iron chef at the bite of eugene 2013: allez cuisine!

284436_240790515945191_4018356_nIMG_7092IMG_7013Yes, it’s that time!  My favorite local competition at my favorite local festival: the Iron Chef Eugene competition at the 5th Annual Bite of Eugene.

What’s the Bite of Eugene?  Let the organizers tell you: “The 5th annual American Family Insurance Bite of Eugene is a celebration of our local food scene and culinary culture with a focus on sustainability. This year’s event will be held on July 20th from 11am-10pm at Alton Baker Park in Eugene.  Admission is $5 for adults, children 12 & under are free. Food and beverages at the event will be priced and sold by the various participating local vendors. Food booths will be offering “bites” of their locally created provisions. Local beer and wine will also be offered along with non-alcoholic beverages. A wide array of entertainment is also available, including cooking classes, foodie seminars, local music, family/children’s area, and a live local Iron Chef competition.”  See the full schedule of entertainers and other details here.

I’m thrilled to be back in action this year at the Iron Chef competition.  Last year, I was going to be the emcee again, but couldn’t even stand up in July thanks to a car accident that smashed my knee, so I had to cancel.  This year, I’ll be joining my co-hosts on Food for Thought on KLCC, Boris and Ryan, as not-so-distinguished judges for the final battle.  Check out this amazing line-up:

IRON CHEF EUGENE 2013

With Emcee Lance Sparks

3:00pm: Battle Chinook Salmon
Chef Brendan Mahaney (Belly)
vs. Chef Brad Burnheimer (Agrarian Ales/Burnheimer Meat Co.)

Judges: Jeff Kandarian (Kandarian Cellars), Joel Pomerantz (OR Restaurant & Lodging Assoc.) and Ray Walsh (Capitello Winery).

5:00pm: Battle White Elm Mushrooms
Chef Justin Trent (Belly Taqueria)
vs. Chef Max Schwartz (Old Pad)

Judges: Mark Nicholl (William Rose Wines), Clive Wanstall (LCC), and Artie Lieder (Restaurant Consultant).

7:00pm: Iron Chef Eugene Championship: Battle Hazelnuts
Winner Battle Chinook Salmon
vs. Winner Battle White Elm Mushrooms

Judges: KLCC’s Food for Thought’s Boris Wiedenfeld, Ryan Stotz, and Jennifer Burns Bright, aka Levin, aka Culinaria Eugenius, aka yours truly!

Any local foodies will also be interested in the fantastic cooking seminars, featuring local talent and some of our best chefs, wildcrafters, fermenters, activists, and more. The headlining cooking classes will feature two past Iron Chef Eugene (and Oregon) winners.

See you there; can’t wait!

CULINARY CLASSES

With Host Mac Chase

  • 12:00-12:45 : Iron Chef Oregon 2012 Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro
  • 1:00-1:45 : Iron Chef Oregon 2010 Gabriel Gil of Soubise
  • 2:00-2:45 : Chef Emily Phillips of Red Wagon Creamery (making ice cream!)

SEMINARS

  • 12:00-12:45 : Food as Medicine with Sue Sierralupe (Occupy Medical)
  • 1:00-1:45 : Making Ravioli with Sarah O’Grady (Pasta Plus)
  • 2:00-3:00 : Fermenting Fun with Yaakov Levine (NTP)
  • 3:15-4:00 : Food Bill of Rights with Paul Cienfuegos (Support Local Food Rights)
  • 4:15-4:45 : 5 Pesky Weeds You Can Eat with Erin McIntosh (Mountain Rose Herbs)
  • 5:00-5:30 : Pairing Beer & Cheese & Wine with Jamie Floyd (Ninkasi)
  • 5:45-6:15 : Sustainable Food Systems and Preserving the Summer Bounty for Winter with Paul Fuller (Sweet Creek)
  • 6:30-7:00 : Foraging for Fungi (TBA)
  • 8:00-8:30 : Brewing Kombucha with Cutis Shimmin (Kore Kombucha)

love bites: chefs’ night out 2013

IMG_4499 One of my favorite Eugene food events, Chefs’ Night Out, is a fundraiser for Food for Lane County, allowing local restaurants and culinary programs to experiment with cocktail nibbles for the thronging hordes.

What I really like to see, of course, is the chefs and service industry workers doing what they do best.  This event, like the Bite of Eugene festival that produces the Iron Chef Eugene competition in the summer, seems to be a pleasure for the industry as much as it is for the guests.

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It made me happy just to watch the workers interact with an appreciative public and do their thing.

Also successful this year?  The giant carrot balloons welcoming vegetarians in the midst of all the tri-tip nuggets, and the new secret wood-lined lounge with a jazz trio and a couple of King Estate standards.  I felt almost hip looking at the tweets broadcasted on the wall on a giant screen, so I drank a pomeberry-pink cosmo against my better judgment.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I noticed a level of institutional care and attention this year that I really appreciated.  It seemed there were fewer vendors, but that meant less pulled pork and bad wine.  The crowd control seemed to be managed, in any case, so people weren’t lined up at King Estate for more than, oh, 20 minutes.  (I’m kidding — it was by the door.)

Congratulations to the winners of this year’s competition:  Best Overall Bite – Marché Restaurant.  Best Presentation/Hospitality – Sweet Life. Best Savory Bite – King Estate Winery. Best Vegetarian Bite – Govinda’s. Best Sweet Bite – Red Wagon Creamery. We don’t know exactly what won, though.  On the Food for Lane County Facebook page, they indicated to me that “The judges don’t always indicate which specific dish they are voting for, however we did note on ballots that these dishes caught judge’s eyes: Marche’s Spring Pea and Asparagus Salad; King Estate Winery’s Charcuterie (Saucisson Sec, Smoked Duck Breast Speck, Pork and Black Truffle Paté); and Red Wagon Creamery’s Chocolate Meringue Cookies with Toasted Sesame Ice Cream and Whiskey Caramel [below]. We will try to encourage judges to be more specific in their choices next year!”  That’s a terrific idea.

IMG_4434Tag; you’re it!

I was kind of surprised that all the deserving winners were located on the main floor atrium; did the judges go upstairs?  If they did, they most likely enjoyed my Best Overall Bite, Koho Bistro’s duck liver paté on a slightly sweet walnut cocoa flat cake with fig and Zinfandel jam. The flavors matched perfectly.  And not too shabby was the other dish at Koho (which the judges did see since they gave it an honorable mention), the candy-cap mushroom crème brûlée on a pepper sablé with smoked caramel glass (below).  This is the second year in a row that I’ve found Koho’s bites the best, but the quality just hasn’t been acknowledged.  (Last year, it was the candied kumquat and farmer cheese on black pepper shortbread canapés.)  What is in store for next year?

IMG_4491IMG_4490The smoked caramel glass was particularly effective with the puddingy pillowy bite.  It was like the princess and the pea or every rose has its thorn or something like that.

IMG_3115IMG_4506 Other unexpectedly delicious treats were the ricotta-mirepoix-mushroom stuffed pepper with a very fresh and wild basil mousse and chile oil from Ambrosia; a perfectly classic endive, celery and walnut salad with a lemon-tarragon mayo on a homemade potato chip from the catering outfit Our Daily Bread (better than the only other veg bites, award-winning Marché’s peas and Govinda’s stews, I thought); a simple pork confit taco from the new food cart Gastronomad, which was down in the Ninkasi tent; and the now tried-and-true but still good salmon rillettes and watermelon gazpacho with tequila from Shadow Hills Country Club.  Never thought I’d say I like country club food, but there you are.

Whoa, and the wild boar agrodolce over polenta at Excelsior?  A wonderful sweet and sour turn of that pork classic. Has Excelsior hired chef extraordinaire and our best local magician with sweets Shane Tracey, formerly Executive Chef Owner of Nib?  It took a minute to recognize him, because I was thoroughly puzzling over the trio of desserts at the table. When did Excelsior up its pastry game to this level?, I was thinking. Then I saw Shane and it was clear.  You can see two of the desserts above, a little cocoa bomb clothed in green on a brown butter financier and an interpretation of tiramisu with a pretty little hand-painted chocolate disc.

My favorite sweet bite, though, and again a surprise, was the ultra lavender cream puff on a stick made by the students at LCC (first photo).  They infused both the pastry cream with lavender and the whipped cream with lavender-powered pear brandy.  It came on strong and left creamy.  A perfect dessert.

IMG_4517My favorite cocktail was the quickie Cocchi Americano-Rye signature cocktail at Rye, hands down.  Had I known about the lounge earlier, I would have made off with that punchbowl.  I had again a memorable glass of Roussanne at J. Scott, which quenched my white wine trending thirst, and a really good dry rosé at King Estate, which I am told is one of several, and which I do not know from the others.  Oops.

IMG_4436I agree with the awards committee that Sweet Life had the best presentation, what with its pretty server in Victorian mourning and the tulip-themed sweets all over the Parisian pink Eiffel-towered table. But I would create my own award for the unintentionally coolest in a weird way bite.  That would go to Mazzi’s, who served that mystery of mysteries, alive in 2013 only in Eugene — Steak Diane.  The steak was so-so and I’m still trying to figure out why an Italian-American joint would serve it at the tasting, but I liked the sauce and the hundreds of little cups over the Mazzi napkins.  Something very mod about it, both in form and function.

All in all, a good night and lots of fun. Hope it went well, Food for Lane County!  You can see a full photo spread of the night’s photos on my Facebook page.

red chile sauce and farmers on the radio today at noon

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We eat bean-and-greens tacos about once a week at home, but because I always have fermented hot sauce or summer salsa hanging around in the refrigerator, I haven’t experimented much with all the peppers I dried last year.  When I saw an experimental recipe for dried pepper ferments in the fabulous preservation blog Well Preserved, I remembered that I (1) grew a bunch of Central American chiles this year instead of the Hungarian ones I’ve been growing for years; and (2) dried a bunch of ripe pasillas (which grow very well here, by the way) and other peppers that were languishing in my cupboard.

So red chile sauce it was.  Relying on a Diana Kennedy classic recipe, I knew I couldn’t buy fresh tomatoes at this point in the dead of winter, so I used up my last jar of canned tomato sauce, the frozen tomato sauce having been long depleted.  Because I wouldn’t be able to char the sauce as I’d char the skin of fresh tomatoes for more flavor, I decided to throw in a pretty little ice-cubed block of tomato paste that I managed to put up last fall.  It turns out the tomato paste is crucial for body in the salsa, so don’t omit, even if you’re using fresh tomatoes.  If you’re purchasing your tomato products, you might want to buy a can of tomato puree instead of diced tomatoes, because it’s thicker and sweeter.

I was less interested in authentic flavors than in just getting rid of my chiles, so an Ethiopian brown, scorchingly hot beriberi pepper and I’m sure a Hungarian pepper or two snuck in there.  You will probably be more discriminating.  Also, note that you won’t be able to get the silky smooth texture without a blender, so don’t even try it.  A good local bean for the tacos?  Brighstone, a hearty pinto-like bean, which is a new discovery by Adaptive Seeds/Open Oak Farm this year.

And if you’re interested in farming, Central America, or how things grow in places involving the word Willamette, you’ll most definitely want to check out our radio show, Food for Thought on KLCC Sunday at noon (PST) on 89.7FM in Eugene, or its sister stations in Oregon, or live on the web.  Boris and I are trying something new, an interview with farmer/musician Joshua James, who is performing songs from his new album, From the Top of Willamette Mountain, at Sam Bonds tonight.  We’ll also be joined by someone we’ve wanted to have on the show for a long time: Sarah Cantril, Executive Director of Huerto de la Familia, an agriculture and micro-business educational non-profit that teaches community integration, economic self-sufficiency, and organic farming skills to Latino families in Lane County.  Listen in or be square!

Red Chile Sauce

  • 6-8 medium-sized long dried peppers, such as guajillo, pasilla, or the like
  • 1 large garlic clove, sliced
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (top quality fresh or canned)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup water (optional if your tomatoes are very juicy, or you’re using canned)
  • salt to taste

Toast peppers and sliced garlic, being careful not to let the peppers burn.  Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium heat, then add the dried peppers and garlic, pressing them down and turning them over every few seconds until the peppers can be crumbled and you can smell the toasted smell.

Remove from heat. Let peppers and garlic cool until easy to handle.

If you are using fresh tomatoes, char the skins over a gas burner or on the same hot cast-iron skillet, then peel off most of the blackened parts, before dicing.

Place tomatoes, tomato paste, and optional water in a blender.  Add garlic.  Remove stems and seeds from chiles, then crumble pepper shells into blender.  Blend for a few minutes on high, until the sauce is very integrated and smooth.  Add salt to taste.

Refrigerate and use within a few days on anything that could use a nice kick of red sauce.

niblets: arts and flowers edition

Oregon is doing its springy best to paint the landscape in springy colors, so we, too celebrate art in nature.

Fuchsias, named after a German scientist Leonhart Fuchs and hence the odd spelling, are some of the most unusual and easy to grow of the shade/semi-shade flowers, so I always pick some up in the spring. Fred Meyer’s held a “Fuchsia Day” yesterday, and they have an excellent variety of starts.

Help those pollinators get an early start!  They’re important for our stone fruit and apple crops in the Willamette Valley.  Plant flowers that bloom early and attract the bees.  In my garden, that means rosemary, crucifer crops’ flowers (they love the yellow flowers of mustard relatives), lilacs, Oregon grape, flowering quince, and haskapberries.  More ideas from OSU Extension here.

Today on Food for Thought on KLCC at noon, listen in to Ryan and Boris, with special guests from Eugene’s latest addition to the cocktail scene, Rye.  The bar and restaurant opened a few weeks ago, and I had a chance to sample the menu the other day.  They have a terrific selection of pre- and post-Prohibition cocktails; the food could be just as good if they kicked it up a notch.  If you’re used to drinking deliciously spicy bourbon cocktails, you might try to lighten up with a Vancouver, a gin, vermouth, and Benedictine cocktail which has been likened to a Manhattan…on a diet.  Perfect for spring.

If like me and artist James Earl, you’ve been fascinated by crop circles while flying over agricultural regions of the United States, you’ll love Jim’s exhibit in the DIVA space and at the Eugene airport, Window Seat: The Art of the Circle Field.  A professor emeritus in the UO English Department and all around Renaissance man, Jim used Google Earth images to construct artistically interesting snapshots of irrigation systems interlaid into the US transportation network, squaring thousands of green circles. Check it out from now until May 4.  More information here.

Cinema Pacific is one of Eugene’s yearly glories, and this year the festival features two Japanese films about food production.  Take your environmentalist cousin to the gorgeously filmed and grotesque Midori-ko on Thursday, and your urbane food critic uncle to the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Sunday. Unfortunately, the sushi dinner after the film at Kamitori is sold out, but there will be sushi from Sushi-Ya at the film!  Yours truly will be reporting about the dinner.  You can watch all of this year’s film previews, collected by the festival organizers, on YouTube.

I was pleased to see Eugene’s culinary art at another annual extravaganza, Chefs’ Night Out 2012, this week.  Over a thousand people attended, most of whom stood in orderly lines to get delicious food.  (Anyone have a link to news about the award-winners and how much money was raised for Food for Lane County?  I know the press was there — where’s the story, guys?) My best bites included lovely little candied kumquat and farmer cheese on black pepper shortbread canapés from Koho Bistro, Blue Dog meads, a creamy fisherman’s stew from Fisherman’s Market, and a pulpy marionberry soda made from local berries from Hot Lips Soda.  But best of all was probably the simply pan fried oysters with tartar sauce from Mac’s at the Vet’s (bottom shot).  Tumbling from the frying pan into our mouths, they were hot, creamy and delicious.  Not really “Cajun” as advertised, but a tiny bit of spice was appreciated and the tartar had a nice dill pickle dice in it.

fermentation basics recipes and resource links


Thanks for coming to today’s “Fermentation Basics” demo at the Fun with Fermentation festival, and a big thank you to Christina Sasser and the entire WVSFA team who worked so hard to make the festival a success!  I loved the mix of old and young people, farmers, hippies, yuppies, foodies, students, and parents. I was happy to share some of my techniques and tips for vegetable fermentation, and enjoyed talking to so many of you after the demo at the Master Food Preserver booth.

Ferments discussed in today’s demo:

Recipes with sauerkraut:

Some books and resources I trust and use often:

  • Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (classic resource for basics of preservation, updated every few years)
  • Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich (includes fermentation recipes and many ethnic recipes not available in other collections)
  • Wild Fermentation by the King of Sauerkraut Sandor Katz
  • OSU Extension-Lane County’s full list of preservation publications (free .pdf downloads) – See esp. “Making Sauerkraut and Sauerkraut Recipes” and “Problems & Solutions: Sauerkraut” under the heading “Pickling”
  • My Harsch crock
  • The OSU Extension Master Food Preserver message line for class registration, preservation and food safety questions: 541-344-4885.  We no longer have a local hotline, thanks to budget cuts in Lane County, but in the summer and before the holidays there’s a 1-800 number you can call.  More information here.

fun with fermentation

What’s that smell?  It’s not you, it’s me.  I’m working on kim chi, sauerkraut, and fermented pepper samples for my live demo at the Fun with Fermentation festival tomorrow, Saturday, January 14.  The festival, a fundraiser for Food for Lane County and the Willamette Valley Sustainable Foods Alliance, runs from 11-4 p.m., and it’s a good one, with hour-long demos all day and many opportunities to taste fermented foods and beverages made with pride in Eugene, Oregon, and the surrounding area.  Fancy some tempeh, sourdough, kombucha, yogurt, or beer?

I’m particularly excited to share the stage with my fellow Master Food Preservers Elyse and Katya, and meet Aaron of Eugene’s latest, greatest microbrewery, Falling Sky. Check out the full schedule below, from the WVSFA website:

The Willamette Valley Sustainable Foods Alliance is pleased to announce the third annual “Fun with Fermentation” Festival. Join us January 14th, 2012 from 11 AM to 4 PM at the WOW hall.

Over 25 local natural foods businesses will be showcasing, demoing, and sampling locally produced cheeses, chocolates, coffees, wines, beers, kombuchas, breads, tempeh, pickles, and many other local fermented delicacies. Devour will be on hand serving a menu which will highlight fermented ingredients. The event has an educational focus centered on discovering the many ways that fermentation is practiced with many foods. There will also be a kids zone, raffle prizes, and beer/wine bottle sales downstairs.

Join us on the stage for educational lectures and demonstrations!
11-12: Yaakov Levine: “Fermented Foods: A Key to Healthy Digestion”
12-1:   Jennifer Burns Levin from Culinaria Eugenius & OSU Master Food Preserver:”The Fermentation Basics”
1-2:     Eight Nine Tempeh: “Live Quinoa Tempeh Demo”
2-3:    Elyse Grau & Katya Davis of OSU Master Food Preservers: “Fermenting with Dairy”
3-4:    Aaron Brussat of Falling Sky Brewery: “The Gifts of Honey: Mead & T’ej”

The event is a fundraiser for Food for Lane County and WVSFA. Admission is on a sliding scale of $10-20 per person, or $5 with 2 cans of food. Children 12 and under are free.

restaurants open in eugene on christmas, 2011 edition

This post is from 2011.  For 2013, click here!

What’s open in Eugene on Christmas 2011?

Thanks to commenter MJM, who reminded me that I need to post my annual search for Christmas restaurants.  MJM notes:  “According to  http://kezi.com/page/200147, last year [in 2010,]  Shari’s, IHOP, Sixth Street Grill, Marie Callendar and Empire Buffet were all open for Christmas.”  Are they open this year?  Let me know if you have a lead on these places or others.

Industrious elves have already noticed that Izakaya Meiji is open on Christmas.  This is a note of serious cheer, folks.  Retrogrouch and I had dinner there for the first time in many months, and I was thrilled by how strong the menu and service are now.  Really fine meal.  And a nice smoky whiskey cocktail.

King Estate will put forth another delicious goose dinner on Christmas Eve (note: not Christmas) this year. Edited to add: Rabbit Bistro and PartyCart also open on Christmas Eve, as are a number of other places.  See Melissa Haskin’s blog entry for a list (and be sure to look at the link in the comments for Springfield eateries, too).

And…for those of you who are already ready to usher out the old year — and who isn’t, for Chrissake? — several local eateries are planning special menus for New Year’s Eve, including Osteria Sfizio, Nib, and Red Agave.

For those of you seeking service opportunities on Christmas, the Lane County Human Services Commission is hosting its annual Senior Holiday Dinner at the Hilton:

The 33rd annual Senior Holiday Dinner needs your support.

This local tradition, which gives senior community members an opportunity to celebrate the holidays with their peers, is seeking community financial support. The dinner is held on Christmas Day at the Eugene Hilton and Conference Center. The cost of the dinner to seniors is nominal, $7 per person. Any support significantly helps to defray the entire cost of the event.

Local senior community members age 62 or older may attend the dinner, which is coordinated by Lane County’s Human Services Commission on behalf of the Lane County Board of Commissioners. Approximately 650 seniors are expected to attend the full turkey dinner that includes entertainment, dancing, and door prizes.

Contributions from individuals and businesses are needed to make this event possible.

Monetary donations may be mailed directly to Lane County Human Services Commission at 125 E. Eighth, Eugene, OR  97401. (Please note Senior Holiday Dinner with donation.) Other door prize gift ideas could include gift certificates or merchandise. All donations will go toward making the Senior Dinner a special event for local seniors!

In addition to contributions, volunteers provide critical support for the event. Volunteers are needed to provide seniors with transportation to and from the event (most seniors attending the event live within the Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area) and the event needs other volunteers to serve as host-hostesses and servers.

For more information, call Sydney Shook 541-337-6174 or e-mail: sydney_shook@msn.com

Any other volunteer opps?  Please comment below.

PS. The photo is my Christmas salsa, made from the last of my tomatoes and Christmas miracle cilantro still sprouting in my herb bed on December 7.  Can you see why I’m having a hard time coping with winter?

chefs’ night out 2011

I attended the sold out Food for Lane County fundraiser, Chefs’ Night Out, last night, and was so happy to see many of the restaurants, catering outfits, wineries, and breweries in town represented.  See a video from KVAL documenting the night here.  They were projecting that they’d raise over $60,000 for food support for the hungry in Lane County.  Hope they exceeded that goal!

Some of the bites were fanciful, like the savory bite-sized waffle cones with meatballs dished up by King Estate, one of the sponsors of the festival.  Hole in the Wall Barbecue took it to the next level (you decide which level) with their Ducks-baseball-hat-wearing barbecued pig.

Some of the best bites included three in the main lobby, Red Agave’s red snapper ceviche (which would have won my Best Bite had I been a judge) to the left on the red print tablecloth, Sfizio’s 3-year prosciutto- and speck-bedecked grissini breadsticks, center, and Field to Table’s “pork and grits,” which was a creative interpretation of an old classic: pulled pork and melty leeks on a polenta cake.

My teacher heart was warmed to see the culinary school at LCC in attendance in their spiffy chef whites, proudly displaying their “Lane” ice sculpture (above) and the pork rillettes on handmade biscuits with cornichons and a slice of their truffled sausage.  The MLK, Jr. Education Center Culinary Arts Program held their own, as well, serving up delicious mini fish tacos and little noodle nests with some kind of meat ball whose details are now hazy due to gorging and drink.

Other bites I very much enjoyed (either eating or looking at after I was full), in no particular order:

  • Bendistillery: grapefruit basil gin cocktail.
  • Skinner’s at the Hilton: chorizo mussels (for catering?! But they worked).
  • The Vintage: spicy passionfruit margarita (I usually avoid these things, but this one wasn’t sweet and had a nice slow burn on the spice).
  • Mookie’s Northwest Grill: foil-wrapped individual ribs (I’m a sucker for shiny).
  • Market of Choice: smoked tomato on goat cheese in little tartlet cups; simple, elegant.
  • Vanilla Jill’s Frozen Yogurt: Carrot cinnamon!
  • Heidi Tunnell Catering: homemade ricotta on bruschetta with a slice of bacon.
  • Ax Billy Grill (go DAC): crab bruschetta with an avocado corn salad (nice and light in a room full of heavy meat choices, too many sliders, and rillettes).
  • Rabbit Bistro: boar rillettes — Best Rillette.
  • Sipping Dreams and King Estates: drinking chocolates.
  • Amity Vineyards: 2008 Pinot Noir.

What did you like?

a little room to grow

The real reason I went to PDX was a summer office reorganization shopping spree at Ikea.  But it’s not summer yet, you protest.  Aha, but it was summer eight months ago.  I’m a little behind on projects.

I bought shelves not only for my study but to replace the very old pre-Billy Ikea bookshelf — you know, the ones that bow in the middle of the shelves — that was the home of all my cookbooks for probably fifteen years.  As you might imagine, the situation was getting dangerous.

So I’m pleased to report that I finally have room for all my cookbooks, plus a little room to grow.

Speaking of room to grow, consider supporting our local restaurants that strive to buy Willamette Valley and Oregon products in the upcoming weeks, if you’re able to do so.  Times are tough and they really need us to patronize places that spend a little more to keep our farmers and other local food purveyors in business.  Your money will be well spent.

Some places on my perennial recommendation list are:

  • Red Agave (the restaurant and the cantina for late-night hearty snacks and great cocktails, plus the website features the most poetic descriptions of specials I’ve seen);
  • Rabbit Bistro & Bar (fabulous cocktails, too, and unusually creative Friday night specials to be found on their Facebook page); and
  • Belly (new taco nights on Sunday and Monday, about which I’ve blogged, and a seasonally changing menu the rest of the week that features the best of our valley).

Each of these places are experimenting with menus and thinking about future avenues, so head on out and see what they’re all about.

Wanting a burger?  You can do that local, too.  We have great beef here in Oregon.  There were good recommendations from listeners on yesterday’s Food for Thought radio show (on KLCC, our NPR affiliate) (archived show here).  I hung out with Boris and Ryan on the air, talking about hamburgers and fries (oh yeah, and gardens, too), and was surprised by the people who voted for megolithic fast food outlets.  Yuck.  Seriously, don’t give those places your money. Pay a little more, eat a little less.

Or ask for local beef at one of our many meat markets.  I like Benedetti’s Meat Market in Springfield for fresh Oregon beef, and their Saturday BBQ specials are crazy cheap and delicious.

If you’re looking for something completely different, how about A BRAND NEW LEBANESE DELI!?!?!??!  Plaza Latina Market on 7th is finishing the expansion of their food court area, and I saw the menu up when I stopped by last weekend.  They told me that they hope to have the Middle Eastern part of the deli operating next weekend.

One last suggestion: you can taste offerings by all the best restaurants in town at one swoop by attending one of the best annual fundraisers we have in Eugene: Chef’s Night Out at the Hult.  It’s tomorrow night, Tuesday, April 5, at 6:30 p.m.  Tickets, which aren’t cheap at $65 prepay/$75 walk-in, are very much worth it and appreciated as tax deductible contributions to Food For Lane County.  Best of all is that 100% of your donation will go to low-income food security resources in Lane County, as the event is underwritten by several major sponsors.

eugene downtown farmer’s market opening day 2011

If the number of consumers and quality of spring produce are any indication, we’re in for a rockin’ year.  Good luck, farmers!  You looked great out there!

Above: produce from Lost Creek Farm.

Below: sprouting brassicas from McKenzie River Farm and ‘Black Dakota’ popcorn in action from Lonesome Whistle Farm.

Below: the crowd goes wild (for scented geraniums) and one particularly fashionable Gentleman Jim shows off just how much produce can fit into a Eugene-based Archival Clothing rucksack.  Ooh-la-local.

That particular gentleman also accompanied me to the annual plant sale at Food for Lane County’s Grass Roots garden, where we picked up red gooseberries, dill weed, kale, and sweetpeas.

The kids were out working in the fields, as kids should.  Below: fields, with vermiculture compost box and wheelbarrows full of finished compost just waiting for the pitter  patter of little feet.