bottles of vodka on the Paley family holiday table, I didn’t calculate the volume properly.

One of those tactical mistakes that you realize immediately after it’s done: cranberries float.

Cue more red, dribbly juice all over everything.

But the juice is absolutely wonderful: dense and crisp and crimson and silky.  The pectin in the berries and unfiltered pulp make it slightly thick and filling.  I doctored my juice with a couple of cups of unsweetened quince juice (frozen last year) and a healthy sprig of rose geranium.  There was enough to freeze (or can, had I not fled town for that conference immediately after making the juice).  I highly recommend making cranberry juice if you have never done it.  Just use a big enough pot.

The recipe below was inspired by The Paley’s Place Cookbook recipe and another in the Ball Blue Book.  It is so safe to can the BBB doesn’t even bother with exact measurements over a 1:1 ratio of cranberries:water, noting you can add sugar if you like.  Cranberries are highly acidic little monsters, so no need to worry about botulism.

And because the juice is so lovely and pectin-rich from the cranberries and quince, I may just make a cranberry jelly after all.  I think my stovetop still has a couple of clean places left.  And if I hit the vodka-cran hard enough, the bloodshed won’t bother me a bit!

Important note: you might want to add more sugar to the recipe below.  I wanted to keep it as low sugar as possible for my husband’s diet and flexibility with cocktails.  You also might choose to add a few teaspoons of simple syrup to the juice before drinking if you like it sweeter.  Serve it ice-cold, preferably with vodka and a thick slice of orange peel whose oils have been urged along with a quick flame from a match.

Fresh Cranberry Juice (Kissel) with Quince and Rose Geranium

(makes 2.5-3 quarts)

  • 2 lbs. fresh cranberries (9-10 cups), sorted
  • 4 quarts cold water
  • 2 cups unsweetened quince juice (optional, substitute orange juice)
  • 1 sprig rose geranium leaves (optional)
  • 1 cup sugar (original recipe has 1.5 cups)
In a very large, non-reactive stockpot, combine all ingredients and bring to boil.  Decrease heat to medium low and simmer about 30 minutes until berries burst and release their juicy goodness into the liquid.* (You might use a potato masher to extract more pulp, but beware: this will prevent any possibility of having a clear, thin juice later.)

Strain juice through a colander to remove the pulp. Discard rose geranium sprig, if using.  Solids can be frozen, turned into a cranberry sauce of sorts, and/or spread thickly on a drying sheet with your drying cranberries, dripping juice all over the dehydrator and making even more of a mess that will result in a delicious cranberry fruit rollup to eat with cheese.

Taste juice and add more sugar as necessary.

Strain again (and yet again depending on your patience) through double-layered cheesecloth or a jelly bag to remove remaining solids.

If you have hopes of clear juice, place juice in refrigerator overnight and let sediment settle to the bottom of the bowl.  Carefully ladle only the top layers from the bowl.

Juice will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks or frozen for 12 months.

To can juice instead of freezing:  prepare pint or quart jars and lids and heat jars.   Heat juice for 5 minutes at 190 degrees (don’t boil).  Ladle hot juice into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.  Wipe rims carefully and adjust lids and rings, turning rings until finger-tight.  Process pints/quarts 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.

*I had a note about the possibility of gelling, but I haven’t successfully boiled the juice to a gel set, so took it out. I have canned quarts of the finished product, and did not achieve a gel in 15 minutes, so perhaps this instruction was too cautious or relied on using more sugar.

breakfast of champions

I’m not really a breakfast person.  I’m not sure why I find breakfasts so awful.  I associate them with a particular kind of American restaurant frequented in my childhood — a place that smells like breakfast grease and is filled with fat families eating big plates of scrambled eggs.  It’s being with so many people that early in the morning, eating so much food.  Weighing yourself down, literally and figuratively.

Plus, the thought of eating a large, greasy, egg-heavy meal first thing in the morning makes me feel slightly queasy, and sugar seems particularly repellent.  I can only eat sweet things if I have a large cup of coffee to wash that sugary slime off my teeth.  Cereal makes me have a bloodsugar crash about 2 hours after I eat it (seriously: with the shakes and lightheadedness and everything).  And slimy, cold yogurt with bits of oats in it to masticate like a horse?  I don’t think so.

Jeez, I’m sounding like a sugarfree, fat-phobic vegan here, sorry.

I’m actually very happy with things that most people find gross: oatmeal, a plain bagel, and my absolute favorite, a full Japanese breakfast with rice, miso, fish, seaweed, and pickles.  (I know, this is as disgusting to you as regular breakfasts are to me.)  A little cheese is good.  A slice of cured ham.  Even very sparingly applied homemade jam on farmer’s cheese works.

This is not to say sometimes, if I wait until lunch time or dinner, I can’t eat breakfast foods.  I quite like it when my husband makes me his special eggs on a bagel with bacon and hot sauce.  Every 3-4 years, I eat some frozen diner hash browns, that quintessential American breakfast greasy spoon staple.  And I made a frittata last week.

In fact, I’ve been eating breakfast for dinner lately, mainly in the form of very unhealthy (but high quality!) imported frozen crêpes with my brandied apricots and sour cherries poured over them like an it’s-5 o’clock-somewhere syrup.  With just a touch of cream on top that curdles in the brandy.  O yeah…

And every once in a great while, I’ll go out for brunch (as late in the day as possible, please, so I can eat breakfast first) and order eggs benedict, throwing caution completely to the wind.  There’s something nigh on revolting with that runny eggyolk flowing like lava down the egg muffin and Canadian bacon mountain into a pool of congealing Hollandaise sauce.

But so tasty!

It takes a very special mood to get me to eat unadulterated eggs, and when I do, I want them runny and with as little white as possible.  Hence, eggs benedict, with its poached egg garnish and distracting pile o’ heart attack fodder, is the perfect splurge.

So why, why, why, Café Zenon, did you serve my eggs benedict with poached eggs completely hard in the middle…not once, but twice?  I don’t return plates to the kitchen unless there is something inedible on them, and I was willing to overlook the lukewarm food once.  Even overlook it twice, because I told you I didn’t want to waste food, so just give me another, properly poached egg on top of the existing benedict.  But when one of the two poached eggs you sent out again was hard, I kind of lost it.  Never in my long, picky life have I sent back a dish twice, but this was it.  Ugh.

And while I’m complaining, Zenon, baguette french toast?  Really?  Run out of shoe soles?

Peh.  In their defense, Retrogrouch and another friend — both breakfast lovers — had good meals, and I was comped the eggs benedict by a gracious and polite server.  But it’s going to be a while before I have breakfast food again.

in which i dream of tess of the d’urbervilles

I’m preparing for an advanced cheesemaking class tomorrow in Douglas County by drooling over pictures of our recent tour of Three Rings Farm, a goat dairy and the makers of River’s Edge chèvre.

In my fantasies, I see myself slinging curds and whey like a pro on a little goat farm, a latter-day Tess of the D’Urbervilles.  I will live in the rolling hills west of Portland, a stone’s throw from the coast, and I will sleep al fresco in a flowery meadow, and I will be nudged awake in the morning by my goats.

Heidi, my milking machine and all around Girl Friday, will wake at the break of dawn to take care of their udderly needs.

My cheese will come out as beautifully as these ash-coated, bloomy rind cheeses:

Above: Humbug Mountain and Sunset Bay.  Below:  I’m not sure, but they sure look good.

And there will be no Angel Clare or Alec or any Victorian labor practices or degeneration or class discrimination or murder, and we will live happily ever after, eating cheese.

Stay tuned.

hazelnut millet granola, with variations

In my pre-Thanksgiving pantry investigation, I discovered I had two big containers of oats.  In an ongoing effort to break my morning bagel habit, it seemed I had no choice but to make granola.  We did a double batch of Nigella Lawson’s ridiculously simple nut granola recipe that several bloggers have adapted for their own, including Orangette and David Lebovitz.  I was interested in the recipe because it uses non-sweetened applesauce to moisten and flavor the oats, and I am particularly loath to eat anything sweet most mornings.  Plus, I just so happen to have a few low-sugar homemade applesauces stashed away in my canning cupboard.

The three cookie sheets full of baking granola took almost twice the time to dry and roast as the recipe states (I should have used four sheets, but I didn’t have oven space for four!).  The double batch I made ate up most of this year’s hazelnut crop, too.  Must go to OSU Extension office to buy more.  I used agave syrup instead of rice syrup, and only hazelnuts, adding a handful of millet for a bit of contrast instead of the sunflower seeds.

When the granola came out of the oven, I tossed one tray with currants, the second with crystallized ginger, and the third with home-dried sour cherries and cocoa nibs.  All three are delicious.  The applesauce makes the granola crispy and full of flavor, and the proportions are just right.

The granola is delicious mixed into yogurt or with milk.  I may try it with a flaked grain cereal if I can find one, as David Lebovitz suggests.  My favorite commercial granola, a German brand with a bewilderingly wondeful range of flavors, uses an oat that seems to be processed a bit differently than our rolled oats — almost as if the roller smashed the oat down even more.  It makes the oats less chewy and more pleasant when raw (or basically raw).  Anyone have a source for these cereals?

Try making it for gifts in a jar this holiday season.  Your family and friends will thank you!

Hazelnut Millet Granola with Fruit

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast and Orangette’s variation (see link above)

5 cups rolled oats (not instant)
2 cups coarsely chopped new crop Oregon hazelnuts (or almonds), roasted*
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup millet
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. kosher salt (less if using regular salt)

3/4 cup low sugar apple sauce
1/3 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup full-flavored honey (meadowfoam is particularly good)
2 T. vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 300°F.  In a small bowl, combine the applesauce, agave syrup, honey, and oil.   In a very large bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones, and stir well.

Spread the mixture evenly on two large rimmed baking sheets as thinly as possible.

Bake sheets on top and bottom racks of oven for 45 minutes, or until evenly golden brown (watch for burning around the edges).  Every 15 minutes, carefully stir and re-spread out granola on the sheets, switching positions in the oven so the granola will bake as evenly as possible.

When it turns golden brown, remove the pans from the oven and stir once more.  Orangette says “this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet” and “The finished granola may still feel slightly soft when it comes out of the oven, but it will crisp as it cools.”

Let cool for about 15 minutes before adding the dried fruit of your choice.  Dried currants, raisins, cranberries, blueberries, sour cherries are all good choices; stickier fruit, such as mangos or apricot pieces, are not because of storage issues.  You may also add crystalized ginger pieces (tiny), cocoa nibs for a chocolatey taste and/or toasted coconut shreds.  The amount of fruit is up to you — I found about a half-cup of sour cherries was good for one tray, and two teaspoons of ginger or cocoa nibs was just right for one tray.

Store in the refrigerator for no longer than three months, if it lasts that long, in a sealed container or ziploc bag.

Yield: about 10 cups.

* To roast hazelnuts, place on rimmed baking sheet in 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  When the nuts smell fragrant and the flesh turns creamy from white, they are finished.  It isn’t an exact science, so it’s better to undercook them than overcook them.

hazelnut rhubarb bread

DSCF4583Hope everyone had an excellent, sunny, warm Memorial Day weekend.  I was gardening for most of it, but I did take an eensy weensy bit of time to cook for a bbq and gift-giving.

I made a new rhubarb bread recipe (from BaltimOregon’s recipe clipping files) over the weekend to give to neighbors.  We have new neighbors to the west, and the best neighbors ever to the east.  These events deserve some rhubarb bread, don’t you think?

Recipe Notes:

This makes a light, not-very-sweet loaf of quick bread.  The rhubarb gets mushy, even coated with flour, so you want to chop the pieces small.  I wonder if making a puree from the sugar, then incorporating it in the batter, would infuse the bread with more rhubarb flavor.

I substituted hazelnuts for what is probably generally walnuts, reducing the oil in the bread, so it was a bit cakey and less like a quick bread than usual.  Roasted hazelnuts would have been better than raw, oh well.  Didn’t have orange zest, so I substituted a bit of lemon oil and about a 1/4 cup of local strawberry freezer jam that I had on hand, both of which lent nuances in flavor.  Used local Victoria rhubarb, the green and pink-stalked stuff, so the pink is mostly from the strawberries.  I think I’d throw a handful of millet in the batter next time, since I really like the crunch in quick breads, and use some whole wheat flour for more depth in texture.

All right, so the recipe was significantly changed.  This is why I’m not a baker, sorry!  :)

in the buff: sunny side up


Ah, I hope I never get tired of saying “in the buff.”  I’ve survived a week in Buffalo, and it’s been quite pleasant, actually.  We went from 60 degrees/sunny to snow to rain and back again.  I’ve been focused on archival research in the Joyce collection here, a marvelous trove of all kinds of fascinating primary source materials.  When they kick me out at 5 pm, I go to the regular library to look up books there in the gloomy stacks.  I’ve been living pretty much without a library for the past three years, so it’s so incredibly wonderful to be able to do real research, so galvanizing.

So what does this have to do with food?  And more importantly, what am I cooking?

Well, I’m not cooking much, just things like a simple pasta with mounds of roasted peppers, a bit of zucchini, and a good French goat cheese, and couscous with fresh Polish sausage and root vegetables.  Both last for days.  I’ve been eating lunches at the international food court on campus, with mixed success (mostly unsuccessful).  After my initial pierogi binge, I managed to get out and have a bowl of Polish Easter soup, zhurek, one of my favorite things.

And when I’m not thinking about feeding myself, I’m keeping my eye on food in modern literature — one of the projects on which I’m working.  Who knew modernism had so, so much food in it?  I’ve been chuckling over futurism recipes and salivating over the creative vegetable recipes American exiles in France devised with wartime rations.

One of the major food themes of modernism is breakfast.  Everyone seems to be eating breakfast, and it’s all about eggs.  Make it new, yanno?  So with that, Easter tomorrow, and my upcoming article including urban chicken keeping, I’m all about the eggs.

Retrogrouch and I get our eggs from Sweetwater Farm, our CSA, when we can, and let me tell you, Lynn’s hens lay the best eggs.  I was talking to someone the other day about farm-fresh eggs and he said he couldn’t taste the difference, so I thought I’d illustrate the matter.

Take a look at the photo.  The egg on the bottom is a farm egg, and the one on top is a regular egg from Safeway.  I’m not sure my crummy camera does it justice.  Notice the dark — almost orange — color of the farm yolk compared to the pale yellow of the Safeway egg.  The flavor of the farm egg is more robust and creamy, less runny.  You can see the farm yolk is also bigger, less flat, and plumper than the Safeway yolk.  I’m not a big fan of eating eggs plain, but farm eggs are so delicious I can’t help myself.

The big difference with farm eggs is the cost.  If you buy eggs at an organic market from a local farm, you’ll find they are much more expensive.  For me, it’s worth it, since I don’t use them that much and they are worlds apart.  Keeping chickens and becoming friends with your chicken-keeping neighbors are more cost-effective alternatives, especially if you can figure out an exchange or barter system.

I’m sure there are trials out there somewhere that demonstrates a marked difference in baking with farm eggs.  Perhaps you’ve done your own testing?