freezer frolics: ajvar 14 and QUINCE (crossed out cranberry) chutney

IMG_8984I’m starting a new fad.  Since almost everything I eat at home is local, it’s kind of silly to belabor the point.  So I’m now celebrating the joy of eating frozen food, liberated from my chest freezer and made more available in my regular freezer.

Breakfast was delicious and 100% frozen: kibbeh meatballs with mint, a slice of rye bread, and red hot Ajvar 14 sauce.

Lunch? Thanks for asking.  75% frozen.  Green chile tamales with the rest of my refrigerated QUINCE (as I yelled on the lid, crossing out the former denotation of ‘cranberry’) chutney.  Good.  I HAVE ANOTHER JAR IN THE FREEZER!!!

(The photos will also be frozen leftovers from the vault: this one isn’t too old, but appropriately chickens in the commercial freezer facility at Fair Valley Farm.)

 

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of cabbages and drag kings: a gay marriage salad

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Searching for the perfect reddish pink salad to serve your “gay-wedding” guests?  Seek no further.  With most of the blue states and every single rhetoric instructor ever chuckling over the Supreme Court transcripts for two cases challenging the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, it’s clear we need to celebrate with something simple and sassy, something that waves the colors and is topped with a veil of crème fraîche.

I vow love for this early spring salad: love, love love.  It’s my take on downtown restaurant Belly‘s tangled beet salad.  I’ve loved her since the day I met her — only a week or two after the restaurant opened.  It was a little unusual, I’ll admit, for one so carnivorous to love, really, what amounted to a pile of leaves, but we weren’t committed to traditional and outdated definitions of marriage, only fearing the censure of the courts.  So we capered about, rejoicing in our newly minted promise to be true.  We occasionally faced tough times, sometimes united in furtive silence, sometimes daringly holding hands in front of our close friends.

And being progressive and the sharing type, I’m opening up this relationship to you.  You can thank me in your champagne toast.

Keep in mind that she’s a local girl.  You can pick her up in the markets this weekend.  Some tender, nubile cabbages are ready now, or you might have a wizened old specimen hanging out in your crisper — I don’t judge.  Beets are also a great storage crop, so I hope you have some left or can get some larger ones at the market.  You made some berry vinegar last year, right?  This salad cries out for the special combination of sweet berries with vinegar, and I even add more fruitiness with a splash of pickled cherry juice.  Spearmint and fennel fronds are up in gardens right now; you might skip the fennel but don’t omit the mint.

Crème fraîche, which is essential to serve on the side, is stupidly easy to make with some cream and buttermilk. Don’t you dare buy it.  Recipe below.

So if you think we shouldn’t legislate love and really want to move forward, this salad is really a perfect way to celebrate spring, when the world is mud-luscious, and the queer old balloonman whistles far and wee.

Beet and Cabbage Salad with Mint, Fennel, and Crème Fraîche

Serves 4.

  • 1/2 small head of red cabbage, or quarter head if larger (aim for 5-6 cups of shreds)
  • 1 medium dark red beet (3-4-inch diameter)
  • 3-4 shallots, sliced very thinly
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed (salt-cured are better than brined)
  • 2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons berry vinegar (substitute balsamic)
  • splash of pickled cherry juice or cranberry juice, if you have it
  • handful of spearmint, leaves rolled up and sliced finely in chiffonade
  • fennel frond tips, torn into little pieces
  • 1/2 cup or more crème fraîche

Shred the cabbage as finely as you can with a knife.  Do the same with the shallots, then soak shallot shreds in cold water for 5-10 minutes to remove some of the strong flavor.  Drain.  Using a box grater, grate the beet.  Toss vegetables with the salt and capers, and set aside for 15-30 minutes.  Whisk together the oil and vinegar, and add to shreds.  Just before serving, add the splash of juice, then top bowl with a chiffonade of spearmint and little fennel frond bits.  Serve with a generous dollop of crème fraîche for each serving.

Crème Fraîche

Makes 1.25 pints.

  • 1 pint freshest, most organic, lovely heavy cream you can find
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 quart-sized jar (pint is too small)

Plan ahead several days before serving, as it takes time to set up.  In the gloomy, rainy PNW, it often takes mine three days, but I like it thick and tangy.

Mix together cream and buttermilk in a sterilized jar.  Cover with cheesecloth and let sit on the counter for anywhere from 1-3 days, depending on how thick you want the final product.  The longer you wait, the stronger the flavor.  Don’t bother mixing it, as it will even out over time and get a uniform thickness.  Refrigerate and enjoy with soups, salads, or desserts.

baby, it’s hot chocolate inside

IMG_3458IMG_3490 IMG_3476Definitely a day to cozy up to your couch and drink some hot chocolate.  I wish I were back in Amsterdam, where I had the good fortune to meet Kees Raat, master chocolatier and proprietor of the award-winning Metropolitan Deli, a sweets shop dedicated to stretching the chocolate imagination as far as it can go.  His hot chocolate, a thick, dark cup that blows away the competition in the land of hot chocolate, is exquisite — almost savory and velvet-textured, caressing your tongue and throat as you take tiny sips.

IMG_3460There he is, serving me up my cup of hot cocoa and another customer a waffle at the same time!  What service!

Unlike Willy Wonka and his slave labor, Raat sources cocoa beans from Cuba directly, seeking sustainable practices and the best quality.  He then grinds and cooks down the fermented cocoa beans to make his own chocolate.  I’d never seen chocolate making from bean to bar, and it was kind of thrilling, so simple yet so difficult.

IMG_3452IMG_3453 IMG_3465  IMG_3473IMG_3486IMG_3478 The shop sells everything from chocolate letters to cayenne-spicy langues de chat to ice cream (trompe la langue Campari blood orange, stroopwaffel or “nuts and glory”) to cocoa beer to cocoa lotion to poffertje pancakes, cakes, waffles, and waffle cones.  And it’s all packed into a tiny, narrow space just off Dam Square that’s filled with delighted customers.  He also holds workshops and gives talks on all the troublesome and delightful nuances of the chocolate trade.

But if you’re on your own austerity programme for the new year, might I suggest another treat served up for free at the shop?  I’d never publicly endorse this kind of celebration, and I prefer my own nose to remain snowy white, but there’s always the low-cal version of hot chocolate:

IMG_3471Stay warm, Eugeniuses, however you can!

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.)

in which we muse upon the fruits of our labors with syrup

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

Clearly, Alexander Pope was not a skilled do-it-yourselfer, where a little learning motivates great — or at least good enough — things.

We at Culinaria Eugenius were full of a little learning this week, or rather the action-adventures of our swashbuckling preservation team.

In the accident haze, and, I’ll admit, in many months before the accident as I labored away and at home on academic pursuits, I lost that intimate and lovely control of my kitchen.  I didn’t have a clear sense of what was in my pantry, or hiding in the back of my refrigerator, or how many jars had been returned or washed and stuck in the cupboards in the outer Hebrides.  I depended on a group of others to provide me with everything and anything, including most of my meals, which had become a source of anxiety and not pleasure or pride.

Alienated from cooking, as it were.  A misguided food-hating feminist’s dream, perhaps, but not mine.

And because of this temporary hiatus from my labor of love, as I start cooking again without assistance or a firm understanding of what remains in my kitchen, hilarity and madcap hijinks ensue.

Canning folk often rhapsodize about the pleasing “ping” sound of jars sealing after you take them out of the hot water bath. I learned there’s a most unpleasing, higher-toned “plink” sound of breaking jars in boiling water.

It happened at one of those moments in which you are thoroughly exhausted — many hours of boiling down tomato pulp into ketchup, fussing with the spice profile mid-boil after not being able to find the right spices, the cheesecloth, the other cheesecloth, learning the housekeeper had used the cheesecloth as a rag, discovering not one but two of the jars had chips on the rim as you were wiping said rims after filling jars, the boiling and spattering ketchup is bitter — how? why?, more sugar?, limping out to the outer Hebrides to find the damn immersion blender, trying to find two more jars which have to be somewhere in here, you’re out of lids and have to limp back to the outer Hebrides, etc., etc. — and finally, you drop in the two remaining half-pints using your fingers because you misplaced the jar lifter in all that commotion, and…

*plink*

…like that stain on your very soul, you see the thin ribbon of red spreading through the boiling water, and you know you have about three seconds to crutch over to the cabinet to get a bowl, find a ladle, and scoop the damn jar out of the water before it turns your canner into an impromptu spaghetti sauce.

And sure, you could have called your neighbor to see if she had two teaspoons of Pomona pectin on hand when you realized you only had half of the pectin you needed after the tayberry jam was already boiling and about two minutes from being finished, and, of course, you can’t drive out to the store anyway, given the leg.  But instead, you do what anyone with a little learning would do: started messing around.

Because it was low-sugar jam, you don’t have the option to just boil it down.  You ponder adding more sugar, but can’t measure the fruit pulp at that point, it being boiling and all, so you surmise that the aluminum water (already added) might react with another kind of pectin.   Luckily, you have a jar of apple pectin stock jelly on hand!  And more quince stock pectin in the freezer.  You add both, hoping for the best…

…and it’s the best tayberry-quince syrup ever, and 14 half-pints of it.

But tasty, no?  And a thick, molasses syrup, so you were at least partially right.

So to Mr. Alexander Pope, I say:

LET THEM DRINK NOT FROM THE PIERIAN SPRING; LET THEM DRINK SYRUP.

We tried it and we liked it, over zucchini pancakes.  And not a single mishap.

On this Labor Day, may all your labors be recognized, your pickles an art form, your jam jellied, your ketchup free of glass shards, and your work a source of healing.  May you be well enough to do the things you love, to pray with your feet, to turn your poetry into action, and to feed a challenge to the status quo.

a bumper crop

A bumper crop of gourds.  It’s the one crop that flourished this year, despite little attention.  Now, I can’t complain.  With my wonderful group of waterers, everything in the garden survived The Great Summer Catastrophe of 2012, but because I fractured my knee in the beginning of the gardening season proper, and wasn’t able to tend to anything all of July and most of August, it wasn’t a terrific year.

I did have a respectable crop of green beans, a gorgeous purple and green striped Swiss variety that I loved so much last year, and my tomatoes and peppers are coming along slowly like everyone else’s in the PNW.  Strawberries were good; fall raspberries are coming on now.  I had marvelous gooseberry, currant, and haskapberry crops; elderberry and tayberry had problems with pollination.  I managed to freeze pounds and pounds of purchased cane berries, so I’ve got plenty for jam, but using my own cucumbers for pickles wasn’t even a possibility, given the failure of the soaker hose in that row.

But what grew wonderfully in all my carefully planned food garden beds, besides the tangling vines of anxiety?  Gourds.  I had bought a bunch last fall to enjoy before turning them over to the squirrels, who promptly took them to the soft, leafy, garden beds, and, well, planted them.  The plants sprung up early and took advantage of the early heat spike in June, then managed to crowd out all the squash I actually wanted to grow: pumpkins, Oregon heirloom sweetmeat, romanesco zucchini and plain crookneck summer squash, and saddest of all, farmer Paul Atkinson’s special sweetmeat-like squash that I loved last winter.  I was so thrilled when a friend gave me a few cherished seeds, so I planted them twice, only to have the crows demolish them before they even got a chance to grow.  Grand total of the entire squash bed: four zucchini, one the size of a baseball bat.

And dozens of inedible gourds.

I’ve found a few recipes online for eating them, but quite frankly, I already have a giant baseball bat zucchini, I don’t want any more woody, tasteless cucurbit flesh, thanks.

So, come harvest, I’ll be the one with the highly decorative porch.  This is the first of many glamour shots.