cider pressing in da hood

IMG_8915 The Friendly neighborhood was the recipient of a Eugene neighborhood grant for fruit tree gleaning, processing, and educating this year, thanks to Matt Lutter and his partner, Jessica Jackowski, who also organizes work days for the exemplary Common Ground Garden, a neighborhood community garden staffed by volunteers. The Friendly Fruit Tree Project has spent the last month harvesting neighborhood trees and plants like crazy: blackberries, plums, apples, pears, etc., etc.

IMG_8912Last week, it was apples.  Amber gold.  Oregon T.  They managed to source an unused cider press in someone’s shed, and we all pitched in and took home some great cider to share! Using the press was much easier than I had expected; it’s a relatively simple operation, with a motorized rotor on one end to grind the apples and a hand-powered press to crank down the juice.  Apple bits got composted.  No waste, very little muss, very little fuss.

And of course, it was a brilliant way to connect with likeminded urban homesteading folks in the ‘hood: we shared cider recipes, taste-tested beet kvasses and hippie cookies, grumbled about grapes (ok, that was me), and watched apple-cheeked kids running around like monkeys.  What a wonderful paradise we live in.

See the full album here, and if you’re interested in taking part or spreading the word about the project, comment and I’ll make sure Matt gets your info.  It would be wonderful if other Eugene neighborhoods could get in on the gleaning action, since it’s such a service to those with unused fruit and to those who want to do the labor to share in the harvest.

The project was also the source of my prune plums for my recent lekvar undertaking, coming soon to a blog post near you.

on being unreasonable in food critiques: a tale of two hamburgers

IMG_8828I occasionally check in on a big online local food group’s discussion threads.  As they are wont to do, the discussions flare up and people get offended at others’ opinions, especially if they are seen as damaging to local establishments or exhibiting socioeconomic privilege or unacceptable politics or perceived “snobbery.”  These places provide local jobs, the outcry goes, we should support them no matter what!  Keep any negative opinions to yourself or go whisper it personally to the manager!  Not all of us eat caviar and champagne every day!

No.

As consumers who vote with our dollars in a local economy that is still heavily dependent on word-of-mouth and habit, we should be actively and publicly and vociferously supporting the good restaurants, and actively and loudly calling out the bad ones on their badness. But to do so without namecalling or resorting to empty cheerleading for your “team” (as we do in this one-team town) is crucial.

So here’s my advice.  Be reasonable in your food critiques.

1)  Use the skills you should have learned in your college or high school English composition class: explain how and why you believe what you do, and provide evidence that supports your case.*

Without exception, the good places are places with chefs who are intimately involved with a dynamic menu and have great palates, creative and innovative spirits, and a need to be in the kitchen and serve the unwashed masses.  In almost every single case I can think of, that means supporting a local restaurant in Eugene that relies on local products, local distribution, and sustainable ethics insofar as the price point can maintain it.  And there are plenty of good ones to support.

There are also plenty of bad ones.  Yes, there are the ones meant to be lower cost, and there’s a place for that.  The portions may be huge for so-called “value,” and the food isn’t seasoned well, if it is even what you ordered.  To take one example, I ordered a burger at a mom-n-pop place the other night, and they still messed up the order after I heard no less than FIVE repetitions of what I wanted (from me twice, the server once, and the cooks on the line twice, plus it was written on the ticket).

But I was hungry and the kitchen was slammed and it was getting dark and I was on my bike, so I just said fine, I’ll scrape off the barbecue sauce and ignore the cheese and just eat this mountain of breaded-and-too-salty french fries from a freezer bag. I’m also not going to go on Yelp and whine about it, since I wasn’t expecting much and I got less but it turns out the ticket was written poorly and I chose not to have the order re-fired.  There was no safety issue and no one was out of line.  If I go again (and that’s a big if), I’ll just make sure the order is right.  I ain’t fussed.

But I am (is?) fussed when a restaurant whose soul is like the burger joint tries to pass itself off as an expensive locavore joint.  Using industrial frozen crap in a bag, not getting orders right, sacrificing local produce and quality ingredients to increase the slim profit margin, and struggling along with an absentee owner or executive chef and cooks who don’t taste the food or know what combinations work and little training for the front of the house, but still calling the menu locally sourced and fresh and the restaurant high-end.  I’ll pay $9 to suffer all that plus a high school server who is busier making eyes at the bartender than writing down an order properly, but I won’t pay $39.

And neither should you.

2)  The key for a good review is a customer who knows the difference.  Learn how to cook.  Yeah, I know you’re busy.  But education is always a sacrifice, and your body/family/farmers/planet will thank you for it.  You can choose to eat most of your meals out at cheap places if you aren’t rich.  I’d argue it’s better to save your money and use it on better places less frequently, but clearly I don’t take my own advice, as you see from the anecdote above. Nevertheless, it’s important to know the difference with your eyes and mouth between cheap, mass-produced food and good food.

Don’t patronize the places that serve you cheap food and provide cheap service for expensive prices AND, contrariwise, don’t expect places that serve you high quality food and provide good service to give you massive, gluttonous portions and act like you’re both in a chain restaurant in the mall.

And when places underwhelm you for the prices they’re charging for the quality (note again: quality not quantity since you’re not eating from a trough) of food, call them out when they do.  The reason why some of our crappy overpriced local restaurants are still in business is because (a) most people don’t know how good our fresh local food can be because they’re used to eating mass-produced products; (b) very few people who know about food say anything because they’re in the business and afraid of offending someone they may be working for someday; and (c) we live in a town where inertia helps us along and no one likes conflict or sounding too opinionated.

3)  Another thing to keep in mind is that we’re trained as Americans, as Westerners, and as Oregonians to “have it your way.”  We value individual choices so strongly it’s sometimes hard to get out of our own little bubble when we’re judging others.  So be reasonable with your tastes when you’re critiquing a local restaurant.

To return to my hamburger example, I know I am idiosyncratic with burgers.  The burger depicted above is how I like my burgers:  a crusty toasted roll, extra dill pickles dripping their dill juice into the meat, and more ketchup than burger so the whole thing is falling apart.  I even dip it in more ketchup.  Without a doubt, folks will find this completely gross and a BBQ cheeseburger far more preferable.  Where’s the special sauce?  Or Jesus, at least add some mayo and lettuce!

But no.  I just so happen to have odd tastes in burgers.  And I know this.  So you’ll rarely see me commenting on burger joints or even ordering a burger in mixed company, especially at a nice restaurant.  I know this and account for it:  I act like a 5-year-old with burgers and get surly when stuff like nasty yellow mustard or a raw onion touches my ketchuppicklefest, because my burger training was at fast food joints.  Now, of course, I make my own ketchup and pickles and eat beef ground to my specification from a local cow and form the patties myself, so I’m even worse than your average McDonald’s hamburger type.

In short, I am a hamburger douchebag.  I know this.  I protect others from the madness.  There’s probably even some residual shame in this that makes me do stuff like scrape off barbecue sauce on a misfire than insist I have my order the way I wanted it; who knows.

Do you act like a douchebag with your food tastes?  Complaining about a restaurant’s menu based on your own idiosyncratic needs is not reasonable.  If you’re gluten-free, for example, why are you in a bakery?  Can’t abide greasy food?  Get outta the pizza joint.  You only eat burgers and nothing else?  Heaven help you.  The seasonality of local ingredients, higher labor, and chef’s vision in more expensive places dictates that you can’t always have it your way.  That’s part of what you’re signing up for when you choose to go to a good restaurant.  If the menu is huge and offers concessions for every fathomable dietary restriction du jour, it’s going to come out in quality elsewhere.  So respect the genre of the restaurant you’re critiquing if you want to promote your own agenda, or better yet, be reasonable about your expectations.

One can be opinionated and reasonable.  Really.  I’ve seen it work.  I think it’s working now, actually, because in the past seven years I’ve seen drastic and wonderful changes in the Eugene dining scene, changes for the better.  And it isn’t because people blindly supported local establishments and kept their opinions to themselves.  Local restaurants are reading comments and listening to their customers.  You’ll be a respected critic if you state your opinions from an intelligent and understanding position, and back up your impressions with proof. You’ll still probably be attacked and called names, but that reflects on the commenter, not you.

* Why yes, I am an English professor by trade.  How can you tell?

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.

niblets: new orleans in eugene

1974088_461375073993386_344307710_oOur only official link in Eugene to New Orleans is now Voodoo Donuts, which, of course, is no link at all.  But wait!  I’ve got two very intreeeeging possibilities for y’all.

First, Belly is having a cajun buffet special dinner on Sunday, April 6, to celebrate the noble Aries and raise some money for the new Washington Jefferson Skate Park, who will receive 30% of the proceeds.  You’re an Aries?  You’ll get a door price!  Some of the dishes promised: crabmeat ravigote in Belgian endive, shrimp remoulade on jalapeno cheddar rolls, hushpuppies with honey butter, oysters Bienville, Natchitoches hand pies with meat or veggie, potato salad with egg and hot pepper vinegar, roast beef Po’ Boys, prawn and andouille gumbo, chicken picante, red beans and rice with smoked ham hock, corn maque choux, spring green salad, and sweet potato pies for dessert.

photo-27Like what you ate?  Well then, second, the weird, wonderful artist Myrtle von Damitz has formed the Pearls of Cascadia-Antilles Culture Club, which is the beginning of a project to help land rights and sustainability interests in Haiti.  Formerly a New Orleans resident and lately of Cottage Grove, Myrtle is developing a collection of starts with Log House Plants that reflect the cultural heritage of New Orleans, with its deep and intimate collection to Haiti.  She’s looking for about a dozen test growers for a variety of vegetables, including mirlitons, beans, and peanuts, in garden or greenhouse.  Interested?  Check out the site and list of plants.

She adds:  “if anybody knows who else to talk to about sustainable agriculture/plant and food and land rights in Haiti, please let me know.”  Those are some of the plants she’s cultivated above (pictures stolen from their owners for promotional purposes).

We’ve got a huge number of events coming up in the next month or two or three.  Join Facebook and friend me there for updates about many more local events than I can post here on the blog.

winter csa and farm produce options

IMG_5405 Since I grow a garden most of the year and buy in bulk for preservation projects, I don’t opt for a summer CSA (community supported agriculture farm produce share). But since I get extremely busy in the fall and extremely cold and wet in the winter, I happily rely on winter CSAs to get me through.

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IMG_4010For the past few years, I’ve bought a share in Open Oak Farm’s winter CSA because they grow vegetables I like, plenty of escaroles, and offer a bean and grain supplement with locally grown dried beans and whole grains and flours. Alas, they have decided to stop the CSA this year, and you can see why from the photos above of their seed development activities at a recent farm open house. All these vegetables need to be cleaned and turned into seed over the wet months.

Alas, winter CSAs are few and far between.  I’ve also enjoyed Good Food Easy from Sweetwater Farm in the past, which has a flexible CSA paid monthly, and a variety of good vegetables and fruits through the winter.  Farm management has recently shifted from Farmer John and his lovely partner Lynn to their wonderful manager Erica Trappe, so we’re expecting even more good things.  Note to low-income folks: they even accept foodstamps!

To branch out a little, I have chosen Telltale Farm this year, a small woman-run concern out River Road owned and managed by Tatiana Perczek.  They offer some wonderful options, including wildcrafted mushrooms, a Deck Family Farms egg supplement (much appreciated now that my egg trade friend has divested from his chickens), and, best of all, a “small” option just perfect for one cook.

Another welcome winter CSA is the Lonesome Whistle Farm bean and grain share CSA.  They don’t seem to have a link on their website, so here is some information and a link to their Facebook page.  (Again, I implore local businesses to make announcements in a concise paragraph that’s easy to cut and paste for social media — you will get more free advertisements if you make it simple for others to help your PR):

As a “shareholder” in [Lonesome Whistle’s] Grain and Bean CSA, you pay upfront and share in the harvest – getting a one-time distribution of 64 pounds of various heritage grains, polenta, popcorn, and heirloom beans. The crops have been planted, harvested, processed, and cleaned by December. Shareholders get to choose between a Farmer-Ground Share, or a Home-Millers Share. This year’s Farmer-Ground Shares will include:

Red Fife Wheat Flour: 8 pounds
Dark Northern Rye Flour : 8 pounds
Steven’s Soft White Wheat Flour: 8 pounds
Abenaki Corn Polenta: 12 pounds
Corn Flour: 4 pounds
Dakota Black Popcorn: 8 pounds
Emmer berries (AKA Farro): 8 pounds
Heirloom Beans: 8 pounds

Home-Millers Shares will be the same as above, except it will be all in the whole grain form for you to mill at home. […]Shares will be ready for pick-up at our CSA Distribution Farm Party on Saturday, December 14th between noon -5pm at the farm. Grain & Bean Shares cost $292.00 each. More information: jeffandkasey@lonesomewhistlefarm.com or 541-234-4744.

Looking for other fall farm produce this winter?  May I suggest apples, squash, and frozen berries for fall canning from Hentze Farm in Junction City?  It’s a century farm open until Christmas, and like Lonesome Whistle, they’ve had a hard year.  Gordon Hentze is a major supporter of Lane County Extension programming, donating bushels of produce to Master Food Preserver classes, which are essential in keeping costs low to serve our community.  Join them for a hot air balloon ride, wagon rides, and live music at their Fall Festival on October 12 and 13!

On your way up River Road, be sure to check out the new Groundwork Organics farm stand across the street from Thistledown Farm.  It’s a renovated dairy building that I understand will be open for a short while to test out the possibilities, then will reopen next year.  Check out photos of a recent CSA open house in the building and information here.

IMG_4052IMG_4050 IMG_4047And last but not least, help the grain farmers at Oregon-Innovators-award-winning Camas Country Mill, who give so much to our community by donating local beans to food banks and have played a dramatic role in reviving local grain production in Oregon, raise money to restore a one-room school house on their property.  The school house will be used for community programming.  Flexible funding campaign details for the School House Project here.  It’s really moving — check it out!  We dined on farm grains at a fundraiser a few weeks ago (cover photo).  Delicious food courtesy of Party Downtown (above, sprouted lentil and basil cheese spread on wheat crackers and sun-dried tomato flax crackers (served with salami bruschetta); barley risotto carbonara). And that’s Farmer Tom Hunton being sweet to his mother, if you weren’t convinced already.

What else is out there for winter farm produce options?  Please help out and share your favorites in the comments.

barilla and bigotry: not in my home

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Why would a heterosexual woman who plays the “central role” in her family and someone who deeply respects agricultural labor and good products and disgusted by waste throw away an entire unopened box of Barilla pasta?

Because it makes her sick to her stomach to support bigots who judge what kinds of relationships are appropriate and inappropriate.  So, from now on “where there’s not Barilla, there’s home.”  Join me and thousands of consumers around the world in cutting Barilla‘s revenue stream dead.

separate two eggs: guide to dining out alone

Nighthawks, Edward Hopper, 1942.
Nighthawks, Edward Hopper, 1942.

Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone.  Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing to add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

One of my pleasures in life is eating alone at bars in nice restaurants.  In many ways, I prefer it to eating at a table with five of my closest academic colleagues.  (Yes, academics, it’s ok to laugh.)  I’d relish the opportunity when I wasn’t separated, and now even more so as I’m disentangling the strands of two lives.  It makes me feel at home and part of the business end of a restaurant, while giving my business to them.  And through this activity, I’ve really grown to love the people who put food and drink on our public tables.

When I sit at the bar, I can lazily watch the process, keep an eye on the kitchen, see the exasperated glances pass between servers, exchange pleasantries with the most important people in every restaurant, the ones who are literally running the show.  Directly served by a bartender or two, I can ask about new specials and get recommendations and hear tidbits of news from the wine distributors who stop by.  Time is less of an issue: I can eat at the bar at 4:30 because I haven’t had lunch, or 9:00 because that’s a much more reasonable dinner time.  There’s always a bit of drama, a bit of sadness.  Life pivots and spins on the fulcrum of the bar.

And there are plenty of people like me.  Not just friends of the bartender or middle managers awaiting tables with their weary wives, but traveling businessmen, an occasional doctor, a former waitress who’s back for the weekend, a tattooed dude just in for a beer, an older lady who just wanted a glass of gris and a salad, a couple who just moved to town, an aging hipster chick reading a book. There’s usually a musician or an artist, and occasionally someone looking for a new friend. Sometimes you talk to these people, sometimes you don’t. IMG_3888IMG_4567IMG_3074

It’s a nice place.  You’re inspired by the food and you let them take care of you, trust they’ll do you right.  You don’t do anything stupid, like ask for vegan mayonnaise or no peppers or gluten-free fish and chips or a glass of ice for your lovely Provençal rosé that the proprietor just told you was his favorite of the season.  You don’t announce what you don’t like or let your kid smear food all over the floor or undertip.  In short, it’s a civilized island in a sea of everything else.

Which is exactly what dining alone is all about.  The person who really made me think about my right and privilege to eat at a bar alone was Jeff Morgenthaler, while still at the late lamented Bel Ami.  He told me once that his job was to make everyone feel comfortable at his bar, even the single woman reading a book.  And he’s absolutely right in doing so.  Single women shouldn’t have to feel like barflies or weirdos eating at the bar alone.  And they shouldn’t be harassed or feel unsafe, but take pleasure in what is sadly still a radical feminist joy in not wanting the oppression of company, relations.

Sometimes I grade papers; sometimes I edit a paper; sometimes I focus too much on my iPhone; sometimes I talk with actual people.  But there’s no real pressure in a hospitable bar.  If you are single and not an asshole, you should try it some time.  And if you see me, say hello.

culinaria eugenius in the southwest: red or green?

IMG_4894In many ways, Durango, Colorado — one of the four corners that make up the intersection of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah nestled in the Colorado Plateau — is like Eugene.

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Hippie foods at the co-op
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Can’t tell if liquor store signs are inside joke or just illiterate
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head shop features local products
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Sushi interpretations (salmon sashimi served with mango, cucumber, and black tobiko at Cosmo Restaurant)
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and alternative corn dogs exist (lobster version at Cosmo Restaurant)

It is also not like Eugene at all.

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Ghost hot sauce in a place called “the Switzerland of America,” Ouray, CO
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The Old Livery building in Silverton, CO
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Green chile and ham benedict at College Drive Café, Durango, CO.  “Red or green?” is the question one is asked at every establishment that wants to give you delicious, delicious chile sauce made with the local Hatch chiles, which look like Anaheims and taste much punchier and grassier and hotter
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Freshly gathered pinon (pine) nuts in the shell, sold on the side of the road

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Bigger buttes and artists who forge their own metal in house (and make me a copper dude’s face necklace) (above, Ouray, CO hotel and Silverton, CO enamel artist in his studio)

They filmed True Grit there, and have John Wayne’s hat at a local bar, The Outlaw (in Ouray, CO, below).  That’s pretty cool.

IMG_3524John Wayne aside, there’s a confluence of populations: Native American tribes (Navajo, Ute, Hopi and Zuni), Mexican-Americans, and white people, some hailing from Mormon traditions, some working for big oil companies, some just rich and wanting to ski. It’s an area of great historical import and racial tensions, a clash of resources, wealth and power, land use, and religion.

At the stunning cliff dwellings of ancient Puebloan tribes at Mesa Verde National Park (below), I joined about a thousand overweight American tourists marveling at the architectural might of these farming communities. Those little circular enclosures are called kivas, which do not resemble in the least our local organic food market, but if you’re interested in the origin of the term, see this fantastic write-up in a blog I wish I had studied before my trip.

We also hiked out alone to see the terraces in the hill formed a thousand years ago to catch rain water and silt run-off for growing corn, beans, and squash.

IMG_4866IMG_4881Also of note, perhaps, was the Navajo taco I ate at the park canteen.  It was not good.  I understand they usually aren’t good — fried dough with canned chili beans, processed cheese shreds, iceberg lettuce, sad tomatoes, and processed salsa with a blob of sour cream does not usually transcend the heights of culinary offerings — but I wanted to see if I could make it better with some green chiles and removing the offending lettuce and salsa.  To no avail.  The kind lady on her break from the cook line even intervened, stealing into the back to bring me more chili beans, but this one would have gravely disappointed the Anasazi.

IMG_3502The Old West nostalgia/mystique is still very much a part of the ethos, with exhibits of old liquor bottles (above) and saucy stereoscope pictures (below) and even a real mutoscope in the rather glorious old Strater Hotel in Durango.

IMG_3505And as a pushback to the wild, liberal, crazy, free-wheelin’ Durango, there’s Farmington, NM, a city that scolds its populace via signs.  It’s been a long time (maybe never?) since I’ve seen so much regulatory signage, much of it of the religious variety.  There are signs outside of churches that scare girls away from considering abortions, signs at intersections warning drivers of exactly what they’ll pay if they commit various traffic violations, signs that call readers nuts and signs that hate Obama and love Jesus.  And a sign that says Jesus.  Yes, that’s a sign:  Jesus.  Even shorter than my favorite short sentence in the New Testament: He wept. Jesus.

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Jesus is watching you in Farmington when you go into that porn store housed in a former Pizza Hut.  He is STILL watching you, says the back of this particular sign, as you exit.  I personally think he’d be of more use watching over the junk collector and the Americans, native or otherwise, living in crumbling trailers with inadequate medical care and schooling along the river, but maybe it’s better he stays out of it altogether.

IMG_4902Poverty, as you might imagine, is a huge problem, especially on the reservations that make up most of the high desert land surrounding Four Corners.  Continual tensions exist between Those With Oil and Those Without, provoking resentments in communities that have money for services and well-funded institutions and those that don’t.  Oil and gas companies own the biggest buildings in town, and community services are tied to the taxes they get from oil drilling.

Perhaps the most poignant sign I saw was that of an old movie theatre in Farmington, NM, guarded by a drunk man on the sidewalk, sprawled out in front when I stopped to take a photo. ‘Totah’ is the Navajo name for the region that encompasses Farmington, the theatre empty save for private events.  Seemed fitting, somehow, and somehow awful.

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My one regret is that we didn’t eat at the Chat An Chew [sic] on the Navajo reservation in Shiprock, NM. They served diner food, everything from green chile burgers to frito pie to “steak fingers,” which are like fried chicken nuggets but with steak.

But that Navajo taco was sitting like lead in my belly, mocking me. Jesus.

what thoughts i have of you tonight

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In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went

into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!

– Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California

OK, Eugene Saturday Market, step it up.  If a food cart pod South of Market under the freeway overpass in San Francisco can serve gravlax, Korean barbecue pulled pork sliders, and Peruvian ceviche with yam and parched corn, so can you.  Change the zoning laws or stranglehold on licenses or backwater policies or narrow aperture in the City Hallways or whatever it is that keeps new food carts, with glorious ideas and international treats, from opening up on the streets of Eugene.

Love,

Your childless, lonely old grubber

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.