a prayer for fat tuesday: paczki day 2013


A souffle-waffle experimentIMG_4320A slice of chocolate mousse cake from Bon Appétit circa 1980IMG_2878Truth in Portlandia

Thank you, cruel Dominates of Moderates, for leaving your groveling minion one last day of respite: Fat Tuesday, the day we celebrate all that’s excessive and fat and delightful in carne-vale-esque fashion.

For I sing (softly and despairingly and despondently at times, but I sing) the body electric, for those of us who look like paczki and act like paczki, for we endeavor to lick the creamy filling out of our mortal days on earth.  I sing against watering down bourbon and decreasing diversity and kneecapping the tasty and pleasurable and loving.  I sing against the heart made of stone and the heart heavy as a stone and the body denied and the breath captured and the unseeing eye and the muted word, even though I know that Lent will still come and what will rise in the place of pleasure is not nearly enough.

But today, wearing my new perfume — no, not THAT perfume, Jesus — I will sally my pączek form forth into the daylight, and greedily, desperately, try not to feel the legacy of enforced continence, the pinch of the present, the undeniable, frightening, slouching-toward-us-inchoately horrors of the future.

Nothing better we can do, really.

Culinaria Eugenius Paczki Day coverage throughout the years can be found here.

planting seeds: good, bad, ugly


IMG_2698 IMG_2701Seed catalogues for 2013 are now out.  The Willamette Valley is one of the richest seed-producing areas of the country, so we’re fortunate to be able to have close and intimate relationships with several farms and businesses cultivating seed crops.  Seeds that are adapted to Northwest gardens or heirloom varieties from maritime cool climates elsewhere in the world that grow well in our fair state are plentiful.  I’ve listed my favorites, and welcome your suggestions for others.  You also might want to be aware of vegetable hybrids that are owned by Monsanto.

Monsanto-owned brands (these may be distributed by other seed companies, so look at names of particular varieties):

Northwest-friendly, bred in Oregon:

  • Territorial Seed (Cottage Grove, OR): This is the big boy in the crowd, but still a solid local business.  They’ve stopped stocking Seminis seeds as of a few years ago, so the rumors of a Monsanto connection aren’t true.
  • Adaptive Seeds (Sweet Home, OR): Also Open Oak Farm, specializing in beans and grains and roots and all kinds of wonderful things for the PNW.  The pictures above of cool vintage farm equipment and the field used in their seed operation were taken a couple of months ago during a tour of the farm.
  • Wild Garden Seed (Philomath, OR): Also Shoulder-to-Shoulder Farm and related to Gathering Together Farm, specializing in lettuces and flowers, too.  Farmer Frank Morton developed my favorite variety of kale, White Russian.
  • Log House Plants (Cottage Grove, OR): excellent plant hybridizers responsible for the grafted tomatoes and a range of unusual seeds; check out their new Drunken Botanist collection.
  • Nichols Nursery (Albany, OR).  “New and Unusual” features sugar beets and a great romanesco-type zucchini.
  • Siskiyou Seeds (Williams, OR): Also Seven Seeds Farm.  Lists a number of cooperative seed growers locally and in WA and northern CA, too.


  • Chinese/Japanese/some Thai produce: Kitazawa Seed Co. (Oakland, CA): These are often sold in big Asian supermarkets on the West Coast.  I’ve seen them in Uwajimaya in Beaverton, but not around Eugene.
  • Italian produce:  Seeds of Italy (Italy): Absolutely gorgeous range of Italian varieties of vegetables and herbs.  Be careful on the growing seasons for some of the hot weather crops.

And if you’re thinking about learning more about gardening by volunteering, check out the Food for Lane County Gardens Program, which reports a record-breaking year in 2012. 190,000 pounds (their largest yield ever) of produce distributed to meal sites and pantries!  Contact Jen Anonia, Gardens Program Manager, janonia@foodforlanecounty.org or 541-343-2822.  Or just donate to FFLC!  There’s a terrific 1-for-1 matching program for the month of February.  All donations will be matched by an anonymous donor.  We’ll be interviewing Executive Director Beverlee Hughes this Sunday on Food for Thought on KLCC.

pickled ginger for locavores

Amazed to see a big tub of beautiful, pristine young ginger at the Groundwork Organics stand on Saturday morning.  I’ve long been dissatisfied with the preservatives in pale pink Japanese pickled ginger (gari), the Tonto to the Lone Ranger of sushi, so on the rare occasion I can find some new ginger in season, I make my own.  It’s crucial not to use the fibrous, older storage-ready ginger with the beige skin, since it will be too tough (I know from experience).  Instead, use the stuff that appears once a year or so in Japanese markets.  AND NOW IN EUGENE, WOO!

Groundwork should probably still have fresh ginger knobs for another week, judging from what they had left.  Don’t hesitate.  Ginger can be profitably frozen as-is.  You’ll lose the texture, but the taste when grated is just a bit muted, so use a little more.  I usually grate it while still frozen.

The pickling solution for the following recipe is rather mild.  You can use this ginger as you would fresh ginger, too.  I think the salt and vinegar just add a nice mild pop to the flavor.  It’s great in fried rice.

To achieve the pink color one sees in the commercial pickled ginger at sushi restaurants, don’t use red food coloring, as they do.  Instead, add a slice of beet briefly to the pickling solution, or carefully trim the darker pink base of the stem, if you have it left on your knob of ginger, and add the trim to the top of the jar.  The pink stem isn’t really edible because it’s too fibrous, so just be sure to remove it.  That’s what I’m using above.

Pickled Young Ginger

Makes half-pint

  • 1/2 lb. chunk of fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 c. rice vinegar (unseasoned)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoon water
  • slice of red beet or dark pink outer rim of ginger (optional)

Wash, trim, and rub skin off young ginger with the tip of a spoon. Using a mandoline or Japanese slicer, slice ginger into paper-thin bite-sized pieces.  Salt the slices and let sit on the counter for an hour or so.  Drain off liquid and pack in half-pint canning jar or heat-proof container.  Bring rest of ingredients to a boil, then pour over ginger slices.  Optional: add a slice of dark beet or the layer of dark pink ginger for color to the liquid as it boils, then discard before pouring over ginger.  Let cool, then refrigerate for at least a week before using to develop flavors.  Should keep for several months refrigerated.

halloween came early in vegas, glad to be home

It’s been an intense month, but I’ve got a bit of breathing room.  It’s been a struggle to reorganize my priorities to spend more time strengthening my leg as I learn how to get full range of motion again, but it needs to be done.  I do less in a day so I can spend more time exercising and going to the gym.  But that’s ok for now.

Walking and taking photos has been a pleasure.  Since I’m so slow, I can see a great deal.  Walking downtown has been thrilling, seeing all the new food businesses emerge (a long overdue restaurant post will come soon, I promise). I’m also really excited to have been part of a team studying some possibilities for a food studies program at University of Oregon.  We went up to OSU to meet a number of Oregon scholars interested in a food studies coalition of sorts, then hosted several eminent food studies faculty from other institutions back at home.  I hope something good comes out of it all.

I’ve been planning some events with my food research group on campus, including the visit from Sandor Katz on November 16, too.  Then I spent a half-week in Las Vegas at a literature conference last week.  I’m still haunted by the Strip, where I saw Dora the Explorer and Freddy Kruger mingling among the tourists outside the Flamingo.  And don’t even get me started about what was inside.  Halloween came early!

Creepy, no?  The talking animated tree was at the Bellagio and the talking Neptune posed between the Nike swoosh and a Cheesecake Factory logo was part of an inaudible animatronic show depicting the fall of Atlantis at Caesars Palace.  The eyebrow-raising relief of Roman soldiers raping naked women, also Caesars Palace.  Check it out and its companion piece of Roman soldiers beating men when you enter the slot machine area.  No fucking joke.

I did enjoy seeing colleagues at the conference, where I presented my work on sexual modernity and on modernist food, and the Flamingo wasn’t a bad place to stay at all.  My room was very clean and the hall was absolutely silent.  Couldn’t ask for more, especially in the middle of the decline of Western civilization.  Great meals, too, at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon and Lotus of Siam, a hole in the wall place off the Strip in a mini-mall, made famous by Jonathan Gold a few years ago.  I had a noteworthy lamb leg with apples and blanched rutabaga cubes with a wonderful bottle of wine at the former, a pounded Northern Thai jackfruit and pork “dip” and a puffed rice and sausage dish at the latter.

But now I’m home sweet home, and couldn’t be happier to see my friends and neighbors and farmers at the market this weekend.  I walked around on my own for the first time in months, and it was a little hard, but I managed, even in the rain.

I skipped the zombie Thriller in Kesey plaza.  I had seen enough Halloween.  Instead, I reminded myself of how dazzling our fall produce is.  The hard winter squashes in yellows, oranges, reds, and slate blues are gorgeous, especially with the multi-hued peppers that remain, but I more stimulated by baskets of quinces and huckleberries at the gourd guy’s booth, brilliant red and gold flint corn polenta at Lonesome Whistle (their first go at flint corn!), and tiny American persimmons at Grateful Harvest alongside Concord grapes and the rest of the Italian prunes and fall strawberries. The weird weather created a stellar apple crop.  I bought some huge, delicious Pippins from Hentze farm, and drooled over Dave Biancalana’s description of his apple cider pork sausage with rosemary and apples.  There were golden raspberries and juicy Napa cabbage and new ginger (!!) at Groundworks Organics.  My favorite White Russian kale was available at Ruby & Amber’s Organic Oasis (I hope I’m remembering this one correctly). Cider from River Bend farm and roasting peppers were enticing us at the front of the market.  Someone whose name I forgot was selling local sweet potatoes, an important item of note for Thanksgiving.

As for what’s coming:  the mushrooms are sprouting up, especially golden chanterelles.  Beans and grains are being sorted and cleaned right now: expect the new crop very soon.  I’m pretty sure the hazelnut crop got swept up before the rains, too, so that means great plump filberts.  Walnuts should be here soon, and cranberries.  Time for homemade cran-vodkas, my favorite fall drink!

I love this little valley, this great state.  I’m so glad I’m here to share it with you.

partycart takeover with gabriel gil’s mexican food!

In the many hours I’ve sat at the bar listening to the food talk at Rabbit Bistro (now closed and soon to reopen downtown, we hope), I’ve only longed helplessly for one thing I thought I’d never have: Chef Gabriel Gil’s staff meals.  He often, it was reported, made food influenced by his Mexican grandma and all he soaked up by her side in the kitchen or out in the neighborhoods of Southern California.  So many times, I heard his entranced staff recount, enraptured, the staff meal they had eaten that week…and then they’d fantasize about other things Gabe said he’d make in the future.

Exhibit A:  The Tijuana Hot Dog.  As described in this charming illustration, the midcentury creation known south and north of the border as the Tijuana hot dog is a fiesta in a bun: hot dog wrapped in bacon with pico de gallo, pineapple, avocado, grilled jalapeno, crema.  I can’t remember if Gabe served it to his staff, or if they just WANTED IT.  But I very clearly remember that I wanted it, too.

And here’s my — and your — chance.

Next week, August 14-17, the chef will be taking over PartyCart‘s cart, to give the hardworking Partiers a rare couple of days off.  He’ll be making Tijuana hot dogs and a host of wonderful Mexican specialties that you’ve probably never heard of.  Throw away all your Norte prejudices and Tex-Mex paradigms, and come party with Gabe.  If you love good food and have an open heart, you won’t regret it.

This is the menu, as it stands.  (There might be changes over the weekend as they finish the prep.) He is keeping the PartyCart format of smaller and larger plates.  I don’t have a list of prices, but I’m sure they’ll be reasonable.  Don’t know what something is?  Google it! You’ll be happy you did.

Chef Gabriel Gil’s PartyCart Takeover Menu — August 14-17

*elote mexicano
*soup: summer squash, epazote, green chile
*salad: heirloom tomato, cactus, melon, radish, habanero,
*salad: vanilla octopus, jicama, pineapple, cilantro, cucumber

*Tijuana hot dog
*red chile noki, mushroom, spinach
*tacos de lengua
*pork tenderloin, papas nortenas, manchamantel

And Eugeniuses, if you want something particular that is not on this menu, something that fits your specialized, food-phobic, hyper-nutritious, elimination-insistent, or otherwise selective tastes, please don’t bring your complaints to the cart next week.  Go somewhere else.  There are plenty of places around town that will cater to your whims.  This is our opportunity to enjoy a great chef’s personal pleasures at a venue that works hard to bring new and unusual local food to Eugene.  Understand that this kind of thing doesn’t happen anywhere else.  If you can’t dig it, go away.  I can’t say this more kindly. Live in the moment, just as the Buddha would.  Seize the day like a Roman poet. Just do it, sayeth our Nike overlords.

If it goes well, and I’m SURE it will, perhaps PartyCart will do more takeovers in the future.  And how cool would that be?

nose to tail corncob cookery, plus a great light corn chowder

When I’m not gorging myself on summer tomatoes, I turn to the sweet delight of barely cooked corn on the cob.  I have two methods of making fresh corn, neither original but both foolproof:

1)  Put stockpot about 2/3 full of heavily salted water on stove, or, as we do, on an outdoor camp stove in the heat of summer.  Turn heat on high, then add shucked corn.  Cover.  When water boils, corn is done.

2)  Shuck outside layers of corn husks.  When you’re down to the silk and one or two layers of thin, light husk, carefully remove as many of the silk strands as you can, leaving at least one layer of husk intact.  Grill on whatever fire you’ve got going (if too hot, move to sides of grill), turning corn to get all sides.  Remove husk before serving.  The beauty of this method is that the corn won’t get charred and overcooked on the grill, just the husks will, but you’ll get a nice smokey taste.

Once the corn is stripped from the cob, the only difficulty you’ll have is deciding what to do with it.  Freeze it for later?  Eat it now as is, maybe pan roasted in a bit of brown butter? Make salsa?  Make a creamy green chile-corn pudding or souffle? Fresh corn polenta?  A corn panna cotta?

And wondering what to do with the husks?  Me too.  I’m planning to try uchepos, a fresh corn tamale that uses green husks as wrappers.

Everyone should buy enough early sweet corn to freeze for winter meals.  If you cook it in one of the two manners above, you won’t need to parboil it before freezing.  Remove the corn off the cob, place it in freezer safe containers, and freeze.  I like to use our local ‘Bodacious’ hybrid, a bi-color sweet corn, for freezing.

As much as I love the combination of corn and cream, I find most corn chowders to be too thick and rich for my tastes in the heat of summer.  I want the freshness of the corn to shine, enhanced by green vegetable notes like celery and poblano pepper, with just a touch of cream.  I find that if you use fresh corn just stripped from the cob and corncob broth, you can get away with making a lighter version of chowder that has plenty of flavor from peppers and bacon.  It’s also very pretty.  The broth is thickened with a bit of natural potato starch and the milky inner part of the kernels.

I realized, too, that this chowder is a perfect use for your tiny, marble-sized garden potatoes that are hard to use elsewhere.  Add as many as you have, then cut other waxy potatoes into pieces about the same size.

You may use either already cooked or raw corn for this recipe, but do use summer corn that you’ve removed from the cob yourself.  Raw corn will make the chowder creamier and sweeter, but pre-cooking corn on the cob makes it easier to remove the kernels.  I rely on frozen corn cob broth to eliminate a step, but you can make fresh broth as you’re preparing the other vegetables.

Fresh, Spicy, and Smokey Light Corn Chowder

Serves 4-6 as a light summer supper.

  • 4 cups freshly shucked corn
  • 3 cups corn cob broth
  • 4-5 slices of thick-cut bacon
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 poblano peppers, roasted and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, roasted and chopped
  • 6-8 scallions, charred and chopped
  • 6-8 golfball-sized new potatoes, scrubbed and halved (substitute any waxy potato, cut into bite-sized pieces)
  • a fresh bay leaf
  • 1 t. fresh summer savory or oregano
  • 1 cup 2% lowfat milk (or light cream or full fat milk, if you’re feeling decadent)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Defrost corn cob broth, if you are using frozen.  Prepare your corn from corn on the cob (either pre-cooked or raw) by removing the kernels, making sure to scrape the inner part of the corn kernels from the cob with the back of a spoon.

If you are making fresh broth, reserve the cobs and prepare the broth, using the recipe linked above.

Prepare the vegetables.  Roast peppers over an open flame or on your electric burner on high heat, turning until skin blackens and blisters.  Set aside to cool in a brown paper bag or covered bowl. Wash and trim roots and bad bits off scallions, then char them by placing them whole on the burner, turning quickly, until about 25% blackened. Let scallions cool until easy to handle, then chop.

Dice onion and chop celery.  Scrub and cut potatoes into halves or bite sized pieces.

When peppers are cool, de-seed and chop them.

Brown your bacon over medium heat in a dutch oven large enough for the soup.  Remove and cool, leaving the fat in the pot.  Add diced onion and celery to bacon fat and cook until translucent.  Dice bacon and add back to pot.  Add potatoes, corn, herbs, and salt and pepper.

Cook over medium low heat for about 20 minutes, then add chopped peppers, charred chopped scallions, and milk.  Turn down to a simmer.  When potatoes are soft enough to yield easily to a knife slipped into their little bodies, adjust seasonings and serve.

the unexpected pleasures of savory watermelon

As soon as the sweet, dense, singular Eastern Oregon-grown Hermiston watermelons hit the market in late July, I try to keep a tub full of ready-to-eat slices close by in the refrigerator, just in case a heat-related emergency arises.  But heat and watermelon can be even chummier, I realized last night at an illuminating supper.

Taco Belly (which no one calls by its official name, Taqueria Belly) is the fancier new Belly’s scruffy kid sister, but no less beloved by its owners and staff and customers.  The regular menu is good, but the specials…well, sometimes the specials just Knock. It. Out. Of. The. Park.  I submit to you Exhibit A:

A grilled watermelon “salad,” special du jour du yesterday.  Watermelon salads are usually fussy things, with little cubes and precious dots and twiddles and fringes.  This was big, luscious slices of watermelon, grilled on a hot fire with the rinds on.  Then the slices were topped with pepitas, fresh goat cheese (I think), a simple roasted salsa roja, and a smattering of white onion and cilantro.  The pile is crowned with a few edible nasturtium flowers, which add not only fiery glory but a peppery and slightly bitter note.

This morning, admittedly high on watermelon, I found an elegant appetizer of salmon sashimi draped over a spiced watermelon refrigerator pickle from the slightly odd blog My Man’s Belly.  You can find her recipe linked in the watermelon category of the Punk Domestics preservation collective blog.  You might try smoked salmon, homemade gravlax or quickly seared salmon, as well.  Oregon salmon, of course.

But we can’t stop there.  I’ve been saving a recipe from the Bite of Eugene last year for exactly a moment like this, an original recipe that Iron Chef Oregon 2010, our dear Gabriel Gil of Rabbit Bistro & Bar served at the festival and distributed to attendees. Watermelon gazpacho. Yes.  It’s a subtle and perfect blend of watermelon and sweet, acidic summer tomatoes, with red peppers, cucumbers, onion and garlic to provide the underpinnings a good gazpacho needs.  It was my favorite soup last summer, so I asked Chef Gil (last year, hope he remembers) if I could post it on the blog.  And I trust my delay will be your future pleasure!

The soup should be started the night before you plan on serving it, since it needs to sit for 12 hours.  I suggest using dark, high acid tomatoes and Sungold cherry tomatoes, but any garden tomato is a winner in August.  You might want to reserve some of the vegetables for a little garnish in each bowl.  Straining the soup through a fine sieve is really an important step for a mind-blowing texture that will make your guests roll their eyes back into their heads in delight, but if you don’t have a sieve and don’t mind a more rustic finish, the blender will do.  You will still be loved.

Rabbit Bistro’s Watermelon Gazpacho

  • 2 lbs. assorted heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 pint basket heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • 1.5 lbs. clean watermelon, no seeds
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 baguette, diced
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cup dry red wine, preferably Spanish
  • 1 cup olive oil, preferably Spanish
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large container, mix all ingredients well and press on the tomatoes and watermelon, ensuring that they release enough liquid to almost cover the mixture. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Blend, in a blender, in batches, and pass through a fine sieve.  Serve in chilled bowls.  Serves approximately 8.