gone fishin’ (and thank you)

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, haha!  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 Ohio University Press, most likely.)

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.

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.

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.)

Albacore and chips at Luna Sea, Yachats
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!”


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.

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:


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.

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.

Fish sculpture made from found ocean debris, Washed Ashore Project, Bandon
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.

Judging Iron Chef Eugene 2015 with emcee Chef Clive and fellow judge Jeff Gardner, who makes delicious local pasta
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


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.


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…


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.


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.


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.

thanks, judy

263926_10100441385122531_2250107_nFor every delicious mouthful.  I made your roast chicken for my Thanksgiving-for-One feast this year, just before you passed on to the great dinner party in the sky.  Of course I would.  It was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had in my life.  Bright, simple, balanced: the chicken was roasted ’til golden fat in the big brick oven, then pieced out and laid atop peppery greens and crispy whisps of bread crouton, which mingled with the juices.

269465_10100441385237301_8280984_nA revelation each and every time.  A needed reminder that there is a moment or two of grace left in the world.

I took these photos at Judy Rodgers‘ restaurant, Zuni Café in San Francisco, a few years ago.  The roasted chicken bread salad had been served there for many years, and it was such an iconic dish it even made it into her NYT obituary twice, once in text and once as the image of Ms. Rodgers at work.  I don’t often say this, but the dish was more than just poetry or symphonic taste, it was a reflection of who we are and what we mean to do in creating food to share.  I learned to cook in the late 80s as a high school student in the Midwest who would soon find her way out to Northern California for college.  The new landscape, the wonders of Berkeley Bowl, and a boyfriend who shared the adventure with me were instrumental to my own education.  And all of this was fed by the revolution going on around me, one Judy Rodgers was helping to foment.  So for me, California cuisine was cooking.

Sitting in front of that platter of chicken bread salad many years later, and taking it in for just a moment — understanding the room California cuisine gives us to ponder the elements, thinking about the life that was sacrificed, the hands that formed the bread and picked the greens, and the unerring creative mind that knew one classic dish could resist dining fads and fancies — was almost better than the first spear of juicy chicken dressed with a little balsamic and olive oil, a stray leaf, a shattered bit of bread.

Let anyone who dares argue that food is not art take on a dish like this, emblematic of a life and a movement and a time and a place.

282367_10100444363947941_2325507_nAnd so good I just might just make it my Thanksgiving tradition from now on.

264256_10100441384848081_6046104_nFor a recipe, see Smitten Kitchen’s adaptation, or buy the Zuni Café Cookbook, one of the absolutely best American cookbooks in existence.

Chef Judy Rodgers, with the greatest respect, RIP.

on julia child at 100

Since my trip to Boston this spring, I’ve been reading and thinking quite a bit about Julia Child, who would have been 100 years old on August 15.  The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute, which holds her papers with veneration, is hosting a conference in September in her honor.

There are so many ways to cook, and cookbooks navigate routes through culture in ways we’re only starting to understand.  They’re the great overlooked genre in literature, with so much to teach us, and I am grateful I got the chance to read and learn from some of the oldest ones in existence at the Schlesinger workshop on historic cookbooks in June.  Among these, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking is without question a masterpiece.

But we love Julia not mainly, I’d argue, for her cookbooks but because of her personality: her rough edges, her adventurous spirit, and her late start in life.  She was 37 when she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, and hadn’t had much direction in life prior to that, even with cooking.  Unlike the legions of chefs and artisans who were born into the biz and learned to whip cream with maman and shuck oysters at their grandfather’s knee, she gives us hope that those of us who spooned Cool Whip out of a plastic tub and dipped fish sticks in ketchup in our formative years might just find ourselves nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, in the middle of the journey of our life, on the right path.

Julia changed everything, the critics assert.  And yet, for those of us who grew up in stubbornly resistant anti-food suburban America, unfazed by her cooking shows and fancy French food, she didn’t.  But I watch her shows and read her writing now and see what a powerful message she had, had we been watching:

PBS’s Mashup of Julia Child

“What makes a great chef?” she asks in the first scene of the clever PBS mashup. “Well, training and technique, of course, plus a great love of food, a generous personality, and the ability to invent hot chocolate truffles.”

The hot chocolate truffles, of course, are the delight of the formula, and she delivers the punchline with a little smile.  But we shouldn’t overlook the qualities she slips in before the truffles, the ones that make us able to share that smile, and ones in short supply — now and then — in America.

A great love of food and a generous personality.

These two characteristics need to go hand in hand.  If you just love food, you’re a glutton. If you just have a generous personality, you are one of those people bringing salt-free, leaden pasta salad studded with a few chunks of green pepper to our endless Eugene potlucks. (But it’s vegan!) It’s difficult to love food and not hoard it from the heathen masses, the ones who don’t appreciate a perfectly ripe fig or burrata that slips out of its covering and quivers on the plate. (Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean, food lovers.) And it’s difficult, if you’re kind and loving, not to feed others whatever you have in your cupboard, even if you’re admittedly not that interested in cooking.

So I’d urge you, in the spirit of Julia Child, to work on the side that challenges you. (And if you have neither a great love of food nor a generous personality, then heaven help you.  You poison the world, and if there’s any justice, someone is soaking up your misery to feed it back to you.)  Most of us err on one side or the other.  Yes, work on technique and innovation, but don’t forget the other good stuff that made Julia great and can make us better.

i’m in the milk and the milk’s in me

I started writing a post about the remarkable In the Night Kitchen a few years ago.  It sat in the draft queue and languished while I finished my dissertation.  I had grand plans to make a milk cake.  But since I’m just not that interested in baking in the day kitchen — and the book was far more complex than I had remembered — it sat.

Until today, when we mourn the death of Maurice Sendak and the long afterlife of his rebellious, courageous, playful and inquisitive little heroes.

I had got stuck on what I found offensive in In the Night Kitchen, the big flaw in the children’s book as I saw it.

No, it was not the innocently naked body of Mickey that made censors gnash their teeth when the book was released and still causes the book to be banned in some localities.  It’s just that I couldn’t justify the cry to God smack in the middle of the book.  Just as Mickey tumbles down into the milk bottle, he cries:

I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me!  God bless milk and God bless me!

And there, suddenly, God makes his entrance.  My question as an atheist and a truth-seeker is, suddenly, this.  How would one explain to a child this unnecessary turn to this new character at the moment of truth, a child unfamiliar with the concept of God?

I realized that Sendak’s writing often pulls a stunt like this that keeps his characters from meaning any one thing or appealing to any one child or parent.  Often naughty and unrepentant, the boys and alligators and monsters and all too occasional girls yell at authority figures and refuse to be cowed by anyone, even if they were clearly in the wrong.  A lion needs to do more than merely eat Pierre, for example, to get him to care.  Only regurgitation, a rebirth from the pit of lion stomach hell, can convert him to returning the love of his (what we’d now call co-dependent) doting parents.

Eating functions as a constant in Sendak’s mythology.  Kids demand certain foods and make it for others.  It’s a crux of power, an essential currency for love and autonomy.

In an interview with Terry Gross, Sendak relates one particular story that illustrates this power nicely:

Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.

He loved it so much he ate it.  It’s almost like a joke without a punchline or a terrible truth for someone unconvinced by digestion or perhaps a Catholic:  How do you keep a Wild Thing forever?  Eat it.

Likewise, in their chaotic imaginary worlds, Sendak’s boys ascend to power and threaten the forces against them by denying them food or telling them they’ll be eaten up.  One might think, if one were to stop there, that Sendak thought it was a dog-eat-dog world, where boys needed to either consume or be consumed.

The beginning of In the Night Kitchen illumines the dark side of consumption, where boys may lose their selfhood and morph into food.  When Mickey awakes to the thump in the night kitchen, he crossly hollers out to see who is there.  Hearing no response, he tumbles out of his clothes and through the floor, and falls splat into the batter for a “morning cake” being prepared by three chefs.  He declares:

I’m not the milk and the milk’s not me!  I’m Mickey!

To Terry Gross, Sendak commented that the chefs and baking ovens were suggestive of the crematoria of the Holocaust, a nightmare kitchen, and that might explain the creepy, automaton triplet chefs with Hitler mustaches who don’t seem to notice Mickey’s hollering or presence in their cake, as they sing out for milk:

Milk in the batter!  Milk in the batter!  We bake cake and nothing’s a-matter!

If the chefs are Nazi exterminators, the “morning cake” easily transmutes into “mourning cake,” the night kitchen the long night of diaspora and the blind eye of discrimination.

But then there’s the cry to God, at the moment of Mickey’s triumph.  Having fashioned an airplane out of some bread dough, he flies up and over a giant milk bottle (tiresomely likened to a phallus by the idiot critics of Mickey’s nudity) and tumbles into the milk with a pot in his hand, chanting that troublesome mantra:

I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me!  God bless milk and God bless me!

Instead of taking himself and the milk away from the night kitchen, escaping, he becomes something edible, and it’s the very thing he took pains to distance himself from earlier.  Now he is immersed in the milk, both inside and outside, and moreover, it’s all blessed and sharable, even with the creatures that want to destroy him.

That’s something beyond allowing a child to identify with triumphant Mickey, the one immersed in the nightmare of history, the one who refuses to become a cake and challenges any scary, unjust, or immovable institution the chefs represent.

Throughout the book, we can’t help but think of Mickey’s outside and inside, his body and the consumption that he undertakes and delivers.  Yes, the book teems with sensuality — not the weird timid pedophilic touch feared by the censors, but sensuality in the non-sexual realm of tactility and texture.  It’s about bodies and what your senses can experience.  The boy falls out of his clothes and into liquids of various sorts that morph and change and engulf him in tastes and smells and feelings as he ventures off into the unfamiliar.

Sendak’s books often do that.  My favorite of his little verses, “Chicken Soup with Rice,” puts the soup in the mouths of children but also turns the children into birds stirring soup in their nests, and then into vessels containing the soup.  We are made out of the same elements as the water, air, land — everything organic.

And because of that, we can change into whatever we like, eat and be eaten, turn ourselves upside-down or inside-out.  We can become and unbecome our enemies and foodstuffs, in the most elemental and visceral ways recognizing our difference and our commonality.  It’s blessed to transform. I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me.

And up, and up.

grazie mille, chef mario!

I’m sad to say I ate the last plate of gnocchi last night at Chef Mario Tucci’s beloved neighborhood joint, the Friendly Street Café.  So many fans thronged the little café on what was to be the last weekly Gnocchi Night on Wednesday that Mario couldn’t seat everyone.  That meant the first and last Gnocchi Night, Part Deux took place the following evening.

And we were so happy to be able to share in the love. The chef is planning to visit family in Firenze and then return to Eugene to new opportunities.  The café will pass into the capable hands of his team, who are planning a shift to a breakfast-lunch menu with earlier hours and an expanded range of baked goods.

Grazie mille, Mario; we look forward to hearing about your next project!

my summer cup runneth over: thai hot and sour cucumber stirfry

This is a gorgeous dish, one of my favorites from Thailand.  I mentioned it as my “meal of the week” on KLCC’s Food for Thought last Sunday.  It’s an interpretation of a hot and sour shrimp recipe by San Francisco Bay Area Thai food maven Kasma Loha-Unchit, and a great way to use up extra cucumbers and hot peppers in the garden.

Kasma was the Julia Child of Thai food for a certain group of Bayareans who came of age in the gay ’90s and noughts; she still cooks and hosts Thailand trips for students from her home in Oakland.  For those of us who had fled the stodgy food of the Midwest in the late-1980s and found our culinary footing before the days of molecular gastronomy and fusion street food, Thai food was literally the taste of freedom.  It was like Chinese food (which we knew, or thought we knew) but with vibrant, living flavors.  Fresh vegetables! Coconut milk! Seafood! Not fried! And hot! O so hot! Kaffir lime leaf! Lemongrass! Over fragrant rice that took longer than a Minute!

Everything about it was technicolor, in stereo, 3-D, digital, 3G.

And Kasma, who offered classes in actually cooking what we were sampling at restaurants, offered the same thrill,  I’d imagine, that Julia’s French cooking did for young American sophisticates in the 1960s.  As for me, I was most assuredly a not-quite-sophisticate, as I relied on my lessons from my ex-boyfriend, who would come back from class and practice his dishes on me as I served as his sous-chef.

Because that’s the beauty of cooking, right?  We learn by sharing new techniques and ingredients, and by testing variations until we’ve hit on the perfect combination (that fleeting perfection).  This joy is spread from one friend to the next through potlucks, dinner parties, and celebrations.  And with each recipe we receive, each time we cook a dish prepared by someone who wowed us on a perfect evening and share it with others who exhale “wow,” the hues of our lives deepen and take on a richer sheen.  And if you can find someone whose wow is your wow, then that, my friend, is one of the finest pleasures in the world.

But back to the fish.  I bought a pound of black cod at Newman’s, too much, but it was so pretty and I was seduced.  The dish is usually for shrimp and is called, I believe, Pad Priow Wahn, or Hot and Sour Shrimp (with vegetables).  The spicy vinegar a surprisingly natural combination for cucumbers, which we Americans never eat cooked. This stirfry just softens the cukes a bit, makes them more receptive for the sauce and seafood.

I thought the fresh peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes would be just as good over a mild pan-fried fish as they are with shrimp, and I was right.

I served the other half of the fish in an equally gorgeous dish, also with tomatoes, but this one radically different.  It used the same sauce as my Thai salmon “burger” recipe, which is also based on Kasma’s cuisine.  Fragrant with sweet-spicy roasted chili paste, and strewn with Thai basil from the garden.  The dish is balanced by slightly bittersweet little ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes and yet more sunkissed peppers.

Both dishes together are the essence of summer: one hot and sultry, one fresh and breezy.  Work fast and hot.  This is not the dish to simmer.  No, work fast and hot.  Run like the last days of summer.

Hot & Sour Cucumber Stirfry with Black Cod

Recipe adapted from Kasma Loha-Unchit’s pad priow wahn recipe (undated handout)

Serves 4 with another dish.

  • 1/4 cup rice flour or cornstarch
  • 1/2 lb. black cod or other thick fillet of mild, white fish (or substitute large shrimp, peeled and deveined)
  • 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 medium white onion, sliced in half and then thinly
  • 2 long banana or wax peppers or other frying peppers if you’d like it less hot
  • 4 med. pickling cucumbers or 1-2 garden slicers, halved and sliced at angle about 1/8th-inch thick (peel slicers)
  • 2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 plum tomatoes or slightly underripe small slicers, cut in bite-sized chunks.
  • white pepper to taste

Set up your ingredients in separate, small dishes — mince the garlic; slice the onion, peppers, and cucumbers; chunk the tomatoes. Mix together fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar in a small bowl. Marinate fish fillet in a bit of this sauce and some white pepper.  Put rice flour on salad-sized plate or in shallow bowl for dredging fish.

Heat your pan until very hot on high heat. Just before frying, dredge fish fillet in rice flour on both sides and shake off the extra.  (If you are using shrimp, skip this step.)

When pan is hot, add oil and wait a minute to pre-heat, then add fish fillet or shrimp.  Cook fish until about 2/3 done (it will be brown on bottom and white most of the way up), then flip over in pan (for shrimp, just stirfry them until they are thoroughly pink).

Add onion and garlic, which should start to brown immediately.  Slow it down by adding the hot peppers.  Remove fish and set aside in a serving dish.  Add cucumbers and fish sauce mixture, then stirfry for a minute or so.  Add tomatoes and sprinkle with white pepper to taste.  Carefully arrange vegetables and sauce around fillet, or break apart fillet into four pieces and integrate into vegetables prior to serving.  Garnish with cilantro, if you have it.