in which i am dead inside: my favorite food writer

IMG_7627

It used to be that all food writers wrote the same. When somebody tells me that their favourite food writer is M.F.K. Fisher, I’m like, ‘OK, you’re dead inside.’ That kind of writing is so stultifying. It’s like being stuck on a bus next to somebody’s grandmother for five hours.

Josh Ozersky, interviewed in GQ, 2013

Fisher’s autobiographical The Gastronomical Me (1943) includes the one of my favorite personal essays in the entire world, a tale of Fisher’s first oyster in 1924 that’s so cold and awkward and strange and familiar to those of us who have shivered in the New Yorker unhappy WASP narrative forever and ever and ever so much it’s like a family diamond or that first icy sip of a martini in a posh bar, and yet it’s warm and messy, oozy around the edges, going bad. It turns out, instead, to be about a dark, passionate, illicit underbelly of life that’s nearly Joycean in scope, one that the reader and narrator just get a glimpse of and then it’s gone again. I teach it to college freshmen from time to time and they never get it because they read skimmingly and trippingly, if at all.

So I as the professor, vicariously through these youngsters, get that pleasure again and again: what is happening here? Did we miss something? What are these hot glances and melting touches and tears and intemperate bravado – all hot, hot feelings in this piece that’s supposed to be about chilled shellfish, passed on a tray by servants in white gloves? It’s the pleasure of reading.

You miss that? You see Fisher as stultifying, dead inside, stuck on an Elderhostel tour. You miss that icy crust between what’s cold and what’s hot, what’s old and what’s new, what’s acceptable and what’s deviant.

You see it? You see the difference between Fisher and every single other food writer in her genre, her brilliance and subtlety, a critique of a society and class and feminine sexuality and the very circles in which Ozersky undoubtedly moves. It’s not about food at all.

Another example from the same work, though I could easily choose another.

In “To Feed Such Hunger,” Fisher explores the rifts in polite society even more oddly than in the oyster tale. Here, the narrative plays out a scene bristling with European cultural and political relationships in 1930, embodied in a foreign couple who end up in the same French boardinghouse as the American narrator. He German, she Czech, they fill the air with “moist Germanic hissings” and a host of displeasurable metaphors in “a strange kind of love affair” that involves food in an exquisitely subtle form of masochism.

Even the dullest critic will understand the personified animosity between the French and the Germans, the American’s awkward meddling among the European nations, but there’s more for the careful reader. Much more. Fisher mentions Klorr’s devotion to Uranism, a term she says she had to look up (and thereby suggests the reader should, too), and ends the piece in a litter of peeled grapes, champagne, and cake with a trembling Mademoiselle Nankova suffering a feverish episode of sur-excitation sexuelle.

This is most certainly not the same old food writing in the American mid-century. Not then, not now.  I can’t think of a single food writer who even barely grazes issues like this, much less one who writes of them well.  I am baffled by Ozersky’s “[T]hat kind of writing,” because it sure ain’t a genre I’m reading, and I teach this stuff.  I suspect “that” might mean ladywriting, and that, oh god for the last time already, is missing the entire point.

And speaking of favorite food writers, my favorite food writer who is still alive and kicking is the subject of a new, promising film on food in Los Angeles called City of Gold. Yes, that would be without question the Los Angeles Times‘ maestro of all that is edible, Jonathan Gold, who once, upon hearing I was looking for new texts to teach, sat me down for three hours and told me about every single worthwhile food writer ever, including, of course, la belle Fisher.

[This was originally published in a slightly different form at story.jml.is, a writing blog operated by none other than my friend, the force of nature, Jonas Luster, where I’ve been experimenting less frequently than I would like with new work.]

Advertisements

hang on, baby, 2015 is going to be a wild ride

IMG_9727

Happy New Year 2015!

What a wonderful gift the new year brings.  It kicks 2014, by most accounts a most miserable, stingy, and violent abuser of a year, out the door.  Let’s celebrate!

There are big things in store for me in 2015, and I’m thrilled to announce I’m making plans to become a better writer and photographer.

As you may know, I’ve been struggling with personal loss and injury for the past few years, and my life hasn’t been terrific.  My divorce and shift in teaching position at the university and the realities of this small town have made it so I can no longer live the life I had.  Nor do I really want it any more.

What I do want, I realized, is to live more fully and richly in the skin I feel most comfortable in, as a food and travel writer, so I can continue to bring stories of the north to all of you and discover more friends and colleagues in an even wider audience.

So I’m off to do it.  I’ll be leaving Eugene this summer and relocating closer to the city life that can feed my need to tell these stories. This means I’m losing my home, which is almost unspeakably difficult as one deeply in love with this place.

It also makes the continuation of my cherished issue, Culinaria Eugenius, an impossibility in its current form.  Culinaria Eugenius is the story of a place, and Eugene is the small hearth upon which I will no longer be able to warm my stories.   It’s rather scary, but I am confident that all my years with you have provided me a strong and everlasting flame that will fuel me wherever I go.  I’ve been writing this award-winning local food blog for almost seven years, nearly 1000 posts.  In its virtual pages, I have documented the dramatic change in the Eugene food scene and offered countless original recipes and stories about our local food shed.  It’s been a transformative experience, and I’m deeply thankful to all my readers who have joined me.

There’s still plenty of time before I make the final transition, so I hope you’ll continue to read my work.  You may know I maintain a Facebook feed for CE, which is far more active than the blog, and that I write a quarterly column for Eugene Magazine called “Eat, Drink, Think” (featuring local farmers and my favorite recipes using seasonal produce) and some features that appear there.  I’ve written in the past for other places, including NPR’s The Salt, Acres USA, and Gastronomica, as well as our two local newspapers.   I’ll still be teaching as an adjunct professor at the University of Oregon and other places, and will keep you informed about cooking classes and demos.

I’ve been writing more and more travel stories, interviews with cool Oregonians, and the latest in Northwest tastes for AAA’s Via magazine, work I really love and want to undertake in greater quantity.  I am working on a cookbook for single people, a food history book, and a number of articles that will be announced as soon as they find a home.  I’m also proud to say I’ll be interviewing Novella Carpenter and moderating a panel on Diana Abu-Jaber’s food writing at the CSWS Northwest Women Writers Symposium this spring.

To raise funds for the move and upcoming travel research, I’d love to hear from you if you have paid freelance needs for food features (writing or photography) or book reviews or judging gigs, and I’d be deeply appreciative if you could pass my name along to folks who might be interested in someone with this experience.  I am not only a writer and budding photographer, I’m an accomplished public speaker for both academic events and cooking demos, and an event organizer.  I have served as a panelist, panel moderator, interviewer, and judge at myriad venues, including for international book awards, our local Iron Chef competition, and academic panels in the U.S. and abroad. I’ve interviewed some of our brightest culinary lights on an NPR-affiliated food radio show (as a co-host for the late, much lamented Food for Thought on KLCC) and at live events, and have curatorial experience working with 600 years of rare books related to food history. The best email address is wellsuited at gmail dot com, and I’m happy to provide a full CV upon request.

May 2015 treat all of you, of us!, with the dignity and respect it should, and grant you the gift of good eating and great companionship.  Happy adventuring!

 

in which we muse upon the fruits of our labors with syrup

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

Clearly, Alexander Pope was not a skilled do-it-yourselfer, where a little learning motivates great — or at least good enough — things.

We at Culinaria Eugenius were full of a little learning this week, or rather the action-adventures of our swashbuckling preservation team.

In the accident haze, and, I’ll admit, in many months before the accident as I labored away and at home on academic pursuits, I lost that intimate and lovely control of my kitchen.  I didn’t have a clear sense of what was in my pantry, or hiding in the back of my refrigerator, or how many jars had been returned or washed and stuck in the cupboards in the outer Hebrides.  I depended on a group of others to provide me with everything and anything, including most of my meals, which had become a source of anxiety and not pleasure or pride.

Alienated from cooking, as it were.  A misguided food-hating feminist’s dream, perhaps, but not mine.

And because of this temporary hiatus from my labor of love, as I start cooking again without assistance or a firm understanding of what remains in my kitchen, hilarity and madcap hijinks ensue.

Canning folk often rhapsodize about the pleasing “ping” sound of jars sealing after you take them out of the hot water bath. I learned there’s a most unpleasing, higher-toned “plink” sound of breaking jars in boiling water.

It happened at one of those moments in which you are thoroughly exhausted — many hours of boiling down tomato pulp into ketchup, fussing with the spice profile mid-boil after not being able to find the right spices, the cheesecloth, the other cheesecloth, learning the housekeeper had used the cheesecloth as a rag, discovering not one but two of the jars had chips on the rim as you were wiping said rims after filling jars, the boiling and spattering ketchup is bitter — how? why?, more sugar?, limping out to the outer Hebrides to find the damn immersion blender, trying to find two more jars which have to be somewhere in here, you’re out of lids and have to limp back to the outer Hebrides, etc., etc. — and finally, you drop in the two remaining half-pints using your fingers because you misplaced the jar lifter in all that commotion, and…

*plink*

…like that stain on your very soul, you see the thin ribbon of red spreading through the boiling water, and you know you have about three seconds to crutch over to the cabinet to get a bowl, find a ladle, and scoop the damn jar out of the water before it turns your canner into an impromptu spaghetti sauce.

And sure, you could have called your neighbor to see if she had two teaspoons of Pomona pectin on hand when you realized you only had half of the pectin you needed after the tayberry jam was already boiling and about two minutes from being finished, and, of course, you can’t drive out to the store anyway, given the leg.  But instead, you do what anyone with a little learning would do: started messing around.

Because it was low-sugar jam, you don’t have the option to just boil it down.  You ponder adding more sugar, but can’t measure the fruit pulp at that point, it being boiling and all, so you surmise that the aluminum water (already added) might react with another kind of pectin.   Luckily, you have a jar of apple pectin stock jelly on hand!  And more quince stock pectin in the freezer.  You add both, hoping for the best…

…and it’s the best tayberry-quince syrup ever, and 14 half-pints of it.

But tasty, no?  And a thick, molasses syrup, so you were at least partially right.

So to Mr. Alexander Pope, I say:

LET THEM DRINK NOT FROM THE PIERIAN SPRING; LET THEM DRINK SYRUP.

We tried it and we liked it, over zucchini pancakes.  And not a single mishap.

On this Labor Day, may all your labors be recognized, your pickles an art form, your jam jellied, your ketchup free of glass shards, and your work a source of healing.  May you be well enough to do the things you love, to pray with your feet, to turn your poetry into action, and to feed a challenge to the status quo.

truffles for the people: new story in register-guard

My latest article, originally titled “Truffles for the People” with a subheader “Truffles, featured at a local festival, are more affordable than expected,” is out in the Eugene Register-Guard today. You can check it out online here or see the text below (pasted because the link keeps changing).

We’ll be continuing our conversation about Western Oregon truffles on this Sunday’s Food for Thought radio show on KLCC, with special guest local truffle hunter, oil maker, writer, and photographer Tobiah Orin Moshier.

I wish the title of my article hadn’t been changed to “Truffle Trivia,” honestly.  I don’t think of truffles as trivia.  I think of them as a commodity whose prices are driven up by the reputation as a luxury good, a trend we are not bound to follow in the Willamette Valley because of our supply of wildcrafted truffles.  And I see them as an opportunity to demystify luxury in the name of the people.  It has been a difficult year for truffles in Europe and in our own forests, so expect prices to be higher than in years past.  But truffles are not a brand, and not anything magic, just a fungus.  A delicious fungus, but one that resides among us.

So don’t believe the hype.

Want more humble ways to enjoy truffles?  Well, there’s the truffle fries at Eugene’s latest burger joint, a Portland chain called Little Big Burger.  It’s located next to Market of Choice on Orchard at Franklin Blvd.  The fries blow away Five Guys and Dickie Joe’s, in my opinion, but there isn’t much truffle essence detectable in the oil they use.  But it’s a good concept, I suppose, and the price can’t be beat.

Because of the inevitable edits that take place in print journalism, we weren’t able to include all the recipes I collected for the article.  There was also the omission of all the “truffles by the people” ideas and the description of the amateur cooks who are finalists for a contest at the festival. I regret that these edits imbalance the article in favor of chefs and not regular home cooks, so here’s what was left out, with some slight emendations:

The One Big Truffle contest finalists, all veteran recipe-writers, each offered their own ideas.  Merry Graham of Newhall, California, contributed a simple, elegant potato-truffle soup, and Pam Norby, of Emery, Wisconsin, provided a one-dish truffle-brie pizza topped with vegetables and chicken.  Erika Kerekes, whose annual Trufflepaloozas are recorded on her blog, In Erika’s Kitchen, in Santa Monica, California, offered a homemade butter recipe, perfect for DIYers.

Kerekes educated me on how to get “the most truffle bang” for your buck, stating that you need to pair truffles with background foods:  “eggs, mild cheese, corn, pasta, rice, butter, cream — these are the classics.  I also like Oregon truffles paired with mushrooms, steak and fish.”

My own readers suggested shaving truffles over everything from scrambled eggs (presented in photo) and naked fettucini to a “perfectly velvety parsnip purée” to a truffled eggs Benedict.  Some folks prefered the headier whites for eggs and pasta.

Chef Rocky Maselli was kind enough to provide another recipe, a truffled crab risotto, and I’ve posted Erika Kerekes’ truffle butter recipe and Pam Norby’s truffle vegetable pizza recipe below.  I would imagine that the brie-truffle sauce would work on a pizza with just the pancetta or morels, if you don’t have all the ingredients.  For more of Erika’s truffle recipes, head over to her recipe index on In Erika’s Kitchen.

And last but not least, we couldn’t squeeze in Harold McGee and truffle funk:

Such an intriguing flavor profile doesn’t quite explain the mania people feel about truffles.  Could it be the steroids, then?  Noted food authority Harold McGee explained that truffles “contain small amounts of Androstenone, a steroid compound also found in men’s underarm sweat and secreted in the saliva of the male pig.”  This compound, to put it gently, makes the sow interested in love, and it is thought that a similar reaction happens in humans.

So why not try them out?  We need a little more cheap love in the world.

Was it my endless blathering, or just the randiness of the sentiment?  You decide.  And enjoy those truffles.

Rocky Maselli’s Dungeness Crab Risotto with Oregon White Truffle

For Crab Stock:

  • 2 whole live crabs
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 1 carrot peeled
  • 1 cup chopped canned tomato
  • 2 quarts water
  • Chili flakes to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 ounces butter
  • 1 medium-sized shallot
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup white wine

For Risotto:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ onion peeled & minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 4-5 cups crab & prawn stock
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • Salt & pepper to taste

For Garnish:

  • Dungeness crab meat
  • Oregon white truffles, shaved

For the stock: cook the crab in salted water. Clean the crab. Set the meat aside for garnishing the risotto. Coarsely chop the crab shells. In a heavy bottomed stockpot, melt the butter and sauté the shells until they start to caramelize slightly. Add vegetables, wine and water. Skim and cook for 20 minutes, season with salt and chili flakes.

This is the flavor foundation of the risotto so it needs to have good flavor, taste to be sure it is nice and strong. Strain and return the stock back to the stockpot and simmer on very low heat.

For the risotto: melt butter in a non-reactive heavy bottom pot. Add onions and cook until translucent.  Add rice and stir coating the grains with the butter over medium low heat for 4-5 minutes. Add the wine and the hot stock half a cup at a time, stirring constantly. Wait for any liquid to be completely absorbed before adding more liquid. Continue to cook, adding liquid until rice is tender. Add butter and crab meat. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Spoon risotto onto a plate and top with plenty of shaved Oregon white truffle.  Serves 4.

Erika Kerekes’ Homemade Truffle Butter

  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon white or black truffle oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon truffle salt, or to taste
  • 1 fresh black summer truffle (you won’t need the whole thing)

Line a colander with a few coffee filters; rip them open and lay them in so that the colander has one layer of filter throughout, more or less. Place the colander in the sink.

Pour the cream into the bowl of a food processor. Turn on the processor. When you hear the noise change and things sound a bit sloshy, go back and look. You’ll know when it’s done – the butter solids will have separated from the buttermilk and will be clumped together. Stop the processor. You’ll probably see one big clump of butter, and then some smaller clumps drifting in the liquid.

Lift out the butter solids with your hand and squeeze a little to get some of the liquid out. Put the butter in the colander. Fish out the little bits of butter and add those to the colander. Discard the liquid.

Knead the butter a little in the colander to get some more of the liquid out. Then let the butter drain for about 30 minutes. Put a paper towel on top and press down to get the remaining liquid out. The butter will still be quite soft, which is good. Turn it into a mixing bowl.

Add the truffle oil, truffle salt, and grated truffle to the fresh butter and mix with a spatula or wooden spoon until it’s combined thoroughly. Taste and add more salt if you like your butter salty. Refrigerate the butter in a container lined with paper towels or more coffee filters. It will keep in the refrigerator about a week, and in the freezer for six months or longer.

Pam Norby’s Truffled Pizza with Meat, Vegetables, and Brie Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium shallots, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or dried morel mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup asparagus spears, blanched, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/4 cup pancetta, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups left-over chicken, cooked, diced
  • 1/4 cup chives, chopped
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 7 ounces brie, rind removed, cubed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, or fresh, to taste
  • 1/2 cup any truffle cheese, grated
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 1 package pizza dough

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add olive oil. When hot, add shallots and morels, sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic, asparagus, and pancetta, stir 1 minute. Take off heat and stir in cooked chicken, chives, walnuts, salt, and pepper to taste.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the brie, heavy cream, basil, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a bare simmer and reduce 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place the pizza crust on a baking sheet and top crust with brie sauce evenly. Top with the chicken mixture, then the cheeses. Bake at 425 (or according to package direction) for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.  Serves 6.

TRUFFLE TRIVIA

Chefs give us the lowdown on fungi in advance of the festival

By Jennifer Burns Levin

For The Register-Guard

Appeared in print: Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, page D1


When I asked readers of my food blog what home cooks might do with a modest amount of white or black Oregon truffles, one reader replied: “Sell them.”

She was only half-joking.

The truffle, whose reputation of intoxicating scent and flavor is surpassed only by its expense, is seen as a decadent luxury. Dubbed “the most expensive food in the world” by “60 Minutes” correspondent Leslie Stahl, the European truffle market is tightly locked up by a few families in northwestern Italy and southern France, and this year’s shortages have driven the prices up even higher. At Dean & Deluca in New York City, the recent price for black European truffles was $2,200 per pound, or almost $138 an ounce.

But don’t plan on selling yet. Even with its signature Oregon Truffle Festival Friday through Sunday — with costly weekend packages ranging between $525 to $1,075 per person, and a sumptuous, sold-out Grand Truffle Dinner out of the reach of most people — Eugene finds ways to make truffles affordable. The festival hosts a marketplace each year with local vendors using truffles in various ways to spark the home cook’s interest. This year, it will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday at the Hilton Eugene.

For $15 admission, attendees can taste high-quality truffle basics, or inventive creations such as Red Wagon Creamery’s Honey-Hazelnut Ice Cream Sundae, topped with bergamot-infused olive oil, truffle salt and shaved truffle.

Indeed, the truffle’s reputation as a luxury product might be a bit misleading for those living in the Willamette Valley. We have our own varieties ripening in winter, the white Tuber oregonense, and the black Leucangium carthusianum. Unlike the French black (Tuber melanosporum) that grows underground on the roots of oak and hazelnut trees, ours grow comparatively robustly and widely in the more acidic soil under young Douglas firs in tree plantations, both consumed and spread by small critters such as squirrels, whose dung carries the spores.

Western Oregonians may purchase these delicacies at relatively modest prices in local markets that have good connections with foragers, and enjoy truffles all winter long in simple, seasonal dishes. Black Oregon truffles, for example, were on sale at Sundance Natural Foods in Eugene last week for about $448 per pound, and white Oregon truffles were about $176 per pound. Although it still seems expensive, consider that a walnut-sized truffle, enough to enhance an average dinner for a family of four, weighs approximately .02 pounds, or just over 0.3 ounces, translating to $3.50 for a white truffle and about $9 for a black truffle.

But how do they taste? After learning that blacks are fruitier and deeper than whites, which could be called garlicky and more subtle, I spoke with chefs and speakers for different events at the Oregon Truffle Festival, seeking their opinions.

Chef Shane Tracey of Eugene’s Nib Modern Eatery, who will join chef Maurizio Paparo of Excelsior Inn and Ristorante in preparing truffle meals for the festival’s winery luncheons on Saturday, uses white truffles in savory applications and blacks in desserts, aiming for balance. “I often play with the caramel, chocolate, coffee tones in black truffles,” Tracey said. “I usually pair components that are the lighter, complementary flavor profiles to those three main flavors.”

Cookbook author and food writer Molly O’Neill, whose One Big Table: 800 Recipes from the Nation’s Best Home Cooks, Farmers, Pit-Masters and Chefs has spurred an ongoing project to collect American recipes, will host the Friday dinner honoring the finalists of an amateur cooking contest called the One Big Truffle Contest. She has reviewed more than 100 recipes containing Oregon truffles in her archive of 20,000.

O’Neill explained that although the Oregon truffle had its early supporters like culinary luminary and Oregon native son James Beard, it has suffered from a bad reputation.

“Growers and foragers in Oregon are pushing a Sisyphean boulder up a hill as they try to undo decades of sub-par harvesting and handling,” O’Neill said. Often harvested too early, and with tools that harmed the ecosystem instead of comparatively gentle truffle dogs that dig them out, this method created truffles with a flavor “like a potato,” she said.

Stephanie Pearl Kimmel, founding chef of Marché restaurant and Inn at the 5th, and host chef of the festival’s Grand Truffle Dinner, experienced the problems first-hand. When a forager brought one to her restaurant in the 1980s, she found them unpleasant.

They had, she said, “strong overtones of pitch, not in a sweet woodsy way, but more like turpentine. The texture was dry and crumbly, too, so I declined to use them at the restaurant and feared that there wouldn’t be much of a future for the Oregon truffle.”

She had her epiphany when an experienced truffle hunter brought a sample to Marché several years later: “These were larger, firm and moist with a dark, speckled interior and a lovely complex scent of humid earth, apples, chocolate, musk and even hazelnut,” Kimmel said.

And since then, Marché has featured Oregon truffles on its menu each winter.

For truffle fans on a tight budget, opt to make an infusion by grating your Oregon truffle treasure with a plane-style grater, then adding the shavings to a small jar full of sea salt or honey.

Truffle salt has many uses from popcorn and pumpkin seeds to pan-fried chicken and creamy pasta.

I infused some homemade celery salt with black Oregon truffle, and it created a mouthwatering umami component — a pleasant savory taste — for roasted vegetables. Black truffle honey is absolutely delightful, too, for baked goods or biscuits.

And don’t forget your homemade ice cream. Chef Emily Phillips of Red Wagon Creamery notes that “butterfat in milk and cream absorbs the truffle flavor so well that you really don’t need a large amount.

“Ice cream is also versatile. Be daring! You can use all sorts of truffle-flavored items, like salts or oils.”

Chef Gabriel Gil of The Rabbit Bistro & Bar takes the salt-sweet combo to another level, recommending ice cream made of buttery, fruity Pont l’Evêque cheese with white truffles grated on top.

Another option is to add white or black truffle shavings to a small amount of neutral oil like grapeseed or light olive oil, or even better, sesame or Chinese hot oil that has been gently heated on your stove. Cover the oil and use within 24 hours, or store in the refrigerator for a few days to retain all the scent and reduce the risk of microbes. Truffled olive oil is nice drizzled on a pizza or in winter squash soup. Truffled sesame and hot oils can transform mild stir-fries, or if you are so lucky, truffled pork dumplings, just prior to serving.

With ideas as delicious and reasonable as these, there could soon be a truffle shortage in the Willamette Valley.

Here are a couple of recipes from chefs participating in the festival — local chef and truffle expert Rocky Maselli, and One Big Truffle Contest finalist Merry Graham of Newhall, Calif.

Rocky Maselli’s Truffle Roasted Chicken

This recipe works best with either Oregon black or white truffles, but not both. I think you will find that the two offer distinctly different aromas and both flavors pair well with roasted chicken on their own. So, use one or the other. The recipe calls for 2 ounces of truffles but if you have them and want to use more, go for it. If you love truffles like I do, stuff as much truffle under the skin as you can without tearing it.

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 ounces fresh black or white Oregon winter truffles, thinly sliced
  • Kosher or sea salt, to taste
  • 1 whole chicken (4½ to 5 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the butter, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

Coarsely chop about half the truffle slices, add to the butter mixture, and stir to combine.

Separate the chicken skin from the meat by sliding your fingers underneath the skin, very carefully as not to tear it. Evenly distribute the butter mixture underneath the skin, across the breast, legs and thighs.

Carefully place reserved truffle slices under the skin. Rub salt all over chicken skin, place chicken on a plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and arrange rack in middle. Remove chicken from refrigerator and rub skin with olive oil. Season all over with salt and freshly ground black pepper and let sit at room temperature about 30 minutes.

Place chicken on a rack in a baking dish and roast for 20-30 minutes at 425 degrees then reduce the temperature to 325 until juices run clear and a thermometer inserted in inner thigh registers 165 degrees (about 1 to 1¼ hour total cooking time.)

Starting the chicken at a higher temperature will give the skin the desired color and keep it succulent. Remove from oven and let rest about 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

Merry Graham’s Potato Soup With Shaved Black Truffles

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 6 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • ¼ cup minced celery
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 black truffles, shaved

Heat olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, potatoes and broth to pan; bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.

Cook for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are soft. Add celery and simmer for another few minutes.

In a blender, food processor or immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. Return soup to pan and add half-and-half, salt, pepper, cheese and butter. Cook on low heat for a few minutes. Stir half of the black truffles into soup.

Season to taste. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle. Garnish with parsley and black truffles. Serves four.

marché wild foods dinner honoring author hank shaw, november 12

Last week, I mentioned the upcoming reading by visiting speaker Hank Shaw.  We’re very much looking forward to hearing him speak at:

Hunter, Gatherer, Conservationist: Finding the Forgotten Feast
Book Reading and Discussion
Author Hank Shaw
Monday, November 14, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
282 Lillis Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene ~ free and open to all

We now have details about Marché’s prix fixe menu for the dinner honoring Shaw on Sat., 11/2, at 6:30!

Can’t read the fine print? Click here to download a .pdf version of the flyer.

I’m so impressed.  The sous chef at Marché, Crystal Platt, has pulled together a menu influenced by wild foods and her interest in molecular gastronomy.   I suspect you’ve never seen anything like this at Marché.  If you like Castagna and The Rabbit, or have been meaning to try MG, this is the dinner for you.

Only twenty spots at $65 apiece (and an exceedingly fair price for such labor-intensive and creative dishes), so contact Marché right away if you’d like to reserve: info@marcherestaurant.com or 541-683-2260 ext. 106.

Hank has traveled around the country during his book tour sharing his knowledge on foraging hikes and wild food dinners.  We’re so happy to have him here in Eugene!  I attended the dinner in his honor at Portland’s Castagna restaurant in July, and had a blast.  I expect similarly great things from Chef Platt and the team at Marché!

hunter, gatherer, conservationist: finding the forgotten feast with hank shaw, nov. 14

I’m so pleased to announce an event that’s been in the works ’round these parts for months.  Wild foods expert Hank Shaw will be talking to UO students and researchers in my Food in the Field research group, and giving a public reading on November 14 for the entire Eugene community.  Free event and open to all.  This is the last stop on a nationwide book tour for Hank, so let’s give him a warm welcome!

Can’t read the fine print? click here for a .pdf.

Hunter, Gatherer, Conservationist: Finding the Forgotten Feast
Book Reading and Discussion
Author Hank Shaw
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, explaining how to track down everything from wild mushrooms to mackerel to pheasant, and to 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.  Books will be available for purchase and signing.

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.