going dutch at the verboort sausage and kraut dinner

Nothing remotely gourmet about the 77th annual Verboort Sausage and Kraut Dinner.  Held at the Visitation Catholic Church in Forest Grove, Oregon, by a Dutch-American community organization that’s been going strong since the pioneers, the dinner is part of a sausage extravaganza.  They chop, stuff, and smoke over 17 tons of pork and beef each year for the sausage, and serve it up with mashed potatoes in sausage gravy, a mild sauerkraut, homegrown well-done beans, tart and sweet Gravenstein applesauce, a dinner roll, and a curiously good oniony cole slaw with macaroni pasta salad.  It was familiar food, the stuff I grew up with, heavy on the carbs, seasoned very simply with salt and a tiny bit of pepper.  Huge portions and all you can eat!

What in the heck am I doing in Forest Grove?  I know, I know.  Retrogrouch wanted to freeze his skinny little heinie off on a 100K bike ride, the Verboort Sausage Populaire Randonneur, so I came along, thinking I’d check out the soaking pool and work in the hotel.

And buy sausage, of course.

Five bucks a pound, bulk!  And don’t forget the sauerkraut, these giant barrels filled with fermented goodness.  They put the empties just outside the sauerkraut shack.  I overheard an organizer marveling at how much more kraut they had sold that year.  By the time I got there around 12:30, there was only one barrel left.  The sequoia tree to the left, by the way, is from seeds one of the founders brought back from Californ-i-ay after the Gold Rush.

See?  Real sequoias, courtesy of my nostrils.

I also briefly stopped in at the church bazaar Ye old BAKE SHOP to chat with the old ladies selling baked goods, pickled vegetables, and candy. I really love old church ladies.  There were some textile arts, too, but that’s largely lost on me.

Also lost on me: bingo in smoky tent, sad plant sale with gourds, beer garden that only served Bud and its derivatives (in Oregon? Really?) AND you had to take a bus there because, according to a fireman, the church didn’t want alcohol on the grounds (in Oregon? Really?), polkaesque Dutch music piped from the church on an endless loop, and the damn weather.  Because a potholder just wasn’t going to keep my not-so-skinny heinie warm waiting for 100K to end, already.

harvest

Such an odd year. Picked the rest of the green tomatoes, finally, which will turn into salsa, and will make ajvar out of the ripe peppers. Cooking down apples into butter in the crock pot. Ethiopian berebere peppers, which have a fantastic flavor, and a bunch of Hungarian paprika and others gifted by Jeff Eaton, who wanted to share the remainder of his crop (thanks, Jeff!) are drying in the dehydrator along with another gift, a tub of newly fallen walnuts (thanks, Lara!). Still haven’t figured out what to do with all those cranberries, but that’s next.

If you’re interested in going nuts, the filbert crop is in and walnuts are coming. I took some shots of the harvest at Thistledown Farm the other day. They close a couple days after Halloween, so if you want your store of winter squash, potatoes, onions, or apples, head out there soon.  It’s a time to be amazed by the bounty of our valley.  Even in a crummy year, we manage to pull it off.

those are pearls that were his eyes

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

It’s a weekend of catching up, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again, old friends!  So. Many. Awesome. Travel. Posts.  But appreciate, for now, the gorgeous rainbow trout my husband caught on a day trip on the McKenzie, before and after.  He was delicious, seasoned just as plain as can be with sea-change salt and olive oil, then grilled.

 

what’s black and white and needing to be buttered up?

Me!  I finished an article and a huge fellowship application at the beginning of the week (see above), and moved directly into grading an eight-inch stack of papers.  I’m pretty sure that if I poked a hole in myself, black ink would run out.

I’ve been thinking about how many blog posts I have half-written and percolating, but to be honest, the only fresh food I’ve really made lately, besides a stew or two, is popcorn.

But black and white heavens, what popcorn it is!  Because I try to match food to my own coloring, was absolutely delighted by Lonesome Whistle’s heirloom (?) Dakota Black popcorn.  It pops up in huge white kernels with jet black centers.  (Lonesome Whistle’s website seems to be down, but try clicking the link from their Willamette Farm and Food Coalition information page.) Who knew we could grow such glorious popcorn in Eugene?!

I bought mine before it was fully dry, on the cob, back in the fall, and it had been hanging around waiting for me to de-hull it.  They may still have some left in much more convenient bagged form — try to grab it for a stocking stuffer by visiting their booth at the holiday farmer’s market at the Lane County Fairgrounds.  It’s the best popcorn I’ve ever had, and I’m a serious popcorn (buying-different-varieties-on-the-web serious) eater.  Thus, a special shout-out to all duck fat popcorn eaters!!  This is not to be missed.

thanksgiving action shots

Since I’m not furiously cleaning the house for guests for the first time in a while, I’m very happily available for photo opportunities, so I thought I’d share some of my No Turkey But None of that Vegetarian Crap Thanksgiving For Two preparations.

This blog, unlike my kitchen, is a no schmaltz zone.

Brining chicken with lemon and herbs de Provence that are actually de Langedoc (thanks, Rama!)

My counter after the brine bag opened and spilled all over it, necessitating an emergency clear and bleach and reoiling of the cutting board (o what tasks can be tasked if you aren’t having guests on Thanksgiving!).  Hm, maybe we should consider a vegetarian No-Turkey Day after all…

Freezer yields reserves for the gravy stock.

Counter back in business, guest-starring two ruby pears picked and delivered by my neighbor, who requested only a sheet of parchment paper, four cloves, and 1/2 cup of corn oil in return.  Vinaigrette by Retrogrouch.  Defrosting fresh cranberry juice for my Thanksgiving vodka-cran…come to Mama.

Oven in action: wild rice stuffing with wild mushrooms, chicken leg confit, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and wild mushrooms; bratwurst that I am pretending is kielbasa, and butternut squash with truffle butter.

Eating kabocha wild rice soup for lunch.

Spinning mesclun mix.

Masses of Brussels sprouts yearning to be free.

Bread and wild rice stuffing with local dried cranberries, chicken confit, and leeks waiting for the oven.

Testing pumpkin pie.

Thank you for your participation in our Thanksgiving meal, and hope yours was delightful!

squash and parsnip soup for the chill in the air

Elin England, Eugene author of the locavore cookbook, Eating Close to Home: A Guide to Local Seasonal Sustenance in the Pacific Northwest, requested a recipe for a soup I mentioned a while ago, a thick, hearthy vegetarian winter squash, parsnip, and barley potage served at a friend’s Halloween party.  It would be a welcome addition to the Thanksgiving table (or perhaps an after-Thanksgiving detox?) and good for any day that threatens snowflakes.

We ate the soup with a grating of romano cheese and some black pepper, while munching on nutty pumpkin seeds.  The cheese adds umami, the savory “fifth taste” that balances out vegetarian one-pot suppers.  As an alternative to cheese, I’d  suggest adding bacon or a drizzle of smoked paprika oil or truffle salt. I might even dry-roast the barley before adding it to the soup by warming it up on a cast iron pan until just very ever-so-slightly browned.

If you can’t find pomegranate vinegar, a good substitute is apple cider vinegar or a slightly sweeter vinegar, such as Riesling vinegar.

Stay warm; eat soup!

Squash-Parsnip Soup

Serves 6-8.

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 heaping cup leeks, sliced thinly
  • 2.5-3 lb. buttercup squash, peeled and cut into 2″ chunks
  • 4 medium-large parsnips, peeled, sliced, and cut into small chunks
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 6 cups stock or water
  • 1/3 cup barley (I prefer dehulled to pearled)
  • juice from 1/2 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon pomegranate vinegar or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: parsley, chile powder, crème fraîche, grated romano, etc.

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot on medium heat, and add leeks.  Sweat leeks (cook slow and low, without browning) until soft.

Add squash and parsnips and cook 2-3 minutes.*  If using finely chopped ginger, add 1 tsp or to taste now.  Add thyme.

Add liquid and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Add barley.  Cook 30-40 minutes or until vegetables have softened and barley is cooked.

Mash with potato masher until soup’s texture is uniform but still slightly chunky.

Add lemon and vinegar, aromatics (parsley, chile powder, etc.) if desired, and salt and pepper to taste.  Adjust as needed.  Garnish as desired with spice, creme fraiche, and/or cheese.

*I add salt late and I like less than other people.  Conventional cooks [Ed: including yours truly, Culinaria Eugenius] would add some salt at the beginning, say 1/4-1/2 tsp, to help break down the vegetables.

cranburied: juice of the gods

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I was the delighted recipient of 20 lbs. of freshly harvested Oregon cranberries this year.  At a dollar a pound, plus a few bucks for gas, how could I resist?

But cranberries are nothing but ill-timed for the academic.  I am plumb out of energy at the end of the term.  This is the first year in many we won’t be having a big Thanksgiving party, and my husband’s new diet means he won’t be wanting his favorite stuffing and mashed potatoes, so the chances of me making a Thanksgivingish dinner for us are slim.  Yes, a lean year chez Levin.

This means my old standby, punchy cranberry sauce, a long-cooked version treasured by me, myself, and I, may not make it to the table this year.

Going into my crazy cranberry glut, I had figured on that.  I planned to turn most of the little darlings into dried cranberries for year-round use in salads and sweets.   Which I did, making a holy mess in the process.  They stubbornly refused to dehydrate and I stubbornly refused to cut each of them in half, so we battled for several days until some were sort of dry, then I boiled me up some simple syrup (a 1.5:1 ratio of sugar:water) and plunged the Rebels in to meet their sweet maker.  I had received the advice from someone who had achieved “perfect Craisins” from this method, but whomever she was, she forgot to tell me that it also made sticky, drippy, half-smushed berries that had to be pried off the drying mats not once but twice.  And I am almost positive she hadn’t battled with 10 lbs. of cranberries when achieving such perfection.  My stove looked like something alive had exploded all over it.  Something syrupy and gluey and alive.  Bah.

And you can see from the above picture that my judgment was seriously off when I decided to make cranberry juice out of another 4 lbs. of berries.  It would be a tight squeeze, I had thought, but I could make a double recipe of kissel, a Russian cranberry juice inspired by that made by Vitaly Paley’s grandma, in my biggest stockpot. I was so taken by the lovely image of kissel in a crystal pitcher nestled among bottles of vodka on the Paley family holiday table, I didn’t calculate the volume properly.

One of those tactical mistakes that you realize immediately after it’s done: cranberries float.

Cue more red, dribbly juice all over everything.

But the juice is absolutely wonderful: dense and crisp and crimson and silky.  The pectin in the berries and unfiltered pulp make it slightly thick and filling.  I doctored my juice with a couple of cups of unsweetened quince juice (frozen last year) and a healthy sprig of rose geranium.  There was enough to freeze (or can, had I not fled town for that conference immediately after making the juice).  I highly recommend making cranberry juice if you have never done it.  Just use a big enough pot.

The recipe below was inspired by The Paley’s Place Cookbook recipe and another in the Ball Blue Book.  It is so safe to can the BBB doesn’t even bother with exact measurements over a 1:1 ratio of cranberries:water, noting you can add sugar if you like.  Cranberries are highly acidic little monsters, so no need to worry about botulism.

And because the juice is so lovely and pectin-rich from the cranberries and quince, I may just make a cranberry jelly after all.  I think my stovetop still has a couple of clean places left.  And if I hit the vodka-cran hard enough, the bloodshed won’t bother me a bit!

Important note: you might want to add more sugar to the recipe below.  I wanted to keep it as low sugar as possible for my husband’s diet and flexibility with cocktails.  You also might choose to add a few teaspoons of simple syrup to the juice before drinking if you like it sweeter.  Serve it ice-cold, preferably with vodka and a thick slice of orange peel whose oils have been urged along with a quick flame from a match.

Fresh Cranberry Juice (Kissel) with Quince and Rose Geranium

(makes 2.5-3 quarts)

  • 2 lbs. fresh cranberries, sorted
  • 4 quarts cold water
  • 2 cups unsweetened quince juice (optional)
  • 1 sprig rose geranium leaves (optional)
  • 1 cup sugar (original recipe has 1.5 cups)
In a very large, non-reactive stockpot, combine all ingredients and bring to boil.  Decrease heat to medium low and simmer about 30 minutes until berries burst and release their juicy goodness into the liquid.  Do not keep at a boil, or pectin will cause gelling.*  (You might use a potato masher to extract more pulp, but beware: this will prevent any possibility of having a clear, thin juice later.)

Strain juice through a colander to remove the pulp. Discard rose geranium sprig, if using.  Solids can be frozen, turned into a cranberry sauce of sorts, and/or spread thickly on a drying sheet with your drying cranberries, dripping juice all over the dehydrator and making even more of a mess that will result in a delicious cranberry fruit rollup to eat with cheese.

Taste juice and add more sugar as necessary.

Strain again (and yet again depending on your patience) through double-layered cheesecloth or a jelly bag to remove remaining solids.

If you have hopes of clear juice, place juice in refrigerator overnight and let sediment settle to the bottom of the bowl.  Carefully ladle only the top layers from the bowl.

Juice will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks or frozen for 3+months.

To can juice instead of freezing:  prepare pint or quart jars and lids and heat jars.   Heat juice for 5 minutes at 190 degrees (don’t boil).  Ladle hot juice into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.  Wipe rims carefully and adjust lids and rings, turning rings until finger-tight.  Process pints/quarts 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.

*I haven’t tried to boil the juice to a gel set, but have canned quarts of the finished product, and did not achieve a gel in 15 minutes, so perhaps this instruction is too cautious or relies on using more sugar.