fat girls and barn lights, what a lovely way to spend a weekend!

It’s that time again! Ryan and I will be interviewing the team from Eugene’s new bar/café, The Barn Light, and the marvelous Hanne Blank, self-proclaimed “proud fat girl,” exercise enthusiast, and author of The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts. Join us Sunday at noon on KLCC or livestreaming on the web.

The team from The Barn Light — Dustin, Thomas, and Eric — are here to show downtown Eugene how it’s done.  The bar, located on Willamette across from Kesey Plaza, was designed with a particular attention to detail and quirkiness unusual in Eugene, and the menu for both cocktails and food features bold creations and interpretations of classics that actually taste good (also unusual in Eugene).  I’ll let them tell you more about it.

A79744B13BC94732873E169C918C9681Hanne Blank came to my attention many years ago because she has a strong voice and I’d always look forward to reading her daring, passionate recipes on a now defunct food listserv.  A historian and feminist activist, she has written books on big aspects of sexual history like virginity and heterosexuality, and relationship guides and erotica on big aspects of well, people.  You can see all of her books here.

As an unapologetic fat girl myself, I like her approach to exercise in the book we’ll be discussing on the show.  I’m not a big fan of self-help books, but I gave it a whirl because it was from this delightful writer who loves food and advocates health at every size, and I could really not care less if my ass looks fat in those jeans, and because I’ve been grumpily doing P/T since my car accident in June to rehab my knee.  Quite frankly, I could use an attitude adjustment, and perhaps you can too in this month of resolutions.

Hanne encourages readers to focus less on losing pounds, inches, or sizes, and instead invites us — yes, you; yes, ME! — to spend 100 days with her reaching the goal of a improving particular “body practice,” as she calls them.  In short, focus on one low-commitment act to increase your body’s motion every other day for 100 days.  That’s it.  No starvation, no shaming, just improving one area for a limited time as an experiment. Then you reevaluate and perhaps move on to another goal.

Ok, so what’s mine?  Well, as I said, my knee still hurts quite a bit.  The accident basically destroyed the top of my tibial plateau, and affected the nerves, tendons, and tissues in the immediate area, but also has created problems with numbness in my calf and foot, completely changed my balance and posture, exacerbating hip pain and lower back problems from an earlier injury.  I’m no longer limping except on stairs, which is good news, but I’d like to be limp-free. My goal is to tackle uneven surfaces up and down inclines (walking, biking, trail hiking, climbing stairs) for an hour or so every other day, to improve the strength in my quads and increase flexibility in my knees, ankles, and feet, all currently stiff and owie.  Easy, no?  We’ll see.

Learn more on Food for Thought on KLCC Sunday at noon (PST) on 89.7FM in Eugene, or its sister stations in Oregon, or live on the web.

run, run, as fast as you can; you can’t catch the strawberry shortcake man

Gruel in action, snack after the Spring Classic duathlon in Portland.  After three legs of running, biking, and running again, Retrogrouch finished in the middle of the pack for his age group.  Not too shabby for a first timer!  Even more amazing, given that he’s only been running for a year or so. Check out that calf!

The leather saddle stands alone.

I had to capture the post-race eats, of course, which Retrogrouch calls “sugary crap.”  He had a point.

I had escaped the sun (!) to sit under the tent and read my book on anorexia in literature.  Naturally, I was distracted by the candy strewn about on all the tables.  This horrible blond woman, whose aggressive, hypermasculine husband was one of the early finishers, walked into my shot.  I said, brightly, oh, I’m so glad you’re here so I can include your strawberry shortcake in my photo!  She shrank away, so as not to associate herself with the dessert, saying “you want to take a PICTURE of that?”

Well, yes.  They serve candy, big hunks of honey-wheatish bread, HFCS peanut butter and jelly, cookies, whipped cream, shortcake, and Genuine Muscle Milk (“contains no milk”) as a reward for exercise.  I think that’s worth documenting and pondering.  What does it mean that we’re encouraged to eat foods we otherwise demonize as a reward for socially acceptable behavior?

Evolve?  I’m pretty sure I’d rather be primordial.  No offense.

They did have a form of gruel for people like Retrogrouch, though, steelcut oats with craisins.  He partook in this delight after finishing his own gruel.

Suffice it to say that I opted instead for a big, delicious bowl of bun bo hue at Pho Dalat down the street from the race venue. “Dingy like an old Denny’s,” a Yelp review accurately notes, but excellent and unusual spicy beef pho with brisket, tendon, and thin slices of pig’s blood cake in a pork broth, with accompaniments of Thai basil, cilantro, lime, jalapeno, bean sprouts, and shredded cabbage.

Beautiful, sunny Sunday in a great city.  Happy Easter from Portland!

elijah, easter bunny both take a pass

Well, looks like neither Easter nor Passover will happen this year, and I’m fine with that.  I’ve become very blasé about holidays. This is hard to fathom, somehow, since I grew up in a family that hit every holiday hard. Easter, for example, was celebrated three times, maybe four times if you count dinner, in a row at different relatives’ houses.  We never did that doling out of holidays by relative thing that many families manage to do.

And since Retrogrouch and I don’t have kids and don’t have much interest in celebrating holidays with kids and all our friends are having kids, the gesture gets more hollow by the year.  Eh. No biggie.  I’d rather be out in the garden prepping food production this time of year anyway.  That seems more of an escape from bondage, more of a celebration of rebirth, than hostessing to me.  Praying with your feet, to paraphrase Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama.  I pray with my trowel.

But that doesn’t mean my thoughts aren’t filled with holiday swag when the holidays roll around.  In the grocery store, in particular, when one is bombarded with temptations.  I think about my grandmother, the one who doesn’t cook, who would spend weeks each year finding the best, coolest candy for Easter baskets for my sister and me.  I always keep my eye out, in her spirit, for weird and wondrous sugar bombs for my nephews, to send to them when I can. I rarely can time it like she did, but I have a more perverse sense of humor. Surely, my colleague who surprised me in line at Market of Choice while buying two IV bags of lurid red sugar blood at Halloween must have wondered what recipe I was dreaming up…

There was something very comforting in holidays, a temporal sureness.  That’s the pleasure of a middle class upbringing: heteronormative, reproductive time.  It’s hard to imagine there’s any other acceptable way when you grow up like that.  A part of me is sad I’ll never transubstantiate those particular joys or cyclical comfort, but my freedom to garden instead of cook, write instead of wash the seder plate, browse the Easter candy baskets instead of buying, means I won’t model the treacherous, complex groove of reproductive time for a little girl like me who would one day be sad.  This is not without its consequences, though.  The knowledge I have of the holidays — all the domestic rituals and rites — is thus rendered “heavy with useless experience,” to turn dear Adrienne Rich on her head.

I’ve never liked the Easter message, and my husband says he doesn’t like Passover anymore, because it celebrates vengeance.  “It would have been enough, dayenu,” he says. “But god needed more plagues, celebrated by drops of the blood of your enemy.”  He wants a holiday of moderation, where “it is enough.” As much as this concept horrifies me and I profoundly disagree in my middle class sureness, acknowledging the carnivalesque need for celebrations of life, where excess is sometimes very appropriate and wonderful and even blessed, I see his point. “The knife edge of fact.” The sacrificial lamb.

It’s just never enough.

please, sir, i want some more: whole-grain morning gruel

Living with 100 lbs. less of a husband, and a newly minted marathoner yet (training for his first full one), causes some food clashes in a house formerly dominated by the taste principle of cooking.  Alas. But even with my weak willpower and distaste for nutritionism in American food rhetoric, I had to admit that my 20-year habit of eating a big white bagel in the morning was Not Good.  I would often start to crash and need a small snack around 10:30 a.m., and then turn into a raging bi…g white bagel if I didn’t have lunch by 1 p.m.  I had tried many times to change and found myself crashing even harder with cold cereal or oatmeal.  Adding cream cheese or butter to toast didn’t seem to help, either, and I found anything heavy and savory, like eggs, revolting in the morning.

I’ve really come around on the eggs issue, though, and after my strict debagelization training regime with Retrogrouch, I now usually can eat a fried egg with a piece of thin pumpernickel German toast in the morning, as long as it’s not first thing.

But he’s taken, lately, to making an overnight porridge with whole grains, not the chopped or rolled version you see in packaged grain porridge.  I took to calling it gruel as a joke because of its austerity, but it’s anything but thin and watery. [Edited to add: he has switched over to the crock pot, thank god.  It affects the texture and makes it slightly more gluey, but it’s still good.]

The gruel usually features oat groats that we get locally from Camas Country Mill.  He’s also done it with ryeberries from Open Oak Farm, also local, and occasionally with Open Oak’s wonderful purple barley, which we’ve been eating quite a bit of since he’s returned from his leave in Seattle.  What these grains share in common is that they are not processed at all but left whole and un-pearled or rolled, processes that break down the groat so it is more easily digestible, but removes some of the nutrients.

Retrogrouch makes his gruel even more healthy with the addition of flax meal, which may not be to everyone’s taste.  Whole grains lack the starchy quality of those that have been pre-digested.  I find flaxmeal tastes like mealy wheat germ, and the texture is difficult for me, but it does add some “stick to your ribs” quality that using whole grains lacks.  He also adds whole flax seeds and chia seeds, the latter currently trending in pop nutrition circles, which add crunch and a pleasant slipperiness.  He adds no sugar or salt, but I think it would benefit from a pinch of salt.

It’s critical to note that the gruel cooks very, very slowly for about 12 hours.  He claims it is better than the version he’s tried at half the time, because the grains finally break down and yield a creaminess (see above).  However, at 12 hours, I constantly worry about him burning the bottom of the pot.  So far there have been no casualties.

He likes to add frozen thawed blueberries and walnuts as a topping in the morning and eat gruel as a snack throughout the day.  I, being my own weak self, prefer cream and brandied apricots with a little vanilla powder, and can’t fathom eating it more than once every few days.  But surely there’s a happy medium.  And it’s really quite good.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you couldn’t go back to regular oatmeal (or god forbid a bagel) after trying it.

[ETA:  You can find oat groats in the bulk section of better supermarkets, including Market of Choice.  Retrogrouch also wants me to explain that he uses oat groats not merely because he likes the flavor, but they have more protein than other grains. Chia seeds add protein and fiber; chia and flax also are high in Omega-3 fatty acids]

Do you like this kind of information/post?  Let me know in the comments.  I don’t want to turn this into a health food blog, but if you like Retrogrouch’s very different approach, I’m happy to include more from him.

Whole-Grain Gruel

  • 1 cup oat groats (best from Camas Country Mill)
  • 4 tablespoons Chia Seed
  • 2 tablespoons flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons flax seed meal
  • 4.5 cups water

No need to presoak the grains.  Bring all ingredients to a boil, stirring frequently to incorporate the meal and to break up the chia seeds, which tend to clump. Lower temperature to the lowest setting (we use our gas stove’s simmer burner) and heat gently for 12 hours.  If you have an electric stove, you may want to use a crockpot instead.  Once you have the technique and your own stove’s capacity down, just stir every couple of hours, but you might want to be more vigilant to make sure nothing is burning on the bottom of the pan.  Be particularly careful in beginning of the cooking process because the flax meal goes to bottom and may stick.

For cooking in the crock pot, just add all ingredients and cook on high for the first couple of hours, stirring every hour or two to integrate the water that rises to the top and scrape the sides, which cook more rapidly. Turn to low for 3-4 more hours to finish cooking.  Won’t be hurt if it gently cooks overnight.

Makes about 4-5 cups of gruel.  Can be refrigerated for several days.

going dutch at the verboort sausage and kraut dinner

Nothing remotely gourmet about the 77th annual Verboort Sausage and Kraut Dinner.  Held at the Visitation Catholic Church in Forest Grove, Oregon, by a Dutch-American community organization that’s been going strong since the pioneers, the dinner is part of a sausage extravaganza.  They chop, stuff, and smoke over 17 tons of pork and beef each year for the sausage, and serve it up with mashed potatoes in sausage gravy, a mild sauerkraut, homegrown well-done beans, tart and sweet Gravenstein applesauce, a dinner roll, and a curiously good oniony cole slaw with macaroni pasta salad.  It was familiar food, the stuff I grew up with, heavy on the carbs, seasoned very simply with salt and a tiny bit of pepper.  Huge portions and all you can eat!

What in the heck am I doing in Forest Grove?  I know, I know.  Retrogrouch wanted to freeze his skinny little heinie off on a 100K bike ride, the Verboort Sausage Populaire Randonneur, so I came along, thinking I’d check out the soaking pool and work in the hotel.

And buy sausage, of course.

Five bucks a pound, bulk!  And don’t forget the sauerkraut, these giant barrels filled with fermented goodness.  They put the empties just outside the sauerkraut shack.  I overheard an organizer marveling at how much more kraut they had sold that year.  By the time I got there around 12:30, there was only one barrel left.  The sequoia tree to the left, by the way, is from seeds one of the founders brought back from Californ-i-ay after the Gold Rush.

See?  Real sequoias, courtesy of my nostrils.

I also briefly stopped in at the church bazaar Ye old BAKE SHOP to chat with the old ladies selling baked goods, pickled vegetables, and candy. I really love old church ladies.  There were some textile arts, too, but that’s largely lost on me.

Also lost on me: bingo in smoky tent, sad plant sale with gourds, beer garden that only served Bud and its derivatives (in Oregon? Really?) AND you had to take a bus there because, according to a fireman, the church didn’t want alcohol on the grounds (in Oregon? Really?), polkaesque Dutch music piped from the church on an endless loop, and the damn weather.  Because a potholder just wasn’t going to keep my not-so-skinny heinie warm waiting for 100K to end, already.

the art of losing isn’t hard to master…for some

My husband, Retrogrouch, has lost 110 lbs. in the past year.  He is training for his first half-marathon.  This is what he eats:

That’s an open-face home-canned Oregon albacore tuna salad with local vegetable garnish: tomato, red cabbage, greens and sprouts.  Not bad, eh?

I’m less of a fan of the burger.

But proud and awed nonetheless.  He doesn’t seem to think it takes that much to achieve what he did.  But it takes someone with the will of a bull and the focus of a hawk. And he did it without a single packaged meal, powdered shake, or frozen tray of slop.  In fact, he had to push rather hard against the American diet industry to do it.  But he did it.

I’ve asked him to start writing a post every so often at Culinaria Eugenius, so we can see how the other half lives.  I’m not sure he’s going to do it, but I think it would be interesting to consider the struggle so many of us Americans have with food.  So, if he decides he wants to do it, what should he write about: how he lost the weight? His recipes?  How to replace certain foods in one’s diet? How to live with a partner who can’t imagine giving up butter? How a fat person can change (see previous)? New discoveries in low-calorie food that isn’t processed or disgusting?  Struggles to moderate one’s diet and fears of backsliding?

ma po tofu for people who don’t eat tofu but enjoy stuffed peppers…with no rice

Don’t tell my Eastern European forebears, but I don’t really like stuffed cabbage or stuffed peppers or anything that includes that mixture of rice, ground meat, and tomato sauce.  I even have a hard time with dolmas, unless they significantly flavored with tart lemon juice and the rice-otherstuff ratio is leaning way on the side of the otherstuff.

This weakness has come in handy while rethinking stuffed peppers for my darling Retrogrouch, who has recently decided to cut out all grains, legumes, potatoes, and sugar in his diet.  He’s done quite well for himself, but it makes dinnertime a challenge if we’re not eating salad and a piece of meat.  I often make stuffed peppers out of Chinese stirfry or fried rice, mixing in the rice and some raw egg, and then baking it.  But it occurred to me that I could omit the rice altogether.

To use up a block of tofu we had in the refrigerator from his regular diet days, I thought I’d make that old Sichuan standby, ma po tofu.  I’m almost satisfied with Fuchsia Dunlop’s version, but I only had ground pork, not ground beef, and a head of savoy cabbage that wasn’t getting any younger, plus some crimson chard.

So I did my version of Ivy Manning’s Adaptable Feast, a cookbook with facing pages for adaptable recipes for mixed households (vegetarian/carnivore).  I made ma po for myself, and made no rice, ma po-flavored pork and brassica stuffed peppers for Retrogrouch.  I should write a cookbook series for all kinds of couples containing one normal and one crazy-ass person. Think of the possibilities! What would be excellent — not identifying which person in the couple is supposed to be the crazy-ass one.  In theory, it would be a cookbook wholly devoted to de-normativizing diets.  But we could still feel smug about our own niche.  Then everyone would be happy and dinnertime would cease to be a cesspool of argument.


The stuffed peppers turned out really well, actually, and I even managed one appetizing photo in a group that all looked like two Buddha-bellied gents in jaunty hats vomiting up vividly colorful insides.

And p.s. I also figured out the secret of ma po tofu: a big handful of cubed, raw savoy cabbage tossed in just prior to serving.  The crunch breaks up the monotonous softness of the tofu and mince.

There’s no reason you couldn’t substitute the ground pork for ground beef, or even chicken.  The green peppers can be swapped out with red peppers if you prefer that flavor, too.  This is a casual recipe, meant for adaptation based on what you have on hand.

Sichuan Stuffed Peppers, Ma Po Style

  • 2 small green bell peppers that can sit upright
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, divided
  • 6 oz. ground pork
  • 1/2 cup red onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 cups chopped leaves of any leafy brassica: chard, cabbage, bok choi, etc.
  • 1/4 cup green onions, chopped in one-inch lengths
  • 1 tablespoon Sichuan bean paste (douban jian) or substitute another chili bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon fermented black beans
  • a few Sichuan peppercorns (optional)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup stock or water
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • light soy sauce, white pepper, chili oil to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Wash the peppers.  Slice off the tops of the peppers carefully, leaving a little hat for baking.  Clean the insides of the peppers, removing seeds and the inner ribs.  Rub the insides of the pepper with the sesame oil and a little salt.

Place the peppers in the oven (upright without the lids) while preparing the stirfry. Don’t forget about them!  You only want to soften them up a bit, no more than 10 minutes.

Brown pork until deeply brown on med-high heat.  After pork has lost its pinkness, add onion, garlic and ginger.  (For the rest of the browning period, watch so aromatics don’t burn.)  If at any time it seems the stirfry is burning, add a small amount of water or stock to cool down the pan briefly.  It will heat up again once the water has evaporated.

Turn heat down to medium, add the Sichuan bean paste and fermented black beans, and Sichuan peppercorns, and saute until they release a nice, fragrant smell.  Add cabbage or other greens with a quarter cup or so of water or stock to deglaze the pan.   Saute until cabbage is softened but not completely limp. This might take longer with cabbage than a softer green like chard.

Remove from heat and add the green onions.  Toss to combine.  Remove the peppers from the oven and let cool just enough to handle.

Taste the stirfry.  If it lacks salt, add some light soy sauce to taste.  Add white pepper if you’d like a little more spice.  Chili oil is another option.

Lightly beat 2 eggs with the sugar.  Add the egg mixture to the stirfry and combine well.

With a soup spoon or small serving spoon, spoon the stirfry into the peppers, packing tightly.  Add a little hat to each pepper.  Leftovers can be eaten as is with leaves of lettuce as little wraps, or you could quickly blanch extra cabbage leaves in water and make little cabbage wraps that bake alongside the peppers.

Bake for another 10 minutes or so, just until the eggs are fully set (peek under lid to see if egg has solidified and turned opaque).

To serve, suggest that the diner cut the pepper in half while still upright, then cut off pieces of pepper and filling from the two halves that result.