separate two eggs: blossom end rot ketchup

IMG_4004The rain was ill-timed, for sure, and my garden is at risk.  Water has been an issue all summer.  Hubris and the bottom falling out of my life goaded me into believing that an overhead watering system was much easier than taking the time to put in the soaker hoses this year, so I’ve got powdery mildew shrouding the leaves of squash and cucumbers, cantankerous wilt encroaching on the tomatoes.  The soaker hoses I did lay down and test in June were either fixed too many times to work properly or just didn’t work at all.

My own eyes seem to be malfunctioning, too.  After those unspeakable hours when my beloved sidekick and best buddy had gone from seemingly healthy to “when they’re this far gone they usually don’t make it,” when I suddenly, terribly, intimately, finally understood the keening wail and hear-tearing grief of the ancient Greeks, they stopped knowing how to cry.  Something broke inside my head, and tears seemed to flow at their own will.

They didn’t come when I needed to feel some iota of resolution of a good life put to rest in the days that followed, stumbling around on the beach and begging for a sneaker wave to come take me.  They came and come while driving down Willamette or stepping into the fish market or making coffee or brushing my teeth, just enough to wet my eyes, and then go away again.  This pain births itself from you and rends you and makes you incomplete, absolutely paralyzed, sitting on your chest and not moving until — one hopes — it decides to climb down and go possess someone else.

You spend all your time still with the fear that there’s no consolation over the loss of a pet like him, and no longer consolation in your life. Instead of getting better, it just gets heavier and more leaden and more unreal. Even my subconscious has given up; the one fleeting glimpse of him I had in a dream I completely lost it and begged him to come back to me, saying what I had said thousands of times but not pleading, not in such high, hysterical, desperate tones: Come here, baby! Momma needs you!

It’s easy to say sorry about the job, sorry about the husband, sorry about the thousand other things you lost this year, just as easy as it is to compartmentalize these terrible things and deal with them one at a time as a series of tasks.  But no, we really don’t even know how to be sorry about the uncanny child-friend-mate-comfort blanket-lover-shadow bond one forges with a bright-eyed and utterly devoted feline with whom one has such a singular connection; we don’t know how to move beyond it…

And I’m just now getting around to mulching.

I moved the tomatoes to my Dissertation Draft Memorial Bed in the front of the house and the plants are gloriously erect and massive this year.  Huge, promising fruit have been developing well. There’s a grafted ‘Mexican,’ big luscious ‘Brad’s Black Heart,’ three ‘Amish Pastes’ sadly of the small and genetically muted variety, a nice ‘Carol Chyko’s Big Paste,’ my standard ‘Black Krim’ slicer, a ‘Hungarian Heart (which originated around 1900 in Budapest, like many good things), stalwart ‘Slava’, green and yellow ‘Grubb’s Mystery,’ Dawson’s Russian Oxheart,’ bright orange slicer ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast,’ and a deep yellow salad tomato, ‘Summer Cider Apricot,’ that I bought in a moment of weakness and don’t regret because of the unusual acidity.

At the first signs of blossom end rot, a virus we see every year on tomatoes as we transition from wet spring to dry summer in the Willamette Valley, we lay out calcium.  I’ve done it for years with ground eggshells dug in and dried milk watered deeply into the soil.  The first few tomatoes can be affected, but after they’re plucked and discarded, the rest are usually fine.

But this year, with the new bed and onslaught of trauma and my tragic confidence in watering methods against all portents from the gods, I didn’t see the early signs early enough.  Now most of the plants are infected, those big beautiful green lobes rotting from the bottom up like, well, there’s no point in veering off into the metaphorical direction, since you already get it.

I’m trying to cut my losses, then, with blossom end rot ketchup.  Safe canning practices say one’s not supposed to can with blossom end rot tomatoes, since the virus messes with the acidity, and since my crop is so damaged this year, I decided to make a batch of ketchup, which has enough acid and sugar added that slight variations in tomatoes don’t really matter.  And a little bitterness and salty tears just improve ketchup anyway.

And for sauce and paste and salsa?  I picked up a lug of organic ‘Scipio’ paste tomatoes from the good folks at Good Food Easy/Sweetwater Farm in Creswell, who are operating a farm stand on Sundays from 10-2 at 19th and Agate.  I ate one directly from the box and it was full and meaty and sweet and good.  Apparently, it’s also known as ‘Scipio San Marzano’ and ‘Astro.’ I’d warn folks off the regular ‘San Marzanos’ we grow in the valley.  It’s usually not hot enough and they take so long that they’re nothing like Italian ‘San Marzanos.’

Want the ketchup recipe?  Click here.

IMG_3421Boris Badenov Levin, RIP. 1997-2013.

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

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separate two eggs: party of one mix

IMG_3796Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone. Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing and add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Inspired by Judith Jones, editrix extraordinaire of some of the best American food writers, a widow who continued cooking elegantly for herself after the death of her husband, I think I’m going to start writing about cooking for one, and call the series “Separate Two Eggs.” It won’t be elegant, I assure you, but instead I promise never to let a dog lick a single plate in my house (Ms. Jones, really?).  So let’s see how many ideas I can devise.

The problem is I don’t really like cooking for myself. I never got the hang of it. I cook meals for 4 or 6, figuring on guests or leftovers. There aren’t often leftovers, but there have always been plenty of guests, so it served me well. Not having kids and living in a place with decent-enough dining out options gave me the strength: no one ever killed dinner for me.  But then, when my husband started to diet, I had to learn how to cook alone, and I got used to cooking for 3, then 2, and maybe, on a good night, 1.5. Tiptoeing around the food restriction du jour filled me with despair and I finally just mostly gave up on the daily dinner slog. Instead, I ate out or made big pots of things I liked and froze them, or just ate popcorn for dinner.

Now I have to rethink things, because the frozen prepared food won’t last me forever and I suppose I should relearn how to amuse myself at dinnertime, forging more boldly across the bloody dinner battlefields of our Puritan land.  When I’m alone and have nothing scheduled, I work all afternoon and well into the night. I’m finding more and more I can multitask less and less, so with the blessed and rare (and surely transitory?) life I’ve been suddenly given — no children, no husband, no pets, no conferences, no research trips, no immediate deadlines, no events, no classes — if I don’t think about feeding myself I will spend hours concentrating on writing. So it’s got to be quick or half-prepped in the refrigerator or utterly fascinating.

And nothing healthy will do, given there’s nothing more depressing than eating a salad when one interrupts one’s work with a glass of wine. Popcorn is the food of the lonely, and quite frankly, as much as I loved that man and still consider him one of my closest friends, I’m less lonely at home than I have been for a long time. I know you hear me.  I’m never that hungry at night, and certainly not at the unfathomable Eugene dinner hour, so I find a snack is much more palatable than anything else in the evening.  Finally, throw off the remaining chains of dinner!

Imperative now, intrepid voyager, is to amuse your bouche. So what’s a girl to do? Party.

Party Mix for One

Serve with a glass of lively rosé or cava. Or two. Or all of the above.

The general idea is to mix the five flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, savory. The overriding principle is crunch. Use a tiny bowl; don’t be a piggy.  I suppose you could subsitute an aged gouda for the cured meat, but don’t use both so you don’t offend god.

  • 2 tablespoons tiny organic corn nuts (I have no idea what these are called without the trade name, sorry, but you can buy them in bulk at organicky markets)
  • 1 tablespoon chilled diced cured coppa or other dried sausage
  • 1 tablespoon dried cherries
  • 1 teaspoon Dutch “platte salmiakje” salmiak licorice drops, or substitute something weird like, hmm, fresh coriander buds? Diced sour gummy bears?  Fried sage? Chocolate chips? Just nothing moist or stupid.  Other than that, I’m not sure. You decide.

Dice everything as small as the corn nuts.  Blend.  Serve immediately: you’re waiting.

in which midsummer finds our heroine in her garden

IMG_3659As I struggle to finish two articles, work through the sudden loss of my beloved cat and a separation from my husband, and ponder a brave new world and perfect my Oregon tan* at the same time, my garden beckons, that heartbreaking seductress.  How did we get to mid-July? How did I get here?**

The raspberries are still producing, but slowly.  Blackcaps are done. I had no tayberries this year, and that’s probably for the best — the ones in the market were not terrific. Must have been a glitch in the weather, as the loganberries are fine, the boysenberries fanfuckingtastic. Also an almost complete failure of my ‘Poorman’ gooseberries, but the ‘Cherry Red’ currants were finally old enough for a great crop and the rhubarb didn’t wimp out this year.  My ‘Benton’ strawberries are throwing out sisters, rather rudely far from their nice contained bed, deep into my herbs and beans.

I packed away the cured garlic yesterday, big juicy heads of ‘Keith Red’ hardneck with mottled purple-brown skin (above), and a braided strand of a dozen or so pearl-white, mostly ‘Silver Rose’ softneck.  And the potatoes came out: a bit early, but nevertheless a terrific harvest of ‘Russian Banana’ fingerlings and an improved version of the Yukon Gold called Island something-or-another, I forgot.

Still need to thin my cute little round Dutch carrots and cut some kale, which rebounded beautifully from an aphid infestation. Poppies were a bust in partial shade.  Malabar spinach: you disappoint me.  But the frisée and celtuse? Big, perhaps bitter.  I understand.

My peas are finally through, or at least I finally got tired of them, so I pulled them out, gently extracting around the ‘La Vigneronne’ Swiss pole beans that are so pretty with maroon and green striations.  I trained a volunteer ‘Delicata’ squash (or maybe it’s a goddamn gourd) on the far side of the chickenwire fence and thought very hard about more properly netting up my cucumbers.  I bought a few rounds this year, and finally a few heirloom seeds and some hybrids took, and then I supplemented with late starts of ‘Mexican Sour Gherkins,’ ‘Salt and Pepper’ yellows, and ‘Poona Kheera’ whites.

Tomatoes are going like gangbusters; peppers are slow and small-leaved, but fruiting.  I think the early heat and time in the greenhouse produced leggy plants, so they are still recovering by throwing out leaves.

The squash is a mystery, quite frankly.  I planted little hills when garden space freed up: some Open Oak variety of ‘Delicata’ here, a ‘Costata Romanesco’ ribbed zucchini there, some yellow crooknecks over there.  A pumpkin volunteer sprang up in the tomato bed.  A gourd or two or four are scattered throughout.  I cast out seeds.  I take my chances.  Same as it ever was; same as it ever was; same as it ever was; same as it ever was.

*The slightly pinkish hue that comes from being outside with sunscreen and a hat whilst raspberry picking on a hot day.

**At least I’m no longer obsessively thinking about Dante’s hell in the middle of the road.

the juices of june

IMG_3534My hands are Oregon hands, stained wine-dark with the juices of June. My arms, too, are speckled with red, but that’s my own blood from being stuck, a reminder of the thorns that accompany the best pleasures.  On my t-shirt there’s a mix of berries and blood.  The juices of June.

Within moments of returning home, I was in the garden picking handfuls of raspberries and black raspberries.  I didn’t need a bowl, not where those berries were going.  My right hand man gave me fingers to pluck; my left was bowl and scoop.  As soon as I filled up my primal vessel I did as the cavemen (in Oregon? Sure — poetic license), yes, the cavemen did: stuffed the entire handful in my mouth.

Because I can.

My lust for these berries won’t be sated for another month.  I planted another row last year, and it’s still not even remotely enough.  I’ll u-pick them, buy flats at the market, buy flats at the farm, buy them in restaurants and pick them at friends’ places.

It’s gluttony, I know, and thanks to teaching the Professeur, M. Brillat-Savarin, for so many years now, I know the difference between the gourmand — the delicately attuned lover of food with a capacious palate and appetite for the finest and most appropriate foods for his class — and me, the glutton.  It doesn’t matter where and how when it comes to raspberries, I just want to stuff my face with them.  Even when I lived in California, I’d buy those horrible cellpaks of ‘Willamettes,’ which are harder and larger than some of the other Oregon varieties of raspberries so we trade them to our neighbor to the south for their inedible monster “strawberries.”  But unlike the strawberries, I’d buy those horrible cellpaks with their nasty kleenex pad and eat raspberries all in one sitting, just so I could take some edge off the craving.

Here in Oregon, I can eat the soft ones and the sweet ones, the acidic ones and the monstrous ones, the golden ones, the dark ones and the pink ones and the warm ones bright in the sun.  We have a month of fresh raspberries ahead.  I like raspberries far more than strawberries, which are delicious but always seemed a little obvious to me, kind of like a sweet plump girl who means no harm and doesn’t quite get the jokes.  They have a dumb-looking bonnet and they get turned into cartoons.  Raspberries, on the other hand, lent their name to that gross gesture of blowing spitty air out of your mouth.  Raspberries have a bit of punk in them.

And if raspberries have an edge, black raspberries are rude boys.  Raspberries I always knew, but I remember very well the first time I spotted black raspberries under the stairs leading down to my grandfather’s dock in northern Michigan.  I’m not sure how old I was, but I must have been close to the ground, even though those steps were steep.  Anyway, they were feral and growing through the stairs to scratch the legs of little girls.  I had to eat them.  I knew I’d get pricked and didn’t know if they were poison or not, but they were glossy and becoming and beckoning.

My parents weren’t in sight, and my grandfather was busy gutting fish down the dock.  He held a chinook aloft and showed me the egg sac.

“You see this? Rich people pay good money for these fish eggs,” and with a snort he dumped it all with the guts in the bucket.

Rich people, thought I, would pay me good money for these shiny berry eggs.  So I’m going to taste them.  And when I did and their wild dark tart sweet seedy little bits entered my mouth for the first time, I realized some things were too precious to be sold to rich people.  My black raspberry empire thus ended where it began, in Manistee, Michigan.

Now I grow them and I still don’t have enough, but I know I’m the luckiest girl in the world for just one second in June when I collect them by the handful and take that very first mouthful, unadorned.  I close my eyes and am grateful, hardly possibly, for another year.

poppies will put them to sleep

It’s been harder than anticipated to get back to writing.  I blame the somnolent state of the blogger, laid waste by a general anesthetic and the drowsy lullaby of pain medication, not the tiny field of poppies growing in the back of her garden. For these are ‘Elka White’ Slovakian bread poppies (from local seed savers Adaptive Seeds), papaver somniferum, a relative to the ones that halted Dorothy and her companions on the way to the Emerald City.  If I ever wake up, I’ll turn the seeds that tumble from the dried seed heads into fine Eastern European poppyseed pastries who will be forgetful of their gardener’s sleepy summer start.

Hope things will be more normal soon.  It’s harder than one might expect to be laid up with all the time in the world — and unable to turn thoughts to words.

a tale of two detroit bakeries: greektown

I’m visiting my family in Michigan for a few days between work travel.  After a lunch of saganakispanakotiropita, and octopus salad in Greektown, we stopped by the Astoria Pastry Shop.  Greektown pretty much horrified me, as someone who hasn’t been in downtown Detroit for decades, but I’m trying not to be so sad about it.  It was one of the best memories of my high school days, going down to Greektown and the brand spankin’ new Trapper’s Alley for exotic Greek (and Ethiopian, my first!) food.

Now Trapper’s Alley is gone and Greektown is spillover for the first big casino.

We never went downtown while I was growing up.  My great-grandparents were the emigrant generation, and they all moved to the Polonia sections of Detroit once they landed on Ellis Island.  By the time my mom was growing up in the fifties, the family still had enough reason to travel down Woodward to the big department stores and to see relatives.  My mom remembers the city growing more derelict and dangerous over the years, and they finally stopped going.  When I was growing up in the seventies, it was just not a place to go.  We’d occasionally venture out to the Institute of Art or the Symphony or to see a ballet, but it was not a regular part of life.

Only when I discovered food did it become a part of my life again.

And now, with the casinos, as more middle-class suburban (read: white) people are returning to Detroit as a tourist destination to be drained of their income, Greektown is pretty much history.  There’s still an air of terror that surrounds the place, the fear that a white person will be immediately attacked once entering the city, but still they come.  And that’s a change. Some of the old restaurants and bakeries are there, and some even accept casino comps at cash value.  It’s like any gold rush town — new chain restaurants are moving in, and the place operates as if the casino has formed a parallel economy with its own transportation byways, currency, and value system that feels vaguely outside the law and yet firmly, urgently, within it.

Needless to say, there are many problems with this gold rush mentality, and I can’t argue the casinos haven’t raised millions of dollars for the site of one of the worst urban stories in the twentieth century. But it still makes me sad.  My mom is sad when she thinks of the deterioration of a city that was vibrant in her youth.  I’m sad about the holocaust and post-apocalyptic dystopia the city became and continues to become in my waning youth.  Detroit is more disturbing to me now than it ever was.

Yes, it’s mesmerizing and brutally raw, fascinating to see.  The decay screams out at you to become art — every single block is a photograph, every single conversation is a poem.  The waiter at our restaurant, an imposing dark man, said he’d lived downtown since the seventies.  “I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” he confessed.  “Of course, I have a CCW, but who doesn’t?  I have to keep an eye on my Harley.  Stay safe, ladies.”

Recording these impressions is almost impossible to resist.  But I think we (I) should try very very hard to press back against the impulses that find terrible beauty and remember the cost to humanity.  Not humanity in the big H Humanities sense, but humanity in the sense of people.  An old woman should have some better pleasure in life than being helped from her wheelchair to a slot machine in a toxic environment.  The city shouldn’t be primarily integrated in a holding cell.  Vending machines — if they should continue to exist — shouldn’t be stocked with cigarettes.  A waiter shouldn’t see packing a concealed weapon as a normal part of his day…

Ugh.  Have to stop.

You can still get a darn good meal in Greektown.  My mom had one of the best pieces of spanakotiropita (like spanakopita but with cheese) that I’ve ever tasted. The Astoria Pastry Shop, with its pressed copper ceiling and Greek pastries, was founded in the seventies, but it feels like an old place and worth your tourist dollars, and Greektown is a wonderful place to catch the People Mover around the downtown area for free views of the Detroit River and all the downtown buildings in their crumbling or renovating-renovated splendor.  The Astoria is a filo heaven, but if your proclivities swing cakeward, they’ve got you covered, too.  Click, click below to see some of the real sweetness of Detroit.  Next up: Polish bakery!

Note: Part II of this post can be found at A Tale of Two Detroit Bakeries: Polonia.

of peaches and penumbras

Food for thought.  When you blog regularly, or profess, or editorialize, or report, or essay, it is hard to turn off the tap, the flow of thoughts to words that organize themselves like little labor unions, and keep you on the straight and narrow. A picture like the one above, for example, of two Christmas presents, always presents itself as an opportunity to interpret.

It’s very hard to shut off the tap. If you write regularly, you feel the words constantly mobilizing, ready to fight against any injustice you take up as a cause, or any singular item of beauty or relevance or newsworthiness.  This is good work and important.

But sometimes the tap has to shut itself off.  That’s scary.  Because there’s so much to say.  And then you have a group of picketers ready to strike.

That’s when there’s everything and nothing to say.

At year’s end, when bloggers and reporters sum up the comings and goings of whatever it is they’ve chronicled coming and going, blogging should be easy.   The year-end posts make one feel closure on the year’s work and it provides readers with sense of time passing with progress.  Accomplishment.  Quantifiable successes.  An onward march.  How did the “to do” list fare? The resolutions? How many jars did you put up, what was your best magic with a cut of beef?  How many tomatoes were picked, and how many tomato pickers suffered?

What a year for the organized march.  I want to sever myself from it, frankly.  In times of sadness and grief, there just aren’t enough  words.  For the first time in a long time, I don’t want to write.

So to my labor union of words, I say let’s approach 2011 and its sadnesses in a different way.  I’m going to be on the side of those who resist the listmaking and cataloguing of injustices for a while.  Instead of trying to accomplish even more, I aim to resist and regroup.  Dare I say it?  I plan to do less this year.  Less enumerating of who killed the pork chops and more dreaming of peaches and penumbras.  Not sure how and not sure where it will lead, but I’m willing to walk all night through the solitary streets.  Send in the scabs!

This post has been brought to you by the letters F and U, the number 2011, and

A Supermarket in California
by Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked
down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking
at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon
fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at
night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!
–and you, García Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking
among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops?
What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you,
and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy
tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the
cashier.

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in a hour.
Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and
feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade
to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automo-
biles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America
did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a
smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of
Lethe?
–Berkeley, 1955