culinaria eugenius on the coast: intertidal zone

IMG_5298
Pacific Oyster Co., Bay City.
IMG_5208
Lincoln City clammer.
IMG_5255
Cliffhanging blackberries at Oswald West State Park
IMG_5224
Lincoln City historic district.
IMG_5270
Fisherwoman at Hug Point Beach.

Like nearly every other citizen of our great state of Oregon, I made my way to the coast over the weekend.  I know this is not hyperbole, because I couldn’t find a single vacant camp site from Seaside to Florence on Saturday night.

But for the one lame child who had to stay behind while the Pied Piper pulled the rest of us all out to the cliffs, here’s what went down.

I had my fill of creamy summer local oysters, supping them raw at Shucker’s Oyster Bar in Lincoln City; raw and sandy at Pacific Oyster in Bay City; and fried and not very good in Newport upon learning the film I had been envisioning, Steamed Ginger Oysters at the Noodle Café, would be delayed due to it being the restaurant’s night off.   Oh well.

IMG_3812
Seaside taffy shop and Icarus, prohibited.

IMG_5259I ate gross taffy at the human zoo they call Seaside, including flavors called Molasses Mint, Black Widow (licorice and redhots), and Ocean (which stained my tongue dark blue and freshened my breath with peppermint).  Also had a good bowl of pho, surprisingly, on The Prom.  Fleeing the floaters and the sinkers, I peered in the windows like a creeper at Seaside High School, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghost of James Beard, who held cooking classes there back in the day.

IMG_5239
Ripe salmonberries, Oswald West State Park.

On hikes, I snacked on the first blackberries of the season; salmonberries, which are like many tender young things much prettier than they taste; and thimbleberries, who do redheads proud.  Hey, and I felt kind of pleased, too, that I am finally Oregonian enough to recognize many of the edible plants that hug the waterways.

IMG_5279
Peace Crops Farm girly girl potatoes, Manzanita farmers market.

Fate smiled upon me because I saved a beached anchovy’s life, tossing it back into the sea.  It presented me with a couple of days in Nehalem and Manzanita, exploring the coastal communities there.  We take for granted our extensive farmers market system in Eugene, so it’s invigorating to see the vibrant buzz of a new farmers market in a small community.  I chatted with the Master Gardeners and the crepe makers at the market, making off with a pint of boysenberries, and visited the folks who own and run R-evolution Gardens, who founded said farmers market a few years ago.

IMG_5294
Nehalem, which is so f#%$&^ gorgeous I can’t even stand it.

R-evolution Gardens is an organic, off-grid farm in Nehalem producing lovely sound vegetables and, from what it looks like, a future herbal medicine line.  An entire drying table of calendula reminded me of little petals of the sun being preserved for winter, and in a way, it was. On the lower parcel of the farm, nestled along a clear clean river, everyone’s summer fantasy of ratatouille was ready for harvest: already lush heavy peppers, fat sweet onions popping out of the soil, monster summer squash plants, long vined tomatoes, an impossible amount of humid nightblue eggplant.

I really try not to romanticize farming, but Jesus, it is hard with this place.  Co-owner and farmer Ginger Salkowski has appeared in the Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement, and seems cut from the same tough cloth as Greenhorns founder Severine von Tscharner Fleming, as I recall from the panel we did together a few years ago at UO’s Food Justice conference.  Co-owner Brian Schulz builds foraged and sustainable structures powered by solar electricity, including a Japanese bath house where I would have gladly spent the entire weekend and a Japanesque A-frame covered in forest that the farm rents out on airbnb.com.

Also of note was an excellent meal at Dinner at the Nehalem River Inn, a recently revivified restaurant run by a young and talented chef, Lee Vance, who uses produce from R-evolution Gardens and other farms and gardens within 10 miles of the restaurant.  Yes, a farm-to-table restaurant 5 minutes from the coast!  Standouts included a silky sweet beet soup crowned by a nasturtium, simple roasted bone marrow over toast, a lamb ragú with ricotta gnudi, and rather hearty, plump, excellent house-made ravioli filled with pork and morels, served over creamed carrot purée with English peas.  A glass of lambrusco and a chèvre cheesecake in a warmly hued, cozy dining room certainly did not hurt matters, either.  From the few menus I browsed online, it appears they almost always have a local fish and a salted chocolate pot-de-crème that I’m sad I didn’t try.  The restaurant will reopen in a fab new building on the main drag in Manzanita, Laneda Avenue, right next to the farmers market, in fall, so check it out before the crowds figure out it’s the best thing going.  Seriously.

niblets: eventful edition

Since it took me nearly a month to post about my New York trip, and I’ve been battling continually rocky terrain with events, deadlines, harvest, and school matters ever since then, you may get a sense that I’m running slightly behind.  Fall is always rough for me, this year even more so.

But I’ve got a range of exciting news that I’ve been eager to share.

The first is the series of events related to this Sunday’s Mt. Pisgah Arboretum Mushroom Festival.  I’m particularly excited about Dr. Steve Trudell’s talk on “Why Mushrooms Matter” tonight, Friday, October 28th, 7 p.m., at the LCC Forum building, and all the mushroom specialties that will be served during Mushroom Madness week at local restaurants.  I tried Chef Mario Tucci’s chanterelle gnocchi on Wednesday at the Friendly Street Market café (Latitude Ten), pictured at the top of this post.  Wow.

The second is that I’m heading up an interdisciplinary faculty and grad student research group on food studies at the University of Oregon.  We meet monthly to discuss works in progress on their way to publication.  This is the only official venue for food studies at the university right now, but there has been talk of expanding these efforts in various directions, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.  Part of the group’s mission is to support and spread the news about visiting speakers who give public lectures on food.  I hope to extend these efforts via my blog, too.  Actually, they’ve been flying fast and furious, and I have had barely the time to publicize them at all, so I’m just going to say that I’ll try harder to wedge PR in.

Like this! I’m pleased to announce a reading and talk with wild foods expert Hank Shaw on November 14.  My group is bringing him out to campus for what promises to be a vivid discussion of his new book.

Book Reading and Discussion
Author Hank Shaw
Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast
Monday, November 14, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
282 Lillis Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene
Hank Shaw is a wild foods expert, hunter, angler, gardener and cook, based in Sacramento.  His exquisite and unusual wild foods blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (http://honest-food.net), has been twice nominated for a James Beard Award, and was awarded best blog from the International Association of Culinary Professionals organization in 2010 — two major achievements in food writing.  He is on tour for his already acclaimed new book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast (Rodale Books).  The book explores North America’s edible flora and fauna that explains how to track down everything from wild mushrooms to mackerel to pheasant, and create locally sourced meals that go far beyond the farmers market or campfire cuisine.

At a public reading for the University of Oregon and Eugene area community, Shaw will share his experiences in the field and in the kitchen, discussing not only his sophisticated recipes and innovative techniques for preparing wild food that grows and roams in the Pacific Northwest – camas bulbs, venison, and wild berries, to name just a few examples – but also the political, social, and environmental issues surrounding hunting and gathering in the twenty-first century.

The visit will take place on the evening of Monday, November 14, and will follow a VIP foraging walk and dinner at Marché restaurant over the weekend. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

More news soon.

There’s also a fantastic lecture series by food historian Dr. Ken Albala, hosted by the History Department at OSU.  He’s a major figure in food studies, and will be providing a three-part Horning lecture during the week of November 8 on food production, preparation, and consumption.  Click this link to open a .pdf poster.

PERSPECTIVES ON EATING FROM THE PAST:  GROW FOOD / COOK FOOD / SHARE FOOD

GROW FOOD
Tuesday / November 8, 4:00pm
Memorial Union / Room 109
COOK FOOD
Thursday / November 10, 4:00pm
Memorial Union / Room 109
SHARE FOOD
Friday / November 11, noon
Memorial Union / Room 109

A three-lecture series about the historical development of three crucial components of human nourishment and their disjuncture in the industrial era. Ken Albala will describe without romantic sentimentality the ways our food production system, our methods of food preparation and modes of consumption have changed over time to the detriment of human happiness, health and community. Creative suggestions will be made regarding ways we can recapture the positive aspects of past foodways without endangering food security or turning back the clock by abandoning the many valuable advances of the last century. History offers constructive examples of how we can better grow food, cook it and share it, if only we have the means to listen and learn from food writers of the past.

Ken Albala is Professor of History at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He is the author of many books on food including Eating Right in the Renaissance, Food in Early Modern Europe, Cooking in Europe 1250-1650, The Banquet: Dining in the Great Courts of Late Renaissance Europe, Beans: A History (winner of the 2008 International Association of Culinary Professionals Jane Grigson Award), and Pancake. He is currently researching a history of theological controversies surrounding fasting in the Reformation Era, and has co-authored a cookbook – The Lost Art of Real Cooking, the sequel of which is tentatively titled The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home.

Also next week is a public lecture on campus closer to home, one I’m proud to say is part of our “Food in the Field” Research Interest Group work-in-progress series:

Wednesday, November 2, 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Prof. Nick Camerlenghi, Art History
“Terroir and Regionalism in Gastronomy and Architecture”
EMU Fir Room, University of Oregon

Abstract:  Perhaps the most important reason that comparisons between gastronomy and architecture have rarely risen above mere analogy (think: McDonald’s and McMansions) is that gastronomy still has a limited foothold in academia by which to forge a common ground with other disciplines. Unfortunately, this trend speaks little of the innovations currently underway in gastronomy. A case in point is the recently founded University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy where all aspects of gastronomy—from earth to table and back to earth—are being treated in a scholarly fashion. This is a watershed moment that bodes well for future exchanges. This paper examines the notion of terroir—as recently re-elaborated in gastronomical thinking—in order to develop what promises to be a fruitful point of intersection between gastronomy and architecture.

And on a more personal note:

I have 20 lbs. of cranberries waiting for me in the cooler at Hentze Farm (thanks, folks!) that were ordered from one of the coastal tribes.  Got a frantic call from the MFP coordinator who said they were beginning to look a little neglected.  Sigh, I know the feeling.  Homemade cranberry juice and chutney to come!  Will hold off on the lecture for now.

homemade hominy and other corny matters

What a sad story is corn in America.  Demonized now because of the commodification of agriculture and our reliance on feed corn, corn is viewed with a suspicious eye.  As a naïve Midwesterner, I’ve always loved corn.  I like popcorn, corn on the cob, cornnuts, cornbread, corn tortillas, corn salsa, tortilla chips, cornmeal, corn broth, corn chowder, corn stirfry…the list goes on.  The only kind of corn I don’t like is canned creamed corn.

Well, and high fructose corn syrup, which kind of starts out the same way.

I realized after reading Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, like so many of us did, that corn was a huge part of my diet as an American.  My very first diet seachange was to start cutting out preservatives and “hidden” sources of cheap corn in my food to shift my dollars away from Big Ag.

So I laughed in sympathy when Ayers Creek Farm owner Anthony Boutard began his talk for our Oregon Agriculture panel at the Food Justice Conference last month by shaking ears of corn at the audience, saying how mad he was that Pollan had ruined corn.

In 1922, McCall’s magazine ran an editorial on the introduction of new American fiction that would represent real, not nostalgic or idealized, American life…as American as corn.  I believe (partly as an addled corn addict, partly as a Midwesterner, and partly as a huge fan of Boutard’s corn) that we should rehab the reputation of American corn…as American as fiction.

We grow decent corn here in Oregon, believe it or not, and some of it is actually dried.  Homemade hominy is the perfect opportunity to start corn’s renaissance efforts.  I had the chance to make it last week, thanks to some red and yellow flint corn, already treated with hydrated lime, that Anthony brought down to Eugene for me.  Above, you can see a picture of the results: both my not-quite-successful attempt to remove the pericarp coating the inner kernel and the awesome freezing power of my new chest freezer, which just added a tiny bit of frost atop the corn.

Hominy can be pressure-canned or frozen.  I froze this batch because was a bit nervous about the stubborn clinging of the pericarp (the little nodule on the end is supposed to come off and didn’t, even with fierce rubbing) affecting the penetration of the heat in pressure canning, which sounds silly now that I type it.  Freezing is a lot less hassle.

My favorite use of hominy is what I call fake posole, a soup that isn’t even remotely like posole, save the pork and hominy.  I particularly like the combination of green chiles and pork.  In the soup pictured below, I simmered pork shoulder in a stock pot with onion, garlic, and bay leaf for a few hours, then shredded the meat and added some of my homemade salsa and a couple of cups of roasted chiles (frozen is fine) and the hominy.  The difference in using fresh (or fresh-frozen) hominy is that what’s usually mainly a starchy texture in the can becomes the most delicious, nutty, roasted corn flavor when you make your own.  It greatly enhances everything it touches, and I’ll never touch the canned stuff again.  For example, check out the pure white, washed out kernels in the soup (made with canned hominy), and the brilliant yellow and red stuff above.  The color differences, well, pale in comparison to the taste differences.

To make your own hominy, you’ll need hydrated lime (calcium hydroxide), also known as pickling or slacked/slaked lime (Spanish: cal, if you want to search for it in a Hispanic market), to break down the outer pericarp on the kernels.  I’ve also seen recipes from a very reliable source, the University of Georgia National Center for Home Food Preservation, that use lye (sodium hydroxide) or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).

Edited to add, 2014:  I wanted to highlight Chef Mark Kosmicki’s method, as described in the comments below: “If you didn’t want to use chemicals, you could do this just fine with wood ash. I’ve done it recently with wonderful results. You just have to soak the corn in water the day before, then boil with a half cup ash per pound of corn, then boil till the skins are loose, an hour or two. Run it under water to clean, which is kind of hard.”
Also, in the intervening years between writing this post and editing it, I should mention that Anthony has published a fantastic book on corn, really a must-have for the locavore gardener/cook.  Expect science and recipes from renowned Portland chefs!

Here are Anthony’s instructions, slightly edited for clarity.  Enjoy!

Hominy

  • In an enamel pot (ed: important, since the lime is caustic and you don’t want it reacting with metal — I used my Le Creuset dutch oven and it cleaned up easily), add two tablespoons of hydrated lime per pound of corn.
  • Add water to cover the kernels by an inch or so.  Heat the pan to a bare simmer, don’t boil, and let cook for 40 minutes to an hour.  The solution will turn a lurid yellow and the fragrance of corn will fill the kitchen.
  • Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture steep overnight at room temperature or on the back stoop.
  • The next day, strain off the lime and liquid into the compost bucket (ed: will add calcium to your compost).  Rinse the kernels vigorously several times until they are clean.  The outer skin of the kernel, the pericarp will wash away (ed: I stress VIGOROUSLY and SEVERAL, but don’t worry if you don’t get it all off, since it’s still tasty.  I let it sit for two days and it was still hard to get the pericarp off).  The result is alkalinized corn, or nixtamal.
  • The nixtamal is cooked very slowly until it is tender, at which point it is called hominy. If you have a slow cooker, you can use it to cook the hominy (ed: highly recommended).  Fill your stockpot or slow cooker pot with the corn and fresh water.  Cover the kernels well, as they will absorb a good deal of water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer until the kernels split open as little flowers.  The hominy is now ready to use in a pozole or soup.

food justice conference: a gently flowing stream

This just in from the Food Justice Conference folks.  The conference starts today and extends through Monday.  On the UO campus, fresh, wild, and free to all!

But if you can’t make it, check out the live streaming video of two keynote speeches or tapes that will be available after the conference:

The Food Justice: Community, Equity and Sustainability conference, sponsored by the Wayne Morse Center, is taking place this weekend. If you aren’t planning on attending, you can still participate by watching two of the events live online.

Frederick Kirschenmann’s opening address, titled “Food security in a changing world: Expanding the vision of sustainable agriculture,” begins at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Dr. Vandana Shiva’s closing address, titled “Food & seed sovereignty: Creating a people’s food system,” begins at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.

Both events will be available to watch via this link.  Note: nothing is there now, but the video feed will show up 10-15 minutes before each event begins.

Other Food Justice events will be either videotaped or audio recorded and will be available on the Food Justice conference website in the near future.