gone fishin’ (and thank you)

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Red Rocks marine reserve south of Port Orford

I guess I’ve put it off long enough. My house is being sold, my cookbooks are in boxes, my black raspberries are picked for the last time, my pickle jars are washed, and my heart is struggling with goodbyes. I’m leaving you, Eugene.

I decided a couple years ago that it was time to take the hard next step in my journey to becoming a full-time writer.

But where should I base myself, thought I, and how should I do it?

Trying to answer that took me many different places. If you’ve never been hit by the thunderbolts of fate that crumble your life — divorce from a 20-year relationship, losing your job and home you loved, suffering disability from a serious car accident — you may not understand this.  Rebuilding becomes a Choose Your Own Adventure.

Do you settle into the old patterns, especially if they are good?

Though it’s not perfect, I mused, I liked my life in academia. I teach amazing classes and am surrounded by some pretty fantastic people. Until the landslide happened, I had an extremely active research and conference travel schedule, and I was on track with my book. I pretty much stopped the academic publishing when I was laid up the first summer of the disaster with a broken leg, since Academia is an abusive, narcissistic lover that needs attention and a masochistic attachment that I just wasn’t able to devote to it. (Edited to add, since I am masochistic enough: let the record state that I did finish several articles, haha!  One on the history of how libraries handled sexual material, which was published in a groundbreaking (in the world of Porn Studies, that is) collection by Duke University Press; a review essay for Gastronomica I hilariously tried and failed to edit after my emergency surgery (thanks a zillion to Darra Goldstein for her patience); and another essay on years of research on a singular and important unknown gay writer, Samuel Steward, on the way from Ohio University Press, most likely.)

But as I convalesced, I started freelancing more and more, and really loved it.  Since I write and research and publish all the time, I figured, I could easily switch back tracks and start publishing even more pieces valued by the Academy…if I had to.  And my personal life would improve, I thought.  I had had a partner with a similar background and values to mine, and we remained friendly after our separation, so I wasn’t wholly embittered by men. I absolutely loved my garden and little cottage. I could easily see getting another professor job, preferably on the tenure track, and another man with a similar background and having a perfectly good life.  A better life. Lessons learned, personal growth, blah blah blah, etc.

But there was another option that whispered to me, then grew increasingly louder and more adamant.

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Velella velella, Florence

Or do you to ride the wave of that sea change and let the prevailing winds blow you into some new harbor? I mean, you might wash up on a beach like driftwood or a dead sea lion or velella velella, but you might actually make a difference and be even happier.

So instead of wallowing in grief or being angry at the people who took away my life (though there WAS a lot of that), I ultimately decided to let karma take its course and not to mourn the life that was taken from me.  To let the current transport me somewhere else. We really don’t have a choice anyway, I concluded, and I’m kind of lazy, so I might as well choose to go along for whatever ride the universe was planning for me.

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Newport Aquarium

Annoyingly, I didn’t get any clear signs from the universe that it actually had a plan. For a lady who is not in the least bit spontaneous and pretty much lives a few years down the line, I found this absolutely unpleasant. Rude, in fact. I was ready to move on but the universe wasn’t ready to move me. So I ignored the growing frustrations with my seeming non-action from friends and family, and choked back my own rage at failing every single day to come up with a plan, and I continued patiently casting about for possibilities. (If this sounds at all vain and accusatory, I apologize, but I was FAR MORE sick of my inaction than you were, I promise. Inaction took up all my time and energy and the light of my life for years, and it was a miserable BFF.)

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Albacore and chips at Luna Sea, Yachats
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Salal at Cape Blanco

For a long time, I thought I’d live in a small building on a farm near Portland so I could continue my writing and research on agricultural changes in the Willamette Valley, but start hanging with Portland people. I briefly flirted with moving to Scandinavia and researching the idea of “north” à la Glenn Gould, but with more food…hopefully with the save haven of a study abroad program. I had almost convinced myself that I was moving to Haarlem, a small town on the coast near Amsterdam, to study Dutch still lifes, and I toy with the idea of moving to Germany or Ireland. I briefly considered moving back to my hometown of Detroit to engage myself with urban farming. I mulled over Yachats, Tillamook, Scio, Manzanita, Clatskanie, Gaston. All of these lives would have been fun and rewarding.

But Port Orford was the only one that reached out to me with a yes, and said, “not only will I welcome you, but you have no idea how strange and wonderful I am, Jennifer Burns Bright, and I’m going work with you to make your life, and hopefully the lives of others, better!”

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I was sold. I like a guy with a can-do attitude.

Port Orford is a tiny, sleepy town on the Southern Oregon coast.  It is one of the most fascinating places I’ve been in decades of traveling all over Oregon and the world. I cannot wait to share it with you.

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The port in Port Orford from Battle Rock beach.

I discovered the town almost by accident a few months ago. As many of you know, I’ve been doing more travel writing and have done quite a few pieces on the Central and Oregon coast, but it had been many years since I ventured southward, and then, only to Bandon. So I suggested to my editor that I go check out some of the more southern towns to see what was going on, and asked friends where they stayed down there. Someone (Brendan at Belly, so blame him) suggested I stay in the cabins at Cape Blanco, so I did. I fell in love immediately with the place, and when I discovered they had some of the most beautiful and diverse beaches I’ve seen anywhere, I started looking into some of the connections I might make with writing about Oregon seafood, long an interest of mine.

Well, it turns out that the town can help me learn.  There’s the Port Orford Sustainable Seafood alliance, where fishermen are bringing local seafood and raising awareness about marine issues through a coalition of partners affiliated with an amazing non-profit, the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team, who work on marine research and advocacy.  I did a couple of brief interviews of the folks there, and realized how little I – as a food writer and lover of seafood and the Oregon coast – actually knew about the coast.  Like this:

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What does it mean to catch a belt fish wild?  How is it caught?  And by whom?  And does “Product of China” mean a fish caught in China?  And how does it end up in Atlanta, where this picture was taken?  I can’t answer these questions, and I think they should be answered.

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Mouth of the Sixes River, Cape Blanco

I’ve always loved the coast, but this will give me the ability to really understand what it’s like to live and make a living on the coast in uncertain times.   The town is situated 60 miles north of the California border and 27 miles south of Bandon in the so-called State of Jefferson on a wild and remote coast, but for a travel and food writer it is a good place to learn about the relationships between states and the federal government and the industrial pressures on food systems and conservation in both California and Oregon.   My goal is to eventually specialize in coastal writing writ large, integrating environmental and commercial interests in managing the marine life and waterways that are so crucial to our country and planet.

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Fish sculpture made from found ocean debris, Washed Ashore Project, Bandon
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Rogue brewpub in Astoria

Early reviews of my decision are in. Inevitably, I’ll hear three things: “Oh, that’s my favorite beach town in Oregon!” and “Why in the heck would you move there?” and “Are you sure you can live in such a small town?” And I answer “Mine, too” and “see below” and “nope, but I won’t know ‘til I try it.”

And the rest of the story is yet to be written.

I’ll still be teaching Food Studies courses at UO next year in the Departments of Comparative Literature and Humanities Program to fund the start up of this project, so it’s not a complete break. (Yes, the commute will be difficult but I’ll be fine.)  I’m also managing the culinary events for the Mt. Pisgah Mushroom Festival this year, as I have mentioned and will mention again and again, so you’ll be hearing from me about that.

But other than one more post to announce my new website, where I’ll be chronicling the continuing adventures of a big small town girl in an even smaller town, I’m drawing the curtains closed on this small blog.

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Judging Iron Chef Eugene 2015 with emcee Chef Clive and fellow judge Jeff Gardner, who makes delicious local pasta
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Forcing my COLT 305: New Farmers Movement cultural studies class students to do manual labor at the UO Urban Farm.

Culinaria Eugenius was the vehicle by which I learned about this town I love and its people. Almost 930 posts later, I can safely say it’s been worth it.  Eugene has changed so much, and I am so honored to have been part of the group that helped spread the word about innovations in our food system: agricultural advances and great strides ahead in our restaurant culture. There are Facebook groups and local food magazines and a much better networking system that connects local food to people who want to eat it.  I know Eugene will keep doing wonderful work and others will write all about it and I will be reading.

So it’s not really a goodbye, since Eugene is such a huge part of me (plus, I need to come here to buy weird groceries). It’s just a new adventure, and one I hope to share with you.

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smoked trout spread at the seashore

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I know the delicious pastries, custards, and pies are distracting, but you may have noticed some of Noisette Pastry Kitchen‘s savory offerings.  Of particular interest: any quiche, pot pies, the goat cheese scones, takeaway pork rillettes and pâté, cassoulet for three people in a pie tin for $18 (YES! best deal in town), and fillets of smoked trout seal-wrapped for the most marvelous…IMG_2964

…smoked trout spread.  I’m eating it while watching the spectacular waves outside my hotel on the coast, where I escaped to work on my book proposal.  Smoked trout is brainfood, but you might choose instead to prepare it for a televised spectacle or something.  You surely have something better to do than sit inside and write a proposal.  Might I suggest making it for a winter beach picnic with someone you <3 ?

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Smoked Trout Spread

Serves 4 with crackers or celery sticks.

  • Half a brick of cream cheese (about 4 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup of creme fraiche or sour cream
  • Half a smoked trout fillet
  • Handful of parsley
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Chives (optional)

Soften the cream cheese in the microwave for about 5 seconds, or let sit out for 15 minutes.  Combine the cream cheese and creme fraiche or sour cream in a food processor, and process until big chunks are gone.  Add trout, parsley, and shallots and process just until combined.  Taste and correct seasonings (mine needed salt but not pepper, since the fillets were smoked with cracked black peppercorns).  Top with more parsley or chopped chives.

 

grilled albacore tuna with rosé, ginger, and charred scallion

Oregon albacore are in range of our fishing fleets on the coast, so it’s time to get busy!  I put together a quick set of links that will help you buy, cook, and can your own.  Our albacore are not only an important part of the state’s fishing industry, they’re a fish that’s sustainably caught wild, the only type of albacore tuna and one of very few types of tuna that meet the “Best Choice” distinction in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They are caught young, so there’s no mercury build-up issues, either.

You can buy your fish at any of our local fish markets, who get them from the fleets on the coast.  Or, if you are in the neighborhood, head down to the docks where the boats are moored, and buy some on your own. You can see what catch is in, and where, in this updated guide from the Oregon Albacore Commission sent to me by a Facebook friend.

This video guide from the Oregon Sea Grant will tell you, if you’re feeling shy, how to buy off the boat.

If you’re interested in canning albacore, which will make all other canned tuna seem like  cat food, click for my tuna guide.  It’s an annotated and illustrated version of the MFP handout on canning tuna, with a load of tips.

And if you just want to grill some albacore, try this recipe, an adaptation of one of my favorite tuna recipes, tuna with ginger sauce.  In college, I received my first New York Times cookbook, and would make tuna with ginger sauce when I lost the battle to be economical at the old Berkeley Bowl. It was a gorgeous recipe invented by the chef at Huberts in New York, a man who lived the dream and left teaching English to become a chef.  It called for fresh tuna marinated in the surprising combination of ginger, red wine, red wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil, paprika, and the surprising ingredient of scallions charred over a stove burner.  Then the fish was lightly grilled and served with a sauce that blended light versions of the ingredients in the marinade — white wine, rice vinegar, shallots — and finished with cream and butter.

But because it was just for me, and I couldn’t be bothered with a fancy sauce opening two (two!) bottles of wine, it became Tuna with a Ginger Marinade and Some of the Marinade Boiled Down with Butter to Make a Sauce.  I present an only slightly more sophisticated version here, and I apologize about the picture, which features a piece of tuna grilled a bit too long.

Tips: This is a recipe that is made to approximate, really.  I just eyeball the amounts, and I’ve even used (egads) pickled ginger instead of the real stuff.  You really want to aim for very rare in the middle for the maximum flavor and texture.  I like rosé better than the red wine called for in the original recipe, as the red wine does that purple dye thing that always looks unpleasant.  I’ve increased the marinade time considerably, which only salutes the strong, bold flesh of the albacore.  I have marinated and grilled tuna steaks, a whole loin, and little sashimi-quality medallions.  It’s foolproof.

Grilled Tuna with Rosé, Ginger, and Charred Scallions

Serves 4.

  • 1.5 to 2-lb. albacore tuna loin
  • 2 cups dry rosé on the darker side of pink (Spanish, cruder So. France are nice)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, best quality
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce, best quality (I use low-salt Japanese soy)
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • piece of fresh ginger about 2 inches square, grated with ginger grater
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-6 fresh scallions

Cut the loin into four pieces.  Salt and pepper the pieces, and place in a Ziploc bag.  Add the wine, vinegar, soy, sesame oil, and grated ginger.  Wash and trim the roots off the scallions.  Turn on a stove burner on high, and place the whole scallions on the burner.  Char the scallions, both green and white parts, all over; about 25% should be black.  Add scallions to marinade bag.  Place bag in a larger bowl or dish, and refrigerate.

Marinate from 12 to 24 hours, flipping the bag every so often.

When you’re ready to grill, remove the fish from the marinade and cut it carefully into medallions.  The size and number will depend on the fish, but aim to serve two medallions a person (the picture above shows that it will fall apart if you don’t cut the fish into medallions before grilling).

Preheat and oil your grill, then sear the tuna pieces over high heat for one or two minutes on each side.  Aim to serve very rare in the middle.

Prepare the sauce, if you like.  Strain the ginger and scallions from the marinade and bring to a boil on the stove.  Reduce the marinade by half.  Melt a pat of butter in a hot skillet, then strain the marinade into the butter, whisking gently.  The best way to serve it is to slice tuna into strips and arrange on the plate like a little fan, then pour sauce over tuna and serve.  I usually just serve the medallions and pour the sauce over, though.

Great with rice and rice pilaf, with a side of steamed spinach.

skate terrine and laughing ham: breakfast party

Saturday morning breakfast on a beautiful spring day at PartyCart.  They usually open at 9:00 for the special Saturday brunch and remain until the last Egg Mark Muffin is sold.

Above: slightly gelatinous skate wings layered in a terrine with yellow potatoes and herb salad, pickled carrots and shallots on the side.  Skate is a relative of the stingray, and I’ve had it in fishing communities, usually fried.  I’ve seen it crop up on high end restaurant menus, too, ones who probably get a charge out of serving a “trash fish” to yuppies. But for people like Tiffany who actually care about food and think you can spin skate wings into gold, it makes a perfect terrine material.  Perfect.  And at the best price point for a food cart.

What is an Egg Mark Muffin?  Thanks for asking.  It’s this.

Every week, Mark makes the English muffins out of local wheat and secret ingredients, then piles on different toppings.  This week it was an egg and cabbage frittata square, Laughing Stock cart-made ham (maybe the best ham I’ve ever had) and a miso-mustard sauce. This is what Eugene food can be, folks. Local, organic, made without clichés about being made with love.  Just creative, unique, delicious, tasty food.

PartyCart.  In the Healthy Pet parking lot at 28th and Friendly, across from J-Tea and next to the Friendly Street Market.  I’m going to keep talking about them until they are famous, so go sooner rather than later.  Menus for the week are posted here.

culinaria eugenius in seattle: salmon candy

Smoked fish at Whole Foods in Seattle — mindboggling! Top to bottom: chipotle smoked salmon; smoked lemon-pepper salmon nuggets and smoked Chilean sea bass; foursome of sockeye lox trim, smoked Yukon salmon candy, kippered salmon and smoked salmon collar; detail of smoked salmon collar.  And that’s just the packaged stuff!

Don’t forget, you can “alleviate poverty worldwide” by stuffing all of these into a bag made of plastic bottles from East Timor.  Ah, Whole Foods.

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.

 

digging your own gravlax

I’ve been trying lately to include food that is high in protein in my breakfasts.  I’m always trying to have delicious noshes in my refrigerator for cocktail hour.  It was inevitable that I should run smack into gravlax.

Gravlax is the most delicious, silken, salt-cured salmon served in Scandinavia.  It’s a less salty, less aggressive, dill-tinged, slightly sweet lox, which is cold-smoked, and much more subtle than the smoked salmon you find at your local bagelry.  And it’s wonderful with PNW salmon. Definitely don’t use Atlantic salmon, which is always farmed, and tastes muddy and yucky once you’ve dipped your toes in the sweet Pacific.  Save your Chinook/King salmon for the grill; gravlax is better with the stronger flavors and leaner meat of Sockeye or Coho.

Plan ahead — you’ll need to freeze fresh salmon for 3-7 days to ensure any parasites are killed, or use commercially frozen salmon.  All the recipes I’ve seen have called for skin-on fillets, but my fishmonger suggested she skin it, so I went with that.  It was just fine, and more convenient.  Look for a fillet that’s not too thick at the center, rather more even in thickness for most of the fillet.

For us, 1-1/2 lbs. is plenty, so really think about how much you’ll be eating.  It’s better to make less more frequently, since storage alters the flavor and it’s not something that keeps for a very long time.  You can freeze it, which dries it out, or keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

My recipe is based on several sources, including the base recipe and comments in this long, comprehensive post from Cooking for Engineers.  It’s very much worth the read for debates about how long to freeze and store, whether or not to weigh down the fillet, add-ons, etymology, and parasitology.

Mark Bittman published a collection of recipes that alter the ratio of salt to sugar and feature different spices, including citrus and a Moroccan-inspired rub.  He prefers a 2:1 ratio of sugar:salt, but I like 1:1 with my limited desire for sugar.  Next time, I’ll surely opt for a traditional splash of Aquavit (or most likely Herbsaint, which I have on hand right now) with the cure.

Simple Gravlax with Dill

Serves 4-6, or more.

  • 1.5 lb. fillet of wild Pacific salmon, a less fatty variety like Sockeye or Coho, skinned
  • 3 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped dill or fennel fronds

Prepare the salmon by feeling the fillet for small pin bones; remove with tweezers.  Freeze salmon for at least 3 days to kill any parasites.

Combine salt and sugar in a small bowl.  Chop dill.

On a piece of plastic wrap or aluminum foil that is large enough to wrap the salmon, sprinkle half of the salt/sugar mixture.  Place the salmon, dark-fleshed (skin) side down, atop the mixture. Add the rest of the salt and sugar to cover the fish, and sprinkle the dill on top evenly.

Wrap the fish well in the plastic or foil, and then wrap it again in another piece of foil.  Place fish in gallon-sized Ziploc bag to reduce smells, and lay out the package on a baking sheet that fits the fillet without bending it.

Refrigerate for 48 hours, flipping over the package every 12 hours or so.

Unwrap the salmon and cut a piece off to make sure it is cured through the middle (it should be an even color).  Taste some. If it is too strong for your preparation, rinse off the cure, but you may opt to leave it on. Dry, then slice as thinly as possible on the bias.  Serve with brown bread and cream cheese, or in scrambled eggs with crème fraîche and scallions, as I did above.  Breakfast of champions.