gone fishin’ (and thank you)

DSC01214
Red Rocks marine reserve south of Port Orford

I guess I’ve put it off long enough. My house is being sold, my cookbooks are in boxes, my black raspberries are picked for the last time, my pickle jars are washed, and my heart is struggling with goodbyes. I’m leaving you, Eugene.

I decided a couple years ago that it was time to take the hard next step in my journey to becoming a full-time writer.

But where should I base myself, thought I, and how should I do it?

Trying to answer that took me many different places. If you’ve never been hit by the thunderbolts of fate that crumble your life — divorce from a 20-year relationship, losing your job and home you loved, suffering disability from a serious car accident — you may not understand this.  Rebuilding becomes a Choose Your Own Adventure.

Do you settle into the old patterns, especially if they are good?

Though it’s not perfect, I mused, I liked my life in academia. I teach amazing classes and am surrounded by some pretty fantastic people. Until the landslide happened, I had an extremely active research and conference travel schedule, and I was on track with my book. I pretty much stopped the academic publishing when I was laid up the first summer of the disaster with a broken leg, since Academia is an abusive, narcissistic lover that needs attention and a masochistic attachment that I just wasn’t able to devote to it. (Edited to add, since I am masochistic enough: let the record state that I did finish several articles, one on the history of how libraries handled sexual material, which was published in a groundbreaking (in the world of Porn Studies, that is) collection by Duke University Press; a review essay for Gastronomica I hilariously tried and failed to edit after my emergency surgery (thanks a zillion to Darra Goldstein for her patience); and another essay on years of research on a singular and important unknown gay writer, Samuel Steward, on the way from (probably) Ohio University Press.  I just add this because I was criticized for not publishing enough while I was convalescing after the surgery, but no one bothered to ask why…or what I was publishing.  That’s how horrible Academia is.)

But as I convalesced, I started freelancing more and more, and really loved it.  Since I write and research and publish all the time, I figured, I could easily switch back tracks and start publishing even more pieces valued by the Academy…if I had to.  And my personal life would improve, I thought.  I had had a partner with a similar background and values to mine, and we remained friendly after our separation, so I wasn’t wholly embittered by men. I absolutely loved my garden and little cottage. I could easily see getting another professor job, preferably on the tenure track, and another man with a similar background and having a perfectly good life.  A better life. Lessons learned, personal growth, blah blah blah, etc.

But there was another option that whispered to me, then grew increasingly louder and more adamant.

IMG_6075
Velella velella, Florence

Or do you to ride the wave of that sea change and let the prevailing winds blow you into some new harbor? I mean, you might wash up on a beach like driftwood or a dead sea lion or velella velella, but you might actually make a difference and be even happier.

So instead of wallowing in grief or being angry at the people who took away my life (though there WAS a lot of that), I ultimately decided to let karma take its course and not to mourn the life that was taken from me.  To let the current transport me somewhere else. We really don’t have a choice anyway, I concluded, and I’m kind of lazy, so I might as well choose to go along for whatever ride the universe was planning for me.

IMG_0438
Newport Aquarium

Annoyingly, I didn’t get any clear signs from the universe that it actually had a plan. For a lady who is not in the least bit spontaneous and pretty much lives a few years down the line, I found this absolutely unpleasant. Rude, in fact. I was ready to move on but the universe wasn’t ready to move me. So I ignored the growing frustrations with my seeming non-action from friends and family, and choked back my own rage at failing every single day to come up with a plan, and I continued patiently casting about for possibilities. (If this sounds at all vain and accusatory, I apologize, but I was FAR MORE sick of my inaction than you were, I promise. Inaction took up all my time and energy and the light of my life for years, and it was a miserable BFF.)

IMG_8858
Albacore and chips at Luna Sea, Yachats
IMG_0867
Salal at Cape Blanco

For a long time, I thought I’d live in a small building on a farm near Portland so I could continue my writing and research on agricultural changes in the Willamette Valley, but start hanging with Portland people. I briefly flirted with moving to Scandinavia and researching the idea of “north” à la Glenn Gould, but with more food…hopefully with the save haven of a study abroad program. I had almost convinced myself that I was moving to Haarlem, a small town on the coast near Amsterdam, to study Dutch still lifes, and I toy with the idea of moving to Germany or Ireland. I briefly considered moving back to my hometown of Detroit to engage myself with urban farming. I mulled over Yachats, Tillamook, Scio, Manzanita, Clatskanie, Gaston. All of these lives would have been fun and rewarding.

But Port Orford was the only one that reached out to me with a yes, and said, “not only will I welcome you, but you have no idea how strange and wonderful I am, Jennifer Burns Bright, and I’m going work with you to make your life, and hopefully the lives of others, better!”

DSC00860

I was sold. I like a guy with a can-do attitude.

Port Orford is a tiny, sleepy town on the Southern Oregon coast.  It is one of the most fascinating places I’ve been in decades of traveling all over Oregon and the world. I cannot wait to share it with you.

DSC01133
The port in Port Orford from Battle Rock beach.

I discovered the town almost by accident a few months ago. As many of you know, I’ve been doing more travel writing and have done quite a few pieces on the Central and Oregon coast, but it had been many years since I ventured southward, and then, only to Bandon. So I suggested to my editor that I go check out some of the more southern towns to see what was going on, and asked friends where they stayed down there. Someone (Brendan at Belly, so blame him) suggested I stay in the cabins at Cape Blanco, so I did. I fell in love immediately with the place, and when I discovered they had some of the most beautiful and diverse beaches I’ve seen anywhere, I started looking into some of the connections I might make with writing about Oregon seafood, long an interest of mine.

Well, it turns out that the town can help me learn.  There’s the Port Orford Sustainable Seafood alliance, where fishermen are bringing local seafood and raising awareness about marine issues through a coalition of partners affiliated with an amazing non-profit, the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team, who work on marine research and advocacy.  I did a couple of brief interviews of the folks there, and realized how little I – as a food writer and lover of seafood and the Oregon coast – actually knew about the coast.  Like this:

IMG_7032

What does it mean to catch a belt fish wild?  How is it caught?  And by whom?  And does “Product of China” mean a fish caught in China?  And how does it end up in Atlanta, where this picture was taken?  I can’t answer these questions, and I think they should be answered.

DSC00974
Mouth of the Sixes River, Cape Blanco

I’ve always loved the coast, but this will give me the ability to really understand what it’s like to live and make a living on the coast in uncertain times.   The town is situated 60 miles north of the California border and 27 miles south of Bandon in the so-called State of Jefferson on a wild and remote coast, but for a travel and food writer it is a good place to learn about the relationships between states and the federal government and the industrial pressures on food systems and conservation in both California and Oregon.   My goal is to eventually specialize in coastal writing writ large, integrating environmental and commercial interests in managing the marine life and waterways that are so crucial to our country and planet.

DSC01056
Fish sculpture made from found ocean debris, Washed Ashore Project, Bandon
IMG_2021
Rogue brewpub in Astoria

Early reviews of my decision are in. Inevitably, I’ll hear three things: “Oh, that’s my favorite beach town in Oregon!” and “Why in the heck would you move there?” and “Are you sure you can live in such a small town?” And I answer “Mine, too” and “see below” and “nope, but I won’t know ‘til I try it.”

And the rest of the story is yet to be written.

I’ll still be teaching Food Studies courses at UO next year in the Departments of Comparative Literature and Humanities Program to fund the start up of this project, so it’s not a complete break. (Yes, the commute will be difficult but I’ll be fine.)  I’m also managing the culinary events for the Mt. Pisgah Mushroom Festival this year, as I have mentioned and will mention again and again, so you’ll be hearing from me about that.

But other than one more post to announce my new website, where I’ll be chronicling the continuing adventures of a big small town girl in an even smaller town, I’m drawing the curtains closed on this small blog.

IMG_1924
Judging Iron Chef Eugene 2015 with emcee Chef Clive and fellow judge Jeff Gardner, who makes delicious local pasta
IMG_1791
Forcing my COLT 305: New Farmers Movement cultural studies class students to do manual labor at the UO Urban Farm.

Culinaria Eugenius was the vehicle by which I learned about this town I love and its people. Almost 930 posts later, I can safely say it’s been worth it.  Eugene has changed so much, and I am so honored to have been part of the group that helped spread the word about innovations in our food system: agricultural advances and great strides ahead in our restaurant culture. There are Facebook groups and local food magazines and a much better networking system that connects local food to people who want to eat it.  I know Eugene will keep doing wonderful work and others will write all about it and I will be reading.

So it’s not really a goodbye, since Eugene is such a huge part of me (plus, I need to come here to buy weird groceries). It’s just a new adventure, and one I hope to share with you.

just your average oregon homestead: mildred kanipe and her peacocks

DSC00616

Dateline: the tiny town of Oakland, Oregon, a few weeks ago.   I was pointing at a spot on the map, the ones explorers like best, you know, the ones where just an arrow leads off the grid and names something that lies beyond the edge.

“Well, I haven’t ever heard of that,” the shopkeep said, “but I definitely have heard of Mildred Kanipe park.”

In the odd hopeful spark in her eye, I knew there was something cool in them thar hills.

IMG_0441

And yes, in an old Oregon homestead-turned-county park that was saved by local citizens, it’s peacocks in the hills. And pastures. And barns…

IMG_0409

Peacocks!  There, perched on the woodshed.  And there, strutting down the slope from the cow pasture.  And there, a single Narcissus admiring himself in the pond.  And there in the oak trees, calling out in mournful tones.  And there, roosting on some old farm equipment, startling you when you step into the quiet light of the dim barn.

For nearby Flannery O’Connor fans celebrating her birthday, born on this day in 1925, a visit to the farm might be a chance to pay tribute to the writer’s famous peacocks, including the recently departed Manley Pointer, who did not disappoint.  RIP.

DSC00694

Even for this jaded traveler, the 1,100-acre Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park is fascinating.  Just an hour from Eugene, it has a day use area next to the crumbling Century Farm house where Mildred Kanipe (1907-83) herself lived from birth to death, ranching and maintaining her livestock — and peacocks.

A half-dozen or so crumbling old barns and agricultural structures and a rural one-room school house listed on the National Register of Places are also on the property, among hiking and equestrian trails and a camping area now being developed. The school house, hidden in the trees above, dates from around 1910, when the area was known as the English Settlement.

DSC00678Yellowing wallpaper. Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park, Oakland, OR.

The farm house itself was built for the original Land Claim in the 1860s, and most recently made the 2015 list of Most Endangered Places in Oregon.  Fundraising for renovation is underway.

For now, we can go around the back of the house near the stream, and spy in to enjoy the uncanny little original two rooms with peeling striped, tree-topped wallpaper, and the crumbling kitchen addition with almost-bright yellow and aquamarine paint and a sink and cupboard set from around 1960, when they added running water and electricity.  There was never a need for an indoor toilet, though.

As I peered in the windows, a peacock settled down on the fence just beyond the window, perfectly framed.

Mildred Kanipe ran a dairy for just less than a decade in the 1940s.  Otherwise, she logged and farmed and ranched and tended the orchard, the remnants of which you can see.  Among 25 or so extant varieties of pomes, there are apples: a ‘Transparent’, a ‘Spitzenberg,’ a ‘Gravenstein,’ a ‘Black Ben’ from Arkansas, a couple of ‘Fall Pippins’, a ‘Graves Golden,’ redolent of coriander, a ‘King David,’ a ‘Stayman,’ an ‘Ortley,’ also known as a ‘White Detroit’, and a ‘Gloria Mundi.’

In this glorious world, Mildred Kanipe, the “Belle of Oakland,” did not let anything stop her.  She bought her first couple hundred acres of land when she was 18 and wore overalls.  When she’d find random livestock wandering alongside the road, she’d throw it in her truck and keep it.  On the internet, there’s an account of her laying irrigation pipe by the light of the moon, since it was shiny metal and therefore possible to see at night.  That way, she could fell lumber and herd cows during the day and not waste time.

DSC00674

Ever feel like you’ve been bitchslapped from the grave by a pioneer woman who did more in a single day than you’ve done all month, who then stuck a peacock feather in her cap and called you macaroni? Get to work, girl!

Yeah, me neither.

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

IMG_9727

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).

 

culinaria eugenius in germany: mushrooms, here and abroad

IMG_6727IMG_9182IMG_9179IMG_6816IMG_681520141018_174446 20141020_142010IMG_6864 I’ve been in Germany, fitted with a stylish orthopedic boot for my lame foot, and sampling wild mushrooms and newly fermented wine and sausages.

Now the foot’s healed and I’m back just in time for our own mushroom festival at Mt. Pisgah Arboretum today, rain or shine.  They’ve decided to experiment with cooking demos, so I’m hauling my little portable cooktop down to the festival to whip up some delicious soups and dumplings featuring the ingredient of the day!  Thrilled to be a part of one of the best festivals we hold, with a huge mushroom display and walks, activities, music, and food.

Come see me at 11-12:30 on the Moon Stage!  I’ll be sampling wild mushroom broth with spaetzle and creamy mushroom sauerkraut goulash for the soup demo, and oyster mushroom potstickers for the dumpling demo.  Recipes later!

The images above show the Alps from Garmisch; wild mushrooms at the Kleinemarkthalle and little marzipan boars rooting about in acorns in Frankfurt; pork medallions with spaetzle in Heidelberg; and glorious fall leaves in Wuerzburg.

ozette potatoes and a sauce from garden herbs

IMG_8647I bought some delicious, glossy PNW-native ‘Ozette’ potatoes from Turnip the Beet Farm at the Lane County farmers market on Saturday.  I’ve written about them before, and think they’re fantastic for the locavore and armchair anthropologist.  They taste good, too!  As far as I know, Turnip the Beet is the only farm that produces them around here.  Farmer Lela says it’s the second crop of the year and they should have them at the next couple markets.

I like the Ozettes because they’re waxy and flavorful, so they make good fried potatoes and potato salad.  Or simply boil them and serve with the brilliant German green sauce, Grüne Soβe (or in the dialect of Frankfurt, Grie Soß).  It’s more of a spring thing, but if you’ve got a burgeoning herb garden, it’s a great summer dish.  All you need is seven herbs, a binder (e.g., sour cream) and something sour (e.g., lemon) and a little mustard.  The herbs that are traditional are sorrel, chervil, parsley, borage, burnet, cress and chives, but there are many variations.  Why not make a PNW herb blend?  I’ve seen basil and dill and marjoram included in some recipes, even.  Here are a few variations:

Mine was made with my very thick homemade sour cream (read: too thick for this sauce), a little milk to thin it out (bad idea, as it de-emulsified the fats), wine vinegar, mustard, and the traditional herbs minus cress.  Sorry about the poor picture, I was hungry.

I’m particularly excited about these potatoes because they represent yet another young farmer couple who are making a go of it in Lane County to bring us heirlooms and unusual produce, produced in a sustainable and labor-intensive way.  They’re worth supporting.  Even better, they just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for new greenhouses, so they’ll be able to extend the season in the future.  Congratulations!