hang on, baby, 2015 is going to be a wild ride

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Happy New Year 2015!

What a wonderful gift the new year brings.  It kicks 2014, by most accounts a most miserable, stingy, and violent abuser of a year, out the door.  Let’s celebrate!

There are big things in store for me in 2015, and I’m thrilled to announce I’m making plans to become a better writer and photographer.

As you may know, I’ve been struggling with personal loss and injury for the past few years, and my life hasn’t been terrific.  My divorce and shift in teaching position at the university and the realities of this small town have made it so I can no longer live the life I had.  Nor do I really want it any more.

What I do want, I realized, is to live more fully and richly in the skin I feel most comfortable in, as a food and travel writer, so I can continue to bring stories of the north to all of you and discover more friends and colleagues in an even wider audience.

So I’m off to do it.  I’ll be leaving Eugene this summer and relocating closer to the city life that can feed my need to tell these stories. This means I’m losing my home, which is almost unspeakably difficult as one deeply in love with this place.

It also makes the continuation of my cherished issue, Culinaria Eugenius, an impossibility in its current form.  Culinaria Eugenius is the story of a place, and Eugene is the small hearth upon which I will no longer be able to warm my stories.   It’s rather scary, but I am confident that all my years with you have provided me a strong and everlasting flame that will fuel me wherever I go.  I’ve been writing this award-winning local food blog for almost seven years, nearly 1000 posts.  In its virtual pages, I have documented the dramatic change in the Eugene food scene and offered countless original recipes and stories about our local food shed.  It’s been a transformative experience, and I’m deeply thankful to all my readers who have joined me.

There’s still plenty of time before I make the final transition, so I hope you’ll continue to read my work.  You may know I maintain a Facebook feed for CE, which is far more active than the blog, and that I write a quarterly column for Eugene Magazine called “Eat, Drink, Think” (featuring local farmers and my favorite recipes using seasonal produce) and some features that appear there.  I’ve written in the past for other places, including NPR’s The Salt, Acres USA, and Gastronomica, as well as our two local newspapers.   I’ll still be teaching as an adjunct professor at the University of Oregon and other places, and will keep you informed about cooking classes and demos.

I’ve been writing more and more travel stories, interviews with cool Oregonians, and the latest in Northwest tastes for AAA’s Via magazine, work I really love and want to undertake in greater quantity.  I am working on a cookbook for single people, a food history book, and a number of articles that will be announced as soon as they find a home.  I’m also proud to say I’ll be interviewing Novella Carpenter and moderating a panel on Diana Abu-Jaber’s food writing at the CSWS Northwest Women Writers Symposium this spring.

To raise funds for the move and upcoming travel research, I’d love to hear from you if you have paid freelance needs for food features (writing or photography) or book reviews or judging gigs, and I’d be deeply appreciative if you could pass my name along to folks who might be interested in someone with this experience.  I am not only a writer and budding photographer, I’m an accomplished public speaker for both academic events and cooking demos, and an event organizer.  I have served as a panelist, panel moderator, interviewer, and judge at myriad venues, including for international book awards, our local Iron Chef competition, and academic panels in the U.S. and abroad. I’ve interviewed some of our brightest culinary lights on an NPR-affiliated food radio show (as a co-host for the late, much lamented Food for Thought on KLCC) and at live events, and have curatorial experience working with 600 years of rare books related to food history. The best email address is wellsuited at gmail dot com, and I’m happy to provide a full CV upon request.

May 2015 treat all of you, of us!, with the dignity and respect it should, and grant you the gift of good eating and great companionship.  Happy adventuring!

 

thanksgiving 2014

IMG_0025For the first time in as long as I can remember, I traveled during Thanksgiving week.  It was my first time in the south, and a very, very happy reunion in Atlanta hosted by my friends Ryan and Ashley Stotz, whom you may remember just as fondly from Marché Provisions or (in Ryan’s case) our dearly departed radio show, Food for Thought.  They’re doing very well in the South!

They showed me the city, market by market and restaurant by restaurant and grocery store by grocery store. We visited some of the best little local joints for breakfasts of fried everything and sliders, the massive international grocery store called the Buford Highway Farmers Market (where we spent four — FOUR — hours), and some pretty wonderful bars and restaurants.  We drank icy orange frosty beverages at the Varsity drive-in and ate foie gras duck soup dumplings at The Porter.

And dinner, of course, was fabulous. We cooked and drank and ate and laughed and stayed up all night playing Cards Against Humanity.  Then we watched this, which is seriously messed up and will worm into your brain — warning, so we suffered the song in about a thousand different jokes.

I hope your celebrations were as warm and lovely and filled with good company as mine were.

IMG_7006 IMG_0057 IMG_0019 IMG_0039 IMG_0017From top to bottom:  pumpkin pie infused with bay, fried chicken on a biscuit with cream gravy at Homegrown, some cheap swill with dinner, breakfast of vermouth-scented scrambled eggs with chicken livers, radicchio salad prep, collard overflow at the Piggly Wiggly (dba IGA).

 

new regional chinese restaurants in eugene!

IMG_9294In 221 B.C.E., warring states were unified into what became the nation of China.  In 2014 C.E., two new regional Chinese restaurants were opened in the People’s Republic of Eugene.

Joining Kung Fu Bistro, the Sichuan spot which continues to get raves for its cumin-fried fish on Willamette, and the odd Teriyaki Boy on 13th with its special Chinese menu, are two exciting new places.

IMG_9298IMG_9295Tasty Chongqing (Broadway near the Ferry Street Bridge in the building formerly occupied by Café Arirang) is a modest student eatery that is named after a relatively new province to the east of Sichuan province, which which it shares many culinary traditions.  The restaurant specializes in hot and cold snacks, hot pots, noodle dishes, and yes, FINALLY, Sichuan-style spicy steamed dumplings (above).

IMG_9305 IMG_9306221 B.C.E. has an unusual name that points to a significant date in Chinese history.  The owners hail from Shaanxi province, which lies north of Chongqing and is famous for the terra cotta army buried with Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who unified China in that fateful year. This little modern two-storied noodle shop has just opened in a new building at 13th and Patterson (which might be the hottest restaurant corner in town, with two new restaurants opened and a Sushi Island in the works).

The restaurant is currently serving a limited menu as they work the kinks out, but already popular for its thick, chewy hand-shaved wheat noodles, served in a bowl with simple toppings like egg and tomato or more rich and decadent, like the braised pork chunks with spicy chile flakes.  In my opinion, these are the best noodles in town.  Also available are rou jia mo, sometimes called a “hamburger” of fillings like cumin beef on a steamed bun, and more creative offerings like snacks of duck necks and pork bungs.  I didn’t ask.

Neither restaurant seems to have a website or Facebook page, but I did chat with the owners and they told me they’ve had success with restaurants in Washington (Tasty Chongqing) and on the East Coast (221 B.C.E.).  Both joints were already stuffed with Chinese UO students.  I’m looking forward to spending many more meals there.

Welcome to Eugene!  We’ve been waiting!

P.S. As the cuisine in Eugene gets more diverse and sophisticated, it’s worth your while to learn more about the dishes of central China and their wheat-based noodle-y cuisine to enjoy these spots.  Read up on the food of Sichuan province and Shaanxi province before checking them out.  Very helpful articles!

 

my bread and butter (and jam)

IMG_7604We finished the team-taught experimental University of Oregon Clark Honors College “Bread 101″ class on Monday, with students bringing in their final projects: loaves of bread baked with sourdough starter they cultivated during the term.  You can see all the pictures chronicling the 10-week experience here.

Just so we’d have all the bases covered, I made some butter and brought along a few jams for the tasting.  A student requested a recipe, so I present them to you here, yeastily, in case you want to eat eight loaves of bread in a sitting, too.  IMG_7622IMG_7606 It was a wonderful class, and I’m so grateful I had a chance to be a part of it.  Working with the scientists was so much fun, and we all improved our pedagogy and learned a great deal from each other.  And the class itself was a delight. Several of the students, mostly graduating seniors, were ones I had had as freshmen during my four years teaching in the Honors College, and it was a pleasure to see how they had developed as thinkers and writers.  That’s really the reward in teaching, and as I ponder the next phase in my life, I’m thankful that I can have this experience to cherish, a truly innovative course that I can say with no guile or guilt is part of the revolution that needs to happen in higher education.  A Pisgah sight of Paradise, I suppose, but I’m happy to have had it.

Congratulations to the graduates; may you earn good bread in both literal and metaphorical ways, and may your slices always fall with the butter side up!

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Homemade Butter

Butter can easily be made cultured by souring the milk overnight on the counter with a little cultured buttermilk mixed in.  I suggest using about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Makes about 1 cup butter and 1 cup of fresh buttermilk.

Take one pint of the best whipping cream you can find, preferably not ultra-pasteurized.  (Strauss makes a good product.)  It’s best if it’s somewhere between ice cold and room temperature.  Place it in your mixer’s bowl and whip with the whisk attachment on high for about 8 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally, until the whipped cream “breaks” into solid bits and liquid.  Stop when it looks like grains of rice in swampy liquid.  You can also try this by hand with a whisk or by shaking it in a jar if you are a masochist.

Drain the liquid from the solids in a fine-mesh sieve for about 20 minutes, then add salt if you wish, mixing thoroughly.  Press as much liquid out as you can using a wooden spoon or similar.   Pack into a jar and refrigerate.

Boysenberry-Kaffir Lime Jam (low sugar)

This recipe is an adaptation of one for “sour blackberries” on the Pomona pectin recipe insert. It makes 4-5 half-pints for canning.  If you want to make it and give it away to friends, there’s no need to can the jam as long as you keep the jars in the refrigerator.  I’m providing basic canning instructions if you’d like to give it a try, though.  The pectin is necessary to make the jam low sugar, and I’ve chosen what I consider the best commercial pectin for low sugar spreads, Pomona.  It uses its own process with calcium water, so it can’t be substituted.  If you’d like to make a full sugar jam with no pectin, try a recipe like my roasted blackberry jam instead, substituting boysenberries and lime juice/lime leaves for the lemon.

  • 1 box Pomona Pectin (do not substitute other kinds of pectin)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • half-flat of boysenberries (or enough to make 4 cups of mashed fruit, about 6-7 cups)
  • 2 t. lime juice
  • 2 t. finely minced fresh kaffir lime leaf
  • 2 t. calcium water (see below)
  • 2 t. pectin powder

For canning: Prepare calcium water: combine 1/2 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon calcium powder (in the small packet in your box of Pomona’s Pectin) in a little jar with a lid, since there will be some left over for future batches. Shake well and store in the refrigerator.

Mix 2 cups of sugar with 2 teaspoons of pectin powder (in the large packet in the box).

Bring to a boil enough water in a large stockpot or waterbath canner to cover 5 half-pint jars.  Wash your jars, rings, and lids, and heat the lids according to the package instructions as you’re heating up the waterbath canner.

Examine fruit for leaves and dirt; quickly rinse, if especially dusty.  Mash enough of the berries to make 4 cups of pulp and place in a large pot, leaving space for the mixture to bubble up.  Add 2 teaspoons of calcium water, lime juice, and minced kaffir lime leaves, mix well, and bring to a boil.

Add sugar mix and stir vigorously to melt pectin.  Bring back up to a boil and let boil for a minute.

Remove from heat and let sit for a couple minutes.  Skim foam from top. Spoon hot jam into jars carefully to reduce bubbles, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  Wipe rims of jars and adjust lids and rings.

Process in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes.  Let sit in canner for a few minutes, then remove jars carefully and let cool, undisturbed, overnight.  Remove the rings and check the seals, refrigerating any that didn’t seal.  The jam will keep over a year on the shelf if the seals are intact; a couple of months in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

 

summer salad and a meditation on value

IMG_6779IMG_6754IMG_7476IMG_7552IMG_7581IMG_7588Who could have predicted the percentage of pleasure in the back corner of a quarter-acre lot?  When we talk of commercial real estate, we use the language of profitability: so many ridiculous dollars per square foot in value.

I weigh the square footage of my garden, instead, in pleasure units per annum, and I am a wealthy woman.

The garden produces pleasure at a rate far greater than the sum of its parts. Through my cultivation, I live history and I plan for the future; it’s a living record of failures and hopes. I began this garden by digging out the dirt and forming the growing plots and subsidizing the soil with every bit of dirt capital I had.  It has evolved over the last six years and its topography traces the story of my life.

Exhibit A:  This square foot is ruled by a fat clump of chives with now fading lavender puffballs with papery feathers that I planted when I established the herb row six years ago.  It gave me volunteer ‘Seascape’ strawberries (2) that are darker and sweeter than my main crop ‘Bentons’ that are better for jam. It also killed off two generations of lemon thyme, never hardy, prompting me to move a new pricey start to the middle where the sun will establish it more firmly. It is coddling three shiso seedlings, all marked by slug attacks at the seed leaves, the red shiso the worst of the lot.  I need the red shiso to experiment further furikake, a dried crumbly topping for rice, since the stuff last year wasn’t quite right without salt.  The green gets salted and used as wraps for summer barbecue.

Exhibit B:  This shady square foot is tayberries, now nearly as long as my thumb, which I planted after marveling at them at the market three years ago. The tayberries, yes, that the squirrels have been eating, I’ve discovered, after crowing that those little rascals have been leaving my strawberries alone this year.  The tayberries are threatened, too, by a patch of mint rooted in a deep-set plastic pot to contain it, tucked far back in the shady corner of my garden, but longing to colonize new, more fruitful lands.  And the terrible threat of losing the sun: the elderberry planted to shade the glorious fragile ‘Virginia Richards’ rhody (since discovered to not have the proper sun trajectory) and hide a sagging gutter on the neighbors’ garage (since fixed, since moved out) is now 15 feet tall, and shading the tayberries instead.

Exhibit C: And this square foot, anchoring the potato bed ringed in cedar logs from the branch that fell in the winter storm two years ago, has an Italian fennel sentinel, the fronds used for gravlax and fish and salads.  Its pollen I cultivate for fig jam for the ‘Desert Queen’ fig that — please! — is rallying with leaf buds now after the freeze that wiped out fig season for the year and killed many fig trees wholesale.  The sentinel guards three ‘Marechal Foch’ grape scions and four little apples: ‘Karmijn,’ ‘Esopus Spitzenberg,’ ‘Canadian Strawberry’ and ‘Pendragon,’ all rare, all volatile, all fighting the fleeting nature of life and the suffering that reminds us it will be over too soon.

See?

But the garden is more than just a record of a personal past, and, as a hedonist, I hesitate to say this, but it’s more than just pleasure.  It’s resistance and power.

One example will have to suffice.  Because I cook from my garden, I am free to experiment with the idea of a salad.  Yes, a salad.  Something that’s drummed into us by industry as the paragon of a healthy meal.  It’s a diet meal.  It’s a female meal.  It’s the kind of meal we should not only eat but exclaim delightfully over, Oh, it’s so fresh and healthy and I feel so good while eating it!

And we do this while we are masticating over-processed bagged mesclun made of differently shaped little leaves that all taste exactly the same. Do they harbor e. coli?  We don’t know.  What matters is that we bought it, and when we buy it, we buy into values that promote performing fitness as a marker of class.  The open secret is that these salads don’t create pleasure.  They traffic in anxiety.  They separate the growers from the consumers with an idea of what we *should* eat, not what we *can* eat if we can just…

…wander out into the garden with not even the faintest anxious pressure for ‘eating healthy’ or ‘being fit.’  I eat my salad in the morning.  I bundle a sour sorrel leaf and an odd little papalo leaf around a gooseberry and a tiny carrot.  I smush a strawberry on a tender escarole, slightly bitter, and wrap it burrito-like around a rattail radish pod.  I make a sandwich out of two pea pods, two leaves of tarragon, and a beet leaf. I pick pale yellow collard flowers and pink-white radish flowers and purple johnny-jump-ups and magenta and pale pink pea flowers and eat them as a chaser for the tip of a garlic scape.

Not a single one of these can be eaten in a restaurant or out of season, or really, in someone else’s garden.  It is mine.  My salad is the product of my labor, my fiddling, and my palate that hungers for bittersweetness.

My labor is worth very little to nothing, all the institutions in my life tell me.  But in its nothingness, it’s everything to me, because I cultivate hope each year and breed out failure and have momentary, seasonal, nearly unique and nearly wholly my own momentary pleasure and joy in living.  There is nothing more valuable in the world.

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Images (top to bottom): lovage, tayberries, haskapberries, garlic scapes, raspberries, gooseberries, Bruno Jupiter Bright, kitten extraordinaire, growing in the kale bed.

happy paczki day 2014

IMG_1288Happy Paczki Day 2014!  Honestly, I don’t think I can say it any better than I did last year, in my prayer for Fat Tuesday, so I won’t.

But do press this, my annual tradition of gleeful glee.  (Is the polka music no longer working?  Egads!)

I owe you a serious update.  There’s a lot going on.  But with my main laptop in the shop for at least a week with almost all my data, a half-working backup laptop that turns off when it decides it is tired of working, and a loaner from school — all in Week 9 — I’m a little scattered.

But in case you’re curious in the interim: I’ve been off milking goats at a farm stay; I’m co-curating a Special Collections exhibit on the past 500 years or so of science in the kitchen using rare books at the Knight Library; I just gave a keynote talk on 100 years of science in food to 450 captive souls at Pleasant Hill High School; I’m teaching two great food studies classes next term open to all UO students (see the teaser video for COLT 231 here); and I now have more egg recipes than a chicken.

Yes.  More soon.

full soft shift into fall

IMG_4074IMG_5340IMG_4068IMG_4070Achingly gorgeous moment in the year, the arch of the back of the season, where we slip from the fullness of late summer into fall.  The faintest whiff of mildew and fire in the dawn, the tired air refreshed by rain, the thirsty ground and the changing waves, spiders hanging big in their webs, big shelves of chicken-of-the-woods, overripe tomatoes, piles of juicy peppers, sweet taut winter squash curing and waiting in the wings, and still an abundance of melons.  It’s hard not to be in love with you, Oregon, when you provide us with so many delicious yeses.

IMG_5352IMG_4072I’ve been so surprised lately by people who would rather eat piles of subpar grocery store fruit than a single, musky, almost obscene ripe melon just hours off the vine.  To me, it’s not worth all the change in China to give up that pleasure.

IMG_5339 IMG_4073Images of fields are Open Oak Farm/Adaptive Seeds; other images taken at the Lane County Farmers Market — chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms are The Gourd Patch; all heirloom melon shots except one are McKenzie River Farm; the Collective Farm Woman melons are Turnip the Beet Farm, new tiny farm specializing in rare varieties.