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

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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!

 

christmas cheez-its

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Instead of cookies, I made Christmas cheez-its, powered by Crossroads Farm’s pasilla, esplette, and Hungarian cherry pepper powders.  They were a hit.  I may never bake cookies again.  Especially good served with smoked whitefish dip.  So my present to you is the recipe. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Cheese Crackers

Yield: 2-3 dozen, depending on how thick

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into slices when cold
  • 2 cups white wheat flour or wheat/rye combo
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces extra sharp cheddar, or a cheddar/stronger cheese mix like aged gouda
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • Smoked paprika or esplette or pasilla powder and sesame seeds for topping

Cut butter into pieces and let sit on counter to soften.  Grate cheese. Add an ice cube to a bowl of water to chill.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor bowl; pulse to combine. Add the butter and cheese and pulse until mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Add 2 tablespoons water and pulse until the dough falls away from the sides of the bowl and can be formed into a crumbly ball, adding a little more water if necessary.

Divide the dough in two, forming it into a disk if you plan to roll it out, or a log if you’re lazy like me and just want to slice it.  Chill for 1 hour to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325° F. Either roll the dough out or slice your log into pieces 1/8-inch thick (no more!).  You may need to let it warm up first on the counter a bit if you chilled overnight for easier rolling. You are aiming for thin, crisp crackers, so take care to make thickness even and consistent.

For Cheez-It-like bits, cut into 3/4-inch-wide squares and poke a hole in the center of each square with a skewer.

Place crackers on parchment-lined baking sheets and brush with egg white, then dust with paprika or the like and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake until the dough is not shiny/raw and barely golden on the bottom, about 20-22 minutes. Store completely cooled crackers in an airtight container.

*Note: I forgot to brush with egg white, so the toppings slid off for the photo.  Follow me at your peril!

 

 

restaurants open for christmas in eugene 2014

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Looking for a roundup of restaurants open on Christmas?  I’m so thankful that Eugene Cascades and Coast continues to gather up a partial list of some eateries open Christmas and Christmas Eve 2014.  This year, I noticed more Florence and Junction City places on the list, and fewer places listed for Christmas.  Please note that these restaurants are also open on Christmas, among others:

  • Kung Fu Bistro
  • Sizzle Pie
  • Izakaya Meiji
  • SweetWaters on the River
  • House of Chen
  • Sixth Street Grill
  • Empire Buffet
  • Rennie’s
  • Centennial Steak House (Springfield)

If you’re looking to volunteer or have a low-cost meal, see this useful handout from 2012. Some info will have changed, but it’s a good start.

 

10 great pacific northwest cookbooks, plus extras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

10 christmas gifts for your favorite eugenius

IMG_0178Just a few tidbits you might want to consider for last-minute, local, food-and-bev- oriented gifts.  Or, you know, start your shopping NOW.  I’m saying this kind of gloatingly from my high horse of Canning Nirvana Christmas Presents.  Actually, I’m sitting on a mountain of frozen food and gloating.  Ouch. It’s chilly up here.  For those reasons, I’m always late on the food blogger giving buyable Christmas present lists.  Sorry.  That doesn’t mean these things aren’t worthwhile.

1)  A blown glass golden pierogi ornament, as pictured above on my mantel.  Forget those German pickle ornaments as so last year.  There are also golden ravioli, if you are so unfortunate as to not be Polish.

2)  A couple of bottles of O Wines chardonnay, which is an initiative to raise scholarship funds for young women, owned and managed by St. Michelle Wine Estates.  Read more here about the story and wine.  I received a sample of the red table wine and the chard, and both are pleasant and food-friendly and budget-happy, perfect for a gift for any family holiday party.  Also, the logo looks like our ‘O’ for University of Oregon, so sportsfans would dig it. Their website notes that many of our local groceries (Albertsons and Safeways, Fred Meyers, and the Market of Choice on Green Acres) all carry the chard; not sure about the Red Blend.

IMG_9633 IMG_96343)  Silicone goodness at Hartwick’s, if you can’t afford that sous vide machine or the Vitamix you’ve your loved one has been craving.  These perfectly square ice cubes are oddly satisfying; the trays are often used by high-end bars.  I’m not sure who else uses the silicone spatulas but me, but I wholly endorse them as one of my favorite kitchen items.  You can use the business end or the handle for stirring and scraping various-sized projects, and high heat is ok.

IMG_80264) A gorgeous wood pasta board or cutting board, custom-made by Bill Anderson in Eugene.  Chef Rosa Mariotti‘s partner, Bill Anderson, is a retired engineer and woodworker, and he’s been making these lovely pasta/pastry boards and smaller cutting boards from various hardwoods, some exotic like the striped tigerwood.  I have an entire album of samples here. They’ve kindly offered to sell the boards as a fundraiser for the Master Food Preservers of Lane County, OR. The pasta boards go for $90 and up (with the tigerwood being on the higher end), and Rosa can fill you in on the price of the smaller boards. I bought one of each, and they’re spectacular. For inquiries, send a message to Rosa on Facebook!  IMG_9619IMG_96185) Tomato-scented candles at Marché Provisions, because it’s almost summer again, right?  I like the scent of the tomato leaf one better than the prettier tomato one, but it’s up to you to choose looks over talent.  Or just buy any beeswax candle ever. They’re so sweet and slightly honey-sticky and that butterscotch color.  Yum.

IMG_9622IMG_9625 IMG_96286) Also at Provisions, some truffles with local spirits (Bendistillery, Clear Creek, House Spirits, among others); a “Sniffle Slayer” lolly with lemon, ginger, honey and cayenne; and Hott Smoke sauce, which would kick those truffles’ and lollies’ asses. IMG_9636 7)  Any number of fascinating little kibbles and bits at Sequential Biofuel, our loving local gas station with all kinds of healthy, sustainable, and gluten-free-friendly stuff, like a bison “candy” bar.

8)  An independent food magazine. So important now that media publishing has gone to hell.

9)  But the reason I’m really here is because I want to talk cookbooks.  If your loved one cooks, these are the ones that grabbed me this year:

  •  Molly Stevens’ All About Braising, an essential addition to your collection, even though you think you know all about braising.  I just got it and I love it.  Pair with her book on Roasting.
  • Tartine No. 3, the famed bakery’s new all grain baking book.  Probably not for the beginner, but you could try.  The recipes are thrilling for anyone who is struggling to perfect the no-knead technique.
  • Jeffrey Morgenthaler‘s The Bar Book, also via Chronicle Books.  It’s pretty fab, unsurprisingly, as one of the only cocktail books out there to offer a solid, technique-based guide for the home bartender.  Expect to understand principles and classics, not fancy trends.
  •  Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle chef Renee Erickson, whose restaurants — modern, chic, vibrant, shellfishy — embody perhaps the epitome of PNW cuisine.
  • Not a cookbook, quite, but Heather Arndt Anderson’s new book about the food history of our fair City of Roses to the north, Portland: A Food Biography, promises to be filled with fun facts and even some recipes.  Her Tumblr page is fascinating and reflects her research acumen, but be sure to click through to buy the book directly from her or the publisher.
  • And two hyper-local farm-to-table cookbooks:  Anthony Boutard’s Beautiful Corn, the best treatment I’ve seen on the science and culinary merit of corn from a mellifluous farmer/writer in the tradition of Wendell Berry, and a great collection of local recipes for Beans, Grains, Nuts and Seeds: Further Adventures in Eating Close to Home by my fellow Eugene locavore, Elin England.

IMG_018210) Aaaaand, for the ridiculous person on your list, one of the silliest things I’ve seen this year: costumes for your wine bottles.  Available alongside many more reasonable gifts at Cost Plus.  Or consider the leather cooler I saw on a clickbait site for gifts for the adventurous eater, or that damned “aroma fork” thing that makes your fork smell.  WHY.  Why not?

 

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).

 

freezer frolics: ajvar 14 and QUINCE (crossed out cranberry) chutney

IMG_8984I’m starting a new fad.  Since almost everything I eat at home is local, it’s kind of silly to belabor the point.  So I’m now celebrating the joy of eating frozen food, liberated from my chest freezer and made more available in my regular freezer.

Breakfast was delicious and 100% frozen: kibbeh meatballs with mint, a slice of rye bread, and red hot Ajvar 14 sauce.

Lunch? Thanks for asking.  75% frozen.  Green chile tamales with the rest of my refrigerated QUINCE (as I yelled on the lid, crossing out the former denotation of ‘cranberry’) chutney.  Good.  I HAVE ANOTHER JAR IN THE FREEZER!!!

(The photos will also be frozen leftovers from the vault: this one isn’t too old, but appropriately chickens in the commercial freezer facility at Fair Valley Farm.)