food symposium and a few spots left in my writing workshop on saturday!

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The fourth annual CSWS Northwest Women Writers Symposium will be held May 7-9, 2015, and if you’re interested in food (which I assume you are, given your choice of reading material) and free talks, you’ll be happy to know we’re welcoming back to Eugene the enchanting keynote author, Diana Abu-Jaber.  She’ll be presenting and empanelled with urban farmer extraordinaire Novella Carpenter and Sista Vegan Project’s founder Dr. Breeze Harper.  My students and I have just finished reading Carpenter’s Farm City in my New Farmer’s Movement class (COLT 305), so I’m excited to chat with her at a public conversation on May 8 at 1 p.m. and see slides of the farm and all her work.  For more details about the many events of the Symposium, click the link above.

I’d also like to encourage you to snap up the last few slots for the free, open to all, writing workshops being offered through the Symposium.  Two are still open, including mine, and both seek to diversify food writing by using very different approaches. I’d love to have you join us, especially if your own perspective is lacking in today’s food media.  Descriptions below.  Workshops take place on May 9, from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. at the downtown Eugene Public Library at 10th and Olive (100 W. 10th St.). To reserve a slot, call the Eugene Public Library ASAP at 541-682-5450 (Press 2).

1)  “Food beyond Foodie: Strengthening and Diversifying Food Writing for Publishing,” taught by Prof. Jennifer Burns Bright, columnist at Eugene Magazine and sole proprietor of the award-winning blog, Culinaria Eugenius. She moonlights as a travel and food writer while teaching literature and food studies at the University of Oregon, writing about anything from Dutch pickles for NPR to Russian dumplings for AAA’s Via magazine.

Workshop Description: Blogs and magazine writing tend to present food as conservative, traditional, and overly sweet. We will explore techniques to make your own individuality heard in its grumpy, queer, unsavory, messy, aged, or just plain weird glory. We’ll seek to strengthen your critical voice, define your own taste, and attract audiences with more diverse lives or particular interests, all the while taking inspiration from unconventional food writers who broke the mold. Please bring a piece you’re working on or ideas for a story.

2) “Narrating Racial [In]Justice Through Critical Food Writing,” taught by Dr. Breeze Harper. Breeze Harper edited the anthology Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak On Food, Identity, Health, and Society and is the author of the social justice novel Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (2014). Her blog is The Sistah Vegan Project. Workshop Description: In this workshop, participants will use food writing to explore their own personal experiences with racial injustice as well as anti-racism activism. The workshop is an outlet for those who love critical food writing/reading and have experienced the frustration and pain of being survivors of racism and/or are anti-racist activists.

Image is a mural outside the Port Orford Co-op.  A supermarket in Oregon.  I love this artist’s unique imagination.  I smile every single time I see it.  Leeks in the waves!  Watermelons washing ashore!  What peaches and what penumbras!

in which i am dead inside: my favorite food writer

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It used to be that all food writers wrote the same. When somebody tells me that their favourite food writer is M.F.K. Fisher, I’m like, ‘OK, you’re dead inside.’ That kind of writing is so stultifying. It’s like being stuck on a bus next to somebody’s grandmother for five hours.

Josh Ozersky, interviewed in GQ, 2013

Fisher’s autobiographical The Gastronomical Me (1943) includes the one of my favorite personal essays in the entire world, a tale of Fisher’s first oyster in 1924 that’s so cold and awkward and strange and familiar to those of us who have shivered in the New Yorker unhappy WASP narrative forever and ever and ever so much it’s like a family diamond or that first icy sip of a martini in a posh bar, and yet it’s warm and messy, oozy around the edges, going bad. It turns out, instead, to be about a dark, passionate, illicit underbelly of life that’s nearly Joycean in scope, one that the reader and narrator just get a glimpse of and then it’s gone again. I teach it to college freshmen from time to time and they never get it because they read skimmingly and trippingly, if at all.

So I as the professor, vicariously through these youngsters, get that pleasure again and again: what is happening here? Did we miss something? What are these hot glances and melting touches and tears and intemperate bravado – all hot, hot feelings in this piece that’s supposed to be about chilled shellfish, passed on a tray by servants in white gloves? It’s the pleasure of reading.

You miss that? You see Fisher as stultifying, dead inside, stuck on an Elderhostel tour. You miss that icy crust between what’s cold and what’s hot, what’s old and what’s new, what’s acceptable and what’s deviant.

You see it? You see the difference between Fisher and every single other food writer in her genre, her brilliance and subtlety, a critique of a society and class and feminine sexuality and the very circles in which Ozersky undoubtedly moves. It’s not about food at all.

Another example from the same work, though I could easily choose another.

In “To Feed Such Hunger,” Fisher explores the rifts in polite society even more oddly than in the oyster tale. Here, the narrative plays out a scene bristling with European cultural and political relationships in 1930, embodied in a foreign couple who end up in the same French boardinghouse as the American narrator. He German, she Czech, they fill the air with “moist Germanic hissings” and a host of displeasurable metaphors in “a strange kind of love affair” that involves food in an exquisitely subtle form of masochism.

Even the dullest critic will understand the personified animosity between the French and the Germans, the American’s awkward meddling among the European nations, but there’s more for the careful reader. Much more. Fisher mentions Klorr’s devotion to Uranism, a term she says she had to look up (and thereby suggests the reader should, too), and ends the piece in a litter of peeled grapes, champagne, and cake with a trembling Mademoiselle Nankova suffering a feverish episode of sur-excitation sexuelle.

This is most certainly not the same old food writing in the American mid-century. Not then, not now.  I can’t think of a single food writer who even barely grazes issues like this, much less one who writes of them well.  I am baffled by Ozersky’s “[T]hat kind of writing,” because it sure ain’t a genre I’m reading, and I teach this stuff.  I suspect “that” might mean ladywriting, and that, oh god for the last time already, is missing the entire point.

And speaking of favorite food writers, my favorite food writer who is still alive and kicking is the subject of a new, promising film on food in Los Angeles called City of Gold. Yes, that would be without question the Los Angeles Times‘ maestro of all that is edible, Jonathan Gold, who once, upon hearing I was looking for new texts to teach, sat me down for three hours and told me about every single worthwhile food writer ever, including, of course, la belle Fisher.

[This was originally published in a slightly different form at story.jml.is, a writing blog operated by none other than my friend, the force of nature, Jonas Luster, where I’ve been experimenting less frequently than I would like with new work.]

10 great pacific northwest cookbooks, plus extras

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I’ve done some thinking on Oregon and greater Northwest cookbooks and other food books after receiving such interest in the cookbooks section of my annual holiday food gifts post.  I thought I’d share them for you, my dear last-minute gifters.  These are books that are not just local, but actually provide singular and excellent recipes and/or comprehensive techniques (not the case with the still-in-print for its baffling popularity, A Taste of Oregon cookbook).

If you can’t get your hands on The Oregonian from 1942 or some of our earliest and most rare cookbooks from the 19th and early 20th century — like the Web-Foot Cook Book (1885), A Portland Girl at the Chafing Dish (1890), or the Washington Women’s suffrage fundraising cookbook (1909) — and you can’t make a visit to the UO Knight Library Special Collections, might I suggest:

  • Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast is a comprehensive system from the esteemed Portland (and former Eugenius) baker/restaurateur.  It provides the intermediate-and-above home baker with techniques to make various starters and big, beautiful loaves.
  • The Paley Place Cookbook by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley is one of the classics of PNW regional cooking.  As I wrote in a review in 2009 for Eugene Weekly, “The gorgeous photos and high quality paper make the coffee table-sized [book] a visual treat. […] Some fabulous dishes that can be recreated by the creative home cook, like lamb shoulder on hay and lavender, are just the beginning. I found myself marking so many pages: homemade cranberry juice, ricotta cheese, summer corncob stock for light soups … wow. A section called “Hazelnuts Make Everything Taste Better” and portraits of wild salmon fishermen and mushroom foraging stamp this book as a PNW classic. Some very complex dishes, such as the elk shoulder, are interspersed with simpler preparations, like a mint and fava bean pappardelle or a side of peas and carrots with bacon.”
  • The Grand Central Baking Book, from the same review: “I had to wrestle it out of my editor’s floury fingers. She was muttering something about gingerbread, so I thought quick and baked up some delectable oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and a rosemary bread pudding before she could renew her strength and overtake me. This one’s a delight. Piper Davis, the co-owner of Portland’s celebrated Grand Central Baking Company, has partnered with pastry chef Ellen Jackson in a beautifully produced collection of breads, cakes and sweet and savory projects, all outlined with clear instructions and images on beautiful paper.”
  • James Beard’s tome, American Cookery, is not exactly a PNW cookbook, but it includes recipes distilled from years of writing a column in The Oregonian.  One might likewise check out The Oregonian Cookbook, which has a full chapter on Beard’s recipes, plus another good chapter on recipes by local chefs.
  • Beard’s good friend Helen Evans Brown’s West Coast Cook Book, is the best cookbook from the 1950s I’ve seen and perhaps the only truly regional/locavore one from ’round these parts written in that era, full of historical sources and then-contemporary recipes from up and down the left coast.  She’s witty and has a good palate, too.
  • Scio, Oregon-based Linda Ziedrich’s twin preservation cookbooks, The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Preserves and The Joy of Pickling, are undoubtedly the two books I turn to most often for preserving local produce.  Everything from rosehips to peas to prunes, with most techniques based on her Master Food Preserver training, are covered in the books.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda for the Register-Guard a few years ago.
  • Modernist Cuisine at Home, by a massive team led by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, will delight the science/molecular gastronomists in your home.  This isn’t really my style of cooking, but everyone who enjoys it seems to be thrilled by this giant handbook.  It’s a less giant and more home-oriented version of the 6-volume monster version for the professional cook, which I have perused and written about and exhibited and pondered at length, so I can predict with some authority that the little brother is likely beautiful and precise and gel-dust-sous vide-foamy.

And here are two more for your consideration, not cookbooks but still excellent for the PNW food and bev lover:

  • Lisa Morrison’s Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest came to my attention after taking her class on beer glasses in Astoria, and I did a tiny interview with her for AAA’s Via magazine.  She’s part owner of Portland’s Belmont Station, and knows the PNW beer scene better than almost anyone.  The book provides breweries, beer lists, and pub crawls.
  • The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe, a seed steward, agricultural activist, and Harvard-trained scientist whose vegetable lines are grown by local Willamette Valley farmers to great acclaim.  The book sets out a plan for improving your garden’s health and heartiness by cultivating the most nutrient-enriched foods, like squash (Carol’s own breed of ‘Oregon Homestead’ sweet meat squash, which I wrote about in Eugene Magazine this fall), beans, potatoes, corn, and reaping the best from small livestock, like her heritage Ancona ducks.

And these were the cookbooks I mentioned earlier, just for completion’s sake:

  • Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book, one of the only cocktail books out there to offer a solid, technique-based guide for the home bartender.  Expect to understand principles and classics, not fancy trends.
  •  Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle chef Renee Erickson, whose restaurants — modern, chic, vibrant, briny — embody perhaps the epitome of contemporary PNW cuisine.
  • Not a cookbook, quite, but Heather Arndt Anderson’s new book about the food history of our fair City of Roses to the north, Portland: A Food Biography, promises to be filled with fun facts and even some descriptive recipes.  Her Tumblr page is fascinating and reflects her research acumen; be sure to click through to buy the book directly from her or the publisher. It also has a chapter on vintage Portland and Oregon cookbooks.
  • Anthony Boutard’s Beautiful Corn, the best treatment I’ve seen on the science and culinary merit of corn from a mellifluous farmer/writer in the tradition of Wendell Berry.
  • Beans, Grains, Nuts and Seeds: Further Adventures in Eating Close to Home by my fellow Eugene locavore, Elin England, whose second book concentrates on the local Renaissance of staple crops we’ve been experiencing.

Disclaimer:  Apart from the two books I reviewed for EW, I didn’t get any of these books for free, dang it.  Doing it wrong, as usual.  But the pleasure in the purchase is all mine.

 

sourdough starter experiments with bonus pancake recipe

IMG_7064IMG_7067This is the book of the generations of sourdough starter. Well, blog post, anyway.

As described earlier, our Bread 101 class is making sourdough as a lab project. If you’re interested in participating or following along, we are making baker Chad Robertson’s rather complex and detailed starter recipe from his book Tartine Book No. 3.  My fellow instructors Elly and Karen are blogging their experiences, too, so check out Elly’s detailed daily blog entries and recipes at We’re Out of Eggs, I’ll Use Asparagus and Karen’s blog musings on fermentation and local cooking at Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market.

The upper right image is my initial starter made with 50/50 Open Oak Farm ‘Maris Widgeon’ wheat and King Arthur unbleached white flour.  Maris Widgeon is a bread flour that is grown in the Willamette Valley by the Open Oak/Adaptive Seeds family, but was developed 50 years ago for roof thatching in Europe.

The starter is almost unhappily tart with lactobacilli, the same beasties that create the sour in sauerkraut and yogurt.  With the almost constant fermentation I do, my kitchen is full of them.  The image on the upper left is the result of feeding a piece of the initial starter with more flour and water and letting it sit for another day to beget starter 2.0.  24 hours later, nearly godlike, I took a piece of starter 2.0 and fed it with more flour and water to beget starter 3.0.  The bottom image is starter 3.0, forming nice bubbles and smelling much more yeasty and pleasant rather than lactic.

All of us on the teaching team had the same reticence about the waste that goes into creating this sourdough starter.  The general idea is to ferment a couple cups of a flour-water paste, then pour off a small amount (75 grams, if you must know) then feed that little piece (250 grams of water and flour, if you must know) for 24 hours, then start again, repeating for several days.  Some of us reduced the initial inputs.  Others (like me!) made sourdough pancakes with the leftover fermented batter.  And they weren’t bad!

Be sure to check out Elly’s recipe and process for sourdough pancakes, which differs from mine.  For more on the fermentation process, see Karen’s entry on her starter.

EDITED TO ADD:  After a week or so of feeding, the starter has calmed down and is smelling more yeasty now, nice and gently sour, more bready than sauerkrauty.  Collateral damage, though, perhaps:  did the yeasts affect my latest batch of crème fraîche, souring next to the sourdough?  It failed to set up and grew mold on top almost immediately.  It’s always a wild ride with fermentation!

Sourdough Pancakes

Serves 4 with bacon.

  • 2 cups fresh sourdough starter
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons milk AND/OR 3 tablespoons cornmeal or flour
  • 1 tablespoon butter or coconut oil

Combine starter, egg, syrup, oil, and baking soda.  Use some milk to thin the batter to a pancake batter consistency OR add some cornmeal or flour if the batter seems too thin. You will need to use your judgment and your own pancake tastes – some like them thicker and fluffier than others. I ended up using both milk and cornmeal to find a perfect balance between batches.

Let the batter sit on the counter for 10-15 minutes to allow baking soda to do its magic.  Heat nonstick skillet or griddle to medium heat.  Add butter or coconut oil, coating pan as it melts, then pour 3-4-inch diameter rounds of batter for each pancake.

Prepare in batches, cooking pancakes until the surface is well bubbled and mostly dry on top, then flip over and cook for a few minutes more. You are looking for golden brown surfaces on both sides. The pan is too hot if it burns unevenly, and too cool if the pancake just soaks up the butter and doesn’t brown.

Serve with maple syrup. You may freeze leftover cooked pancakes on a cookie sheet, IQF (individually-quick-frozen) style, then pop them off the sheet and store in freezer bags for a quick breakfast.

 

bread 101

IMG_7058IMG_6695Am I souring on traditional discipline-focused college curricula?  No, but this spring I *am* teaching a tremendously fun course through COLT on literature, food and society (as discussed here), and I’m also part of an innovative team-taught course that partners the Natural Sciences with the Humanities, all in the name of a loaf of bread.

Yes, University of Oregon HC441: “Bread 101” investigates the science and culture of bread!

We’re all souring together as we create experiments with sourdough starters and bake bread based on historic recipes.  These “lab” activities will be contextualized in lectures and readings on topics like genetics, energetics, microbiology, history, ethics, and cultural studies.  We’ll be hosting University of Washington wheat geneticist and anti-GMO activist, Dr. Steve Jones, as a visiting speaker; visiting Camas Country Mill and Noisette bakery for a sourdough taste-off; learning about Willamette Valley wheat production with local food activist Dan Armstrong; and studying primary sources on bread baking and propaganda in an upcoming exhibit on historic cookbooks, “Recipe: The Kitchen and Laboratory: 1400-2000,” opening April 22 in Knight Library Special Collections. (I’m co-curating this with HC Prof. and Historian of Science Vera Keller — more info soon.)

IMG_7013 IMG_6023IMG_6897The course is unusual not only because it’s deeply local and geared to increase burgeoning interest in a Food Studies program at UO, but also because of its innovative curriculum that uses Humanities-based lines of inquiry and writing assignments to augment science literacy. Many Food Studies classes are taught from a Social Science or Nutrition perspective by a single instructor, so we felt the course could model new approaches for systemic collaboration across the Sci/Hum divide and offer value to this emerging discipline.

The course is being taught by Judith Eisen (Biology, Institute of Neuroscience, and Director of the Science Literacy Program), Elly Vandegrift (Biology and Associate Director of the SLP), Karen Guillemin (Biology and Director of the Microbial Ecology and Theory of Animals Center for Systems Biology), Miriam Deutsch (Physics and Oregon Center for Optics), and yours truly, Jennifer Burns Bright (Comparative Literature and English).

Course Description
HC441H: Bread 101
Bright, Eisen, Deutsch, Guillemin, Vandegrift

Bread is a complex medium, looking nothing like the original seed of grain from which it originates. Yet when we mix a few simple ingredients we are able to induce a transformation that results in an edible, highly nourishing, staple food product crucial for sustenance in many cultures. In “Bread 101”, students will explore with a team of faculty from the sciences and humanities the energy requirements, biomedical and biochemical aspects, and local and sociopolitical context of bread production. Students will read and discuss a variety of primary and secondary literature related to wheat production, the microbiological, chemical, and physical processes that transform wheat into bread, the energy cost of this transformation, and cultural implications of bread production. There will be several field trips and guest speakers. Course work will include active discussions, short essays, problem sets, and a presentation.

Module 1 Introduction to Growth, Domestication, Energetics
Module 2 Local Politics of Wheat and Bread
Module 3 Biomedical and Biochemical Implications
Module 4 Social and Cultural History of Wheat and Bread
Module 5 Global Energy Production Related to Wheat and Bread

Photos: My sourdough starter in progress, local grain display at Camas Country Mill, white board exercises on energetics and photosynthesis (with guest Nick Routledge), and a 1937 advertisement for Fleischmann’s yeast cakes (eat two a day for optimal health!).

spring course: food, lit, society

VictoryGardens2It’s Spring, and you know it, another term!  I’m teaching a larger version of my Food Studies introduction at University of Oregon, and could use your help spreading the news.  If you know any current UO student who’s enchanted by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, wants to know How to Cook a Wolf, and can negotiate The Jungle with no fear, we’ll be reading all that and more, studying the fiction beside articles on contemporary issues in the best food and culture reader on the market.   It’s a Gen Ed/IC offering, so consider your requirement needs pwnd.  Standard tuition fees apply, must be enrolled at UO.  Course is about half full, so sign up soon!

Course introduction video is here, produced by Jennifer Simon for the COLT Department.

COLT 231
Literature and Society: “Literature, Food, Society”
Jennifer Burns Bright

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are,” wrote French essayist Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who penned the first modern treatise on gastronomy. In this introduction to Food Studies course, we’ll explore savages and mothers, farmers and fat activists, socialists and colonialists, all seeking to express their communal identity through food. Examining the food practices in a range of texts that capture issues facing urban and rural societies in flux, we will seek to understand how and why diet, nutrition, and agriculture are all political battlegrounds that deeply impact history. Course goals include understanding multiple ways in which scholars analyze food and international foodways, drawing methodologies from a range of disciplines, including sociology, philosophy, art history, and literary and environmental studies.  (Lecture CRN 38595 plus discussion section; Satisfies Gen Ed, IC.)

winter lit class: blueberries, salt, hash brownies, potatoes

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As many of you know, my day job is teaching literature at University of Oregon.  I’m looking for more folks to take my new UO Winter food studies class. How can you go wrong with blueberries, GMO potatoes, a book of salt, and Alice B. Toklas’ famous hash brownies?  If you’re interested and enrolled at UO, please sign up right away. I need to get the numbers up and show our commitment to food studies in the Humanities in the next couple of days.  Open to all UO students, including undergraduates and graduates, and no need to be a Comparative Literature major.  Please pass along to friends.  Thanks!

COLT 461/561.  Studies in Contemporary Theory: “Introduction to Food Studies”.  CRN 28004, TuTh 12-1:20, Jennifer Burns Bright.  This course will focus on recent developments in literary criticism on food and foodways, which can be understood as the social, economic, and cultural practices of people, regions, or historical periods. Course goals include an understanding of foundational texts in the emerging field of Food Studies from a range of disciplines, including sociology, philosophy, environmental studies, and history.

We will explore a collection of theoretical models for analyzing food in four literary texts, critiquing and classifying them for use in literary criticism.  We’ll analyze two contemporaneous works from the 1930s that show very different American responses to the Great Depression and war: an expatriate memoir of modernist Paris in The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book and Living The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing, pioneers of the back-to-the-land movement, which may be more recognizable in its current incarnation of “urban homesteading.”  We’ll also study the metaphorical possibilities of GMOs and hybridization in Ruth Ozeki’s novel, All Over Creation, and global food systems in the diary of Toklas’ and Stein’s fictionalized Vietnamese cook in Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt.  Theoretical texts will most likely include classic pieces from Brillat-Savarin, Mead, Barthes, Lévi-Strauss, Bourdieu, and Mintz, and new perspectives integrating underrepresented and marginalized populations by Pollan, Heldke, Albala, Clark, McMillan, and more.  Guest speakers and archival research opportunities, too!

Coursework will include class community activities building to the successful completion of a research paper, including oral reports on theory, exams, and joint projects.  Graduate students will be responsible for additional reading and a longer paper.