restaurants open on christmas in eugene 2013

This is the post for 2013. For 2014, click here.EDTHave you seen the new Eugene Magazine food issue?  Rush out and get it now for great profiles on some of our best restaurants, old and new, and ideas about holiday gifts for locavores.  My contribution, the regular column Eat Drink Think, focuses on a local farm, Sunset Lane, that is one of the only commercial producers in the U. S. of that singular winter vegetable, Belgian endive.  I included an updated recipe for braised endive nestled under a blue-cheesy, candied walnut and pear topping.  Perfect for Christmas.

But if you don’t want to cook, you can really help our local economy. The Great Winter Freeze 2013 affected local businesses deeply, so any support we can give to our restaurants in December would be deeply appreciated.

So…here’s my annual roundup of restaurants open on those celebratory days of December!  This year, Eugene Cascades and Coast has gathered a list of some eateries open Christmas and Eve 2013, so go ahead and click ze link for many details.  In addition:

Christmas dinners: Sweetwaters on the River, Shari’s (multiple locations) and Sixth Street Grill, are all open, as listed in the link.  Izakaya Meiji, not mentioned on the list, is also open on Christmas Eve and Christmas.  Taste of India is open, with specials of saag paneer and lamb vindaloo.  Sizzle Pie is open, and there’s a buy-one-large-get-one-free special!  It’s also worth calling your favorite Chinese restaurant to see if they are open.  I hear Fortune Inn is one of ’em.

Christmas Eve dinners: Belly has a special menu, including goose and chestnuts; Rye also has a special menu. Marché Restaurant is offering their annual Réveillon de Noël, details here.  I don’t see any information on King Estate’s website this year, so I’m not sure if they’ll be doing Christmas Eve.

New Year’s Eve Dinners: Izakaya Meiji, Noli, Ox & Fin, Marché, Soubise, and the new Whiteaker establishment, Grit.  Party Downtown and sushi restaurant Mame are collaborating on a NYE extravaganza — seats are going fast, so contact them for a reservation ASAP.

Looking for holiday libations?  Belly has their excellent egg nog; Soubise has hot buttered rum and mulled wine; Party Downtown has MULLED ALE OMGWTFYUM, an old recipe revived by James, tasting of gingerbread and a little bitterness, so ideal for the holidays; and Marché has plenty of bubbly.

Please let me know if you know of other places or specials I should add.

If you’re looking to volunteer or have a low-cost meal, Lane County holds an annual Christmas dinner for seniors.  They’re especially underfunded this year, so please consider donating.  More information on KEZI’s report.  For more programs, including holiday food boxes, see this useful handout from 2012. Some info will have changed, but it’s a good start.

IMG_4988And it might be too late for this last announcement, but worth a shot.  Many of our favorite restaurants do catering, special dinners, and holiday parties.  Give them a call.  I had the great honor of introducing James Beard award-winning author Hank Shaw at a dinner promoting his new cookbook, Duck, Duck, Goose earlier this week at Party Downtown.  It was a benefit for the McKenzie River Trust, and a sold out and wonderfully relaxed, cheerful event. Check out the menu and all the photos here.

love bites: chefs’ night out 2013

IMG_4499 One of my favorite Eugene food events, Chefs’ Night Out, is a fundraiser for Food for Lane County, allowing local restaurants and culinary programs to experiment with cocktail nibbles for the thronging hordes.

What I really like to see, of course, is the chefs and service industry workers doing what they do best.  This event, like the Bite of Eugene festival that produces the Iron Chef Eugene competition in the summer, seems to be a pleasure for the industry as much as it is for the guests.

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It made me happy just to watch the workers interact with an appreciative public and do their thing.

Also successful this year?  The giant carrot balloons welcoming vegetarians in the midst of all the tri-tip nuggets, and the new secret wood-lined lounge with a jazz trio and a couple of King Estate standards.  I felt almost hip looking at the tweets broadcasted on the wall on a giant screen, so I drank a pomeberry-pink cosmo against my better judgment.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I noticed a level of institutional care and attention this year that I really appreciated.  It seemed there were fewer vendors, but that meant less pulled pork and bad wine.  The crowd control seemed to be managed, in any case, so people weren’t lined up at King Estate for more than, oh, 20 minutes.  (I’m kidding — it was by the door.)

Congratulations to the winners of this year’s competition:  Best Overall Bite – Marché Restaurant.  Best Presentation/Hospitality – Sweet Life. Best Savory Bite – King Estate Winery. Best Vegetarian Bite – Govinda’s. Best Sweet Bite – Red Wagon Creamery. We don’t know exactly what won, though.  On the Food for Lane County Facebook page, they indicated to me that “The judges don’t always indicate which specific dish they are voting for, however we did note on ballots that these dishes caught judge’s eyes: Marche’s Spring Pea and Asparagus Salad; King Estate Winery’s Charcuterie (Saucisson Sec, Smoked Duck Breast Speck, Pork and Black Truffle Paté); and Red Wagon Creamery’s Chocolate Meringue Cookies with Toasted Sesame Ice Cream and Whiskey Caramel [below]. We will try to encourage judges to be more specific in their choices next year!”  That’s a terrific idea.

IMG_4434Tag; you’re it!

I was kind of surprised that all the deserving winners were located on the main floor atrium; did the judges go upstairs?  If they did, they most likely enjoyed my Best Overall Bite, Koho Bistro’s duck liver paté on a slightly sweet walnut cocoa flat cake with fig and Zinfandel jam. The flavors matched perfectly.  And not too shabby was the other dish at Koho (which the judges did see since they gave it an honorable mention), the candy-cap mushroom crème brûlée on a pepper sablé with smoked caramel glass (below).  This is the second year in a row that I’ve found Koho’s bites the best, but the quality just hasn’t been acknowledged.  (Last year, it was the candied kumquat and farmer cheese on black pepper shortbread canapés.)  What is in store for next year?

IMG_4491IMG_4490The smoked caramel glass was particularly effective with the puddingy pillowy bite.  It was like the princess and the pea or every rose has its thorn or something like that.

IMG_3115IMG_4506 Other unexpectedly delicious treats were the ricotta-mirepoix-mushroom stuffed pepper with a very fresh and wild basil mousse and chile oil from Ambrosia; a perfectly classic endive, celery and walnut salad with a lemon-tarragon mayo on a homemade potato chip from the catering outfit Our Daily Bread (better than the only other veg bites, award-winning Marché’s peas and Govinda’s stews, I thought); a simple pork confit taco from the new food cart Gastronomad, which was down in the Ninkasi tent; and the now tried-and-true but still good salmon rillettes and watermelon gazpacho with tequila from Shadow Hills Country Club.  Never thought I’d say I like country club food, but there you are.

Whoa, and the wild boar agrodolce over polenta at Excelsior?  A wonderful sweet and sour turn of that pork classic. Has Excelsior hired chef extraordinaire and our best local magician with sweets Shane Tracey, formerly Executive Chef Owner of Nib?  It took a minute to recognize him, because I was thoroughly puzzling over the trio of desserts at the table. When did Excelsior up its pastry game to this level?, I was thinking. Then I saw Shane and it was clear.  You can see two of the desserts above, a little cocoa bomb clothed in green on a brown butter financier and an interpretation of tiramisu with a pretty little hand-painted chocolate disc.

My favorite sweet bite, though, and again a surprise, was the ultra lavender cream puff on a stick made by the students at LCC (first photo).  They infused both the pastry cream with lavender and the whipped cream with lavender-powered pear brandy.  It came on strong and left creamy.  A perfect dessert.

IMG_4517My favorite cocktail was the quickie Cocchi Americano-Rye signature cocktail at Rye, hands down.  Had I known about the lounge earlier, I would have made off with that punchbowl.  I had again a memorable glass of Roussanne at J. Scott, which quenched my white wine trending thirst, and a really good dry rosé at King Estate, which I am told is one of several, and which I do not know from the others.  Oops.

IMG_4436I agree with the awards committee that Sweet Life had the best presentation, what with its pretty server in Victorian mourning and the tulip-themed sweets all over the Parisian pink Eiffel-towered table. But I would create my own award for the unintentionally coolest in a weird way bite.  That would go to Mazzi’s, who served that mystery of mysteries, alive in 2013 only in Eugene — Steak Diane.  The steak was so-so and I’m still trying to figure out why an Italian-American joint would serve it at the tasting, but I liked the sauce and the hundreds of little cups over the Mazzi napkins.  Something very mod about it, both in form and function.

All in all, a good night and lots of fun. Hope it went well, Food for Lane County!  You can see a full photo spread of the night’s photos on my Facebook page.

red chile sauce and farmers on the radio today at noon

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We eat bean-and-greens tacos about once a week at home, but because I always have fermented hot sauce or summer salsa hanging around in the refrigerator, I haven’t experimented much with all the peppers I dried last year.  When I saw an experimental recipe for dried pepper ferments in the fabulous preservation blog Well Preserved, I remembered that I (1) grew a bunch of Central American chiles this year instead of the Hungarian ones I’ve been growing for years; and (2) dried a bunch of ripe pasillas (which grow very well here, by the way) and other peppers that were languishing in my cupboard.

So red chile sauce it was.  Relying on a Diana Kennedy classic recipe, I knew I couldn’t buy fresh tomatoes at this point in the dead of winter, so I used up my last jar of canned tomato sauce, the frozen tomato sauce having been long depleted.  Because I wouldn’t be able to char the sauce as I’d char the skin of fresh tomatoes for more flavor, I decided to throw in a pretty little ice-cubed block of tomato paste that I managed to put up last fall.  It turns out the tomato paste is crucial for body in the salsa, so don’t omit, even if you’re using fresh tomatoes.  If you’re purchasing your tomato products, you might want to buy a can of tomato puree instead of diced tomatoes, because it’s thicker and sweeter.

I was less interested in authentic flavors than in just getting rid of my chiles, so an Ethiopian brown, scorchingly hot beriberi pepper and I’m sure a Hungarian pepper or two snuck in there.  You will probably be more discriminating.  Also, note that you won’t be able to get the silky smooth texture without a blender, so don’t even try it.  A good local bean for the tacos?  Brighstone, a hearty pinto-like bean, which is a new discovery by Adaptive Seeds/Open Oak Farm this year.

And if you’re interested in farming, Central America, or how things grow in places involving the word Willamette, you’ll most definitely want to check out our radio show, Food for Thought on KLCC Sunday at noon (PST) on 89.7FM in Eugene, or its sister stations in Oregon, or live on the web.  Boris and I are trying something new, an interview with farmer/musician Joshua James, who is performing songs from his new album, From the Top of Willamette Mountain, at Sam Bonds tonight.  We’ll also be joined by someone we’ve wanted to have on the show for a long time: Sarah Cantril, Executive Director of Huerto de la Familia, an agriculture and micro-business educational non-profit that teaches community integration, economic self-sufficiency, and organic farming skills to Latino families in Lane County.  Listen in or be square!

Red Chile Sauce

  • 6-8 medium-sized long dried peppers, such as guajillo, pasilla, or the like
  • 1 large garlic clove, sliced
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (top quality fresh or canned)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup water (optional if your tomatoes are very juicy, or you’re using canned)
  • salt to taste

Toast peppers and sliced garlic, being careful not to let the peppers burn.  Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium heat, then add the dried peppers and garlic, pressing them down and turning them over every few seconds until the peppers can be crumbled and you can smell the toasted smell.

Remove from heat. Let peppers and garlic cool until easy to handle.

If you are using fresh tomatoes, char the skins over a gas burner or on the same hot cast-iron skillet, then peel off most of the blackened parts, before dicing.

Place tomatoes, tomato paste, and optional water in a blender.  Add garlic.  Remove stems and seeds from chiles, then crumble pepper shells into blender.  Blend for a few minutes on high, until the sauce is very integrated and smooth.  Add salt to taste.

Refrigerate and use within a few days on anything that could use a nice kick of red sauce.

planting seeds: good, bad, ugly

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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.

Others:

  • 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.

niblets: arts and flowers edition

Oregon is doing its springy best to paint the landscape in springy colors, so we, too celebrate art in nature.

Fuchsias, named after a German scientist Leonhart Fuchs and hence the odd spelling, are some of the most unusual and easy to grow of the shade/semi-shade flowers, so I always pick some up in the spring. Fred Meyer’s held a “Fuchsia Day” yesterday, and they have an excellent variety of starts.

Help those pollinators get an early start!  They’re important for our stone fruit and apple crops in the Willamette Valley.  Plant flowers that bloom early and attract the bees.  In my garden, that means rosemary, crucifer crops’ flowers (they love the yellow flowers of mustard relatives), lilacs, Oregon grape, flowering quince, and haskapberries.  More ideas from OSU Extension here.

Today on Food for Thought on KLCC at noon, listen in to Ryan and Boris, with special guests from Eugene’s latest addition to the cocktail scene, Rye.  The bar and restaurant opened a few weeks ago, and I had a chance to sample the menu the other day.  They have a terrific selection of pre- and post-Prohibition cocktails; the food could be just as good if they kicked it up a notch.  If you’re used to drinking deliciously spicy bourbon cocktails, you might try to lighten up with a Vancouver, a gin, vermouth, and Benedictine cocktail which has been likened to a Manhattan…on a diet.  Perfect for spring.

If like me and artist James Earl, you’ve been fascinated by crop circles while flying over agricultural regions of the United States, you’ll love Jim’s exhibit in the DIVA space and at the Eugene airport, Window Seat: The Art of the Circle Field.  A professor emeritus in the UO English Department and all around Renaissance man, Jim used Google Earth images to construct artistically interesting snapshots of irrigation systems interlaid into the US transportation network, squaring thousands of green circles. Check it out from now until May 4.  More information here.

Cinema Pacific is one of Eugene’s yearly glories, and this year the festival features two Japanese films about food production.  Take your environmentalist cousin to the gorgeously filmed and grotesque Midori-ko on Thursday, and your urbane food critic uncle to the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Sunday. Unfortunately, the sushi dinner after the film at Kamitori is sold out, but there will be sushi from Sushi-Ya at the film!  Yours truly will be reporting about the dinner.  You can watch all of this year’s film previews, collected by the festival organizers, on YouTube.

I was pleased to see Eugene’s culinary art at another annual extravaganza, Chefs’ Night Out 2012, this week.  Over a thousand people attended, most of whom stood in orderly lines to get delicious food.  (Anyone have a link to news about the award-winners and how much money was raised for Food for Lane County?  I know the press was there — where’s the story, guys?) My best bites included lovely little candied kumquat and farmer cheese on black pepper shortbread canapés from Koho Bistro, Blue Dog meads, a creamy fisherman’s stew from Fisherman’s Market, and a pulpy marionberry soda made from local berries from Hot Lips Soda.  But best of all was probably the simply pan fried oysters with tartar sauce from Mac’s at the Vet’s (bottom shot).  Tumbling from the frying pan into our mouths, they were hot, creamy and delicious.  Not really “Cajun” as advertised, but a tiny bit of spice was appreciated and the tartar had a nice dill pickle dice in it.

land use and the urban farm

A fundamental part of my pedagogy at the Clark Honors College at University of Oregon is fostering networks for students:  between themselves, the greater university community, our Eugene community at large, and with worlds of possibilities.   For the lower-division Humanities sequence food and literature class, now in its third year, I try to include an interactive component that stresses some of our community networks.  As you might imagine, this is difficult given the short quarters and my mandate to teach food from the literary perspective, but we do manage to pull off something.

This year, we visited the Urban Farm on the outskirts of the university.  OK, just across the street. But in many ways, it’s a homesteading plot in the wilds of the Millrace, clustered with the arts facilities.  The wild, wild northwest.

This is my favorite picture from the day.  It’s my students listening to Urban Farm Director Harper Keeler of the Landscape Architecture Department.  He’s an active part of my food studies group and he’s been involved with the Urban Farm for a great deal of its ~30-year history.  Yes, we’ve been doing the farm-to-school schtick for about 30 years!

Harper teaches classes that incorporate sustainability readings and hands-on stewardship and food growing training.  He also regularly gives tours of the farm, and was kind enough to show us around. Here he’s pointing out the location of the old farmhouse that was on the property, which was once an orchard of fruit and nut trees (cherries, apples, pears, almonds, filberts, and at least one big English walnut).

What is the orchard now?  Behind Harper and the compost bins made of old pallets, there’s a giant parking lot available for student athletes only while using the Jacqua Center for their tutoring appointments.  A couple prized trees were saved after some negotiations, apparently.

To be fair, the entire lot wasn’t an orchard; part of it became a Coca Cola bottling plant, then the lot was used for storage and deliveries to the farm.  But now it’s just an empty parking lot.  A colleague who works nearby keeps a tally — once 13 cars were parked there!  Usually it has one or two cars in it (two there during my day at the farm).

Land use, and the evolution (degeneration, I suppose) of a plot of soil from an orchard to an unused parking lot is fascinating for the literature scholar, because a walk becomes a story.  Folks like Harper and his staff and students learn how to read the land like we read books.  With fluency in parking lots and greenhouses, we can raise our own consciousnesses and those of others.  I am proud to be part of the team that is making these connections start to happen.

OK, before I get off my soapbox, I just have to brag about my students.

See the woman in the blue coat?  She is holding a Victorian blancmange made in our very own Clark Honors College kitchen, formerly the location of the Home Economics Department at UO.  Yes, my students bring blancmanges to share with the class.  Can you beat that?

The lit, high-tech greenhouse is not on the farm, alas.  It’s the adjacent property, managed by one of the science programs, and allegedly the greenhouse is doing experiments with GMO crops.  The Urban Farm’s greenhouse, which helps grow food for low-income programs and the 80 students a term who learn on it, is the jerryrigged, salvaged and foraged plastic one in front (which was vandalized by some moron who slashed the side with a knife).  Anyone have a rich uncle?  Car wash to raise funds?  All we need is an empty lot…

The little contraption in the second photo above, around the back of the Urban Farm greenhouse, is a low-cost, low-fuel model developed by a student for use in developing countries.  I understand he’s off in Central America testing out field models right now.

Another greenhouse, and winter crops in the front part of the 1.5 acre farm.  We’re able to grow brassicas and various lettuces throughout the winter in the Willamette Valley, and the Urban Farm manages quite well, even with night-visiting nutria from the river tributary next to the farm.

The cabbages improve with frost, and I’ve found arugula almost completely loses its bitterness with all the rainfall.

A lesson I am trying to take to heart.

fermentation basics recipes and resource links


Thanks for coming to today’s “Fermentation Basics” demo at the Fun with Fermentation festival, and a big thank you to Christina Sasser and the entire WVSFA team who worked so hard to make the festival a success!  I loved the mix of old and young people, farmers, hippies, yuppies, foodies, students, and parents. I was happy to share some of my techniques and tips for vegetable fermentation, and enjoyed talking to so many of you after the demo at the Master Food Preserver booth.

Ferments discussed in today’s demo:

Recipes with sauerkraut:

Some books and resources I trust and use often:

  • Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (classic resource for basics of preservation, updated every few years)
  • Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich (includes fermentation recipes and many ethnic recipes not available in other collections)
  • Wild Fermentation by the King of Sauerkraut Sandor Katz
  • OSU Extension-Lane County’s full list of preservation publications (free .pdf downloads) – See esp. “Making Sauerkraut and Sauerkraut Recipes” and “Problems & Solutions: Sauerkraut” under the heading “Pickling”
  • My Harsch crock
  • The OSU Extension Master Food Preserver message line for class registration, preservation and food safety questions: 541-344-4885.  We no longer have a local hotline, thanks to budget cuts in Lane County, but in the summer and before the holidays there’s a 1-800 number you can call.  More information here.