better than oregon wine: 2006 charles shaw california chardonnay

I’ve been saving this bottle of 2006 Charles Shaw California Chardonnay 2006 ($3) for a special occasion.  Finally, I had one last week.  Sadly, I don’t remember what it was.  In my early days in graduate school at U. C. Irvine, I bought this chardonnay because it tasted like sauvignon blanc and the bitter tears of academia.  A grad school party just wasn’t a party without a case of Charles Shaw.  It’s become richer over time, as have the tears.  A lovely deep yellow color due to the process of micturition.  The nose is pure oxygen and a hint of smog.  When you drink, drink fast, because the pure green apple on the palate fades quickly into sour grapes.  You’ll want to reserve this one for yourself.  Drink now or never.

it’s all downhill from here

Close to 900 hits on my blog yesterday from people looking for restaurants open in Eugene on Christmas.  Any thoughts, local entrepreneurs and/or businesses who were open and didn’t update your websites?

I am almost hesitant to admit I found Christmas a bit much this year.  But what I found at Safeway, above, took the cake.


culinaria eugenius in taiwan: paparazzi

Part IV of a photo essay of my trip to Taiwan.  See Part I on crabs here, Part II on fish/seafood here, and Part III on fruit here.

We got off the bus at the Ningxia Night Market and I saw the cameras.  Oh, someone famous must be here, thought I, as we headed toward them, we’ll be able to get a closer look.

And a closer look we got, indeed.

Yes, so close that we were surrounded in this little market in an old area of Taipei.  We were  followed down the narrow alley through the most remarkable, clean little food stalls I had ever seen.  The camera spotlights were kind of handy for taking my own shots, but I got in trouble for trying to stop and ask questions, or, even worse, wandering off to explore a particular stall.  This is why food writers do not make good TV stars.

For some reason, the Taiwanese specialty called stinky tofu, a slightly fermented tofu cake either fried or served in large pieces in a soup at the market, was just about the only thing the very young, very green reporters were interested in.

Yum — and here I am eating stinky tofu and showing the world I use my left hand as a scoop for food that falls out of my mouth when I’m stuffing my face.  In fact, this might be the least flattering photo of me ever:

Or is this?

The reason for the paparazzi?  No, not me.  Our trip was made possible by the Taiwanese Government Information Office, at the request of rather dashing Minister Philip Yang, above.  Yang holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from UVA, and he has devoted his career to public relations and raising awareness of the deep well of Taiwanese culture.  Not too shabby!  He invited us to Taiwan to promote the government’s new international website for Taiwanese foodCheck it out in a Chinese video of the press conference.

And here we are, eating bottarga, or mullet roe, with host and food critic Mr. Wu and Minister Yang (photo courtesy of the latter’s Facebook page).

In a realm where such sites are usually horrible, the Taiwanese food site really quite good and nothing else matches it for breadth or depth in English.  I wasn’t joking when I said it was a real service to the world at the press conference.

But the problem with being the guest of a public relations mastermind is that the man sure does like media.

Wondering what I’m taking a picture of at the night market?  Well, as dashing as Minister Yang was, I couldn’t help but be more interested in a GIANT FRIED BALL OF EVERYTHING.

Yes, that giant fried ball of everything.  In the earlier photo, Minister Yang was pointing out all the ingredients in the ball, which seems to be made of vegetable fried rice, six oysters/shrimp depending on your choice, a raw egg, and god knows what else, all wrapped up in dough and deep fried. (Photos of me courtesy of what appears to be a news photo outlet on the Internet.)

I was a bit more vivacious and less thunderstruck at the next stall, a Taiwanese spring roll vendor whose stall has been at the market since 1951.  The sweet old lady making the spring rolls was positively unflappable.

I had to squeeze between the lady and the cameras, as such:

Time to make the spring rolls!  Photo of me (and a great one, thanks!) is courtesy of Saúl Cepeda, my TV star partner in crime.

A  bit more like a burrito than a spring roll as we know them, but still tasty.

For much of the week, we were documented during meals.  Saúl and I started messing around with the cameras to break the tediousness of being constantly filmed. In fact, some of my favorite shots are with the paparazzi.

Here I am being carefully considered by a young man who took his art seriously, if invasively, outside the highly recommended Shin Yeh seafood restaurant.  I was entranced by the tanks of dozens of different fish and shellfish.  He was entranced by me.

Alas, parting is such sweet sorrow.

The experience, I have to admit, really does make one understand why famous people turn into divas and smash cameras and such. Here are a few of my favorite shots of others.  Saúl poses for Culinaria Eugenius as the poster boy of steamed shrimp, Jean Louis comments on everything he has eaten, and Egami-san makes tofu for Taiwanese media at a farmers’ co-operative in Yi-lan province.

And I even managed a half-smile out of John at Din Tai Fung in Taipei 101.  I like to think my success was due to my charmingly constant shutter-clicking during lunch, which made him feel quite at home.

Jean-Louis, who took the bullet on the photo opp behind John, will appear somewhere holding Din Tai Fung dumplings.  Sadly, it will not be at my doorstep.  I can’t even look at my photos of the truffle-pork xiao long bao dumplings without wanting to hijack a plane to Taipei.

See?  Ack.  Drool. Now that’s much more interesting than a picture of me taking a picture or eating stinky tofu.  Worth every click and bright light and interview.

OK.  What next?  I have so much more to say about Taiwan.  A preservation post is in the works.  And somewhere out there in the ethernet is an amusing interview of me, Saúl, and Minister Yang talking about food while we voluptuously (“more please, Jennifer, show how delicious it is!”) eat some amazing prawns.  But I think after that I’m going to hold off until the future allows me to say more.  After all, I do have other matters to discuss that are closer to home.  Until then, dear readers!  May you eat well and look pretty on camera as you eat.

are you up to date on your ramen trends?

After I returned from a year in Japan in 1994, I used to have to go to San Francisco’s Japantown for ramen.  Sure, I could make it at home, and I often did.  One of the mainstays of my college years was Sapporo Ichiban ramen, original flavor, which was fine for the gourmet because it was about double the cost of the cup-o-noodles you could buy at Safeway.  I’d take my poison doctored with spices and topped by vegetables. My favorite? Diced okra, Brussels sprouts, and tofu.  Good times.

Sadly, the chewy noodles and traditional toppings ubiquitous in Japan were, unlike soba or udon, hard to find.

You can now buy ramen in all manner of places, including Toshi’s Ramen in Eugene, and in the high-concept izakaya in Portland, like Biwa.  I credit the popularity lately in no small part to Lucky Peach magazine, which tackled ramen for its first hipper-than-thou, swaggery, Bourdain-infused issue (next one out any day now, can’t wait).

But there’s providing delicious ramen to the American masses, and then there’s jumping the shark.

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: […]

she thinks of all the lips that she licks

Mmm… grilled halibut in a kimchi juice marinade and sesame oil reduction, served with gingery bok choi.  The ne plus ultra best way to use up the dregs of your homemade kimchi.  Think about it.  Spicy sour souse studded with garlic, ginger and green onion ?  No brainer.

My husband is crafty.  He calls from the kitchen, “hey, I’ve got some fish!” and waits.

I am laid out in bed with my feline sidekick, watching old Elvis Costello clips on YouTube, as I do when I’m utterly exhausted and searching the internet for reasons to endure.

Then I think, hmmm, he’s going to ruin that fish by underseasoning it.

I holler out, “what are you putting on it?”

He usually mutters something noncommittal about lemon juice.  Then, with all the will in the world, I usually roll out of bed and straggle into the kitchen in a foul mood.

Ah, but a mood that is elevated immediately by cooking.

See, crafty!

But I’m too tired and it doesn’t work this time.

He comes into the bedroom and shakes a bag of mini bok choi at me.  “Is this still good?”

Another deft ploy.  I am faced with the choice: Elvis Costello live in 1978 or decomposing bok choi that might meet a poor end in 2011.

There is no choice.  They call her Natasha when she looks like Elsie.

Dinner is served!

frozen peas trick lady yearning for spring

Our first sunny day in weeks, or at least the first one I’ve seen because I’ve been stuck inside my claustrophobic office, back to the window.  Yearning for green!

I realized last year that I crave tender spring vegetables about a month before they’re ready, so I froze some shelled peas from my garden in May for precisely this moment.

No, they aren’t anywhere near as delicious as new peas, but with hand-cut fresh pasta, bacon, crème fraîche, and mint, they aren’t half bad.

I had some leftover pasta sheets from making a half-pan of lasagna, so I cut them into irregular ribbons, which cooked up light and tender in just a minute or so.

Happy spring! See you at the season opening of downtown farmer’s market tomorrow.

on board the marmalade truck?

Spotted in an empty store window in Portland a couple of weekends ago.  For the record, I made my own marmalade once, by special request, with citrus I trucked up from the Bay Area.  (Keepin’ it local,  yo.)  And once was enough for me.  So save me a seat on the marmalade truck!

valentine memory with smoked salt

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Hope yours was fine and dandy, like sweet sugar candy.  Yes, I’m channeling my Great Uncle Edziu.  Be thankful I’m not taking you for a polka around the room and squeezing you so tight my hearing aid squeals against your ear.  Have a smoked salt caramel instead.